“Facing Stigma” with Clay M.

“Growing up in Connecticut I never thought I’d follow in my dad’s footsteps of becoming a Marine; however, I fell in love so I decided to skip out on playing baseball and enlist in the Corps. I enlisted in 1995 which was a peaceful time, and it wasn’t too long afterward when things changed. I was in Hawaii when 9/11 happened and there were a lot of concerns that another Pearl Harbor could be coming. I was in the intelligence field so it wasn’t too long after the attacks that we deployed. I was initially based on a ship and then unofficially in another area for a few months. I had been doing imagery analysis, but moved around to a multitude of areas in a jack of all trades type position. I can’t go into detail as to the nature of what we did, but a lot of the things I experienced left a profound impact on me. I never thought about it like that at the time though because as a Marine you get used to dealing with hardships and learning to move forward. I ended up serving a total of nine years before deciding to separate in 2004. I didn’t think my transition was that tough, but now that I look back on it, I went through hell. I always thought of the most extreme circumstances when I thought of people who needed help, and since I wasn’t missing a limb and was able to function for the most part, then I must be ok. I suppressed as much as I could and did my best to deal with stuff on my own until I went through a divorce last year. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to handle it on my own and that’s when I started looking to a resource for therapy. It wasn’t long after that when I realized I needed to address a lot of these unresolved issues from my service.

I went to my company to see if I qualified for the EAP (Employee Assistance Program) mental healthcare. I ended up getting in and qualifying for treatment, but unfortunately they capped out after five sessions. At the end she asked me if I had ever been diagnosed with PTSD, and then recommended that I continue to seek additional help. That’s when I heard about and reached out to Headstrong. They matched me up with my therapist, MaryAlyce, who has helped me identify some of these underlying issues and thoughts. For a long time I would have flashbacks and memories anytime I saw rope or smelled gasoline. It would trigger a lot of old memories and I’d remember those explosions and anticipate something to come next. She helped me work through that and validate some of the emotions or feelings I had. She acts as almost a buffer and is able to let me know if I’m looking at things in the right way. She’s an objective voice and helps me understand if my behavior is validated or not. It’s great to have friends be on your side, but it’s also great to have a professional who can really break it down from a therapeutic vantage point. I feel like Headstrong and MaryAlyce have helped me so much, and it’s now to the point that I’m referring other people to get help. I don’t just do the hour with MaryAlyce and stop. I do the work outside of our session and seek out other forms of healing like stand up comedy. I started using comedy as an outlet while I was in the military and based in Hawaii. It was something I always wanted to do and it became therapeutic once I found my voice on stage. I took the person who I was with my friends and brought that to the stage in front of strangers and that’s when it became therapeutic. I would talk about my relationship and all these other personal things. Now that I’ve been able to use that comedy outlet and combine it with the work I’ve done with Headstrong, I’ve never been in a clearer or healthier place.”