Chapter 5: Depression on the FOB.

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

It didnt take long for life in Afghanistan to become mind numbing. I lost track of what day of the week it was almost routinely. I joked with one of our Lieutenants that “every day in Afghanistan is Monday” -which was exactly what it felt like. That grumpy feeling that I have first thing Monday morning was how I felt pretty much all day every day. As the days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months my mood just got worse.

A good friend of mine started expressing concern about my change in attitude a few months into the deployment. I’m usually a pretty easy going guy, but I had developed a very short fuse and an unpredictable temper. I hid the temper well, but my anger was easy to see. Running and working out no longer helped relieve stress and I was quickly turning into what my two year old calls a “Grumpus.” My faith in God and my daily bible readings, which sustained me for years, no longer helped. I had lost my faith as well.

About two weeks before R&R I finally went and asked for help. I set up a discreet appointment at Behavioral Health and told the doc what was going on and how it scared me. I knew this wasn’t me. The doc reassured me that this was very common and diagnosed me with what he called “deployment mood disorder” and wrote me a prescription for some anti-depressants. I hesitated at first, but eventually agreed to try the meds.

The military has done a lot to remove the stigma around mental health and asking for help. But despite all of the official roadblocks removed, there still is some reproach among your peers. The stigma may not be as bad as it was five years ago, but it is still there. The perception remains that those who seek assistance from behavioral health are somehow weaker individuals and perhaps less trustworthy soldiers. I strongly disagree and have a feeling that a lot of officers discreetly made appointments to see a mental health specialist. Regardless, I was still embarrassed. I was worried that our pharmacy tech would mention to someone that he had dispensed anti-depressants to the dentist and that word on the FOB would get out. I even hid the medication in an old Motrin bottle so my buddies wouldn’t accidentally see me taking an anti-depressant.

I took the meds for about a two weeks. I saw a very rapid improvement in my mood which I was thankful for. However, I did not like the side effects and decided to stop taking the meds right before arriving home for R&R. I knew that if I could just get home and see my wife and son for just a few weeks then all of this anger and sadness would just fade away. I was right. The break at home was just what I needed and by the time I was headed back to Afghanistan I felt like a new man.

I managed to finish the final 6 months of the deployment without any more appointments at behavioral health. The knowledge that I had survived six months in Afghanistan and only had six more to go was enough motivation for me to hang in there. When my mood started getting bad again, I would just talk with some friends. Usually a good cigar and good conversation around the fire would be enough to fuel me for one more day.

And that is how the rest of the deployment went. One day at a time. One cigar at a time.

  1. ACC says:

    What does FOB means?

  2. C says:

    I am a new dentist, just graduated and thinking of going the Army way! While trying to gather information about army dentistry came across your blog. Very real life perspective. Thank you for serving the nation.
    What would you suggest to someone like me who is just out of school and getting ready for Army life?

    • armydentist says:

      Like all things in life, there are pros and cons. I created this blog to share my experiences with people exactly like you. I think if you read through some of my older posts you may find some more info about the lifestyle. If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.

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