How’d I Get Here?

The Secretary of the Navy has determined you are physically unfit to perform the duties of your grade and directs you be permanently retired by reason of physical disability. You are released from all active duties at 2359 on 30 October 2014 and transferred to the Permanent Disability Retired List.
[You will have completed] 10 years, 4 months, and 23 days of active service.”

last time
Failing at holding back tears during my retirement

I reported to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC for Basic Training on 7 June 2004, 10 days after I graduated High School, three days after I turned 18. I know it seems like I may have rushed into it all, but the thing is, I was certain by the age of the 13 that I wanted to be a United States Marine. The only thing I ever remember really wanting to do before I decided to be a Marine was to be a Power Ranger. You see, the most definitive trait about me is my desire to protect people, my siblings, neighborhood kids getting picked on, all the weak and at risk people of the world, but at some point I had to admit that Super Heroes weren’t real, not the kind I saw on tv anyway. Some time after that, it became clear to me that the closest realistic option to being the Red Ranger was to be a Marine. The Marine Corps was my way out of the shit I had grown up in and against everything I’ve always believed about myself, I was really good at it. I was good Marine, a good leader, and a great Intelligence Analyst. Everyone expected me to do at least 20 years.

This post isn’t necessarily about my career, but it’s important for you to have an idea of what it meant to me. It enabled me to provide for my struggling family back home, it gave me a purpose and a sense of worth that I never imaged I would have. The problem is, when I lost my career, I also lost my sense purpose and any sense of worth I had developed. I’m not particularly intelligent (once I was categorized as “of high average intelligence”), I’m shit when it comes to any form of athleticism (which I now know I can blame on a genetic disorder), and I have no real tangible talent. But somehow being an Intel Analyst in the most demanding branch of the military was exactly what I’m suited for, the strict structure was ideal for my anxiety and I even managed to use my anxiety to my advantage a lot of the time.

Knowing what I know now about my physical issues, I know that my career was always doomed, in reality it never should have happened and it’s amazing that it lasted as long as it did. All it would have taken was for some medical professional to do their due diligence, there was also the very real possibility that I could have just died on any given run. But it would be years after my career ended before my Marfan Syndrome diagnosis was made. What ended my career was the need for a spinal fusion in 2013 as the result of an injury sustained in 2008 (throw in 4 years of misdiagnoses). After having vertebrae in my low back fused together I was told I had to adhere to many physical limitations, limitations that would prevent me from ever completing a mandatory Physical Fitness Test again, it didn’t matter that I was intelligence instructor at the time, if you can’t do Marine stuff, you can’t be a Marine.

In the time between knowing my career was ending and the actual end of it, I talked a lot about what my plans were. I wanted to take a year to travel, to reward myself after over a decade of hard work. Then, I would use my shining resume, still valid security clearance, and stellar reputation in the intelligence community to get job at a government intelligence agency.

So after my retirement I moved back home, to the house I bought for my family when I was 19, to plan my next move. Then that one year went by, then another year, then another. The VA calls it “Individual Unemployablity”, it means that have a disability, Generalized Anxiety Disorder in my case, that prevents me from obtaining or keeping gainful employment. For a while I told myself that I would eventually get a handle on it and go back to work. When my clearance expired at the beginning of 2017, I knew that wasn’t true.

At 28 years old I lost my purpose, my entire identity. In the three years since I’ve lied to myself, and fantasized about still having a future in what I was good at, but I haven’t moved forward. When I thought I still knew where I was going, I just couldn’t bring myself to take a first step and now I don’t even know where I’m going, I have nothing to work toward. I have been able to do a decent amount of traveling, but aside from those couple of trips a year, I’m just here, barely existing. I live in a crappy town in Texas with no culture and nothing to do. I have a few close friends, but they’re all married with kids so get togethers are few and far between. I rarely leave my house and 90% of the time it’s for medical appointments. I’m 31 and single with no social life, I’m bored, and I’m tired, and depressed and I’m lonely. I have found this wonderful community online though, lovely people with common interests and it helps. The support from this community has gotten me through some of my harder days and they’ve encouraged me to keep trying. So that’s what this is, I still don’t know what the fuck to do, where to find my purpose, but I enjoy telling you my story. The thought that someone might be interested in what I’ve gone through and what I’m going through and even more, that something I say might help someone in any small way, it’s a good start. So if you’re reading this, thank you and please know that you’re helping me inch toward feeling whole again.

14 thoughts on “How’d I Get Here?

  1. Hi Heather,

    Thank you for sharing this with the virtual world. Losing your sense of purpose…this is a topic that too many people experience but never talk about. Good for you for giving it a voice:)

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    1. Thank you so much for saying this, one thing I’m really trying to do is to talk about things that aren’t talked about enough so that maybe someone will feel less alone. Maybe through doing this and working through it with lovely people like you, I will find my purpose again.

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  2. I can relate to having no purpose. But when I evaluate myself retrospectativly, I understand that what I’m doing now was my purpose. Now, that on the retirement door, I have to find a new purpose. That is a bit anxiety producing. But I have confidence that when I least expect it, I’ll find my purpose again. And I have confidence you will too. Thank you for sharing your story. You write so well. Don’t stop. I appreciate your friendship on twitter. Thank you for being the person you are because you are significant and valued.
    LL

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    1. As always, your kind words and encouragement mean the world to me. Best of luck in your next step, can’t wait to hear what great things are in store.

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  3. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I was diagnosed with PTSD and I know what it’s like to want to be able to do something, but you just can’t. I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made online ( like you), and I hope you keep writing.Peace and strength, my friend.

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    1. Fighting against what’s in your own mind is endlessly frustrating, but having people who understand and support me is helping me to feel less broken, I hope it’s doing the same for you, friend.

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  4. You seemed to be a bit of an entertainer at Earpercon. You kinda “led” the chat/discussion on Friday in the hotel lobby (with Adrienne) and you cheered us up as a blade of grass, didn’t you? Maybe it’s your talent to cheer other people up although (or because) you struggle.
    (Sorry for my English)
    Ps: It was nice meeting you in person

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hehe, tequila played a big part in the blade of grass shenanigans, but I do enjoy trying to make people smile and little up tense situations. Thank you so much for this input, I honestly found it very helpful.
      I hope we cross paths again!

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  5. Heather,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. By sharing your story you are helping numerous people, which makes you a force to be reckoned with. Keep pushing on and know that this fellow Marine has your back anytime. Hope to meet you one day, probably at Clexacon. 🙂 Sending love your way!
    Monica

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is exactly what I need to hear thank you. Writing this and getting feedback is already a big step up for me. If my words help one person in any small way then it’s worth it to keep pushing forward.
    Please try to find me at ClexaCon! I would love to meet you!
    Semper Fi

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  7. Dear Twin, loosing a sense of purpose is a difficult rink to deal with, I know well, although I did not loose my purpose, I never found mine, and it makes my days very hard, knowing that I’m not alone and knowing your story, beautiful sad story, lights up my heart with feelings of gratitude for destiny to have put you my path, and to have forged a connection with you. I hope that this is for us to star healing and maybe push each other forward! Stay strong! You know how to reach whenever you feel you need me. Even if it is to talk WE episodes and theories. Xoxo

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for sharing this Heather. I am also a fan of Zoie’s. I have social anxiety and mild depression, autism spectrum disorder and thalassemia minor. I can relate to your anxiety, depression and fatigue issues. Luckily I am still employed and able to live independently, but life does get tough a lot of the times. Don’t give up, big hug and best wishes! Xoxo

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  9. Heather,

    Thank you for sharing your story, and I get you.

    When I lost my father about 12 years ago, I completely lost my ambition. I had an MBA, and was trying to transition back into a corporate career that got derailed after I was downsized. It wasn’t that I was trying to prove anything to him; Dad was always my loudest cheerleader and greatest champion. It was more like I was trying to show the world what a great man he was because so much of who and what I am is because of who he was. When he died, I felt like I had lost the best parts of me.

    It took four years for my ambition to come back, and when it did, it came back in a form I didn’t expect. Instead of wanting to rejoin the corporate world, I became more creative. I’ve always loved writing, but I became more interested in the craft of it. I started taking online classes, and seeking out local conferences, and workshops. I joined an online writing community. I read everything I could get my hands on about storytelling, and craft. I read good work and awful work. I’m still learning, but I have found a new focus for the ambition and drive I had when I was in the corporate world.

    I remember looking forward to your sharing your EarperCon adventures, and, from what others wrote about you, well, I never would have guessed you were struggling with anxiety or depression. I would love to see you be able to channel that enthusiasm, combined with the lessons you carry with you from the Corps, into a path that fulfills you, and helps you heal.

    Stay open to possibility. You have a strong voice, and a compelling story to tell, even as you’re still going through it. I’m looking forward to watching your journey unfold.

    Like

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