For Ronnie, becoming a military veteran didn’t bring the honor and privilege he expected it would. After three combat tours in the Persian Gulf, he coped with feelings that he couldn’t pinpoint or understand.
Ronnie explains that shortly after his honorable discharge from the Navy in 2003, his master chief told him he wasn’t going to make it in the world. For a short time, he believed that was true.
“I felt I couldn’t assimilate within society, and people couldn’t relate to me,” says Ronnie.
His loved ones noticed his behavior changes and kept asking what was wrong, but Ronnie couldn’t answer honestly as he didn’t understand himself.
He describes himself at that time as being impatient, aggressive and tired — tired of his attempts to seek help and being ignored, and especially tired of advocating for himself.
“For those who have visible wounds, they get the attention they need almost immediately,” he says. “But for those who have invisible wounds, I experienced needing to prove that I seriously needed help.”
Ronnie finally found the help he was seeking through the Veterans Program at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital in August 2016.
The program provides specialized treatment options to veterans and civilians, and is led by dedicated trauma-informed professionals who address mood instability, sleep and concentration disturbances, and substance abuse — and the impact that these conditions have on individuals and their support systems.
Ronnie was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by medical professionals at the hospital and started attending sessions with a therapist within the Veterans Program, something he was initially apprehensive about.
“As a veteran, there was always this concern that a therapist who doesn’t have any military experience couldn’t understand your feelings, that it would be hard to explain to them how you felt,” says Ronnie. Fortunately, Ronnie partnered with a care team he felt understood him. He was introduced to useful practices such as mindfulness and self-compassion.
“We help our patients become better at separating themselves from negative thoughts, emotions and body sensations that may be present, before they become too overwhelming,” says Lisa McJunkin, licensed marriage and family therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “By achieving a state of awareness, they find it easier to further their psychological insights and emotional healing over time.”
Ronnie said he uses the tools given to him daily, and passes on what he has learned to others. He said by doing so, he has found a new passion for encouraging others.
He created a greeting card with some of his own poetry to give to other veterans in the program and their spouses as a way to thank them for their service, and to ensure they felt thought about and loved.
The future looks bright according to Ronnie. He has plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work. He also wants to continue his work with his care team at Sharp Mesa Vista, as they have become such a significant part of his life — a part he cherishes deeply.
“They have helped me function in my purpose and passion, and to me, that’s truly one of the most patriotic acts they can do,” says Ronnie.
Learn more about the specialized mental health programs at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital.
For the news media: To talk with Lisa McJunkin, LMFT, about Sharp Mesa Vista’s Veterans Program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.