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Resilience key to overcoming life’s detours

  • Published
  • By Col. Erika T. Smith, R.N. ICU Master Clinician
  • 88th Air Base Wing Medical Group

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FOCE BASE, OH -- I recently listened to the Audible book “Atlas of the Heart” by Brene Brown. In it, she notes: “We develop hope not during the easy times but through adversity and discomfort. It is forged when we are tested, and change is possible. Hope is learned. With the opportunity to struggle, we learn about our ability to overcome.”

My heart is troubled when I hear about the numerous reports of challenges in the mental well-being of our service members. Then, my heart breaks when a life is lost. So I want to encourage you, in the words of author Og Mandino, that “problems, discouragements and heartache are great opportunities in disguise.”

Having been a registered nurse for the last 25 years, including 22 in the Air Force, I have seen people at their best and worst. Being in health care, you truly see the circle of life and learn to appreciate even more of those things that most don’t appreciate until it’s gone. I count it an honor to have been able to walk with my patients, friends and co-workers through those times — it gave me such joy to serve and encourage them.

Those who have worked with me know my famous phrase: “You’ve got to take care of yourself in order to take care of others” when it comes to your health and well-being.

Since March 2020, COVID-19 totally overhauled life as we knew it. So many were paralyzed by fear of the unknown and devasted by the changes. Personally, I took the changes in stride, having worked closely with communicable diseases in the past and always pivoting my life based on mission needs.

Well, you know life has a way of throwing us curveballs and detours, but I never knew I could experience such overwhelming grief from the loss of a loved one and extreme joy of promotion to colonel, all in the span of six to eight months.

As I reflect on that time, I often would say to myself, “Why me? Why now? This was not in the plan. Is it normal to cry tears of joy and sadness at the same time?”

Part of me just wanted to deal with my feelings later because I had things to do and people to take care of. Even though my boss at the time gave me time process, the silence was deafening. There was a point when the smallest noises and even the evening sunset brought anxiety.

I feel so blessed that my faith, friends and family carried me through those times. My previous commander and friend, Jim Campion, stated it so eloquently during my promotion ceremony, that when our members are in need, we circle the wagons to support them. As I walked through the initial grieving process, my pastor encouraged me to remember the promises of my Heavenly Father and allow his love to comfort and bring understanding.

Social media was a great tool for friends to reach out. They encouraged me not to do this alone and immediately recommended counseling. This is what I love about my military family — although we may not see each other every day, when someone is in need, they will step in to support, even if it’s just an encouraging word.

Life is full of twists and turns, joys and pains, but it is all part of the process. Please do not suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Don’t tell yourself you will do it later or you do not have time to reach out to the resources available. Make time; you are worth it.

As Mandino says, you are “nature’s greatest miracle.” Appreciate the gift you are to this world.

Also take your role as a wingman seriously. We need each other. Get to know your co-workers, which will enable you to recognize those signs when they are in need before they even ask.

Take care of yourself so you can be there for others, because we are all leaders. Remember, service to our country cannot happen without you.