Guest Interview ~ Meet Nicholas Trandahl ~ A Veteran Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

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  • Nicholas, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. The more people are willing to stand up and confidently tell their story of mental illness, the sooner the world will accept it as a real medical condition ~ no different from any other! Tell us a little bit about your history with mental illness.

I’ve suffered from anxiety for several years, but depression first reared its head in 2009, while I was deployed in the Middle East with my Missile Defense battery in the U.S. Army.

Fueled by the first signs of my marriage failing, loneliness, isolation and spiritual guilt (being a practicing Buddhist but being in a profession and culture of militarism) depression quickly spread rampantly in a severe downward spiral that summer. I began a process of isolating, my military unit taking a hands-off approach with me and thus inadvertently increasing my isolation, until on the morning of 09-09-09 I attempted suicide alone in the dark in my barracks room.

I was obviously unsuccessful, and was quickly shipped off to military in-patient facilities in Germany and El Paso, TX. Soon after my time as a military in-patient I was honorably discharged (with a service-connected disability due to my severe depressive disorder) from the military with no transition to civilian life, and returned back to my home in Wyoming.

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  • What stigmas did you face when dealing with others?

After my failed suicide attempt and the revelation that I was very mentally ill, my military unit (who until that moment had been my “battle buddies” and brothers and sisters) wanted to have nothing to do with me. And over time it’s even been brought to my attention that they looked down greatly upon me, even suggesting that I was faking mental illness to return to the States.  

Among my family, my experience of mental illness has been largely swept under the rug. I’ve only discussed things with a few close family and friends. My father and my extended family have still never spoken to me about what happened to me or even made sure that I’ve gotten better.

  • Veterans have a statistically higher rate of suicide compared to other demographics. Do you think there is also more of a tendency to stigmatize mental illness in the military?

There is a massive tendency to stigmatize mental illness in the military. Male or female, it is a very macho culture. Sorrow and depression is largely viewed as a weakness or a liability. And from my own experience, other soldiers grow very uncomfortable and distrustful of someone suffering from mental illness, taking steps to distance themselves from that person.

And the sad thing is that our military members and veterans are suffering … badly. These prolonged conflicts, deployments (oftentimes several) and very high stress factors contribute greatly to depression, PTSD, anxiety and isolation.

  • What impact did the stigma have on you?

The revelation that my “battle buddies” have, in fact, looked down upon me, minimized my battle with depression and suicide, and even accused me of faking mental illness, is still very hard for me to deal with. I’ve attempted to reach out several times to those that were important to me, and have for the most part been met with nothing but silence or rebukes. When it comes to my family that have avoided confronting or discussing my mental health, I have felt like they are ashamed of me and what I’ve done.

  • Have you been able to find adequate help for your mental illness?

I faced a very tough couple years of depressive bouts, suicidal ideation, and a long enrollment process into my local Veterans Affairs hospital. I began therapy at my local VA in earnest along with an abundance of different meds.

Currently, I still go to regular therapy appointments but have replaced all my depression and anxiety meds with healthy forms of self-medication such as writing poetry, Buddhism, and meditation. Help has also arrived in the support and encouragement of some close friends and family.

  • If you could stand up on a soap box and speak just a few words to the world about mental illness, what would those words be?

When it comes to mental illness, I can only speak of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. It is hell. It’s a world of dread and hopelessness and we, as a culture and a nation have a lot of work to do to help erase a lot of the stigma against mental health. Our military also has massive amounts of work to do when it comes to properly handling soldiers that show signs of mental illness and those that have been overcome by them. Isolation and distance are not the answer. 

  • What advice do you have to someone who is reading this post right now, and struggling with their own mental illness, or that of a loved one?

Help can come. And that help doesn’t have to be limited to therapy and medications. Solace and peace can be found in writing, art, music, family, meditation, faith, religion, spirituality, and countless other things. I’ve personally found creativity and mediation to be the ultimate “medications” when it comes to dealing with my own mental illness.

  • What are you doing in your life right now, and what does the future hold for you?

I’m a father of two sweet daughters, who live with me and my significant other in our home in Wyoming. I write for the local newspaper (a family business), but I’m also a published novelist and poet.

My debut novel, a fantasy story entitled The Azure Wizard, was released worldwide in 2012 and this year my debut poetry collection, Lost Yellow, was released through my publisher.

Much of my published poetry was written in the throes of depression, as I use poetry writing as a form of medication when my anxiety or depression is weighing on me. I hope for my poetry collection to provide an outlet for those with similar feelings and emotions. I hope to alleviate some of the stigma of mental illness (especially among military servicemen and women as well as veterans) with my writing. I hope the future holds for me many decades of writing, contentment and fatherhood.

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  • Nicholas, thank you so much for stopping by and sharing such a personal and painful story. Your story will help inspire and encourage others who are suffering as you have. Before you go, would you like to share one of the poems from your book, Lost Yellow, and explain to us what that poem means to you.
This poem, ‘Walking Myself in Dark Snows’ was written just after being discharged from the military for my mental illness. It raises questions I was asking myself at the time about reality and what I may have lost when I attempted suicide, the fear that I may have lost everything.

Walking Myself in Dark Snows

© Nicholas R. Trandahl, All rights reserved

It seems so strange to have given up,
To have taken my own hand for my last walk,
And now I see our bright sapphire sky,
And I wonder if all this is even real.
In a place where no clouds grace the sky,
And not a child is seen nor heard to cry,
I find myself living in a cruel land,
Living where a life would go to die.
Are all things, all this, so very wrong?
Why, to me alone, does it seem so?
Maybe on that day of the triple nine,
I took myself where life isn’t allowed to go,
And maybe, just maybe, I didn’t make it,
And maybe in reality black, like ashes, is the snow.

You can find both of Nicholas’ books at his Amazon Author Central Page

You can also connect with Nicholas at these social networks:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NickyTrandahl

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5759681.Nicholas_Trandahl

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/trandahl/

Google+: https://plus.google.com/107693211676727898023/posts?utm_source=chrome_ntp_icon&utm_medium=chrome_app&utm_campaign=chrome

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nicholas-Trandahl/328469813854639?ref=hl

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Help is available 24/7 at the ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Do you have a story to share? I’m currently looking for guests to interview about their experiences with mental illness (either your own, or that of a loved one) or grief from the death of a loved one. If you are interested, please let me know in the comments, thank you!  😉

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10 thoughts on “Guest Interview ~ Meet Nicholas Trandahl ~ A Veteran Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness

  1. Thanks for sharing that very touching and sad story. Just reading it makes my blood boil. Mental illness is real and the stigma has to stop.

    I too faced a lot of stigma from my colleagues when I was diagnosed with severe depression. I was working as a psych nurse at the time and they completely turned their backs on me. I certainly did not expect to face stigma from people who work in mental health.

    Thanks for sharing your story. The only way we can fight this is to talk about it in a open and real way. Shame and fear often force us to be silent but we can’t be silent if we want things to change.

      • I just wanted to share that I don’t think that feelings of shame are helpful for anyone. Making others feel shame will only cause them to be silent and I think for stigma to end there needs to be an ongoing two way conversation. Just a thought…

    • it’s fine. the first time you post, it has to be approved, in order to weed out the spammers. But now that you have an approved comment, you can post freely! thanks for the great commets! 😉

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