What its like to be a military mental health technician:
I try to make each person I meet with feel comfortable. Slouching low in my chair with a casual tone, like two friends conversing, I put them at ease. I even put the pen down when emotion rises and let empathy flood into my eyes. Questions drum off my tongue with quick succession, â€œ How old were you when your mother left?â€, â€œHave you ever been abused?â€, â€œ Are you having any thoughts of suicide?â€. The words flow, floating their way into the atmosphere to meet a patientâ€˜s thinking pause. And no matter the content, no matter my heart wrenched surprise, no answer ever gets an eyebrow raise.
I walk the chow hall with a bucket full of othersâ€™ secrets. As I wait in line I watch Smith seated amongst chattering friends, absentmindedly stirring the mash potatoes on his plate. He relapsed last week, and I wonder if his lunching buddies have noticed his recent introversion. When itâ€™s my turn in line, Davies, whoâ€™s going through a grueling divorce, serves me my order of pork chops dispassionately and forgets to offer an â€œHave a nice dayâ€ as I take the plate. Seems things have taken a turn for the worse, heâ€™s been shuffling around like this: blood shot eyes, sagging expression, and wrinkled uniform for the last week. At least Callaway is doing well today. I spot her near by lightheartedly joking with her boyfriend. I had a feeling Lieutenantâ€™s counseling style would work well with her, Iâ€˜m glad I put them together. The cashier rings up my meal and Callaway catches my prolonged glance and quickly averts her eyes.
I push through the 11 am lunch crowd, a field of camouflage, loud voices, and brief â€œhello/goodbyesâ€œ. I pass familiar face after familiar face which brightens in recognition. Yet, shortly brightness collapses to quiet shame, exposed, as their recognition leads to a memory connection. Their story falls off the book shelf of my mind, revealing sour tidbits. Raped when he was 10, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, on 24 hour watch. I can barely see their eyes looking at mine, just labels in Times New Roman font under SOAP note: Diagnoses: Axis I. II. III. I quickly look away, out of respect. Our exchanges are a silent unwanted acknowledgment, that holds too many seconds, and I breathe better as I exit. Yet as the distance between us grows, foot propelling foot, I am left rereading the opened story in my mind. I just donâ€™t forget.