Commentary: It's okay to reach out for help

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Julia Alonzo
  • 49th Security Forces Squadron

I wasn’t always depressed. My life was great. I spent quality time with my family, traveling together, and hiking was our favorite thing to do. I had a strong bond with my coworkers and really enjoyed attending flight events on top of the squadron functions. I was even promoted to staff sergeant that year.

Then in December of 2021, I realized my life was different. I was different.

During the day, I found myself feeling lonely at home with a house full of people and at night I was alone with my thoughts which kept me awake. I had thoughts about not wanting to exist and the feeling that my life was over kept racing through my mind and body.

My performance at work eventually suffered as well. After a countless amount of sleepless nights, the 4 a.m. report times were harder and harder to manage. Eventually it got to a point where I simply couldn't perform at my job. I was tired, I had no motivation to better myself or better my Airmen.

At home, I couldn't be a good mom to my kids. I didn't want to see them; I didn't want them around. I started to resent my husband-at-the time for being a stay-at-home dad and not bringing in any income, which slowly strained our relationship.

I found myself in a mental space where I would absolutely dread going to work every day and I would dread going home to my family. In this space, nothing could cheer me up or make me feel better. I lost interest in everything that I loved to do, like listen to music, workout or socialize with close friends.

I didn't want to seek help because I thought people would think I was trying to get out of work. Even more, as a cop there were other factors to consider– I most likely wouldn’t be able to arm up. I feared the flight would think I wasn’t trying to help and ultimately thought I’d lose my job, which prevented me from seeking help for a long time.

Then came a day that I thought there was a possibility that I wouldn’t make it till tomorrow. It was this incident that pushed me to reach out to Mental Health, and that night I ended up going to an inpatient facility in El Paso, Texas.

At the time I had been in the U.S. Air Force for six years and had never considered going to see a mental health professional, but spending those eight weeks at the outpatient facility probably saved my life.

Those eight weeks were excruciating. Not because I was receiving treatment, but because I was absent from work. Thoughts about my coworkers being mad at me flooded through my mind, however, in that time I learned so much about myself.

I had to reframe my mind to not worry about others and focus on healing me. That was the beginning step on learning how to cope with my depression and anxiety. I gained so much invaluable knowledge during those eight weeks.

I was also prescribed medication and initially I feared I might lose my job, but I didn’t. I learned and have come to accept that taking medication is not a form of weakness but that some people really need it to function.

Today, I’m thriving.

I’m excelling in my workplace. I’m the supervisor my troops needed me to be. I’m the noncommissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the supply section of my squadron. After I was put on medication, I was able to arm back up and continue working as I did before.

At home, I’m back to my old self. I’m a proud full-time single mom going to school, and I couldn’t be happier. I feel good about myself and became the mom I needed to be.

Looking back at the darker times in my life, I truly believe that had I not sought help from mental health, I would not be here today.

The advice I have for anyone struggling like I did, is to know that it’s okay to not be okay. If I have one regret, it’s not having gone sooner.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, anxiety or in distress, please reach out to your local mental health clinic. There are also other resources you utilize within the Air Force, such as Military Family and Life Counselors, Preservation of the Force and Family providers, Military One Source, and more.

Editor’s note: This commentary was edited by Airman 1st Class Michelle Ferrari and reflects the author’s personal experiences seeking mental health treatment. Her experience does not necessarily reflect any other individual’s experiences, which can vary due to a number of factors, including past experiences, family history, AFSC, or other life circumstances. We still encourage everyone to take care of themselves so that they have the opportunity to lead a happy, successful Air Force life.