The first episode in this series will be diving into battling depression, misdiagnosis and a journey to finding the correct medication.
As if all of that isn’t hard enough, now add in consistently moving for the military, constantly changing doctors, raising children and all of the other fun stuff required of a Military Spouse.
In this episode, I’m joined by Megan Hall, the creator and host of the Inspired Women podcast. She is going to share her truth and I know you will find this first episode helpful and intriguing.
Here’s the full Facebook Live, or you can read the full transcript below.
Pam Chavez: All right, we are live now. Hi, welcome! I am Pam Chavez, the founder of Help on the Homefront and today we are kicking off our new series “Military Spouse Spotlight: Honest Conversations.” And I have Megan Hall here, the creator of the Inspired Women podcast.
Megan Hall: Yay!
Pam: Yay! She is an open book. I am so glad that she has agreed to come on. And I really wanted to start this series because I think so many times as military spouses we don’t necessarily like talking about the tough topics. We don’t ever really want to seem ungrateful or that we aren’t handling it all with the utmost of grace and that the, the sticky spots, you know, they’re very real. And I think we need to start talking about that because first of all, it just gives you somebody to relate to. So then, this lifestyle is so lonely and unpredictable to begin with. And when you know that there are so many other people out there going through what you are going through, then it doesn’t feel so lonely. And our topic today is depression.
Megan: I knew that, I mean, coming here.
Pam: Right? Surprise! Hope you’re ready. So yes, my guest today, Megan, is definitely somebody who can speak on this topic. I know that it’s so common and it’s definitely becoming more acceptable to talk about it, to say that you have it. But within the military community there is definitely still a lot that is not discussed.
Pam: Yeah, I think that some of it might have to do with the fact that military members still really have a tough—even though it’s very common to have depression, and it needs to be discussed—you know there’s a worry of ramifications for jobs and I think that can kind of trickle down to us then worrying about things getting out or maybe being judged too. So what do you think, what do you feel about that?
Megan: Well for some military members, they would lose their job because they can’t be on the mental health medications. I say that as somebody whose husband would lose his job if he was on depression medication because he’s not allowed to be on mind-altering medications in his job.
Megan: So I do think a lot of people hide it, but I also think on the spouse side there’s the fear of being, like, EFMP. My daughter, they tried to put her on the program because she has depression. But, I mean, there’s nowhere we can be stationed where there’s not going to be a mental health professional accessible. But I feel like so many times people misunderstand depression. It has become more acceptable in society, but there’s still such a stigma, right? Like, people misunderstand what people are going to look like when they’re depressed. I have people who always say to me, “Oh, you’re so happy. There’s no way that you struggle with depression.” I’m like, “I’ve been feeling this since I was a little, little person, right? So I’ve gotten really good at faking looking good, and being happy even though I don’t feel it.
Pam: Right, yeah. So how did your symptoms start out? I mean, can you recognize it now or did you even know back then?
Megan: I didn’t know back then. In my family, mental health is not something people talked about. When they did talk about it there were really bad things said. Like, my parents would make jokes about people being put in Ogdensburg, which was the mental institution close to us. And my parents would talk about people having to go to the “loony bin,” make comments about people in our family who had depression. Like, my great-grandfather hung himself and my mom would make weird comments about that. And so I never felt comfortable even saying “I don’t feel right.” But I didn’t know it was depression because I was, I mean, I’ve literally dealt with depression as long as I can remember since I was really young. And now we know, like, yes, there’s a reason for that. But I have—and I just thought I was different than everybody else. And it wasn’t till I got older that I knew it was depression because I had heard things, you know, like in school, or online when the Internet became a thing. I’m not old, that—it wasn’t always a thing!
Pam: Me too!
Megan: And I would say it came to…I got help—“got help”—for the first time when I was in college because I was having severe suicidal ideation, like a lot. And my PCM put me on depression medications and I got worse, not better. And so even then I didn’t seek out there because nobody told me I should. Nobody told me that was acceptable. Because I was brought up in a household where that’s not what you did. You just sucked it up and you just had to cheer up. And so I didn’t ever feel comfortable talking about that. And in 2013 I tried to take my life. I was going to overdose on medication and my husband stopped me. And that was the first time I ever sought out a mental health professional, and it’s kind of cause he made me.
Megan: And it was life-changing. But you know, back to your question, I didn’t know the words I could put to depression when I was younger. I actually didn’t know those words until I was, like, in my early twenties. Like “Oh, this is what I’ve been feeling. Oh, okay. Most people don’t feel this way.”
Pam: Yeah. So was it just like a bunch of sadness, or…?
Megan: No, that’s a misconception a lot of people think, is when it comes to depression that you’re just really sad. For me it was an emptiness. I didn’t feel anything. Like, I didn’t feel anything, I had no motivation, I really could care less about life, and it was just this darkness. I always say it’s like this deep, dark hole. And I can always feel the pull of it whenever I’m getting there. And it’s really hard to describe to anybody who’s never been there. But it is like this emptiness where you just don’t feel anything. You’re not motivated, you don’t want to get out of bed. I think the word is apathy. Like you just don’t give a crap, you just don’t care. It’s like you just feel empty inside in a way, and you’re just like, “I don’t care. I don’t even know why I’m here. Why am I here?” Like, “There’s no reason for me to be here cause this is the most miserable feeling in the world.”
Pam: Right, yeah. So did you spend a lot of time in bed, or, like, not able to sort of get out and function in that way?
Megan: So, my therapist refers to me as a “high functioning person” when it comes to mental illness. And, um, there were many times I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I had to for some reason. Like, I have a daughter at 16 years old, so I’ve always had this innate feeling like I needed to be there for my kids. And the only time that I got close to ending it was because my husband could be there for my kids, and so I didn’t need to anymore. And I’ve always said they’re my buffer, so nobody ever has to worry about my mental health if my kids are in the house with me because I couldn’t—I could never bring myself to do that to my children, because I found my mom overdosed on the floor when I was a kid. So, I mean she’s alive now. She got her stomach pumped. But that was terrifying as a child and it scarred me for life and so I could never, I could never do that to my children. So my kids were the reason—and there were multiple times that I came close and people stopped me. Like, my first suicidal ideation was after my parents divorced when I was 13. And my sister stopped me. She didn’t even know what she was stopping at the time. She stopped me and I was on pause and had enough time to come out of it and be like, “Oh, okay, maybe I shouldn’t do that.”
Megan: But, I never felt in control of that. It wasn’t—a lot of people think suicide, it’s like a conscious decision, like you think about it for a really long time and then you’re like, “Oh, okay, I think now’s the day I’m going to do it.” I mean there are symptoms there for a while and it’s going to come and go. But it happens so quickly that you go from this decision of “I don’t feel like”…and it’s not even like “I want this pain to end.” At least for me it wasn’t. It was “I think the world would be better off without me.”
Pam: Yeah. And I think because depression presents itself so differently in everybody, and then there’s the whole spectrum and all of the different types of depression and the categories and then the sub categories. Because I have depression too, and I never laid around in bed all day long. That wasn’t ever really a symptom for me. So I didn’t realize that what I was feeling was depression because that was the mental image that I had, that that’s what depression was. I mean I just never really thought about exploring that, but mine was a lot of lack of self-worth, or not feeling good enough, not feeling wanted or needed, you know, as a younger person really. So then how is it dealing with all of this and then to throw in the military lifestyle? Constantly moving all the time, solo parenting a lot, all of the stressors, deployments, you know, I mean it’s a lot.
Megan: It is a lot. And I will say right now I’m in the middle of my first move, so I’ve never had to move before, fortunately, in the eight years I’ve been married. We’ve been stationed in the same place. But we’ve dealt with a lot of underways and deployments, and during my husband’s last deployment, it was really, really bad. And I’m fortunate I had a really good support system built up by that point in time, because I think without it, I don’t know what would have happened. I think I probably would have found somebody to take my kids and they would have just had to keep my kids until my husband came home. It was really hard, but I definitely have to say I give credit to my support system, the people that were there for me and I was able to call and be like, “I’m in a bad place right now,” like “Can we go out to dinner?” or “Can you come over?” Even up until recently that’s how it’s been is, you know, that support system. I was spiraling out of control about two months ago, cause I have anxiety too that’s developed later on in life. But I have anxiety too and my therapist is like “You’ve got to get help, you are losing it right now.” And she’s like “You’re no longer highly functioning.” She’s like “I’m worried for you.” And it was a lot of stress cause my husband’s geo-baching right now. And this is a decision we made at the time cause I was doing well, because we wanted the kids to be able to finish school, I graduated with my Associate’s in May… We thought when he left last fall/winter time that I would be able to do it and…I am. But I wasn’t for a little while. Like, there were some really big concerns and my husband didn’t even know cause he’s not around and he’s really busy with his new job and prepping, that he didn’t even realize how bad it was getting right here.
Pam: Yeah. Can he recognize, sort of, your triggers, or when you’re starting to go down that path, yet, or…?
Megan: So I recently got a new mental health diagnosis. I was diagnosed with bipolar two disorder, and the difference between bipolar two and bipolar one is bipolar two—the reason I was misdiagnosed for so long is the main symptom is depression. And then we go into “hypomania stages,” which, my hypomania looked like normal behavior, except they happen all the time, like binge drinking and spending lots of money. I’m talking about tens of thousands of dollars. When I was younger, promiscuity. Setting big audacious goals. Which people are like, “That’s normal.” And I’m like, “Except you couldn’t snap me out of it.” If I wanted to be 110 pounds, you would not have been able to convince me that that’s not healthy for me. So there were some extreme behaviors and I made rash decisions, I was very irritable, I was depressed all the time. And so when I got this mental health diagnosis is after my therapist said, “You’re spiraling out of control and you need to see somebody and you need to get on medication.” And I was like, “No,” cause I had such a bad reaction to medication last time. And I went and saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner who accepted Tricare and she said, “I think you have bipolar two disorder.” And I’m like, “No, I don’t. No. I’ve gotten my mind wrapped around depression and anxiety, no, you’re not giving me a new diagnosis.” And she’s like, “Well, I want you to go home, do your research, and go get this medication filled.” She’s like, “It’s a mood stabilizer. I think it’s really going to help you.” And I went home and I researched it and I’m like, “Holy crap, that is me. That’s me to a tee.” Like, every symptom they talked about. And since I got on the mood stabilizer, there’s a dramatic difference in how I respond to things and respond to stress. Like yes I still have stressors and I still get irritable sometimes because my kids are out of control with the move and the stress. But it’s not the way it was, raw spiraling. So my husband has seen a difference now because I was like that for so long that we didn’t really know that there was a difference, like I should be different. And now he can see when I call him, I’m not complaining and crying and losing my mind on the phone with him. Before he was like, “She’s just really stressed and she wants to get it out.” Now he sees, I’ll tell him things, like that are going wrong because, you know, typical military, everything has gone wrong.
Pam: Of course!
Megan: But I’m not losing it over these things. So, back to your question, did he know my triggers and stuff before? Not really, because I was always like that. It was rare that you actually saw a difference in my behavior.
Pam: Yeah. So how many deployments have you gone through with him?
Megan: I’ve only done one deployment, but he’s on a submarine, so I’ve done many underways.
Pam: Right. And how long does he go for those typically?
Megan: It could be a couple of days, it could be a couple of weeks, it could be a couple of months. I think the longest underway we did was three months. It’s practically a deployment at that point, right?
Pam: Yeah, exactly. And I know, cause we’re army. I mean there’s always training, there’s always something. They may not be deployed, but that doesn’t mean they are around.
Megan: And then he’s done a lot of schooling and stuff like that to where he’d be gone months at a time. So I think in our eight years of marriage we’ve maybe spent like two of my birthdays together.
Pam: Oh, right, they’re never around for holidays and birthdays. I know, I know. I don’t think a lot of the civilian world realizes necessarily how much they are always, you know, gone. And so then yeah, deployment just adds that whole other layer of, you know, stress and anxiety on top. I hear military spouses many times downplaying all that they handle, live through, deal with, because they aren’t necessarily the one going to war or, you know, the service member. But it is extremely stressful for somebody that you love and care about to be deployed to, you know, a dangerous area. It’s a lot sitting on your mind constantly. I know I personally don’t watch the news. It’s not really fun on an average day anyways, but especially if you’ve got somebody overseas, because if you hear anything you’re like, “Oh my God, are they okay?” Cause you hear stuff about aircraft all the time. My husband always worked on aircraft, and until you know it’s not them, it’s just always in the back of your mind like, “Oh my God, well what if it is, you know?” Yeah, it’s a very, very stressful situation.
Megan: And we can dramatize it in our heads. So like my husband’s on a submarine, like I mentioned. You never know where they are and sometimes you go months at a time without hearing from them. And they might not even be able to warn you. They might not even be able to go “Comms are going to be down. Just so you know.” It might just go dead silent for like two months. And you’re just like “Oh my God, please tell me he didn’t sink somewhere in the ocean.” And you know they’re not alive because I’ve seen all the submarine movies like Hunt for Red October where submarines sink to the bottom of the ocean, you know. And you don’t know like, oh when they say “This happened overseas,” were they involved? And the Navy just has maybe not told us yet, because they can’t locate them? Like, what’s going on here? So you just don’t know.
Pam: Yeah. And so there are those additional stressors to just every day, you know, mom life, being a wife, and all of that stuff. So it is a lot. And I would say, I have a fabulous therapist here in town. I try to find one at every location that we go to and it makes a world of difference, and the military insurance will cover that. And I think everybody should go. I mean, I think it should just be mandatory for everybody military-family-wise to go, because there is always something that needs to be worked through or worked on. And sort of having that outside party help you work through that I think is crucial.
Megan: I couldn’t agree more because you know, I’m going to be a therapist when I grow up. And I’ve been in therapy for almost six years now and Tricare’s always covered it. And the first time I saw somebody at Fleet and Family Service, and then the second time, because I stopped for a little bit, Military One Source helped me locate my therapist now and she accepts Tricare. So after my 12 sessions with Military One Source ran out I just stayed there with her and I’ve been with her ever since. And I mean I have to leave her in a little bit, but yeah, we’re doing great.
Pam: Right? I know, I know. I swear I don’t want to move cause I love the one that I have right now so much. I don’t want to leave her.
Megan: Yeah, I agree. I’m like “Come on man! I don’t to have to find somebody else.”
Pam: Yeah. Let’s see. Annette said that “Some often forget about the children and the family left behind when the soldier deploys.” So yeah, you know, it’s easy. Everybody’s just sort of living their everyday life. And at first I feel like when your spouse deploys, everybody is like hyper-aware of it, and then everybody gets back to their normal routine. And I mean, you certainly don’t want the fanfare or anything, but you know, yeah, it gets to be a lot. Like yesterday my husband called and I was exhausted. Just no rhyme or reason for it. It was just, you know, you’re solo parenting, you’re taking care of a lot. It just gets tiring and it catches up with you.
Megan: And I have to say, when my spouse is deployed, it was nice not just to have military friends. It’s nice to have military friends cause they understood, right? They’ve been through it too or they were going through it at the time. But it was also nice to have civilian friends that I didn’t have to talk about the military, or even have it come up, because sometimes I was just so burnt out with military talk and changes in schedule and “where are they going to be now?”, and days just flipped and flopped like they always do. I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I just didn’t.
Pam: Yeah. And do you live on post or off post or do you guys…?
Megan: No, we’ve lived off base like his entire life since I married him. And we will be living off base in Connecticut as well because we tried to get it on base, but you know, there was no waiting list and then there was like a six month waiting list. So when we went to apply for it, because when he first got up there, he was like, “Oh, I don’t need to apply. There’s no waiting list, so we’ll get in like that, and we don’t need a house right now.” And then when he went to apply to it, there had been like two fires and a shooting… So like there was nothing left because they had to replace all those families in new housing.
Pam: Oh wow.
Megan: So yeah, there was nothing in there, they were like “It’s going to be at least six months.” We were like “That does not work in our timetable.” So like everything that we planned has not gone as planned.
Pam: You get tested around every corner, definitely.
Megan: Pretty much, yeah.
Pam: So you’re getting ready to get back into college? Well, continue on, I guess you’ve been in for a while.
Megan: I am, yeah.
Pam: And is this for your Master’s? Is that what that is?
Megan: No. So I finished my Associate’s in May, because the first time I went to college I had the mental health struggles and I ended up flunking out my last semester because I was in a domestic violence situation, not with my current husband. And so some of those transferred, but not enough cause I was a business major and now I’m a science major, a social science major. So, not all of those credits transferred. So I finished my Associate’s, I got accepted into Yukon, and I will finish my Bachelor’s and, if we can stay up there, my PhD. So my PhD is a goal because it’s the most flexibility in the mental health field, I feel. I want to be a therapist, but what if a couple of years in I’m like “This is not for me.” I could be a professor, I could be a researcher, I could—there’s so many options. So I don’t want to limit myself.
Pam: Right! Got to get all the education to keep all the options open.
Megan: Well my husband’s in the military and can pay all the things and I don’t have to worry about the bill.
Pam: Yes, that is convenient and that has its benefits for sure. Yeah, college is not—it’s stressful too. And how many kids do you have?
Megan: We have sixteen—well she’ll be sixteen next week—sixteen, nine, seven, and seven.
Pam: Ok, wow, yeah. That’s a lot.
Megan: And three of them were in therapy. Well, two are now. The oldest just stopped therapy recently because her therapist said she’s good to go. So three of them were in therapy. One had an orthodontist, she had to just have braces cause her adult teeth came in behind her baby teeth. We had regular doctor’s appointments. So I literally said to somebody, I’m like, “I’m just so tired of driving my kids everywhere.”
Pam: Always on the go! Well I’m going to post to your—you won’t see it but—I’m going to put up all of your links there on the screen. And as I said, you’ve got the Inspired Women podcast. They could see your Facebook, Instagram, and you have your Inspired Women community. And I have been a guest on your podcast and yeah, I knew when I started this that I wanted to have you on as a guest because I love your openness. We connected anyways when we jumped on last time, so I knew we’d be able to chat it up, no problem. But yeah, you want to talk about your Inspired Women community and let people know about it?
Megan: Yeah, so, the Inspired Women podcast is a great way for people to hear stories, not exactly like mine. Sometimes we talk about mental health, sometimes it’s domestic violence, sometimes it’s self-care. I have quite a few military spouses who’ve been guests on there but it’s not all military spouses. I like to make it inclusive to women all over. And so we try to keep it to where it’s not super religious or super political or any of those things. So anybody could find inspiration as long as they don’t mind foul language, cause I have a mouth on me. But the community is kind of like the offset of the podcast where people can find support and not feel judged. I try to shut that down real quick. If somebody is getting too judgey on that there, I’ll call them out and be like, “Maybe this isn’t the place for you to be doing this.” Cause I never want a woman to feel like “I can’t be open and honest here” or like “I’m not good enough,” like “I haven’t come far enough to be part of this community.” It is for any woman or anybody who identifies as a woman. So I’ve had a trans woman on my podcast. It’s my personal belief that trans women are women. So if somebody is a woman or identifies as a woman, they are welcome to come to the community and get support. I also do Facebook lives Monday through Friday, like short little ones and I post them in the community so people can see them. And yeah, it’s been a two year project—over two years—that the podcast has been going on. And I am just very grateful to have that as an outlet for me to share, but also as an outlet for me to share other women’s stories like yours, Pam, because I feel like there’s so much we can learn from other peoples’ journeys and maybe it will prevent us from not having to learn it ourselves.
Pam: Right, exactly, yes. And it’s very cathartic to share your story and to get it out. And if you know it helps one person, then it’s all worth it.
Megan: That’s how I feel. That’s my motto pretty much. And that’s why when you were like, “Do you mind coming on and sharing about your mental health journey?” And I was like, “No, I don’t care if people have an issue with it or judge it.” I truly believe everybody should try therapy at least once in their lives, especially if you’re a military spouse, because we do deal with a lot of stressors: PCSAing, deployments, you know, not seeing your husbands—or a spouse—you know. I learned one time at a conference I was at, they were talking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and it goes like, you have to reach this step to go to the next one and so on and so forth. Well, one of the first steps is safety and housing and stuff like that. And you can’t always feel safe and have that housing always down, you know, and have your home, if you’re always moving. So even now, like even though I’m in my house that I’ve lived in for eight years, I don’t feel like I have a home because soon it’s not going to be my house, you know, so it’s hard to reach those other levels of self-fulfillment if you don’t even have that down. And I think that’s why as military spouses, we need to see therapists. And Tricare does cover them. On their website you can look for therapists that accept Tricare in your area. If you are near a Navy base, Fleet and Family Service has therapists. Sometimes they only do service members or children, and sometimes they have spouses. Another good way is Military One Source. We’ll get you hooked up with a therapist in your area and you get 12 sessions through Military One Source where you don’t even have to use Tricare. So they all have their perks and you can find somebody. And one last thing I want to say about therapists is if you don’t like the first one, don’t give up. Find the one you do like.
Pam: I was going to say the same thing. There’s a little trial and error with them and you will be able to tell if it’s a good fit. Yeah. It definitely makes a difference.
Megan: And don’t be scared of a diagnosis, cause I mean, if I had just like walked away and not listened to the woman about my new diagnosis, I would not know what it’s like to have my head clear and actually function and not have to try so hard to function, because every day it was a battle for me to get out of bed. So it’s been huge.
Pam: Yeah, no, that is huge. Well thank you so much for sharing your story and for jumping on and chatting with me.
Megan: Well, thank you for having me!
Pam: Yes, thank you. All right. Bye-bye.