Commentary: Are you okay?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Celeste Zuniga
  • 307th Bomb Wing

“I am never going to amount to anything.”

This is exactly what I was thinking only three weeks ago.

As a new Airman, I was still trying to adjust to my new job.

My paychecks weren’t coming in correctly, so I hadn’t gotten paid in four weeks.

For the third time, I was beginning to change my mind about my college choice.

Things were going on in the country I serve that made me question my worth.

Being away from home, I didn’t have any friends to talk to.

The truth is that I felt lonely, worthless and scared. I went to work every day trying to hide my worries, because I didn’t want my leadership to think I couldn’t handle my job or that I needed extra help. I didn’t want them to think I was weak.

I didn’t tell my parents, because I didn’t want to worry them.

I didn’t want to spend money on food, so I had only eaten once a day for the past two weeks or so. I was afraid to go anywhere, even back home, because I didn’t want to spend money on gas.

I didn’t know the answers or where to find them.

I would smile at work, but all I wanted to do when I got to my dorm was cry and sleep.

Even though I tried to act strong, I felt weak.

One day, my supervisor asked me a simple question.

“Are you okay?”

Nobody had asked me if I was okay since my training started. I smiled and nodded and tried to get back to work. That’s what strong people do, right?

My supervisor took the seat next to me and asked one more time:

“Are you sure you’re doing okay?”

Before I knew it, the tears were streaming down my cheeks, and everything I tried so hard to hold in was flowing out.

He helped me check online to figure out what had gone wrong with my pay, and he helped me budget and come up with a different plan for me to be able to go to school.

Though not all of my problems were solved, I felt a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

My first few weeks in the operational Air Force, I overwhelmed myself with stress, because I wanted to figure everything out for myself.

Now, I ask myself why I didn’t ask for help sooner.

Stigmas surrounding mental health cause people to be afraid of seeking help. They feel they will be labeled as inadequate, inferior, and sometimes even crazy.

Even worse, the stereotypes may not just come from others, but from oneself. Like me, people sometimes refuse help with their mental health, because they believe they should be able to handle their own problems.

These stigmas, coming from a lack of understanding and knowledge on the subject, can stop us from completing our mission.

Physical health is a default priority for anyone in the Air Force, because it assures that Airmen are physically mission-ready at any moment.

However, the brain is the most important organ. So, how can an Airman complete the mission if they are not mentally ready?

I didn’t realize how much I was limiting my potential… until I wasn’t.

I was unmotivated, I wasn’t able to focus and I felt like nothing I did was good enough. I was slipping down a slope that others fall victim to every day. All because I wanted to feel “strong.”

Now I know that even the strongest, smartest people don’t know all the answers, and nobody should expect themselves to either.

The good news, though, is that there is always someone out there who has been through what you’re going through or knows how to get through it; you just have to ask for help.

New airmen, don’t ever be afraid of talking to leadership about your personal problems. The mission can’t be completed if you’re not functioning properly. You’re part of the Air Force family now. Wingmen and other resources are available to you.

Leadership, don’t brush off your Airmen. If you get a feeling that something is wrong, speak to them. Ignoring these internal signs can hurt, but asking never does. Make sure resources are easily and readily available.

The simplest way to help is to ask and listen. For me, all it took was three words.

Seeking or accepting help does not make you weak or any less capable. Burdens are heavy; humans can only bottle up so many before they overflow.

With everything going on in the world right now, we must come together as a branch and create a culture where discussions about mental health are accepted and encouraged.

Remember that real strength isn’t trying to do everything alone.

Real strength is doing your best and then being able to put your pride aside to ask for help when you need it.