Although “wingmanship” is something I live every day now
as an Airman, the concept is something I have been familiar
with my entire life. I specifically remember a moment this
came into play when I was a 16-year-old assistant Cub Scout
We were in the woods and I had sent my pack
of eight-year-old Cub Scouts on a mission to find branches
to whittle into slingshots.
“Remember to look for
strong, mendable tree branches!” I shouted to them.
Once each of them came back with a branch, I grabbed my own
and stood in the center of the group. I started to peel the
tree bark with a knife, unveiling its underside and how to
bend the branches without snapping them. The scouts stared
up at me, their mouths hanging open.
As I continued
to whittle the branch, all the boys suddenly popped up from
their seats and began panicking around me.
“I need a
buddy!” one of them shouted. I watched as the scouts paired
up, taking off and yelling “Help, Ms. Kaylee is bleeding!
I looked down and realized what all the fuss
was about ... I had given myself a small cut on my finger.
Looking back at this now, I can’t help but chuckle a bit
at the support those Cub Scouts gave me over a small wound
that only needed a Band-Aid.
I wish I had those tiny
wingmen these past nine months.
A STORM BREWING
Last fall, I felt like I was losing my foundation.
Within a short time frame, my best friend got a new
assignment to California, and my supervisor, who had become
my biggest mentor, left for a deployment. Soon after, I
found myself significantly struggling to find my place as a
new Airman, and perform at the same level as my peers.
In the blink of an eye, I felt the structure of my life
crumble underneath me. I felt as if there was a big storm
brewing in my head. I suddenly developed this constant
overwhelming feeling, like I was spiraling down into a deep
pit and couldn’t find a grip to hold. I felt like I was
never going to be able to pull myself out of that hole. I
felt like I was never going to feel happy again. All I
wanted was to hit rock bottom, so maybe, just maybe, I could
start over again.
I kept begging, “Please just make
What did I want to stop? My life? No, not
my life. My thoughts, the pain, the sadness.
never good enough. People don’t even like you. You’re
constantly a bother. You’re awful at everything,” I would
say to myself.
These constantly-racing thoughts
I was exhausted. I felt alone. My mind
was in chaos it had imprisoned me in some kind of
self-loathing bubble that I just couldn’t seem to pop.
These self-destructive feelings began to fill me with
rage. I started to snap at others friends, family and even
coworkers. The smallest comments would trigger me. I felt
trapped inside my own mind, like I was watching an imposter
take possession of my ordinarily warm and friendly
This imposter was slowly whittling away
who I was ... Kaylee, the person I had spent the last 24
It’s been nearly a year since this all
started, and although this chapter of my life is now turning
around for the better, my journey wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a
story of clouds parting in the sky, where I suddenly was
full of sunshine and happiness.
That’s not at all
In reality, I spent seven months
undergoing various treatments to learn how to manage my
depression and anxiety.
Manage, not cure.
THE CLOUDS ROLL IN
Before my supervisor left for his deployment, we talked
about his personal stresses, and how he had struggled trying
to find his place as an Airman. He had told me that going to
the 633rd Medical Group Mental Health clinic had improved
his mental health.
With this in mind, I decided to
start my journey toward recovery by speaking with a
therapist at the clinic. After just that first appointment,
I left with a better understanding of what I was suffering
from; that it was treatable and common among military
At that moment, I felt less alone. But I was
still lost pieces of me where still chipping away.
I thought things couldn’t get any worse in my life at that
point, my father was also diagnosed with a myelofibrosis,
which the doctors first believed to be bone-marrow cancer. I
was encompassed in a fear of losing him to this disorder ...
losing him too soon.
After receiving this news, my
new supervisor suggested I visit a chaplain. To be honest, I
had reservations about this I am far from religious, and
wasn’t sure what to expect. Speaking with a chaplain was
certainly not my first choice as a resource. Nevertheless, I
decided it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot.
telling him I was not religious, he was glad to just speak
with me about what I was going through. I must say, I left
his office feeling better about my dad’s situation and
hopeful for his recovery.
During my own recovery,
there were still times when I would feel completely numb to
the world around me, or I would be so annoyed I would lash
out at coworkers over the minutest details. I tried to stick
with my recovery plan, whether that was speaking with my
therapist or a resiliency counselor from the Army Community
Service facility at Fort Eustis.
Even though I was
seeking help from several different support services, I
still never felt like I was doing any better ... in reality,
I didn’t want to get better. Although I knew I needed the
help and had reached out for it, there was this part of me
that couldn’t accept it.
Looking back now, I think I
had just become comfortable with the sadness. It was a
blanket I used to hide myself from the outside world. I
surrounded myself with this cloud of despair, thinking it
would be enough to suffocate the additional problems I had
created through this episode in my life. I just couldn’t
find the energy to care about anything.
On one specific day this past January as I dealt with
the storm brewing inside my mind, an actual storm swirled
around the Hampton Roads area. The base was on
mission-essential reporting for several days due to snow,
and instead of enjoying the “time off,” I stayed sheltered
in my apartment for four days, limiting my interactions with
the outside world.
I never felt more alone than
during those four days. I could not find the energy to leave
the comfort of my couch. I barely ate or showered or groomed
in any shape or form. I sat staring blankly at my television
screen, not taking much in.
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Kaylee Dubois, 633rd Air Base Wing
Public Affairs photojournalist, spends time with her dog, Watson, at
Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia on May 9, 2017. Dubois spent
roughly seven months in mental health treatment programs, and once
she was successful in managing her own recovery process, she adopted
a rescued dog, who now aids in her "self treatment". (U.S. Air Force
photo by Tech. Sgt. Katie Gar Ward)
After that weekend, I discussed the events with my
therapist and we agreed that I needed a strong treatment
program. That day, I willingly admitted myself into Naval
Medical Center Portsmouth’s Crisis Stabilization Program.
In that one-week program, we spoke about self-care,
communication, fears and expectations, and being mindful. We
also practiced these concepts through art therapy, yoga,
meditations and group therapy exercises.
deliberately forced me to look at all events from my past and
present that may have contributed to my anxiety and depression.
Facing those things for an entire week was emotionally exhausting,
but it also refreshed my sense of being. I felt as if it mended my
self-worth and life expectations. In no way was I “cured” from my
depression and anxiety, but for the first time, I felt like I could
When I left the hospital on the last day of the
program, I felt like I was slowly starting to resemble who I once
During my journey to
recovery, I learned how to become more proactive in my own happiness
that I could combat my illness with self-care, acknowledgement and
asking for help. I needed to rely on my wingmen, communicate with
them and help them understand what I was going through.
days after I was back to work, I was talking with one of my friends
about how I had felt so alone during those past months. He surprised
me when he said that he had been there trying to help me the entire
time I guess I just never took the time to notice. Having him by my
side nowadays has been incredibly helpful in my recovery process. He
has kept me afloat in casting away the stubborn, destructive
thoughts that were previously drowning me.
Although I have
made it to this point in my recovery, every single day is still a
struggle. I have to retrain my thoughts, take medication every day,
and visit the Mental Health Clinic regularly. While I still
sometimes have bouts of depressive episodes, I now rely on the
techniques I learned to help me recover. I often find myself seeking
out avenues that force me outside to be alongside nature, such as
taking a friend’s pet to the park or reading a book in my hammock.
Lately I have been able to talk candidly about my experiences
which has helped me connect with others, and accept this part of my
life. Being so open about everything, I now feel part of the team
... part of a family.
I guess I had just been so encased in
my despair to notice that when I was reaching out for help, hands
were in fact there, reaching back to help me. Now that I have a
better grip on life, every day I get further away from my version of
rock bottom, catching a glimpse of light shining from the top.
That is where I now want to be.
What I have learned most
about this experience is that tackling mental illness takes time.
It’s just an obstacle in the journey of life, but you must stay
alive to see where that journey takes you. All journeys are worth
exploring, even the ones that may be a bit bumpy at first ... things
will always get better.
I’m definitely not the person I used
to be, but I’m moving toward her.
Thinking back to those days
with my Cub Scout troop and their concern for my wellbeing, I now
appreciate they were there to help even when I didn’t really need
Just as when I was standing in the center of the group of
scouts, I now find myself in the center of a group of people who
noticed my suffering and made it their responsibility to help me
find my way back to who I want to be ... even as I fought back
against their support.
They never gave up on me ... they put
the pieces of me back together, slowly shaping me back into Kaylee.
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Kaylee Dubois
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