She left Afghanistan as a first lieutenant—and came home to her Florida desk job as a woman haunted by her experience.Let Lauren Kay Johnson,the winner ofGlamour's ninth annual personal essay contest,tell you her story.
Editor's note: We've gotten tons of feedback on this story.For more from Lauren Kay Johnson,read her blog,UNcamouflaged.
The waiting room is meant to be comfortable.Cushioned chairs line the walls.Gossip magazines cover a coffee table in a glossy patchwork.Air conditioning provides welcome relief from Florida's summer heat.But when I walk through the door of the Air Force base's mental health clinic,I am anything but comfortable.
There's been talk of changing the name to behavioral health clinic because of the belief that people with "mental health" issues don't belong on the front lines.A glance around confirms the stigma.There are five other airmen here,all with downcast eyes.I've never felt so exposed while wearing camouflage.You can't be anonymous with a name tag.Or an officer's rank.The silver lieutenant bars on my collar are supposed to mean I'm self-sufficient.Composed.Competent.Being here is as good as admitting I'm not.
The young airman behind the Plexiglas-fronted welcome desk checks me in for my appointment,typing anxiously at a computer,then squeezes a stack of paperwork through a hole in the window (who am I—Hannibal Lecter?).It's an eight-page "intake questionnaire," designed "to help your provider obtain a comprehensive picture of you in an effort to develop a treatment plan that will best suit your needs."
Treatment.Because I'm sick.Because there's something wrong with me that needs to be fixed.I take a seat closest to the door—in case I change my mind—and begin with question 1.
*Describe the primary concern that brought you here today.*I hesitate,trying to find a brief way to summarize the last year of my life.I scriblle "depression,anxiety." I can always expand later.After all,that's what this therapy thing is about,right?
What led to your decision to seek help at this time?
I want to write that I'm tired of pretending I'm OK.I can force my smile muscles to work against their will and insert myself into "normal" conversations.But it's exhausting.I write,"Seeking advice for dealing with stress and anxiety."
The form asks me how upsetting this concern is to me.On the right end of the scale,I check "very severe." It looks melodramatic.What do I have to be very severely upset about?