Written by Beth Meyer
I am an isolator. Even as I write these words, I don’t believe this about myself, but it is true. A career in the military, exposure to war, military protocol, loneliness, and fear had left their imprints on my psyche and my personality. The vibrant personality of my youth had been snuffed out by the time I was thirty.
During my time in the Air Force, I excelled in my career. Going through the ranks, I was very good at pretending that I was normal. No one suspected that with each passing year it was getting more and more difficult to interact with other people. My sense of duty was stronger than my fear of being with people, so I was able to engage with others, though not on the same level as mentally healthy person.
The thing is that most people don’t notice when you don’t socialize. They assume that you are busy, tired, or shy. No one labels your absence as isolation.
After retiring from the Air Force, I began a new career in the banking industry. My husband and I bought a home in a great neighborhood, we enrolled our two children in excellent schools, and we reconnected with family that lived not too far away from us. On the face of it, our lives looked pretty good, but unknown to most people, was my secret. I didn’t like going out, I didn’t like socializing, and I didn’t like having people coming into my home. A perfect existence for me was my husband and children spending time together, preferably within the safe zone of our home.
But I can’t hide at home when I have a job that requires me to show up daily at an office and interact with colleagues. I can’t ignore teacher conferences, awards’ ceremonies, prom dress shopping, and pediatrician appointments. So, I muster up all my inner strength and put one foot in front of the other and force myself out the door.
Thankfully, my husband and children are very patient and accepting of my condition, even if they don’t understand it. They know that when I decline an invitation to attend a barbecue or one of their sporting events it isn’t because I don’t want to go; it’s because I can’t go and have any hopes of enjoying myself without feeling unrelenting anxiety.
Psychological therapy and medication have enabled me to be a participant in society, albeit a reluctant one. Being with people whom I know, and I trust makes socializing much easier. Avoiding events that are crowded or venues that are dark, such as movie theaters, is necessary. Acknowledging that I have a legitimate psychological condition caused by my service in the military is reality. Hopeful that with time, isolation will be accepted by the public along with depression, bi-polar and schizophrenia and other better known mental health issues.
I am grateful for the life I have and the people in it as well as my years in the Air Force. If given the choice again, I wouldn’t give up the career I had in the military. Those years made me the woman I am today: strong, brave, proud, smart and an isolator.