Published By: RallyUp Magazine
Mental Health Warrior
“I’m always good, because I can always be worse”
My mental health journey began at a very young age. I was molested multiple times before I was 6 years old. The first time it was at the age of 2. A male cousin tried to have sex with me and if not for him being interrupted by someone calling his name, it may have gone further. I didn’t really know what was going on, I just knew it was wrong. I told my mom, and she told his mom, but his mom didn’t believe me. The second time, a female cousin made me perform sexual acts with her. I can’t remember exactly how old I was, but again I knew it was wrong. This time I didn’t tell anyone because I was afraid of not being believed again. The third time, a male cousin tried to make me perform sexual acts on him. His mother called out for him, which stopped the act from going further than it did. I was 5 years old at the time. I didn’t tell anyone because again I was afraid that no one would believe me. Years later I told my mom about the other two instances, and it hurt her that I didn’t tell her. Mentally those incidents caused me to grow and exhibit an uber masculine personality. I never questioned my sexuality, but I felt like I had to try extra hard to show people how tough I was… how “manly” I was. I’ve told significant others about these instances, but the person that I’ve told in the greatest detail, was my mother. However, I’ve never really told her how those instances made me feel, I’ve just kind of buried them deep in my subconscious.
As I got older, I had to come to the realization that I wasn’t as tough as my peers seemed. I was a sensitive, emotional ‘boy,’ but I felt I had to pretend to be tough to survive. Basketball was something I loved and an easy way to show my toughness. I also began to fight. Partly, I felt I needed to defend myself to show my toughness, and that I wasn’t scared … even in moments when I was.
High School presented new struggles. I went from a predominately black school in North Carolina where there were a handful of non-black students, to a high school in North Carolina where African Americans were the handful. I not only had to deal with the generic struggles of progressing through high school, approaching adulthood, and maintaining that tough image, I began to experience racism on a regular basis, and all of the above affected my mental health.
On the contrary, I received a scholarship to play basketball at Brevard College in North Carolina. I had the typical college athlete experience. Classes, practice, games, parties, but there were a few things that sort of curved that experience for me and affected my mental health. I lost my grandfather my sophomore year who at the time was the most influential male in my life. A year prior, a teammate lost his father and the whole team loaded up in vans and went to the funeral to support him. When my grandfather passed, my coach told me to go home and take as much time as I needed. I felt snubbed. I felt like my loss didn’t matter. Then, I was red-shirted on the basketball team which means I was unable to play in games, this was my outlet and the way I coped. I had to show up every day and work my butt off in practice, weights, and workouts, for seemingly nothing. I felt nobody cared about my progress as a player. My teammates were having battles on the court that I wasn’t a part of. I felt alone in my struggles. Money was tight so I didn’t go home much, and my family couldn’t come see me. I had no cell phone, no car, just my studies and basketball. I felt alone but I didn’t tell my family because I knew they were struggling and I didn’t want them to feel like it was their fault that I felt alone, so I suffered in silence. My peers would go home for holiday breaks. My peers could call home and have their parents deposit money into their bank accounts when needed. I had to work during the school year and summer, to be allowed to stay in my dorm.
My junior year, I decided to join the Air Force after college because pro ball wasn’t going to happen. I started dating a girl, things were good. I finally didn’t feel alone, and she became pregnant. I supported her fully and I was so happy. I told my Air Force recruiter that my girlfriend was pregnant, and he informed me that I couldn’t enlist being unmarried with a child. I knew I wanted to serve my country, but I wasn’t going to disown my child, so I began to look into joining the Navy because I knew they would allow me to join under my circumstances. The beautiful baby girl was born in December of 2010. I named her after my mother. In January of 2011 I found out via a DNA test, that the baby wasn’t mine. I was devastated. I felt betrayed, and I had lost a child. I was so angry I cried. Basketball was the only thing that got me through that time. The following year, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and pursued the Air Force.
After I graduated from college, I met a woman who showed me the type of love I felt I needed and had never experienced up to that point. I was tired of experiencing life alone. She housed me, cooked for me, and gave me words of reassurance. I fell in love with that feeling and married her after I graduated from basic training, after only 6 months of dating. We moved to Florida to begin my military career and my marriage went downhill fast. I quickly realized I wasn’t the type of man my ex-wife really wanted to be with. I was just a safe choice. She constantly belittled me and told me how much of a man I wasn’t. When I didn’t respond the way she wanted, that’s when the verbal abuse became physical. I experienced verbal and physical abuse to the point that I felt I had to leave or who knows what would have happened. I was punched, slapped, pushed and even had knives pulled on me numerous times. I was honestly afraid of my wife, but I felt like I needed to fight for my marriage. We went to counseling with two different counselors, each time, my wife left when she felt the counselor was “attacking her.” At that point I realized she wasn’t interested in working on our marriage or becoming a better person. I filed for divorce one year and one month after I was married. The divorce was drawn out and stressful. I felt alone in the process, and it weighed heavily on my mental health, even asking my leadership many times for help before actually filing for divorce. I was met with comments like “we'll have you gone to counseling,” or, “it’s cheaper to keep her.” During the divorce process my wife did everything in her power to make life hard for me, from the lies to her harassing me. I had to show up to work like nothing was wrong because I was taught that “you don’t bring home life to work.” The divorce became official June 1st, 2015, and I was elated. I felt like a new man.
I was deployed and moved around in the military until I reconnected with an old girlfriend, and we had a baby together. My relationship with my daughter’s mom wasn’t the best and we parted ways not long after my daughter was born. I feel like I’m so used to being alone that I don’t know how to be with anyone.
I lost my father unexpectedly in May 2021. The death of my father only intensified that feeling of being alone. My dad had become my best friend, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone. I had to watch him take his final breath during a Facetime call while he was on life support, due to COVID restrictions. That was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to face thus far. In the wake of his death, I pushed everyone away, because I felt like that’s what I needed to do. I’m getting better, but I still have a long road ahead of me. I push all my pain away using the gym as my outlet. That’s where I go to release the stress life brings. I’m still a very damaged soul, but I try to talk to people about me and my story, in turn, it helps me personally.
RUM: How challenging is it to maintain good mental health in the military?
JT: It’s challenging to maintain good mental health in the military because you’re constantly made to feel like “The mission” means more than you as a person because you’re constantly moving from state to state, country to country and for the most part alone. There’s a negative stigma that’s been given to mental health and the people that seek help. More often than not, your opinion doesn’t matter but you’re constantly asked for your opinion. Unless you’re in a certain class you’re treated with little to no respect.
RUM: In what ways do you think mental health can be normalized in the military?
JT: I think more open, honest conversations about the importance of mental health would make it more normalized. The revamping of the mental health career field and how they deal with military members with leadership being more accepting and understanding of mental health.
RUM: In closing, what words would you like to leave for our readers?
JT: In closing, take care of you. In every sense of the phrase. Even if your personality is to help others, you can’t help anyone else if you need help yourself.