Season 1 Episode 8 - When Heroes Experience Pain
Welcome to the Verimour Speaks Podcast. I'm your host, Dawn Keegan, co-founder of the dating app, Verimour and the nonprofit app Hero Harbor.
Welcome back. And Happy Saturday. Tuesday, December 11 I'll be launching an interview with Kathy Rothenberger. She is the second generation survivor of breast cancer.
One of the things that Kathy and I discussed was the idea of helping others as a way of not thinking about our own pain, not focusing on our own troubles.
This is something that I've been thinking about a great deal in the last couple of days. And I have to say right now that while I said Happy Saturday, my last few days have not been overly happy.
I recently launched Hero Harbor, which is my effort at helping to reduce the number of veteran and first responder suicides. It's an app designed to connect that demographic to each other.
I've heard so many stories. And I have my own personal account of these men and women who are so proud, don't know how to express their pain, don't know who to reach out to, and don't feel comfortable reaching out.
What I find so fascinating. And again, what I've been struggling with myself, is that you can be an air quote, expert, you can be one with all the answers, supposedly, and you can give the right advice to others. But what happens when you don't know how to take that advice for yourself?
Somehow, the rules don't apply to you. I know that there are many people out there who care about me and care about my mission. If I would just ask directly, they would be there for me.
But I place a huge pressure on myself because of my mission. Because what I'm trying to do is to save lives, and I see any lack of progress in that direction as failure on my part.
So then not only do I feel like I'm failing myself, I feel like I'm failing the world in general. Again, I can know, that's not the truth, I could know what my friends would say to me. And I can know what I've said to others. But when you're in that deep, dark place...
And I was talking to a Vietnam veteran yesterday at the dog park, and he went for decades, not receiving the help that he needed, because A as he said, he didn't want to he didn't he didn't want to talk about his mental health, he was afraid of getting labeled, he was afraid of it affecting his work, his ability to do all sorts of things.
He has Parkinson's, he was a pilot, helicopter pilot during Vietnam, all the horrific experiences that go along with that, you know, his effort to save his men, other units.
And he comes back and he experiences the suffering this this loneliness, he has never gotten married, he has never had children, despite the fact that he wanted to all of those other things that came about courtesy of his sacrifice to his country have now given him a life that he isn't the one that he had planned isn't the one he wanted it.
And the point is, there are so many people out there who need help. And, and so many of them because of what they've gone through or because of their reduced support system or all the factors, they end up feeling isolated.
I posted a graphic to social the other day, as of a week or so ago, 5520 veterans had killed themselves this year. And I'm sure a significant number of first responders also.
These are very proud people, these are people who have been through so much and they don't know, they don't know how to to, to reach out and who'd ask for help.
I walked into a retail establishment recently and I never, never ask about veteran discounts unless someone specifically asked me about it or points it out. And you know, once once that's in place, then I will use the discount, but I don't ask.
But for some reason, this particular day I did. And the young lady behind the counter, she's, she's in her early 20s. at best. She said, You know, I wish they did. She says my you know, my husband is in the Army.
And so we got talking about that. And I got telling her about Hero Harbor. And she says to me, she says I've got chill bumps on my arm, she says I don't know if I'm supposed to tell you this, her husband is stationed in Georgia. He's an army medic. And she said that just that past week that his first sergeant had committed suicide.
The first sergeant had been in the army for 21 years, 15 of those as a sniper. So you can imagine even myself as a Marine, trained to use a weapon, having been in some less than optimal situations with regard to weaponry, and that sort of thing.
Even I can't fathom can't really wrap my head around the idea of having that as your primary job the act of looking down the barrel of a weapon and taking someone's life, whether they deserve it, you believe they deserve it, whether it's your job, it's just, it's an incredible.
The one thing this young lady said was that her husband was feeling so guilty, because he felt that he should have been able to see, you know, what was happening and the pain that his first sergeant was in.
Of course, she told me she said the right thing to him in the sense that each of these men in his unit had been going to they had to go through psych evals and debriefings, when they get back off those things, and so if he could fool the psychiatrist if he could fool the professionals, and as I said to her, this is a man you know, he's he's, a good actor, this this first sergeant.
I mean, he's had to be. His men respected him, his his men looked at him as, as their rock as their their hero and their, their example of what you know, a soldier should be.
But you know, he, he was facing, retiring and coming out here to the civilian world. And what I was attempting to say earlier, is, if I can't wrap my head around that thought, and that job, imagine what he was facing in day to day interaction with civilians, he couldn't tell him what he did. And he couldn't tell him and so creates this huge, cavernous black hole of disconnect, and what do we do? And how do we how do we reach out?
And again, you know, yesterday and last couple of days, I made tentative approaches, you know, I reached out to a couple of my friends, I sent texts and things like that, but but they were busy. You know, one was in class, one was in the gym, another was working. And, again, had I had I said, I need to talk now, they I'm sure that would have made time for me.
What goes on in our heads. And, and this is, this is not any specific demographic, it's men, it's women, it's combat veterans. It's non combat veterans. Again, police fire. We're so used to being strong, we're so used to carrying the load.
The thing that this veteran this Vietnam veteran that I met yesterday said, and it was so true, such a great analogy. He says, we've been carrying the water for so long for so many people. And we just want for a few minutes, want to hand the bucket off, and rest. So I'm going to wrap this up before I get too much more emotional, but what I'm getting at is Hero Harbor. It's empty. Right now we have myself, the other founder who is an Air Force veteran and a gentleman that I met a few weeks ago presenting my company in Daytona.
We need to connect these men and women, we need to get these people in here, we need to show them that there is a safe place for them and that there are other people like them out there.
I've said in the past, relating my my own story about having gotten out of the Marine Corps being depressed for the first time in my life going to the VA, which was all I had available at the time, the VA is horrifically overburdened, they're also archaic.
I recently moved and went to update all my information. And not only did the information that I updated in Orlando, not carry over to Atlanta, when I called another part of the VA to set up another appointment, they still had information from Austin.
So the VA, even now in the 21st century, cannot get all their records straight, there is no possible way that they can provide the help that is needed for all of these men and women.
The one thing I said to a couple of different people is that the VA should have term limits, it seems on some of these jobs, because a great number, can you imagine these people are hearing the same story over and over and over and over. And they've got to get to a place of somewhat, you know, apathy, it's like push it down the line.
You know, we're human, none of us have the emotional ability to carry that many people every single day. And hear these, I can do what I do, because it's kind of generalized. And I don't hear the personal stories as much.
Imagine if your job every single day was to hear those stories, you would, you would have to get to a place of sort of compartmentalizing because if you took home that kind of pain every single day, it would destroy you.
So my feeling is that the VA kind of needs term limits, and rotate these people through other jobs, other things so that, you know, you get you get gloom and doom this week, but maybe you know, next month or, or whatever, you know, in the next year, you get something you have a more positive place that you can you can help out.
When I got out, I went to the VA, they gave me their designer diagnosis of the day in that instance, it was bipolar disorder, it was not appropriate. For 16 years, I took their meds, and I had several suicide attempts because of the medications.
And again, when you're very intelligent, very driven, very proud. You're caught between the I know I have something to offer. And over here they've labeled me and they look at me as if I'm this creature and I have no value and I am broken.
Once you feel broken, it's virtually impossible to get past that. And the thing is, so many of these men and women, well, the men especially, they're killing themselves, they're attempting suicide in a very violent manner guns, hanging that sort of thing.
And so they're far more successful than women who tend toward overdose. But either way, we've got to connect them, we've got to give them support, and get them past because sometimes it's just a matter of hours.
I woke up this morning feeling like crap. But somehow I pulled it together and realized that there were people who needed me. And that's why I feel their suffering so much because I understand what they're going through.
And that's why I'm so passionate about what I do. I've been there and I get it. And if you're, in the dating, if you're in the dating world, we've got Verimour. If you are Hero, if you love a hero, or if you just are thankful for what our Heroes do for us every single day. let somebody know about the Hero Harbor app.
Let somebody know about Hero harbor.org and our mission to improve lives to make things better to save lives. Because these men and women, they have a place and they have a purpose and they have gifts that they can give back.
We just have to get them through their darkest hours and let them see that sunshine again. Embrace them and let them know that they're cared for.
Okay, I'm going to get off my soapbox, thank you very, very much. And please tune in on Tuesday to hear Kathy's story because it's an amazing one and she's an amazing woman.