News | May 26, 2019

Seeking mental health treatment: Chief shares his experience with PTSD

By Staff Sgt. Christine Groening 49th Wing Public Affairs

“Dealing with a traumatic event from 2011 in Afghanistan, I realize now that I probably needed help long before 2018, but at the time I felt like I’d figured out how to control the ghosts in my head. I forced myself to keep them at bay, and instead of dealing with my problems, I just let them fester,” recalled Chief Master Sgt. Eric Corvin, 49th Maintenance Group Quality Assurance superintendent, as he opened up about his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many service members struggle with the thought of seeking mental health treatment, thinking of it as a career ender, or possibly that others may think they are weak for seeking help. Corvin said he wrestled with the thought of whether or not to get help, and eventually decided he needed to make a change – not only for himself, but for his family.

The stresses and strains Corvin was undergoing didn’t just affect him personally, but also his family.

He described how his wife and daughter noticed the change in his demeanor, and they tried to talk to him about it on several occasions, even offering to look into getting a PTSD dog for him. But, Corvin refused to take a dog he thought would be more beneficial for someone else.

“Once we got home, my daughter sat down with me and told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to get help,” Corvin said. “She told me that although I might not seem to be suffering as much as some others, or physically injured, I still needed help. I tried explaining to her about everything going on in my head and my body was starting to suffer as a result of that stress. She just told me, ‘that’s even more reason to go get help.’”

It soon reached a point when his wife told him she wanted back the man she married. She told him his PTSD was affecting him to the point they couldn’t even walk down the street or go out to eat as a normal couple.

“I’m currently geographically separated from them, so I finally have time to think on my own, contemplate things and determine how I need to react,” he said. “My wife and daughter deserve to have the old me back.”

In October 2018, Corvin finally found the courage to seek help, after coming to the realization of how much it was affecting his family and faith.

He enrolled in a 12-week program with the 49th Medical Group Mental Health Clinic, which focuses on the many aspects of PTSD and ways of coming to terms with the issues it brings, along with coping mechanisms.

“We view PTSD as something that you can resolve,” said Capt. Kyra Santiago, 49th Medical Group licensed clinical social worker. “When we go through trauma, we kind of shove it all into a filing cabinet and just push it away. It comes out at times when we don’t want it to, but (the practice of) cognitive processing has you open up that drawer, pull everything out and reorganize it to make better sense of something that was probably illogical.”

During the program, individuals go through learning what PTSD is, analyze the meaning of the event or trauma they went through, learn to identify thoughts and feelings relating to PTSD and determine where they got stuck. Issues that impact the individual’s life, such as safety, trust, power and control, esteem and intimacy are also addressed.

“One of my goals in counselling was to get back to the way I was when my wife married me,” Corvin said.

The QA superintendent explained that prior to getting treatment, his way of dealing with PTSD only resulted in him feeling isolated, being afraid to lose control of a situation and hiding what he was really feeling and seeing inside, both at work and at home.

“I turned everything into a mission,” he said. “My day-to-day life was literally task oriented. There was no real friendship making, no personal interactions; everything was something I ‘had’ to do. Whether it was going to work or attending meetings, I just focused on getting through it. But, the minute I didn’t have anything to do, that’s when the ghosts would come out and play.”

Corvin’s PTSD began to manifest after events during his deployment in Afghanistan. The events took a major toll on him, and as a result he began suffering both physically and mentally.

“During the beginning of my counselling I realized I had become paranoid; I thought everyone was out to get me,” he exclaimed. “That was hard to deal with, because you’re fighting with yourself – you’re not fighting facts but with made-up stuff that’s in your head.”

The Mental Health Clinic at Holloman Air Force Base worked with him on getting past the irrational thoughts of not trusting his own personal decisions or trusting others. The providers helped him realize the decisions he made during his deployment were good.

“But I realized this was not all manufactured in my own head – people do want to hear about the experiences I went through -- to help them figure out how they can be resilient and get the hard stuff done.”

The development of PTSD can be brought on by the exposure to death, serious injury, sexual violence or some other traumatic or stressful experience. Individuals may be exposed to these traumas through their job, by witnessing them or by experiencing them firsthand.

According to Santiago, while there is still a stigma to get help, more individuals are seeking the support they need than when they were 20 years ago.

“If I have an Airman approach me with a concern, I now encourage them to go and seek help and not to be afraid of the unknown,” Corvin said. “The outcome of my 12-step program was greater than I anticipated.”

Now recently retired, the time has finally come for him to let go of the reins and hand over the responsibilities to someone else. As a side-effect of his PTSD, Corvin said he had also been dealing with control issues, and described how letting go and having faith in another person’s ability to take care of the unit has been difficult -- but he’s coming to terms with it.

“In all of this, faith and family are the two things that have kept me going,” he said. “While I tried to be strong, back then I wasn’t able to seek the help I needed. But, my faith was stronger – when I was asking for help, the Lord stepped in and became my sword and my shield. He made me realize I needed the help of a team – my family was that team, and they pushed me to seek the professional help I so badly needed. I’m much stronger now, thanks to my wife and daughter and now I get to spend the time with them that they deserve. We can finally look forward to the future as a family, now that I’ve received the strength and clarity after the 12-step program.”