My Life After the Marine Corps

by Alyssa Nelson

There are three days I will never forget: the day I earned my Eagle, Globe, and Anchor, the day I graduated bootcamp, and the day I signed my DD-214. I often have dreams I am still in and I yearn for those days of being with my friends. There was comfort in knowing that while being in the Marine Corps can be difficult and challenging, we were all in it together and understand. Embracing the suck together led to strong friendships and unbreakable bonds.

It has been two and half years since I have been out, but it does not feel that way. Life after the military is difficult. You are thrown into the civilian world again and realize everything you were taught in the military generally does not apply to the civilian world. If someone messes up at work, the repercussions are handled differently than the military. If you are late in the military, you will be yelled at and may be forced to partake in extra physical training or must mop the motor pool in the rain. The civilian world, while being late is frowned upon, the consequences are different and not to the same extent. The hardest part for me is dealing with my mental and emotional struggles.

I went through a lot when I was in the Marine Corps. While I would do it all over again and I wish I was still in, I struggle every day. The demons that I was met with in the military followed me to the civilian world. I used to be able to knock on my friends’ doors at the barracks, but now my support system is gone. I do not know who to turn to or how to deal with depression and anxiety. My demons are sometimes too much to bear, and I cannot get out of bed some days. The emotional exhaustion sometimes inhibits my ability to function, and my depression floods back and it feels as if I was hit by a freight train. These struggles have hindered making friendships, yet I also want nothing more than to be with my Marine Corps friends.

Life is completely different today than it was a few years ago. I have started to go to therapy and have been trying different medications to help my depression and anxiety. On days when I feel “normal” and “fine”, I often think of when the next time I will spiral down into a deep depression. Tonight? Tomorrow? Next month? The days when I cannot function or get out of bed, I try to tell myself that I will be okay; I have been here before and I can pull myself out. This is an aspect that many civilians do not realize comes with serving. I have had to watch my friends try to commit suicide, and I would be lying if I said I have not had the same thoughts. I understand their struggles because they are the same as mine.

Trying to navigate life that functions so differently from the military is confusing, sometimes overwhelming, and difficult. My mental well-being has suffered greatly since being out and I often feel lost. I am doing all I can to make a life for myself and go to school so I can have a decent career. I try to look for a sense of purpose and find a close-knit group of friends, but it all feels different and in vain. Knowing that I will never have friendships as close as the ones I made in the military makes me feel as if I should not even bother to try. I am struggling with finding my place in this world. Some days I feel like giving up, other days I must push myself to get out of bed.

I will always miss my time in the Marine Corps. I will not miss field ops, duty, or having to run around the motor pool, but I will always miss that sense of camaraderie. My friends were always there for me and I was always there for them. When my friends wanted to end their lives, I helped pick them up and did everything I could to get them out of that dark place. They also lifted me up when I was struggling. A part of me knows that my depression and anxiety stems from the Marine Corps. I was stalked, harassed, and assaulted. This is an unfortunate reality many women in the military have experienced. Constantly being told it was either my fault, I am exaggerating the situation, or knowing that I would have been the one to be reprimanded all cost me my mental stability and health. As difficult as it is to try to deal with mental struggles, I will never regret enlisting. It was the best decision I have ever made, and I am incredibly grateful for my time and for the friendships I have made.