Speaker at Wright-Patt shares poignant story of hope, resilience

Kristen Christy, 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year and master resiliency trainer, speaks to an audience about emotional battlefields on April 29 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Kristy is the Christy is the creator of National Resilience Day — March 4th & Conquer and co-sponsor of the 9-88 suicide prevention lifeline. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/JAIMA FOGG

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Jaima F

Combined ShapeCaption
Kristen Christy, 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year and master resiliency trainer, speaks to an audience about emotional battlefields on April 29 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Kristy is the Christy is the creator of National Resilience Day — March 4th & Conquer and co-sponsor of the 9-88 suicide prevention lifeline. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/JAIMA FOGG

Credit: (U.S. Air Force photo by Jaima F

Mental health awareness, resources emphasized

Motivational speaker and writer Kristen Christy shared a powerful message of enduring hope, compassion and the importance of community last week during special resiliency and professional development sessions at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

The 88th Air Base Wing hosted Christy to impart her knowledge in navigating life’s “emotional battlefield.” Christy, who is based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has traveled the world and inspired military, veteran, corporate, educational and faith-based organizations.

She was also the 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year, 2019 Top 30 Women Military Influencer, and the creator of National Resilience Day – March 4th & Conquer.

The wing hosted two general sessions April 28-29 at the base theater, which were open to military, civilians, contractors, retirees and all spouses. In addition, Christy provided tailored opportunities for the installation leadership teams, key spouses, first sergeants and helping agencies at Wright-Patt.

Connections

In introducing Christy at the April 29 general session, Col. Patrick Miller, 88th Air Base Wing and installation commander, promised the audience would experience abundant “laughter, learning and tears” during her presentation.

Miller’s wife, Beth, first met Christy when the Millers were stationed in San Antonio. During a previous assignment at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, the Millers were part of a tightknit neighborhood. The Millers then completed a permanent change of station to San Antonio as their neighbors made permanent changes of station to other locations.

The Millers later learned from a story on CNN that a former neighbor’s husband had died by suicide, and they were “quite shocked.” Beth repeatedly reached out to the wife but never heard back.

After attending one of Christy’s workshops in San Antonio, Beth approached Christy and asked her for guidance in helping the wife. Christy told Beth to keep reaching out to the woman.

“There will be the day when people stop calling or texting her,” Christy explained, “and she will still need to hear from you.”

Beth didn’t relent on communication, and eventually the woman responded.

Beth added she saw Christy’s presentation four times in San Antonio. Naturally, it was the Millers’ goal to have Christy deliver her message at Wright-Patt after the pandemic restrictions had been lifted.

“She’s a treasure,” Beth added.

As Miller pointed out, mental health is an “important conversation” to have as “we are in another place of transition” after emerging from two years of isolation due to the pandemic.

There was an uptick in reports of suicide ideation, depression, anxiety, abuse and other mental health conditions during the pandemic, and it’s vital to continue shining a light on awareness.

Miller reminded the audience that myriad mental health resources are available at Wright-Patt.

“We’ve all got stressors; we all need support,” he added.

First the test, then the lesson

Christy said life is a tough teacher.

“We get the test first and then learn the lesson,” she said.

As a world-class athlete at 15, she experienced a massive stroke from a brain hemorrhage that left her physically and mentally broken with her identity “stripped away.” As an adult, the suicide of her first husband after a deployment devastated her family and left Christy feeling shame and guilt. Both of her sons’ attempted suicides and the later disappearance of her oldest due to mental illness left her with a sense of failure as a spouse and mother.

But Christy says HOPE (Hold On, Pain Eases) helped her persevere through life’s brutal tests. Her story reinforces the superpower of connectedness and community. As she says, “We are made to do life together.”

Christy called life an “emotional battlefield” every day and underscored the need for all of us to have wingmen and “battle buddies” at our side to navigate through challenges.

She said she’s been through her share of wars, “but I was never alone” and was always surrounded by “a community armored and ready to go.”

After her stroke in Wiesbaden, Germany, where her father was stationed at Lindsey Air Station, Christy was airlifted to San Antonio, where she underwent a nine-hour surgery. She then finished her junior year in high school, relying on her family, friends, the military community, a homebound teacher and faith.

“My stroke did not take away my competitiveness,” Christy said. “… I learned I was stronger than I thought. You are stronger than you think. I would not be standing here today on two feet without the superpower of community.”

In 1985, she walked without her cane for the first time to accept her high school diploma. Christy then attended the University of Texas at Austin.

As a self-described uber-extrovert, she immediately immersed herself in the college community and volunteerism. During her junior year, she met her first husband, Don Christy, and they became engaged five months later. The couple married two years later, and Don, a missileer, was stationed to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, where the family lived for four years. They had two sons: Ryan and Ben.

After moving to Colorado Springs, Don eventually became a traditional reservist who volunteered to go to Baghdad in 2004.

“Four and a half months later, he came home with a Bronze Star,” Christy said.

Christy said she wanted to know more of Don’s experiences in Baghdad, but it was painfully clear he didn’t want to share his story: “That is when I first saw the glean was gone from his eyes.” She also noticed he was biting his nails ragged.

The family eventually moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where Don attended the U.S. Army War College with the Pentagon as his next career stop.

“I thought this was the help we needed,” Christy recalled. But the Air Force had different plans for him, and the family moved back to Colorado in the “hardest PCS.”

On April 21, 2008, the doorbell rang and the coroner and two officers were at the Christys’ doorstep to inform her Don had died by suicide.

Ryan was 14 and Ben 12 at the time of Don’s death, and Christy says she still doesn’t have an answer to her boys’ question: “Why didn’t he love us enough?”

Yet the family’s community showed up, Christy said, and nurtured and cared for them during the emotionally brutal moments after Don’s death. Friends brought food, handled daily household chores and lifted the family in love and gentleness during their grief.

But “Don’s choice had an everlasting effect” on Christy and their sons. Both Ryan and Ben attempted suicide. Ben went onto college and became an engineer, but Ryan’s path was fraught with a bipolar diagnosis at 16 and substance abuse. Although Ryan got clean, he disappeared after embarking on a trip to Hawaii when he was 22.

The search has not ended for her eldest son, and Christy said she has hope Ryan will come home one day.

A common phrase from Christy: Hope has not been canceled.

New acronyms to embrace

Christy’s session was peppered with life-affirming acronyms she devised, which is not surprising when you consider her extended military background. She offered the following tips for creating a healthy and fulfilling life-work balance:

NO: Next Opportunity. Christy asked the audience: “What opportunities came about because you got a ‘no’?” Ultimately, she added, when you look at your past, you can see where the dots connect despite the “nos.” (Christy says no means no when it comes to the body.)

FLY: First Love Yourself. “If we give our best to ourselves, then we can give our best to others,” Christy said. “Figure out what recharges you.”

JOMO: A spin on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), JOMO is Christy’s acronym for “Joy of Missing Out.” Sometimes, she added, it’s “OK to say ‘no’ to the good, and ‘yes’ to the best.” With that in mind, “figure out your boundaries,” and don’t overwhelm yourself by signing up for everything that passes your way.

PTS: Post-Traumatic Strength. PTS, which is most commonly known as post-traumatic stress, can be reinterpreted as post-traumatic strength. Again, adversities in life can foster new awareness and personal growth.

FAIL: First/Further Attempt in Learning – “Resilience, like a foreign language, is a skill you can learn,” Christy explained.

FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. We all have different fears, she said, but she encouraged people to fear less. “But don’t do it on your own,” she said. For Christy, her friends were accountability partners when she anxiously entered the workforce after Don’s death.

FREE: Foster Relationships Energetically Everywhere. “You’ll meet amazing people and hear incredible stories,” Christy said. She encouraged attendees to become “embedded” in their community. On that note, Christy said her husband, whom she married eight years ago, has been an incredible supporter.

HOPE: Hold On, Pain Eases. “Use pain as a springboard to help other people,” Christy suggested.

HOPE (No. 2): Help One Person Every Day. Christy says even something as simple as a smile or a text message, for instance, can spread joy. “You may be the sunshine that someone might need in their life,” she added. “Tell other people in your life how much they mean to you.”

As she wrapped up her workshop, Christy challenged the audience members to “show up” for each other and be intentional in their daily lives. “How can you illuminate someone’s life?”

“Look at your contact list, and text one person daily as a ‘wingman check-in,’” she suggested. “Text: ‘Hi, I was thinking of you today’ or ‘What made you smile yesterday?’; and be sure to put your name at the end of the text message. You can be someone’s silver lining on a cloudy day.”

In closing, Miller thanked the attendees for allocating time to attend Christy’s presentation and also reminded them to “know you are never alone.”

GLANCE BOX:

Mental health resources available

As resilience expert Kristen Christy pointed out, there are many resources people can use when facing mental health challenges or helping others. Here are just some of the services available:

· National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273 TALK (8255) or text 838255

· Airmen/Family Readiness Center: 937-257-3952

· Military Family Life Consultants: 937-972-1054 or 937-203-6461

· Mental Health Clinic

· Chapel Corps

· Employee Assistance Program: 866-580-9078

· United Service Organizations: uso.org

· Blue Star Families: bluestarfam.org

· Military One Source: 800-342-9647

· Give An Hour: Mental Health Services and Education at giveanhour.org

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