FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wa. --
Dim lights shined on a dark path as a young man followed his guide toward a wooden elevator, which rested on the edge of a deep, seemingly endless cavern. Nerves begin to take over as the young explorer thought of what was to come. The cart begins its descent into the darkness, becoming immersed in the shadows, eliminating all sight and heightening the rest of his senses in a pointless attempt to gather any bearing.
Being completely surrounded by darkness, the feeling of a heavy discomfort overtakes the young man who then, out of curiosity, reaches his hand out to find that he is completely surrounded by nothing.
Through his experiences in that dark cave, this is how Tech. Sgt. Garry McLean describes his battle with depression.
“The lowest point of my depression was similar to being in a dark tunnel surrounded by immense darkness, and it stayed that way for a while,” McLean said. “It was nearly impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, I was stressed out, staying up all night cleaning, doing laundry and fixing things. I just couldn’t sit still.”
McLean is a Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape specialist with the 336th Training Group, and is no stranger to stress or difficult situations. However, when the weight of the world piled on him, McLean reached a place that he couldn’t come back from alone.
His troubles began at home, which included the end of a marriage that resulted in the break of his family, including five children.
“Due to the nature of the troubles at home, I filed for divorce. The stress of having to manage five kids on my own, trying to get work done, feed the kids, take them to sporting events became overwhelming,” McLean said. “With everything going on, I began to become isolated from friends; not having them around anymore was difficult to understand and face.”
With the stresses of having to balance life at home, the divorce and work, McLean decided it was time to seek help while making his daily commute to the office.
“I remember I was on my way into work and I texted my boss letting him know that before I came into work, I was going to stop in the [mental health] clinic,” McLean said. “He responded by asking me if everything was okay, and I told him ‘No, everything is not okay and that I need to talk to somebody.’”
McLean’s supervision received his message and quickly took action in coordinating a meeting with the doctors at the base Mental Health Clinic.
“We talked about help being available before,” said Chris Lum, 336th Training Squadron director of training. “He texted me letting me know he was going to mental health and I thought, ‘Thank God,’ because we were all worried about him.”
Lum would continue showing his support for McLean during his battle against depression by visiting him in his home, and bringing his commander with him.
“During that time, Chris brought the commander over to my house after I had just taken the kids to school and dropped off my youngest at a friend’s house,” McLean said. “I started explaining the troubles I was experiencing at home and after describing everything that was happening, I lost it and started crying. Chris then stood up, gave me a hug and I cried on his shoulder. He then told me, ‘We’re here for you, we care about you and you matter.’”
Mark Berstler, 336th TRG training coordinator and McLean’s supervisor, joined Lum in supporting McLean and his family by organizing meals, cooked by fellow squadron members, to be given to the McLean family.
“Nobody in the office other than Mark and Chris knew what was going on with me but once everyone in the office was told that I had a need, everyone stepped up without asking questions,” McLean said. “For a couple of months I had dinners delivered to my house, which relieved a lot of stress and gave me time in the evenings to sit down and spend quality time with my kids.”
“When your friend, family member or even coworker is going through a significant life change like McLean did, it is important to be there for them,” Lum said. “We’re invested in each other like a family, and if we don’t take care of each other, no one else will.”
Even with the support he was receiving from his fellow squadron members, McLean still faced an ongoing battle with his depression and situations at home.
“This wasn’t what I envisioned my life to be,” McLean said. “I didn’t want to get a divorce or have my kids grow up in a broken home. I love my kids and want to be with them every day, but I can’t have that so it’s easy to start falling back into that dark tunnel of depression.”
McLean would continue his visits with the Mental Health clinic staff, where they were able to provide the support necessary to assist McLean in overcoming his depression.
“What got me back to myself again was the steady love, compassion and continuous ‘following up’ with everyone,” McLean said. “These little things combined with the amount of people who cared and supported me, helped get me back into a positive mental attitude.”
“I waited too long to speak up,” McLean added. “The signs were there, I just refused to admit it. My advice to anyone out there experiencing depression or going through hard times, don’t be afraid to speak up. If you think someone may be going through something, ask how they are doing. Simply asking could make a difference.”
Through the help of his fellow wingmen, the services offered at the mental health clinic and his ability to remain resilient through challenging times, McLean is able to continue his success as a father, friend and SERE specialist supporting the Air Force mission.
“It was a huge team effort with everyone in the squadron and the Mental Health clinic to support him, but in the end it was up to him to take the step of saying something and going into mental health,” said Lum. “That takes a lot of courage.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or needs help, visit the Mental Health clinic on base or call 509-247-2731.