by Cornelie Johnson
My name is Cornelie Johnson. My goal is to complete my bachelor's and one day my master's degree to become a social worker. I had a rough childhood and have seen/experienced a lot. I am also an Air Force veteran. Because of what I went through as a child and also my time in the Air Force, I was drawn to the idea of one day having the title “social worker.”
There is such a stigma in the military when it comes to mental health or counseling of any sort. It is viewed negatively to ask for help, or a person is seen as weak, or could possibly lose his/her job if they are seen by a specialist of any sort. Those who have been in for a long time and also those fresh from basic training may fall into this line of thinking. Those having trouble adjusting to military life or those returning from a deployment may think this way, and it is unfortunate. This only further hurts them or their situation.
I was one of those who thought negatively of asking for help or being seen by a counselor of sorts. I got into a little trouble and was sent to see a counselor. I was terrified that this would mean I was weak and I would get kicked out of the Air Force. Instead, Mrs. Williams, the social worker I saw, was very helpful and we got to the bottom of the issue.
Five years later, I was stationed at another base. I was depressed because I was in a strange place away from everyone I knew, geographically separated from my husband who was still stationed at our previous base, and suffering constant back pain that put me out of work and in a wheelchair. I was in a rough state. I was forced to see someone. I will never forget her. Her name was Linda Pusateri, and she was awesome.
It took time for me to finally open up about everything that was going on at the time, but I did. She listened, didn’t judge me, and knew when to speak versus when to push or stand back. She wasn’t an annoying cheerleader or pushy type. I owe a lot to her. I was a mess when I walked into her office the first time and a different, better adjusted person upon her warm hand-off on my own. I didn’t lose my job or anything along those lines. I was self-conscious in the beginning of walking to her office or others seeing me, but in the end, it didn’t matter. I needed help. I told many others about the services, and a few visited her.
I don’t regret seeing the social worker, Linda Pusateri. I needed the help and wish others in the military would take advantage of these services instead of feeling they have to deal with their issues by themselves.
I would like to be a social worker to help others, whether it is military members, veterans, retirees, or police officers. I would like to give back. I owe it to myself and Mrs. Pusateri, and to others who need the help, especially the skeptical folks hiding behind their fears. I want to be a social worker.
Cornelie Johnson is a social work student in the BSW program at Florida International University.