What 'square away' means to Kris

Finding purpose to square away mental health
By Kristopher O 

For me, overcoming physical injury and accepting that the way that I had learned to communicate through service didn’t translate into civilian life were some of the greatest mental challenges that I have had to face.

After joining the Army I served in the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR). I enlisted for the sense of purpose and community that the ADF offers and found like-minded people that want to help Australia through service.

After four years of service, including deployments in Timor Leste and Afghanistan, my body had taken the toll. My cumulative injuries were mounting and medical advice demanded that I step back from the front line and seek a less physically demanding position.

The challenge was then finding something meaningful and learning how to communicate and translate my own skills and experiences back into civilian life - a different community.

I had not adequately prepared for transition, so I moved through different roles to help work out what I wanted to do or what I liked.

This lack of a plan caught me off guard. In the military I could focus on the next big thing — the next deployment, posting cycle or position. This provided direction and structure. Without this, I started to question what I was doing with my life and where I was going.

During my journey I joined WithYouWithMe (WYWM) with another 7RAR soldier that I served with William Lewis to help veterans translate their military skillset into civilian industry. WYWM provides training and recruitment services to veterans to help them establish a career.

Joining WYWM and working with veterans to obtain employment in different areas highlighted to me that finding a ‘good’ job did not mean that you were successfully transitioning. You need meaningful employment and to address other areas of your life - these include community, relationships, sense of purpose and mental wellbeing.

Working at WYWM highlighted a huge flaw regarding the general view of transition. This view of narrow mindedly approaching transition as employment singularly spurred me into wanting to address a wider range of issues, leading me to work in community mental health and with like minded individuals help to develop Disaster Relief Australia (Formerly Team Rubicon Australia) to provide a platform for those with skills from the military to continue service in meaningful ways while allowing reintegration back into the civilian community.

My initial lack of understanding on what is required for a successful transition throughout this process was an underlying cause for me searching multiple sectors to find what I was passionate about.

Today in my role with Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling, I help veterans find that purpose, plan for their future, link into social supports and tackle the mental challenge that comes with dealing with mental health and transitioning from the military.

When you leave service, there is a lot of pressure to pick up and continue where you left off, however there is nothing wrong with taking time to find yourself and work out what you want to do. Taking time to learn how to communicate your experiences and what you want/need in your future is extremely important.

Mental health is an area that requires maintenance like our health, fitness and relationships. Finding out what works for you is extremely important. We all have our own ways of maintaining these things and I’ve also found that communicating with others to learn more about different approaches is extremely valuable.

2020 was a difficult year for people all around the world. COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown of our communities has presented challenges including feelings of isolation and anxiety. With this backdrop, it is even more important that we learn from our past experience and develop ways of dealing with the mental challenges we are facing—squaring them away.

Applying the principle of squaring things away allows us to focus on what is most important. The stress of so much change can be lessened by tackling small tasks individually so you can move on and focus on the challenge ahead.

Veterans need to know that it is ok not to be ok, leaving the military is a difficult thing and we all need to process the change in our own way. Being proactive about seeking help and advice on the change can make the transition much, much easier.

About Kris

Kris is a Community and Peer Worker with Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling. In early 2020, he was seconded to work with Team Rubicon to help with emergency relief and mental health outreach in the wake of the bushfires.

Before joining Open Arms, Kris served in the 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR). As a part of 7RAR, Kris served back-to-back deployments to places like Timor Leste and Afghanistan. He began to find life in the infantry was taking a toll on his body, and in 2014 he left the regular Army before the injuries became permanent and debilitating.

Kris has spent the last five years working in the veteran community, supporting mental health and helping to develop organisations - building programs and organisations to collaboratively improve the services and supports available. This includes supporting communities and individuals in the wake of disaster, supporting various ex-service organisations and mental health programs. Kris is passionate about technology for social good and uses this passion to build technology that benefits communities including MusTR - a purpose built volunteer, learning and operational management system for Disaster Relief Australia.

About 'Square Away'

When you serve in the ADF, you’re part of a team that always has your back, and that doesn’t change when you leave. But to help others, you need to look after yourself first. We’re encouraging current and former-serving ADF members and their families to reach out to Open Arms and begin the journey to square away the things that are important to you. With a 24/7 helpline, online self-help tools, peer to peer support, training programs and more – we’ve got your back.

Find out more: openarms.gov.au/squaredaway