Annette Whittenberger is a repeat guest on the show. If you haven't listened to her previous episode, go give that one a listen. It tells more about her background and what she did while in the military.
In this episode, we talk about what Annette has been up to since getting out of the military and how she has been helping others who have struggled with PTSD and other mental health issues.
Links & Resources
Scott DeLuzio: 00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that. Thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there, click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveOnPodcasts.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our emails. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:43 Today my guest is Annette Whittenberger and she is actually a repeat guest on the show. She was on a few weeks ago talking about her experience in the military and as with all of us, our time in the military is not where our story ends. Today we're going to talk about some of the things that she's been working on since getting out of the military. And if you haven't listened to the previous episode, please give that one a listen. I'll link to that in the show notes. So, Annette, welcome back to the show. For people who haven't listened to the previous episode, could you give us a quick rundown of who you are and a little bit about you?
Annette Whittenberger: 01:22 Yeah, so I served in the army for over 17 years. I retired as a Major. I was a Chemical Officer. And so, I started this new chapter in my life once I got out because I got into deep depression and I decided to get out of the fog and do something about it with the help of very good friends.
Scott DeLuzio: 01:47 That's awesome. I think that's kind of a story that a lot of people who get out of the military probably could resonate with where they get out and they don't really have that same sense of purpose or direction that they had while they were in the military. And that is a big struggle for a lot of people. It seems like you have sort of figured out a way to work through some of that issue. And that's hopefully what we're going to talk about a little bit here today and also some of the other things that you're doing to help out other people who might be struggling with the same type of thing or even other issues that they may be going through.
Scott DeLuzio: 02:36 So, in the last episode we did touch on some of the things that you're doing. If anyone hasn't listened to that episode, please go back and listen to that. It will help give a fuller picture of what we're talking about here. One of the things that you're working on is your blog called a wild ride called life. And one of the things I wanted to talk about was how you started writing as being a form of therapy or a therapeutic thing for you. Could you talk a little bit about that? What was the decision that you made or how did you come to that decision to start writing about your experiences and things that you're going through?
Annette Whittenberger: 03:23 So, in the beginning I started on WordPress. I found it, I don't remember how I found it, but I decided to start writing, but it was more like a journal for me. But I felt like if I put it on paper, it would help me a little bit more. But I kept it a secret. And then I started talking to other soldiers, former soldiers of mine that were telling me how they had felt, you know, they lost their identity and once they got out and it was a real struggle for them. So, I started to feel like, you know what, I'm not the only person that's going through this because in my mind, no one else understood. They're not going to understand how it is to get out before you were ready, all those feelings. So, I decided I was going to start a website and it took me about a year because I didn't know what I was doing. And then I thought I had another veteran
Annette Whittenberger: 04:19 who built websites and I was like, you know what? Let's just do it. And we've launched it. And it was scary because I didn't tell all my family, not all my friends even knew what I was feeling. So, it was terrifying. But once I hit publish and it was out there, I was like, okay, this is who I am. And I could no longer let it take over me. I mean, it was consuming me as a person, as to feeling like a failure because, you know, I still have peers that were in. And I was like, well, why not me? So, once I started to write, I felt like I, it was a relief and I started having people reach out to me and they started saying, you know, thanks for being so vulnerable.
Annette Whittenberger: 05:16 And I'm like, oh my God, someone's reading it. Okay, I'm making a difference. I guess I'll keep going. But you know, it didn't happen overnight. It's taken about three years to finally be in that place where I will say anything and everything because that's too, I am today. And you know, if someone's feeling depressed and like I totally understand because that was me last year. I, was a suicide attempt, survivor, I've been in that dark place and I feel that people need to hear it and we don't talk about it enough. And so, I think by sharing my story through that outlet and now through all social media, Instagram, Twitter, all that, I am not embarrassed anymore because I wish I would have seen that kind of stuff years ago to know that I wasn't the only one feeling that way. So, that's why I'm so passionate about, I just put my story out there and some people are like, how do you just say stuff like that? Why are you putting your business out there? Well, you know, I don't put like my family business, I put my business because I feel that I don't want anyone else to struggle that way because I didn't have that. So that's how that started and that's why I'm still doing it.
Scott DeLuzio: 06:44 Well, that's good.
Scott DeLuzio: 06:49 Looking back at when you first started it, you put the site on WordPress, so obviously it's a website. It's out there for the world to see. It's not password protected or behind a paywall or anything like that. It's out there. Anybody in the world can go in and visit it. You just as easily could have put down your thoughts in a private journal, in a notebook or a diary or something along those lines. But you decided to put it out there for the whole world. What prompted you to share that writing publicly? Was it to be able to help other people? What sparked that for you?
Annette Whittenberger: 07:34 I think it was to let people know that it was okay to feel this way. I mean, the army was my life. I will always soldier for life always, but I couldn't let it define me and take over and I needed to tell people that it's okay to not be okay. It's okay to have your days. You're still a person. And I think I was talking to myself, but also talking to other people. So, it was a self-healing journey. And I think the more people that I reached that reached out to me, the more I started to realize I had to keep going because someone was reading it and I guess I just didn't really think about that. I was just putting it out there, hoping someone's going to read it.
Annette Whittenberger: 08:28 Maybe I can save at least one life. The more people that reached out, the more I was like, I got it. I have to keep going and even if they don't give you a like or they don't comment, I had private messages, they just didn't want to be exposed, which is totally fine, but the private messages is what really hit hard for me because they were suffering and they, for some reason, one my posts helped them that day. And that's all I needed to keep going.
Scott DeLuzio: 09:00 That's a good point that you brought up, so let's just say somebody else is in your shoes and they decide, Hey, I want to start writing this stuff and I want to put it out there publicly because I want to help people. Then six months go by, a year goes by or whatever in there. They're not seeing the likes and the shares and the comments and all that stuff on there. I think, especially around this topic, there may be some people who are not in that place where they want their information to be public or that they maybe resonate with a certain topic or an issue or whatever. And so, they may not like or comment or share the way you might expect that they would for something that you've just poured your heart into.
Scott DeLuzio: 09:47 So, if someone is out there who is doing this type of thing, don't necessarily get discouraged because of the lack of feedback from that because it's not 100% accurate that this isn't helping anyone because no one's liked it or commented or shared it or anything. All of that stuff is really a vanity metric. If you think about it. It doesn't really matter. It really matters who read it. Who got help from it and who's now in that much better place because they read your stuff or listened to your stuff or somehow it changed them in some way, shape or form?
Annette Whittenberger: 10:38 I think one thing I want to point out is this topic obviously is very sensitive. So, it's not like another typical Instagram posts where it's the dress you wear, how you look that day. You can't base it off of the likes. You really can't. If you're going to go through this journey, you have to be prepared that if you're expecting to be popular, it might not happen. You just have to know that you're doing it to help other people. And that's it. You're not doing it to be famous. You're not doing it to be popular, to be liked. People are reading it. And that's really what you have to focus on is that you're helping somebody else, not anything else. So, if you're doing it to get exposure, to be popular, it's not going to happen. It's going to take time to reach as many people as you want but you just have to focus on what your why is.
Scott DeLuzio: 11:43 I don't think this is a popularity contest. It's not a contest that anyone would really want to win anyways. It's really and truly just trying to be helpful. Like you're saying and I think that's pretty much the reason why I started this podcast. I don't have sponsors right now. I don't advertise. I'm not making any money. As a matter of fact, it costs me money to run the podcast between the equipment and the hosting for the audio files and everything like that. I've lost money doing this. It's money that I'm happy to spend on this trying to get the message out there to people who might need to hear it to help them out.
Scott DeLuzio: 12:32 I know we hear stories all the time of people who were in a dark place and they just didn't know, either where to get help or didn't trust the people who they thought we're going to give them help and they didn't know what to do. They just were trapped. They felt like they were trapped and they didn't really see another way out other than harming themselves or getting involved with alcohol or drugs or you name it. There are countless stories out there of all these things. And if we can help somebody with episodes like this, then I'm happy to spend a little bit of money to get that out there and help people with all that. So switching gears a little bit, so the writing sort of acts as a form of therapy for you in terms of being able to get the message out there and it turned into something that people were reaching out saying, Hey, this is actually helping me on that really resonated with me and thanks for sharing all of that stuff.
Scott DeLuzio: 13:38 You've taken that and you've moved into a few other projects that you have going on. The first one that I want to talk about is your podcasts. So, you have a podcast and we were talking a little bit before we started recording about the podcast. The stories that people tell and that they are trying to get out there. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the podcast and what it's all about and who might be a good guest on the show, if anyone is listening and might want to be a guest on a podcast to share their story. Maybe even for the first time.
Annette Whittenberger: 14:25 I've been wanting to find another way to reach more people to help them. And one night it came to me and I was like, that's it. The truths we hide. And so that's what the podcast is called. And I think I really base it off of my own experiences because I have a lot of things that I have not told people. And it wasn't until my adult years where I was like, you know what, maybe that's why I am who I am, this has a little bit to do with it. And so I figured, well, I know there were other people out there and if there's anyone out there who's ready to talk about that in order to help other people so they can give advice as to how they overcame it, then that's who I would love to have on there.
Annette Whittenberger: 15:12 And so I've had a former soldier that I was deployed with and he came on and he said he was messed up when he went. He said, “When I deployed, when I came back and now, I'm doing this, this and this.” And so that's what I think other men and are other women need to hear is that, yes, you came back and it wasn't okay, but now I'm better because I'm doing this kind of work. And so that's what I want. It's not just for veterans. I've had veterans, I've had military spouses, but it's not just us, there's so many other people that are affected. So, I want that kind of people/guests on the show that are ready to talk about it. And so, I've opened it up and I have a Facebook page. You could go on there and fill out the Google form. And right now, I'm actually booked out until March, which is exciting, but I welcome anybody because I really want to help more people that are feeling this way.
Scott DeLuzio: 16:20 Right. And so, just for context, this is the day before Thanksgiving, 2019 and you're already booked out through March. And so, you already have quite a bit going on, in terms of the number of
Scott DeLuzio: 16:38 people that you're going to have interviewed on that podcast, which is amazing by the way. Congratulations on that. But if anyone who is listening to this episode now, is hearing this and it sounds like something that you might want to be a guest on, you want to share your story or whatever. I will have a link in the show notes to the podcast and to the Google form where you can go and sign up to be a guest on the show. So, you can look for that there and hopefully extend out into the summer with the number of guests that you have on the show and beyond. That definitely sounds like a great show. And even if that's not a podcast that you feel like you would be a good guest on, it might be a good podcast for you to listen to. So, definitely go over there and subscribe to that podcast as well and listen to those episodes.
Scott DeLuzio: 17:45 Switching gears a little bit. These are the things that you've been creating publicly; that you have been sharing publicly. Let's talk about the veterans’ story project and what you're doing with that. That's still a little bit of a work in progress if I'm not mistaken.
Annette Whittenberger: 18:05 Yes. So, why I wanted to do something a few years ago and collect stories to eventually put it into a book. I have had people that have sent in things anonymously, which is absolutely okay because they want to share their story to help other people. So, if you don't want to use your name and you want to use a pen name, absolutely. Okay. We can set up a time to talk, we can figure out what you want to share and go from there. But that's been a work in progress until I can get some more and then eventually get that published.
Scott DeLuzio: 18:41 Oh yeah. Awesome. And so, what types of stories are being included in that?
Annette Whittenberger: 18:47 It's anything from combat or not combat, anything that you experienced while you were in the military really. It's anything you want to share that you struggle with that you want to put out there and say, okay, this is it. I want to say something.
Scott DeLuzio: 19:04 I'm sure there's probably some people who are listening to this podcast who may have a story or two to tell that might fit in there as well. So again, if that's you and you want to share a story, please feel free to reach out to Annette to see if that story might be a good fit for this project that she's working on. You've also been doing some public speaking and mentorship as well. What kind of people do you work with, what organizations have you worked with, and how did you fall into that type of work?
Annette Whittenberger: 19:46 I'm a talker. I love to help people. I'm a mentor with Better Roddy and I've had active duty, I've had Better, and I have military spouses that they go and find me based off of what they're looking for. And we talked for about an hour and it's just mentorship on either what to do after the army, how to become a blogger, some entrepreneurship, just things like that. I like to help people find their passion because I know that we each have something that we're passionate about. We just sometimes need help finding it. And I love to do that. That's what I do with those calls. I also work with an organization; it's called a Bead Daring Foundation is a nonprofit based out of Arizona. The founders, actually an ASU alum like myself, so we are both Sun Devils.
Annette Whittenberger: 20:37 We help educate college campuses about mental health and try to end that stigma. And we also are bridging the gap with law enforcement, first responders and college students so that they can understand that they can ask for help and how to deal with each other. And we also provide resources. And that's where I did my first speaking engagement in Arizona in August. It was on a mental health summit to where I shared my story and told them how I overcame the trauma and dealt with it and how I can live a normal life with PTSD, depression, and anxiety. So that's what I'm doing now. We've actually just got a partnership with the Phoenix Suns. There's going to be a 5K- run/ walk in Arizona on February 8th. So, we're trying to reach everybody and help end the stigma.
Scott DeLuzio: 21:37 That actually hits close to home for me. I actually live in Arizona. I'm in the Phoenix area and so it's interesting that all of this is going on right in my backyard, so to speak. That's awesome. So, the Bead Daring Foundation. So, you said that they're working with colleges and things like that to help bridge that gap between the first responders and military who might be attending the college. Is that that accurate?
Annette Whittenberger: 22:16 Yeah. We're trying to keep them in college. We don't want them to leave because they're stressed out and they're going through pressure. We're trying to keep them there. So, we're providing resources to help them do that. So, yes, that's what we're doing.
Scott DeLuzio: 22:29 I know a lot of guys who have been in the military and ladies who have been in the military; they get out of the military or they transition from active duty to the guard or reserves and they are now going to college. They're using their GI bill or whatever benefits that they have. And they're there. They're going to college and they feel like the grandpa or grandmother was sitting in the back of the classroom or in front of the closet wherever they are in the classroom. They've got years of experience from the military or whatever. And they're sitting in the classroom with 18, 19, 20-year old kids who seem like babies to them the way they act sometimes; it's almost like two different worlds. You have this hardened military veteran who is on one level of thinking and then you have these kids who are fresh out of high school who are more immature and they don't really get life at that point.
Scott DeLuzio: 23:47 One of the things that has helped me and I don't know if this will resonate with other people necessarily or not, but I figured I'd mention it. You see this 18-year old kid who maybe is complaining about their Starbucks not getting the right order or whatever. Let's put it this way, a seemingly inconsequential thing to someone who has dealt with far greater, far more severe things that carries far more severe consequences. The way I look at it is that we, as the military or the first responders or whatever the case may be, whatever your background is, we've done our job because they don't have to worry about planes falling out of the sky. They don't have to worry about buildings getting blown up or all those things that were, especially in the days after 9/11 were very real concerns for a lot of Americans and a lot of people around the world, quite frankly. They don't have to worry about those things anymore because, not that they don't have to worry about them, it's just that they don't worry about them because they haven't happened in, for some of these kids in their entire lifetime.
Scott DeLuzio: 25:12 They haven't really had to worry about that. And so, they haven't grown up in a world where those were things that they had to worry about. People like the veterans and the first responders and all of that; they've done their job. So, instead of maybe getting ticked off that, Oh, this kid is complaining about a coffee and they don't even know what the real world is like and all this stuff. Instead reframe that mindset and say, Hey, you know what? This kid, the worst that they have to worry about is the type of coffee that they got or how if they got the right size or whatever, that's the worst thing they have to worry about. Hats off to us. We did a good job. We've kept the fight someplace else where other people now don't have to worry about it.
Scott DeLuzio: 26:01 And it's not our problem to really have to worry about, it's not the problem of the youth of this generation or whatever that they have to worry about those things anymore. And that was something that when I came to that conclusion, it really helped me in rephrasing the narrative in my own head. Instead of looking at this as some ungrateful punk kid who doesn't know anything about the world, looking at it as, “Hey, you know what, things could be worse, that kid could have other things to worry about, but he doesn't. So, I don't know if that is helpful to anybody else, it certainly helped me a little bit. Are there other programs or other things that you guys do with the first responders or with the institutions themselves to help make that connection? What are some of those things that you guys do?
Annette Whittenberger: 27:04 So we're in the process of creating online courses. We're going to be giving out self-care boxes. So, we're creating all that right now. It's only been about two years old, the Foundations. So, we're really just trying to get, I don't want to use more exposure. We're trying to get out there to show people that there are resources. We are a program that we want to help because it's not within the veteran community. You know, it's not like we have that it’s just for actual civilians, so we're just trying to put that out there to show them that there's something going on in the Phoenix area.
Scott DeLuzio: 27:46 Well that is a lot of stuff that you have going on. You are definitely keeping busy. I think that's an important thing, especially for people who might be struggling with that readjustment after getting out of the military is keeping busy and having a sense of purpose. I think you talked a little bit about that earlier, in terms of how your writing is helping other people. And that's kind of who you are now, that person who's putting themselves out there and writing to all of these people. I think that's important for people to take in and find that sense that thing that gives them that sense of purpose. The military is not there anymore. If you're out, you know, you don't have that anymore.
Scott DeLuzio: 28:37 to fall back on and say, Oh, I'm a soldier, or I'm a Marine, or whatever the case may be, you don't have that to fall back on anymore as your sense of purpose. So, now it's up to you as the veteran to find that sense of purpose, which sounds like it is something that you've done through all the things that we talked about today. And I'm sure there's other things brewing. If you're anything like me, you have other things brewing in the back of your head that might be coming up in the future. But we won't talk about that now because I don't want to spill the beans on anything that might not be a fully formed idea or whatever. So, thank you again for sharing all of this. I think it really could help other people with where they're at. Where can people go to find out more about some of these things that you're doing?
Annette Whittenberger: 29:34 So the podcast, you could go to Facebook under the Truths We Hide and then there's the Google form that you could fill out if you're interested. You can also go to my website and Wildridecalledlife.com and you can also email me at [email protected]
Scott DeLuzio: 29:54 Okay, wonderful. And I'll have links to all of that in the show notes as well as some of the links to the other episodes that we talked about to your previous episode and other things like that in the show notes. So, thank you again for sharing and joining us today.
Annette Whittenberger: 30:09 Thank you so much.
Scott DeLuzio: 30:15 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website, DriveOnPodcast.com we're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at DriveOnPodcast.