I was drafted when I was 18. I served in Singapore for about two years, and for the first three months of that, I was in boot camp. We couldn’t bring in smartphones, or any electronics, really. We had one full day outside of camp every week and could make a couple of phone calls at night, but other than that, we were isolated from the outside world.
We got up at 6 a.m., except when we were woken up in the middle of the night because they found a cigarette in the trash and wanted someone to take the blame for it. The day then consisted of drill sergeants yelling at you for whatever they could think of, eating the same food that you had two days ago, marching around, trying to stay awake in class, getting chewed out over some tiny thing, exercising and taking the quickest shower imaginable because there’s only three stalls and everyone’s waiting on you. It was the most stressful time in my life, and yet I often find myself wishing I could go back, just for a little while.
Most of the drill sergeants weren’t great people. They were drafted like the rest of us, around the same age and with about the same level of life experience. They all seemed to know that this was the one time in their lives that they’d have any level of authority, so they liked to abuse it as much as they could since there wasn’t much we could do about it. Why would anyone want to go back to that?
Because that was the one time where I truly didn’t have to think. At all, about anything. They tell you when to wake up, when to eat, where to go and what to do. Every minute of your day is planned out ahead of time. All you need to do is follow along. And that schedule is packed, you’re always doing something and what downtime you do have is usually spent talking with your squadmates.
For me, someone who’d been stuck in a deep depression for years, always ruminating and overthinking, that was great. I didn’t even have time to be depressed; there were things that needed to get done for the whole day, and at the end of the day I’d almost always just pass out in that cramped little bunk.
But there was something else too. I had a problem throughout school where I didn’t really talk to people and just kept to myself. Whenever we had to do group or partner work, instead of trying to fit in with someone, I’d just ask to do it by myself. But behind the barbed wire, you were stuck with the same squad of people for practically every hour of every day. You were all but forced to get to know them and talk to them. And because of how much the drill sergeants liked to screw with us, we all had common enemies to talk trash about. Behind closed doors, of course.
That was pretty much my first major step in opening up more to people. Practically everyone—even our older “course manager” who was in charge of our squad and outranked the drill sergeants—was kind to me and willing to hear me out even when I felt the need to talk about whatever was bothering me.
Getting a break from having to think is pretty great. It’s not often you get that. But what I think helped me the most was being forced out of my comfort zone, being forced to do new things and meet new people. Because of that, I found that having things to do and people around makes it a lot harder for me to start ruminating, and lately I’ve been trying to keep myself busy with whatever I can. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with listening to that sad album at 3 a.m. and having a good cry once in a while, but sometimes it can be helpful to have something to push you out of your usual routine a little.
Don’t go signing up for boot camp in America and dying for an oil company though. Maybe start with, I dunno, stamp collecting.