MFLC Mental Health: A Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual approach

By Joe Valletti, SPA

Before I took on my first assignment as a MFLC I wanted to make sure I didn’t set myself up for failure – it would be the first time I worked away from my residence for most of the year. Knowing that I would experience extended periods away from home, tiring transportation scenarios, the development of new relationships, unusual stressors, and the need for a sanctuary – I put together a game plan. Its purpose was, when away from home, to help me be a good employee, a good team member, and to have peace of mind. Working now on my sixth year with the company, I’d like to share some areas that have helped me along the journey.

Some of you may know what a Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual (BPSS) assessment is. In a traditional mental health position, before you intervene with a client, you assess the client in different areas to see what you’ll be dealing with.

The BPSS is a good technique to do this, depending on how much you get into it – these four areas cover a lot in a client’s background. It occurred to me that in addition to being used as a “past profile,” the BPSS could also be used as a roadmap for the future. It can show where you are now, and what you’ll need to effectively operate in the times ahead. As a MFLC, filling in the gaps is what you want to do; in effect you’re setting yourself up for success. I’m going to write now about how, as an MFLC, these four areas work for me.

The Biological You
This physiological section can be broken down into two areas: What do you do before-during-after your flight, and how do you assist your physical body once your “boots are on the ground.” Lets look at the plane-train ride. Water-water-water is the foundation. In so many ways, sugary drinks, alcohol, and caffeine are not conducive to long confined trips with high altitudes. Stocking up on beef, chicken, or another dense food before/during/after flying is not recommended – highly digestible meals are preferred. Just bring along your favorite power snacks – they taste better and cost less than the alternative. When you check into your hotel, what is your routine? Whatever works do it over and over, consistency takes over here. I do a hard reboot; it’s just the way I’m wired. Get up early the next morning and get ready for the day – my body immediately follows. I remember when I landed in Hawaii at 1:00 am (drove my car rental through a mini-monsoon) and had to report to work at 8:00 am. You’ve probably heard the “just got here talks” of a number of MFLCs, how it takes up to two weeks to regroup – by that time the impression on your team and school staff is already made.

You know that when your body is in good working condition, your mind follows. It’s okay to celebrate at times and have Ben & Jerrys weekends – but you know what I mean. If you have a kitchen, just stock the healthy essentials – sabotaging that is a foundation for failure. You want to have a crazy eat, visit someplace outside the hotel. Find out where the local healthy restaurants and grocery stores are. Places to workout are free – try the hotel or local on-base gym. Don’t like exercising? Trick yourself. I walked to my school for two years at one base, at another I bicycled. Lost 10 lbs. in the former, 20 in the latter. I even liked it – I upload on the way to work and download on the way back. Fresh air, sunsets and sunrises, meeting the same cool people over and over, giving fist bumps to “the same people you see” who don’t speak your language – priceless!

The Psychological You
Without pulling punches, how many of you or people on your team have come to a B.A.D. H.A.L.T. (Bored, Angry, Depressed, Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired). If you’re trying to maintain your wits about you, the previous acronym is not a surprise. No matter what profession we’re in – sometimes our upbringing, peers, and life experiences get the best of us.

How to take care of you and others requires a good sense of boundaries. Don’t let the negative folks in; don’t let the positive ones go. The key is to do the right things and not worry what others say about you. One of the problems I think with our position is that we’re not physically supervised – which can bring out the best and worst out of people. Where do we rate on civility, maturity, and humility – the traits attract most people (be honest).

The place where MHN places me is my sanctuary. It’s where I go to unload and recharge. I don’t think I’ve been in one hotel where the housekeepers haven’t said, “This is one of the best rooms I’ve seen, and it’s so homey” (it better be –  for nine months it’s my home). I’m there for a while, so I’ll often rearrange the furniture to my liking. The walls are usually barren, or there are really poor pictures in the rooms. Again, I put up wall rugs and my own pictures that I collect over time on rotation (most hotels allow this). Bring it with you to your next assignment – the Military Postal System (MPS) allows you to ship your stuff free from assignment to assignment.

Do you have a bucket list, on paper? I’ve got one on a computer doc – I think I cut it in half the last five years. Yes, it’s broken down by BPSS sections. That helps me to focus on areas of life where I want to get things accomplished. Bouncing off this is the opportunity to work on projects that interest me. Working on these projects helps my mind to stay positively focused on things that I want to finish. My laptop has these projects set up for next steps. They are organic – always changing and going forward. The list includes hobbies – If someone asked you your top three, how do you respond to that? These areas of interest are available in groups on and off the base.

I also have a weekly conference with myself on key issues that I need to keep up on – out of the hotel room and by myself (I concentrate well in an ambient setting). I have a life-management system that allows me to pull together loose ends while being proactive with the week/month ahead. There is a saying about the mind, “Zen like water.” It allows me to go throughout the day with a blank slate, taking things as they come – because the things to “worry” about have already been taken care of in the weekly/daily downtime. Block time out for “you time,” otherwise you’ll always be looking for the next social fix. Whatever works for you, do it, and do it consistently.

The Social You
To me this is a job. I don’t see the company as a travel agency, I don’t feel I’m entitled to anything that I’m not offered. If there is a time when the job doesn’t suit me, I then look for one that does. Put another way, we are not here on rotations to entertain each other. It’s up to us to put together our own social systems, to our own liking. It may not include others on a regular basis, and that’s okay. I always try to set up an on-base and off-base list of acquaintances/friends that I enjoy being around. It’s good to join groups that have international charters. The organization Toastmasters is an awesome choice, always chapters on base, great ways to meet the locals. There are also international chapters to the professional organizations you belong to – networking with folks at your own level, in a different country. You need a small group of people you can rely on, have fun with, and trust -and it shouldn’t only entail your MFLC team. Knowing and having fun with your fellow MFLCs is great, but if that’s your sole opportunity for a social life, it may become old quickly.

The Spiritual You
No matter what your spiritual orientation is there is something for you, it’s the beauty of diversity on military bases. You have a place of grounding with like-minded people, who like to eat after services, and go out during the week. Your spiritual community can help you out with simple things that the folks around you should be able to, but don’t. This is a great way to meet a decent number of the same people on a regular basis. It’s like Cheers gone bad, you will get to meet others who you can tolerate. Most of these services or groups have midweek meetings that have the same repeat feature: like-mindedness, food, and fellowship. I have struggled in some rotations because of their lacking support in this area – but I always made it through by putting together a system that worked. Think of it this way, if you only had you to rely on – how far do you get with that?

The Conclusion of the Matter
Please don’t see this manifesto as something rigid and without fun. The idea is to be consistent with rituals that work, and at the same time you should change where needed. Bottom Line: Don’t set yourself up for mediocrity; don’t become a burden to your team – separate yourself apart as someone who others look up to and respect. In addition, show the Health Net team that you are accountable, responsible, and proactive in your assignment. If you don’t have people worry about you, and you stop worrying about other people – how does that not make you more content, relaxed, and satisfied?

Interested in reading more? See Joe’s recommendation for a great read on self-care – Road Warrior: How to keep your faith, relationships and integrity when away from home. By Stephen Arterburn and Sam Gallucci

Have any questions? Would like to discuss this topic further?
Contact Joe Valleti below: