Form and Function: Professional Success During Mental Collapse

Aaron DeBee
7 min readApr 13, 2018

Note: This piece was written as an explanatory prequel to the popular two-person post “The Third Wheel”.

As my report was being briefed at the the White House, I was committing myself to the psyche ward at Walter Reed. In that moment, I was both impressively powerful and terrifyingly powerless. It was the ultimate characterization of the polarity of my mental illness.

Five years earlier, at 20 years old and without a traditional college degree, I churned out more than one hundred national intelligence reports used in determining U.S. economic, political, diplomatic, and military policy and strategy. My reports were briefed almost daily at the State Department, the White House, the CIA, and at least a dozen other national and international intelligence organizations.

It wasn’t a total surprise, though, when, a handful of years later, I was given the option of either voluntarily or involuntarily being committed to in-patient psychiatric care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. My problems with mental instability didn’t start at the National Security Agency (NSA), I knew, but they did come to a head while I was there.

I’ve since determined, at least under clinical exploration, that I started having obvious signs of mental distress when I was around 14 years old. Truth be told, I think that there was something “unsettled” in my head since before I can remember.

I attempted to pacify myself with intellectual pursuits. Advanced classes, solitary academic and creative endeavors, a foreign exchange program,… none of it seemed to fill the void. If anything, the hopeless irrelevancy of these activities to my unhappiness only deepened the abyss.

The same mind that was asked to help guide a nation had been deemed incapable of guiding its carrier.

My scholastic accomplishments and awards began mounting. And what started out as a rebellious teenager’s weekend experimentation with alcohol became a class-leading airman ditching class at…

Aaron DeBee

Freelance Writer/Blogger/Editor, veteran, Top Rated on Upwork, former Medium Top Writer in Humor, Feminism, Culture, Sports, NFL, etc.