When half of your family is in the medical field and the other half in the Navy, you have a choice to make. Galt High School graduate Angela Brush decided to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps and join the Navy. But after being medically discharged for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, she reinvented her life and now hopes to help break the stigma that surrounds mental illness in the U.S.
Brush played junior varsity soccer her freshman year and was involved with the Health Academy while attending GHS, even being crowned Health Academy princess her senior year.
“Which is so hilarious,” she said, “because I’m so not a princess.”
A self-described country girl, Brush grew up in Herald and went into the Navy after graduating from GHS in 2005. She was accepted into the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, but shortly after completing boot camp, one night upended her life – she was raped.
“And so that’s where the PTSD and the depression stems from,” Brush said.
Brush put her experience in a box and did her best not to think about it as she completed the two and a half years of training required for the nuclear propulsion program. Shortly after she was stationed on the USS Enterprise, however, her experience caught up with her, and she started showing signs of PTSD and depression. Unable to receive help while serving onboard the ship as antidepressants are a mind-altering medication and therefore not allowed for members of the Nuclear Propulsion Program, she was reassigned to Norfolk, Virginia and eventually medically discharged just before completing her fifth year of service.
“At this point in my life, I’m okay with it,” Brush said of her experiences and the aftermath that she has spent years working to overcome. “Honestly, I think it’s made me more compassionate. I’m much more aware of the fact that you don’t know what someone’s going through.”
That compassion and awareness of other people’s individual plights has enabled her to act in situations that would make many people freeze. Just a few months ago, she helped talk a suicidal woman down and eventually physically pulled her off the edge of the bridge to keep her from jumping.
“You never really know what to say,” Brush said, adding that she happened to have just taken a course on suicide prevention. “I’m just glad that I was in the right place at the right time and that I was willing and able to help.”
One thing that Brush has learned is that, even when things seem hopeless, there is always someone who cares. She recalls one time when she was fighting depression, she missed a single phone call from a friend back home and the next thing she knew, her phone wouldn’t stop ringing as family and friends tried to make sure she was okay. Minutes later, a police officer knocked on her door for a wellness check, and his words stuck with her: “You should be glad to know that so many people care about you.”
That’s a message Brush hopes she can share with people who need to hear it, and it’s the same thing she told the woman on the bridge: “I care. I know I’m a stranger, but I wouldn’t have stopped in the middle of traffic if I didn’t care. It might not mean much to you, but I promise I do care.”
And Brush believes the world is full of people who care, which means it is possible to overcome the stigma that currently surrounds mental health issues. She believes it’s a matter of educating the general public so mental health isn’t shrouded in fear, as well as people who suffer from these conditions being brave enough to speak out about their experiences so they can be better understood.
In Brush’s case, authorities declined to prosecute the rape case due to lack of sufficient evidence.
“So there was no closure, really, as far as the case goes. I just kind of had to deal with it on my own,” she said.
And, as is the case with many people who face PTSD and depression, it’s an ongoing struggle that has slowly improved over time and with therapy. But Brush has done her best to move on with her life, and she continues to forge ahead.
After leaving the Navy, she went back to school and earned her associate degree in paralegal studies from Bryant & Stratton College in Virginia Beach. She moved back to California, where she started a freelance paralegal business, before accepting a job as an engineering admin at a national Christian radio station called K-LOVE and Air1.
Brush has now been working there for five years and quickly rose through the ranks. Her varied background of skills proved to be the perfect storm, and she is now the Engineering Operations Supervisor.
“Although the paperwork and ordering parts isn’t necessarily the things that’s going to touch lives or even be the thing that matters to the listener,” she said, “because it is a Christian ministry, I do have that sense of purpose that I can pull from.”
Along with her team, Brush helps offer what she describes as internal customer service to more than 35 field engineers around the country. She handles everything from technical troubleshooting to ordering parts and meeting legal requirements.
“I’m a good fit for it because I’ve got a diverse background,” she said. “I’ve got the compliance and legal portion where I can wear my paralegal hat, or I can wear my engineering hat and pull from my Naval experience.”
Brush earned her Bachelor of Science in clinical psychology in 2017 and is now on a competitive triathlon team, the Yuba Sutter Tri Club. She is also active with several veteran, community service, and natural disaster relief groups.