~Joy Draper, Deployment & Resilience Coordinator
The military has faced a lot of changes over the last decade. One of the big ones I’ve noticed is the increase in deployment requirements of the service members. It makes sense, we’re fighting multiple wars on multiple fronts. There are high numbers needed to complete the missions laid out by the Commander and Chief and the Senior Brass.
These increases in deployments have the potential to put large amounts of stress on families at home. We have a crazy, high divorce rate in our squadron, and I’ve heard the same from multiple other spouses. Having experienced 4 years in a row of my husband being gone over 200 days per year, I understand the struggles that can hit a military family. Time away changes people. Children grow up. Disciplining and co-parenting is quite difficult when you’re thousands of miles apart. The poor service member might have the chance to video-chat with his or her family, but they never get a full picture of what family life is really like while they’re gone. In the same token, those of us left at home can’t understand the struggle required to leave home and sacrifice days with growing children. It’s just not easy. I don’t mean to be super-negative. But that’s reality. It isn’t a cake walk.
This is picture describes how I feel every day when I go to bed. Some spouses of deployed service members make it look like a breeze. Others rely on family and friends for a lot of help. Some don’t admit needing help even though they are struggling. As a spouse who usually allows my pride to get in the way of everything and always tries to put up a strong front (notice I said “try” not “succeed”), I’ve had to learn how to keep myself in check over the last few years with the rigorous deployment schedule. I’ve learned that one of the most important things for staying emotionally healthy during a deployment is to constantly self-analyze, admit when I’m struggling (even if only to myself), and work hard to pull my emotions out of the muck if I’m starting to get too depressed.
Let’s all admit it, having a deployed spouse can easily lead to anxiety and depression. Loneliness can set in (most often when surrounded by people, I’ve noticed). Worry can take over. You can create a list of things you’re doing “wrong.” For me, special occasions and group gatherings can really be weighty and full of sorrow because I spend most of the time thinking about how bummed I am that my husband is missing what is going on here at home.
I don’t have the perfect solution to the problem, but I can use the old adage “admitting you have a problem is ½ the battle.” In my life, this is so true. After Christmas this year, I sank down into what felt like a bottomless pit of despair. I didn’t have a specific reason for being depressed, but we were about 3 months into an 8 month trip. It felt like it wasn’t ever going to end. After about 2 weeks moping, spending a lot of time in bed, and complaining a lot to my friends, I recognized that I needed to do something. The beauty of it is that I had lots of options for how to dig myself out of the hole. We have Military One Source that offers 12 counseling sessions. We have the mental health clinic on base. We have Key Spouses (in the Air Force at least) that have resource lists. We have the different Readiness Centers at the military instillations that often have resources. We have Military Family Life Counselors. We have other spouses. We have networks of friends. We have thousands of other spouses who write articles (just like this one) sharing stories.
My point is, we shouldn’t be willing to accept the depression and struggles simply because our spouse is deployed. It has to start with you though. You have to be in tune with your own emotional health and not willing to sacrifice your sanity on the altar of deployment.
As someone who has been there. I urge you – check yourself. Analyze your behavior and mood. Use your resources. Accept that having a deployed spouse can get you down but don’t allow it to keep you there. A good rule for me has been to allow myself a week of moping and if I can’t pull out of it quickly then I have to do something about it.
Your kids and spouse will thank you – and you’ll thank yourself once you’re on the better side of the doldrums!