Our Dirty Little Secret

By Carole Van Holbeck

Pssst. It’s a dirty little secret we all try to keep. You know, the Super Woman (Man) one. The, “I am strong and can do anything” one. The dirty little secret is that we can’t. No one can. So let’s stop the myth. Let’s stop the martyrdom, and start to have an open dialogue about the state of our families and our own mental health.

I grew up in a military family with four siblings. My father was a career naval officer who was physically gone from our lives more than he was present. The absence alone created difficulty in our family. I watched the toll it took on my mother, who sucked up the additional responsibility without much complaint. She suffered with depression, migraines, self-esteem issues, and more. In the 1960’s, it was expected that military spouses maintain an even strength and she tried her best – and fell short.

Fast forward to 1995. I had recently separated from the Air Force as an E-6 to be a stay-at-home mom. At that time we had two sons – one with learning disabilities – and I became pregnant with our third. I was almost 40. My husband was the Senior Enlisted Advisor at his base and began traveling a lot. This pace continued for another seven years. He was gone as much as he was home. We lived two separate lives – the one when he was home and the one when he was away. I began to understand the challenges my mother must have faced. I tried to balance everything for everybody. It took its toll.

Ken retired in 2002 and hit a brick wall. He was diagnosed with PTSD and Meniere’s disease, which causes severe tinnitus and vertigo. I was at a total loss as to what to do – for him, for me, for our children. So I did what had been modeled for me. I gutted it out. I tried to be supportive. I picked up the slack. And you know what? Our situation did not improve. I was at the end of my rope.

So, what does a Super Woman do when she finds herself at the end of her rope? Use her super powers? The simple answer is she asks for help, and she encourages her partner to do the same. What helped put us on a better path was a wise psychiatric nurse practitioner who helped us navigate our situation. I say put us on the path because we still had a lot to work through.

Many military spouses hold their breath and wait for things to change. Like me, they don’t ask for help soon enough. And the reality is that when we do that we are not helping our partner, our families, or ourselves. So let’s pledge to change that. Reaching out is not a sign of weakness. My challenge to you is to find the courage within yourself to let go and seek help if you need it. If your partner is unwilling to see a counselor, you go without him or her. Sources for non-medical counseling include:

  • Installation family support centers.
  • Chaplain’s office.
  • Military hospitals or clinics.
  • Military Family Life Consultants at your installation.
  • Civilian Providers (A good resource to find Tricare-eligible providers in your area is through Psychology Today’s website: https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/.)
  • Military OneSource (Offers up to 12 free session of face-to-face, phone, or online counseling sessions. Call 1.800.342.9647 to schedule an appointment.)

My mother was a good mom and wife. So am I. I bet you are a great parent and spouse, too. Sometimes we just need a little help to be the best person we know we can be. Use your super powers for good. What are you waiting for?

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