Semper Waiting

A military wife knows more than anyone what it feels like to wait and wait and wait. We wait for deployments, we wait for homecomings, we wait on official word, we wait on getting leave, we wait for orders, we wait on emails, we wait on phone calls, well  (you get what I mean) we are simply – Semper Waiting Spouses.

Since my last blog post, I finally got an official homecoming date for the husband (woohoo!) after waiting over 2 long gruesome and lonesome months. But even with a visible date in the near future I still find myself waiting! Waiting for it to hit me that this is not just another rumor, waiting to hear more details, waiting for the ACTUAL day to come, and waiting to hear what’s next!

All in all, it makes for a good recipe for ANXIETY. Have you ever been at the commissary or Target and gone to the checkout lane and thought to yourself you chose the ‘wrong-slower’ lane or got that ‘the other line always moves faster’ feeling? As you stand there and ponder these thoughts in your mind your anxiety begins to rise and thus the ‘wait’ becomes intolerable. Well, for me – I feel like at times living to military life I’m doing nothing more than waiting on-line – the wrong , slow line.

Anxiety is simply the way we react to stress. Some handle it better than others and some can’t handle it at all. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, apprehension, worry, and nervousness. Most times anxiety is justified with a cause (such as the anticipation of our spouse going or coming home from deployment), but even with a reason it may come from creating out of proportion expectations to what normally may happen in the real situation. (Please read more at the National Institute of Mental Health)

Anxiety is part of life (even toddlers experience it) and it’s a very common denominator in military spouses. Explained waiting under any circumstance (at the airport, doctor’s office, and a restaurant) can be anxiety-inducing so you have to expect that waiting for your life to move forward is even double the anxiety!

Even though I am a Licensed Psychotherapist, I am no way immune to falling under the spell of anxiety over waiting. I have found myself blowing into brown paper bags and clenching my blouse as though pulling forward would allow my lungs to take a deep breath. I find myself exhausted but then can’t allow myself to sleep because of my mind is continuously thinking about all the possibilities. There are days my emotions (good and bad) are high – where I cry uncontrollably, laugh like I never have before, have lonesome bottomless-pit feelings, and have wonderful happy proud independent moments. Then there are days that I am completely emotion-less. I turn into a robotic zombie going through out my daily to-do with minimal conversations, facial expressions, and (clearly) emotion. Of course the latter is of more concern and when I recognize I am walking down hill a dark path I quickly attempt to do some damage control.

 Anxiety already runs in my family and having my husband in the military only intensifies my likelihood of being anxiety-laden. Having my background in clinical social work does, however, provide me with the ability to identify red flags even within myself (at least to a certain degree). What helps me the most to get through my anxiety-driven moments about waiting is mainly changing my thought process about the situation. Basically, confronting my fears – and as a military spouse that fear for me is: Phobia of the unknown.

Although I like change – its ‘good or exciting’ change I prefer! It is the fear of what may happen that leads to worrying, loneliness, and nervousness. I find myself at times laying alone in bed and thinking of all the negative possibilities but neither of them with an actual reason to put my mind into this whirlwind of thought. I will spend countless hours crying about what may happen, about the unfortunate stories I read or hear about, and weighing out how likely it can happen to us. But having anxiety about the unknown becomes simply redundant once I take a step back and reflect on the dent I am creating within my emotional stability because it is simply what it is – unknown!

Why should I allow my anxiety to take over about ‘possibilities’? There is a chance of the outcome being great and wonderful just as much as sad and frightening. Telling myself this when I feel choked by anxiety helps me get over the unnecessary fret. Now, I’m not saying it is easy – there are many days I just want to sulk in my worry and find optimism nauseating. But its good practice to take care of my emotional health – not only for me, but for my family too.

For many (including myself at times), eliminating anxiety of waiting completely can be an unattainable task (and depending on the severity – professional help may be required). And so, what I make as my weekly emotional health goal is to maintain a Manageable Waiting Level by creating an environment that promotes positive outlets and support to get through the difficult and challenging times of living the military life.

Here are some of my personal guidelines to conquer Semper Waiting:

 

1 – Eliminate all the Debbie-Downers in your life!

Or at least minimize the amount of involvement they have when it comes to you coping with your situation. Negativity is contagious – if that’s all you hear at some point it will be ALL you think and that is far from being emotionally healthy.

 

2 – Join a support group.

Even if it’s a virtual one! I have found my greatest support from a group of wives that created a group on FB, not knowing one another, to get through this deployment – I truly don’t know what I would have done without them on my most ‘down’ days.

 

3 – Keep busy by starting something new.

There are so many things I have on my bucket list and what a great time to start while the husband is away. During our first deployment I finally got going on ‘writing’ – it has truly been refreshing. I know of some other wives who started working out too – I say that’s two times more beneficial!

 

4 – Believing in something spiritually greater than you to help you.

For me, it is turning to God. This is probably the tool I use the most. In my most challenging moments I find it so soothing to know that  my Lord will always provide and will give me the strength I need to get through everything and in the end – no matter what happens – all things happen to bring me closer to Him.

 

5 –Communicate as frequently as possible with your spouse.

Although this may vary when our spouses are on deployment or out training – I find it important to still have a conversation about what I am feeling or felt even if the moment has passed. Just hearing my husband tell me everything will be okay or (specifically) reassure me that the military provides him with the knowledge and training he needs to survive in most situations is very comforting and reassuring.

 

6 – Talk, talk, and talk.

 Moving from place to place and leaving friends behind can make it very easy for military spouses to become introverts. For me, talking to family, friends, and other military spouses feels like the boulder that’s been on my chest has been lifted. The power of speak is often underestimated but when given a try to results are usually very uplifting.

 

7 – Have a routine.

Although most of my days are repetitive – that very structure allows my day to flow at a faster rate. I know what to expect, what’s coming next, and when it’s over. Also, having a schedule just for the purpose of nixing it is also very revitalizing!

 

8 – Laughter is the best medicine.

There is loads of research out there that describe how laughing does your body good. Some nights I keep myself up by watching comedians, like Mollie Gross and George Lopez (My two favorites!), on Youtube and now (thanks to my good friend and military spouse) looking at Jenny the Military Spouse comics. In the end I always find myself asking – why don’t I do this more often?

 

9 – Me time!

There is nothing wrong with giving yourself a break every now and then. Our mind, body, and emotions need breaks too. At first I felt guilty putting my toddler in hourly care just because I needed a moment (or two) for me. Most of the time I do nothing more than sit at the library, have a coffee (one I can truly enjoy), or run an errand alone. Not so grand for most people but it gives me the opportunity to take a deep breath before getting back into reality. Burning out can not only be devastating for a single person but it can also affect a family entirely and so, I don’t only do it for me but for my family too.

 

10 – Look in the mirror.

When I feel like my anxiety in waiting is getting beneath my skin I turn to the mirror to ask myself what I am worrying about —- > the unknown?!?! Doing this allows me to recognize that in my worrying and possibly giving anxiety an opportunity to take over will do nothing to change the outcome, be it good or bad. All I can do is trust God’s plan, trust my husband is equipped to be ‘safe’ and trust that no matter what happens….this too shall pass.

Do not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen.  Keep in the sunlight. 

~Benjamin Franklin

If you are suffering from anxiety, please see DISCLAIMER tab on the top of the page.

I (HEART) NYU: My day at a PTSD and PTG workshop

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

The Heart of Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park

Today my lovely sister gifted me with a day for myself. She offered to take my girls on her day off from work. I, being the proud nerd that I am, excitedly planned for a date with my brain at my alma mater, New York University (NYU), for a workshop. From the moment I woke up I had a constant smile as I was overflowing with nostalgia.

Walking towards the train station, I reminisced being a young graduate student at the school of clinical social work. I dreaded the walk everyday towards the path – and needless to say – the feeling had not changed, which may very well be a result from the fact that I had to speed walk because I was late (as I always was as a grad student). Once in the station I felt like a child riding the train for the first time. I was brimming with happiness and anxiously waiting on the platform for the 33rd street train to come. As soon as the train came – it felt like hundreds of us collectively jammed into the little rail car and packed ourselves tight like sardines in a can. There was no ‘good morning’ (or talking of any kind) and eye contact was not an option – it’s just not done (as it would be rude to do so). So there I was, starring onto the floor admiring and critiquing the other passengers shoes as I found myself  plastered against some random persons’ ‘New York Post’ like a fly on a windshield. I honestly adored every single (un-breathable) minute – I knew I was in New York City and my mind was drifting away into memory lane of graduate school.

Unaccustomed to walking in Greenwich Village, NYU’s campus, as I did in my grad school days, I felt like a calf caught in a wild elephant stampede. I was surrounded by students going in all different directions. Some running, some listening to music, some chatting, some texting, and the newbies – as you can clearly read in their eyes that they are fresh to area– looking everywhere completely lost. After crossing Washington Square Park I finally arrived at the Kimmel Building where I found the conference room that was hosting the workshop. Once in the room, I glanced at the people around me and inside, my jaw wanted to drop as I quietly starred in amazement and in awe of the brilliant minds that encircled me.

The focus of the workshop I attended was “Shared Trauma, Resilience, and Posttraumatic Growth: Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11”. In addition to the array of extremely intelligent and highly experienced doctoral professors from NYU, there were keynote speaks. Dr. Charles Figley, also a Marine and Vietnam veteran, is a trauma psychologist from Tulane University who spoke on ‘Shared Trauma, Shared Benefits, and Shared Research Agenda’. Dr. Richard Tedeschi, key researcher and writer of posttraumatic growth from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, addressed ‘Post-traumatic Growth in the Aftermath of 9/11’. Major Thomas Jarrett, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a very seasoned active soldier for the United States Army, and Doctoral Candidate at NYU, bestowed us with his knowledge on ‘Educating Warriors for Combat Operational Stress and Post-traumatic Growth’.

Primarily talked about was how as therapists we should not accept Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a consequence of a traumatic or shared experience but promote Post-traumatic Growth (PTG) not only within ourselves but to our clients as we walk with them on their journey – at their own pace of course. PTG, as I understood it, was, in a nutshell, ‘meaning making’ of an experience. PTG is both a process and an outcome, transforming responses to adversity into a growth enhancing outlook to the traumatic event that has occurred creating a new level of functioning and perspective. The best approach is to guide our clients into narrative therapy and/or “story-telling” – allowing them to become their own author.

 Major Thomas Jarrett also introduced his “Warrior Resilience and Thriving” program in which he encourages soldiers and veterans to strive for PTG and fight their “internal insurgents”. He mentioned how in his work he urges military service members to not settle with their deployments as being only a traumatizing event but to transform it into learning and empowering experiences.

Additionally, Major Thomas Jarrett touched upon a topic more close to my heart. He openly informed the audience about how stigmatization remains loud and clear in the military with seeking guidance (as I prefer it called) from mental health professionals as well as mental health still being highly under-reported. Military service members fear being called weak or unable to proficiently lead, for example, if they are under the care of a therapist. This is no secret of course, and I know the military is consistently working towards breaking down the barriers to mental health and eliminating (or at least reducing) the stigma. A process I want to be part of (even if it means my beginnings are with this blog and/or speaking to individuals as I go along my journey of military life).

Even though I am a psychotherapist social worker, I am a military wife and mother first. I will admit that I constantly fight my own battles to suppress my desire to allow the social worker in me to jump out and counsel, advocate, and treat my husband during his deployment. (I can only imagine this getting worse when he comes home.) But I know that my husband needs me to just be his wife and the mother of his children. As Major Thomas Jarrett mentioned in the workshop, family resilience is even more so important during military deployments. “If one family member crumbles, we all crumble”.

I know that it would be of no benefit if I constantly diagnosed, titled, or named the situations or circumstances my husband is facing. The only best thing I can do for my husband is to offer a listening ear with constant reassurance and letting him tell me truthfully what he feels in his heart. I cannot ask my husband to tell my gory details if he does not want to and/or if he has none! Nor can I drag out of him weeping stories of how he would rather be home.  It has to be true – it has to be him – because frankly, his deployment and experience is not about me.

What I feel and what I experience through this deployment on the homefront is my truth to hold. Just as my husband – I can only speak for what is true in my heart and from what I am ready to share. And even though we are on this road together as a family – just as when we ride in our family vehicle – we are looking out of opposite windows. I cannot show antipathy towards him for what he sees and does not see just as he cannot do the same to me. The only thing I can hope for is that when we come to the end of the road – we are together and stronger than we ever were before.