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When the Military Breaks Your Heart

 Posted by on October 24, 2012 at 08:00
Oct 242012
 

When the Military Breaks Your Heart

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

I remember the day very clearly, when we took a chance and decided to build a house at Camp Lejeune. We were still in school and hadn’t officially received orders, but we had a good feeling. We picked out everything from siding to shutters, and tile to countertops. We would drive down from D.C. and visit the work in progress, and I even once stood on the foundation that would be our kitchen.

We never lived in the house, and we didn’t go to Lejuene (until now, of course). That was the first time the military truly broke my heart—when we received orders somewhere else. I was devastated.

A few weeks later, we were in California. Heartbreak set in again a few days later as the moving truck showed up in our driveway and the hubs kissed me goodbye to leave for workups at sea—for three weeks. I cried when I looked at the boxes the movers had left, completely overwhelmed. That was the beginning of the hardest thirty-six months of our lives. It was filled with sadness, death, wounded friends, and a whole lot of tears. The hubs was gone, training or deployed somewhere, for twenty-eight months of a three-year tour. I think one of the biggest blows came when three months into what was to be a six-month deployment, we found out he would be gone for thirteen months. I felt like someone had kicked me in the chest. It was hard to breathe. I have never seen my kids so devastated. We were pretty inconsolable there for a couple of weeks.

That’s when I learned the term, “I’m having an ‘I hate the military’ day.” I found that it made it easier to say it out loud—that I severely disliked what military life sometimes throws at us, and at our service members. It’s hard, and I know I’m not alone in my thoughts. I’m sure we have ALL had those days where something didn’t go as planned or a dream we had didn’t come true.

I wish I had some magic answer that would help you through your “I hate the military” days. I don’t. All I can tell you is what I did, and still do, to help myself and my kids.

We cry it out but only long enough to get it out. That night, when we found out that the hubs wasn’t coming home when we thought, I mustered the courage to tell the kids and we sobbed, the three of us on Frick’s bed. We cried until our eyes were puffy and our noses were clogged. BUT, we pulled ourselves together, splashed some cold water on our faces, and drove to the nearest ice cream shop. Nothing cures sadness like ice cream.

We take a trip. There is something about the open road that seems to make everything better, if only for a little while. Sometimes, the kids and I would pile in the car and drive to a park that was two hours away, when it would have been just as easy to walk to one up the street. The magic was in the escape.

I commiserate with my milspouse buddies. No one understands military heartbreak like your fellow milspouses. We whine over wine, and movies, and shopping. Hey, whatever gets you through the day.

We remind ourselves of the good times. I think about the smile on my kids’ faces when they see their daddy at homecoming or how AWESOME it is to date my hubs after he’s been away for a while. I browse through old photos and remember those happy days the military has given us—homecoming, family days, the Marine Corps ball, and my all-time favorite picture of my boys in full Kevlar and gas masks. That’s the good stuff.

I love our military life. I have lived places I never thought I’d live, and experienced things I never thought I’d have the chance to do. I have two, well-adjusted awesome boys who have done the same. I married the man of my dreams and um…he looks GOOD in uniform!

However, I also know that I’ll have many more days where I think it might be time to leave this life behind. When I do, I’ll be reminded of this,

“You never see bad days in a photo album, but it is those days that get us from one happy snapshot to the next.”—unknown

How do you make it through your tough days in the military?

Managing Your Inner Worry Wart

 Posted by on September 12, 2012 at 08:00
Sep 122012
 

Managing Your Inner Worry Wart

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

True story. My son’s bus was rear ended on the way to school last week.  (He’s fine, and so are the other kids.) I paced from the minute they called me to tell me he was hit until the minute I heard his voice, calling me to tell me he was, in fact, fine. I already told you that I worried my little head off when Frick went off to school. I once stressed myself so badly about flying cross-country before a hurricane hit that I gave myself a panic attack on a plane, which was awesome (ugh). Oh yeah, guys. I worry. I’m a pro.

I’ll always have things that freak me out, that cause me to pace or pick at my nails, or that cause me to feel like the world just may end. We all will. I’ve learned to deal with situations as they arise. It’s not like they’re going away. Here’s how I maintain my sanity.

Don’t sit there and worry your head off. Seriously. Don’t. The worst thing you can do when you’re worried is sit (or pace) and think about all the possible worst-case scenarios. Is it healthy to think about the problem? Sure. You can’t bury your head in the sand every time something goes wrong. But keeping your mind singularly focused on how bad things could be doesn’t help either. Okay, so what do I do in those situations?

  • I get moving. Last week, while waiting to see my son in person after the bus incident, I got off the couch. I took a shower. I went to the store (with my phone glued to my hand, of course). I grabbed an iced coffee and talked to a girlfriend about *her* problems. Before I knew it, I was at Frack’s football practice and saw that he was, in fact, fine.
  • I write. It’s cathartic for me to pour my thoughts into a story. I get it out of my system and move on. Sometimes I write about something completely unrelated. I keep a list of potential topics on a sticky note near my computer and cover them when I have time.
  • I throw myself into work. Work requires thought. If I’m focused on spreadsheets, databases, blogs, social media, or whatever it is I’m working on, I’m not thinking about how Frick, my oldest son, has wandered off to high school to leave me forever.
  • I clean. It’s also cathartic, with the added bonus of fewer chores when the stress is over. Sweet!
  • I sweat it out. It’s not a secret that exercise releases healthy goodness into your system. It relieves stress. It clears your mind. It just makes you feel better. If you still look pretty after, you aren’t doing it right.

Keep things in perspective. Do you remember a while back when I told you about the saying, “nobody died?” It’s so true! Frack had an owie, not an injury, from the bus accident. (Apparently he ate the seat in front of him, which is better than the kid next to him who did an unfortunate face plant into his open trumpet case. Ouch.) Frick comes home every night from school—he hasn’t left me yet. My plane was not sucked into a hurricane and landed safely before the storm was anywhere near me. Nobody died.

One way I remind myself that things aren’t as bad as they seem is to think about people I’ve met along life’s journey who have faced overwhelming challenges, yet still have the most uplifting spirits. Lesser people may have crumbled, but these folks embrace these challenges and grow from them. I want to be like *them* when I grow up. Life is one big challenge, with smaller challenges woven in. When I am ninety, sitting on the front porch in a rocking chair with the hubby by my side, I want to know that I’ve lived life the healthiest, fullest way I know how. One way I can do that is learning to deal well with stress. How do *you* chill out? Leave your answers below or on Facebook!

Aug 132012
 

A New Milspouse Perspective: Adjusting to Life After Combat

Dani

Dani

All right, ladies. This is going to be a pretty candid account of the first few months after my husband returned home from his second combat deployment. Buckle your seatbelts, because it’s not all a smooth ride!

The biggest insight I gained after my husband’s second deployment was realizing that life doesn’t completely go back to normal when he first returns. It’s definitely not the fairytale reunion (or homecoming) I expected from the movies or television. I did not greet him at an airport or coming off a bus. Rather, I was ushered into a loud gymnasium after hours upon hours of waiting, in the rain, in the middle of the night.

When my husband first returned from Afghanistan, I think I had a harder time adjusting than he did. Weird, right? Let me back up.

From day one, my husband had always taught me to prepare for the worst. Prepare for the absolute worst-case scenario in every situation, because that way if something better happens, you won’t be disappointed and you won’t be overly hopeful in the process. He lived by this, and he said to remember it when he deployed.

Consequently, as month after month of his deployment passed by, I really tricked myself into believing that he wasn’t coming home. When I did get the sporadic phone call from him, I always answered and said goodbye as if it was the last time I’d ever speak to him. There were more and more stories of injuries and fatalities from the news and from the wives of men in his unit. So many days, I stood in my family room stalking the front window; nervously staring up and down my street looking for the black car with the suited ones telling me my beloved was not coming home.

Even the day of homecoming when I heard he’d landed in the United States, I was afraid the plane would crash on its way to North Carolina. Even after he landed in North Carolina, I feared the floods and awful rainfall we experienced would overtake the bus on its way to me.

And then—he was home. For the first week, I was afraid I was dreaming and I would suddenly wake up and it wouldn’t be real. That was hard! What was also hard was adjusting to living together. This was the first time we’d lived together, and as most of you know that alone takes a whole lot of getting used to on its own. I had to learn to control my OCD tendencies and to take it easy on him when he didn’t put the dishes in the right cupboard. I also had to learn to differentiate between him adjusting to living with me versus him adjusting to being back in America. Trust me, the difference is huge, and thinking one was the other caused me to be defensive when instead, I should have been supportive.

There were lots of times when I needed “my space,” because sometimes it was hard to be on my game, happy, or supportive all the time. There were nights when I didn’t want to cook, and days when I didn’t want to clean up the house. When he first got home, I felt like I was striving to be perfect at everything, to show him that I could be a good wife. Perfect at cooking, cleaning, working, entertaining, loving, relaxing, etc.

It took a few months for me to finally feel normal, like I could let my hair down for a bit. It took me awhile to realize I didn’t have to be perfect for him, and he didn’t expect that (thank goodness). If I didn’t feel like making dinner a few nights a week, we learned to order take out or go out to eat. If I had a busy day at work and didn’t clean up the house, we waited until the weekend and cleaned up together. We learned to visit with friends when we wanted to and liked to, not because we felt like we had to. It took away stress and gave our lives more breathing room and—gasp—fun!

As for always expecting the worst, well— both our perspectives have shifted on that too. My husband came back from Afghanistan with a really positive attitude… much different from the one he left with! He’s optimistic a lot and happy more, which he says is because he has a new appreciation for everything after what he experienced on deployment.

We have our good days and we have our bad days. We have days when we fight, and days when we can’t get enough of each other. But the good days outweigh the bad, and we couldn’t be happier together. It’s been a long road to get here, but things feel right. They feel balanced. He’s here for me to bounce ideas off, to show my latest projects to, to ask his opinion or advice about my work or my latest endeavor. I’m here for him to talk to about his day at work, the physical training, the scheduling, the routines, and online classes.

To those of you going through a deployment or whose loved ones have just gotten home… be patient. Stay true to yourself. Be open. Make compromises.

And be sure to give him a whole lot of love.

The New Normal: How Combat Changed My Perspective

 Posted by on August 9, 2012 at 08:00
Aug 092012
 

The New Normal: How Combat Changed My Perspective

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

I remember an incident not too long ago. The husband seemed to be in a good mood when he got home. He jovially shouted down the basement stairs to Frick and Frack, announcing his grand entrance as if they couldn’t tell from the clunk of his combat boots on the kitchen floor above them. He dumped his green helmet bag, the one he’s been carrying around with him for the past eighteen years, on the kitchen table and then kissed me hello. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” he asked. It was an excellent question. I imagine I was wallowing in self-pity after my disheartening trip to the eye surgeon’s office. Long story short: I’m not a candidate for corrective eye surgery. “I’m having quiet time,” I lied.

Though he seemed to be in a good mood, I could sense that he had something to tell me, but he insisted I go first. He listened to me blab on about how horrible it was to have to wear glasses. Woe is me—poor Cassie, with four eyes forever. At the end of our ten-minute conversation about yours truly, we talked about his day, which was considerably worse than mine. One of the young men he trained the year before had been “blown up” in Afghanistan. When the hubs told me, he was sad, but not devastated. He was matter-of-fact, but not crushed. And I was equally numb. At that point, the reality of our lifestyle took over and the questions we *actually* ask came out: “Is he okay?” Not, “Oh, my gosh that’s terrible!” Not, “Are you serious? How could this happen?” Just…what’s the low down? Is he dead or alive? Is he maimed or slightly injured?

“Nope. He lost a leg, part of a hand, and took severe shrapnel to the face, neck, and torso. If he makes it to Landstuhl alive, and comes through here (Bethesda or Walter Reed), I’m going to go see him.”

If he makes it?

I nodded to him, completely understanding what he meant, absorbing that some of the injured aren’t lucky enough to make the trip to Landstuhl alive. I saw my Marine behind that loving husband and father—my warrior who has endured more than I will ever understand. He has been through a lot during this war. While it’s true that we are lucky enough to have had a “break” the past few years, he is now back in the operating forces. We know that it could have just as easily been him, and not one of his students, that was injured or killed.

At what point in our lives did these conversations become “normal?” Normal people don’t talk about people they know being “blown up” as if it’s an every-day occurrence. A few months ago, it was one of his best friends—shot through and though in the leg. Before that, it was my close friend’s husband. Being this wartime’s generation is our new “normal.”

It’s the fallen we know that go through our minds when we see a ten-second spot on the news. We relate the war to our own experiences. I remember how it felt to turn the corner on my street, searching for a CACO’s unfamiliar car, knowing our unit had lost five Marines and that the dreaded “twenty-four hour window” of notification had not passed. Was it my husband? Was it a friend? Did I know them? Regardless, someone in our unit—our family—got bad news that day, and I still live with the guilt that comes with being thankful that it wasn’t my husband. This is the reality of our lives.

It took a ten-minute conversation to remind me of a few very important things that have changed since my husband has seen war:

Sweat the big stuff vs. the small stuff. Have you ever heard the expression “nobody died” when it comes to mistakes or frustrations? Well, we’ve learned to take that quite literally. It puts things in perspective in a hurry. I didn’t have the Internet for two (very long) weeks when I moved. Nobody died. Movers broke a chandelier in my new house when we moved in. Nobody died. We didn’t get orders to Camp Pendleton, and now I’m living someplace I’ve never been. Nobody died. There is big stuff—managing grief and loss, coping with tragedy, healing the heart—and then there is small stuff. Know the difference.  And remember that if someone in line at the commissary or on the phone at the cable company drives you batty, nobody died.

The family unit can be your greatest source of strength. My kids don’t always do the dishes, or their homework, or clean up, or…wait, I’m getting sidetracked. They aren’t perfect. My husband is not perfect. But he is home. They are all safe. I am so lucky. We call it the “circle of trust.” What happens in our family—moving, school, marriage, vacations, arguments, love, and friendship—it all makes us stronger. We have learned to rely heavily on each other and grow together as a unit. Our circle of trust gets us through the day.

People are standing by to help. When my hubby came back, I didn’t understand what he had been through. I took some of his reactions personally. I felt alone. I was scared. I, too, was a little broken. If you aren’t sure if what you are feeling is okay, or if you need someone to talk to, reach out to Military OneSource by calling 1-800-342-9647. They really are here to help.

Jun 262012
 

Guest Blogger: Deployment Distress-Dealing With the Elephant in My Head

Blog Biography: I am a native Texan and a stay-at-home mom for my two rambunctious preschoolers (four and two). My family and I are in the beginning stages of our Army adventure, establishing roots at our first duty station, and getting ready to wrap up our first deployment. I am (mostly) loving the Army lifestyle and ready to see what lies on the road ahead!

I stated a while back that my family was on the last lap of our first deployment. If that was true, then we are now coming up on the last 100 meters.

If any of you readers are runners, you know what I mean by this. It’s the point where you are so exhausted and the end is so close in sight, that you give up all pacing and form and you just sprint as fast and hard as you can until you hit the finish line.

Yep, that’s how I feel. Running around this town like a crazy person, arms flailing wildly in all directions trying to get all the loose ends tied up before the big day, and a wide, silly grin on my face which reads, “We’re gonna make it!”

And then this stupid thought comes into my mind…”But what if?”

All spouses think it. And truth be told, that tiny thought has been in the back of our minds since the day we kissed them goodbye and watched them walk away. It has lingered there for months and months, like a tiny shadow that haunts us when we turn off the lights and lay down our heads at night.

For the most part, I try to ignore it. I busy myself with volunteer work and plan all kinds of activities with the kids so it is not such a big deal if a day or two goes by without any communications with my Solider. (I know for some of you, that time frame could be weeks. Let me just say right now, YOU are my hero!) But the beast can only stay buried for so long. Sooner or later, if I don’t deal with that little “what if” rolling around in my head, it will come back to bite me in a very BIG way. (Namely, I might find myself overly-emotional and crying hysterically in front of a complete stranger who works the reception desk at the on-installation clinic. Wait…Not everybody does that?!)

The fact of the matter is I put on such a strong front for everybody all of the time because I don’t want to worry them.

My preschoolers don’t know the real danger behind their father’s work. If I am not strong for them, will it make them fearful?

I want my family to know that I am doing well and am capable of taking care of everything on my own. If I let on that I am sad/worried/panicked, won’t that make them sad/worried/panicked in return?

I want to be someone my fellow spouses can lean on when they are hurting. Will they still want to lean on me if I have a moment of weakness?

I want complete strangers to think I am wonder woman…okay, that might just be a “me” thing!

But here comes the big kicker: I want my husband to focus solely on his work and trust that I have everything under control. If I bring up my concerns, will he worry that I am not cut out for this gig or that things are slipping without him?

Fortunately, there is no prerequisite for becoming a milspouse stating that you have to put on a strong front at all times. Sometimes, we just need a moment to cry. We need a time to hang up our superhero capes and just be normal for once…or in my case, to be the sobbing weirdo at the family clinic.

Everyone deals with deployment stress (and distress) in different ways, but here are some of my suggestions.

Make time for yourself. You juggle the kids, the house, your work, the visiting in-laws… It is good to stay busy, but you need to take a moment for yourself to decompress. For me, it’s a glass of wine in the evening and a chance to blog. I also throw the kiddos into child care for a few hours twice a week so I can go to the gym or even the grocery store by myself (HALLELUIA!). But I have a friend who shuts herself off from the world for a day, dives into a bag of chocolate, and has a movie marathon on Netflix. Whatever works for you, pencil it into your to-do list, and DO IT!

Use the buddy system. When I am feeling discouraged or blue, I grab one of my favorite gal pals and head out for coffee, or dinner, or have her over for a glass of wine. It will do wonders for you to have one person you can spill your guts to, and who doesn’t mind listening. Don’t have anyone local? I know lots of people who schedule frequent Skype dates with their sisters or a close relative when they need a pick-me-up or to blow off steam. Share your worries with someone close to you and you will always feel better for it.

Get involved. Whether within the boundaries of a military program or not, it is always good for you to get involved in a worthy project. During this deployment, I volunteered on the steering team of my local MOPS group and am doing some work with our Family Readiness Group (FRG). In both groups, I have busied myself with different and purposeful projects and have met wonderful ladies that I can laugh with and confide in. What’s more, being connected with the FRG has given me pertinent details about the deployment/redeployment and is a wonderful resource for community/organizational activities outside of our battalion. (Don’t knock it ‘til you try it! And if you tried it and didn’t like it? Try, try again!)

Talk it out. For better or worse, I tell my Soldier what is on my heart. It might make him worry a bit more about how I’m handling things over here, but I choose to keep the lines of communication open. If nothing else, at the end of it all he knows how much he means to me and how much he will always mean to me. But if that is a can of worms you don’t want to open with your service member, there are other avenues to take. Contacting the Chaplain is always a good solution, or you could schedule an appointment to chat with a Military and Family Life Counselor (your FRG can give you contact information for both). Or there are several programs that bring together families of deployed Soldiers so you can have someone to commiserate with (and join for a bunch of free, fun activities along the way).

Truth be told, that pesky “what if” is probably going to be there until I have my Soldier back in my arms for good. But now that I’ve addressed the “elephant in my head,” maybe I can get some semblance of shut-eye tonight. And Lord willing, the real snore-filled sleep will find me once my husband is back where he belongs.

A Memorial Day Memoir

 Posted by on May 25, 2012 at 08:00
May 252012
 

A Memorial Day Memoir

Staff Blogger Cassie

Cassie

Until 2005, Memorial Day was just another holiday, a day off from work, and a sign of the first days of summer vacation. I was not exposed to the military growing up aside from stories that my grandfather had been wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in Germany during World War II. Though I had been married to my Marine for several years in 2005, war had not hit us close to home, at least not yet.

On September 11, 2001, we had just moved to the Washington, D.C. area for work. We had been there just short of a month. My husband was on his way to the Pentagon to get his hair cut, and I had dropped my son at day care. On my way out the door, the receptionist said, “Turn on the news when you get home. A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” Like many Americans, I watched the second plane hit from my living room. I stood in silence as my younger son played at my feet. My phone rang and I heard my husband’s voice on the other end, panicked through his muted tone, “Get (our son) and stay in the basement. Wait there until I get home.”

I replied, equally calm, equally panicked, “Don’t go to the Pentagon. I have a bad feeling.”

Shortly after September 11, I took a job at a Marine Corps base perched atop a hill overlooking the Pentagon and adjacent to Arlington Cemetery. For the next year, I watched as the cranes and crews slowly rebuilt the structure while the country tried to rebuild from the tragedy. On the one-year anniversary, I dropped off my son at the child development center on Bolling Air Force Base, which is located just on the other side of the Anacostia River, near downtown D.C.  Eyeing the surface-to-air missile that had been positioned at the back of the center, I asked the center manager how I would access the base to pick up my kids if we were attacked. “You don’t. We have enough food and water here to feed the center children for two days. If the base is locked down, even parents will not be allowed access.”

The underlying concern for our safety lingered throughout our time in D.C. We raised our children under guard and gun, and when my husband received orders to an infantry battalion in California in 2005, we knew he would deploy to Iraq shortly after we arrived. One afternoon, my husband and I sat among the boxes in our new house on Camp Pendleton discussing who would raise our children if we both passed, where he wanted to be buried if he were killed in combat, and whether all the powers of attorney were in place. I had convinced myself he was not coming home alive, a fear that would escalate a few days later.

Seven days after we moved in, my husband was already on a ship, floating off the coast of California in preparation for his deployment. It was late in the afternoon and I sat on the playground watching my kids pick through the bark floor while chatting up their new friends. One of my neighbors came to me with a broken tone in his voice. He kneeled down to where I was sitting and softly murmured, “I need you to keep this little boy outside. The casualty officer is here to tell his mom that his father has been killed in Iraq.” The boy was the same age as my oldest son.

For the next nine months while my husband was deployed, I watched their family struggle from two doors down. I eyed the yellow ribbon magnet on their car everyday as I left the house. “Keep my daddy safe.” Looking back, I can say that despite my years of working and volunteering in the Marine Corps community, hearing the stories, and knowing that some Marines really didn’t come home, nothing could have prepared me for those days.

One morning, I browsed the internet and found that our battalion had lost six Marines. I had not heard from my husband in more than two weeks. Despite the 24-hour window of notification, I remember being frozen in fear over those next few days, terrified each time I turned the corner on my street. I scanned for cars I did not recognize in fear that someone was waiting to deliver the dreaded news when I got home, just like what had happened to my neighbor.

Eventually, my husband made it home safely, but not before losing the company commander he was attached to and a close friend from the battalion. While he fought, I attended the commander’s funeral, and quietly grieved with the other wives in the unit.

Straining through tears at a restaurant that next Memorial Day, I tried to explain the true meaning of the day to my boys. I certainly had plenty of material. However, nothing can prepare you for having to explain war to your children, especially when they know their daddy is still in harm’s way. We got through it the best way we knew how…together. To date, it was the longest nine months of my life.

The three years we spent in the operating forces before moving to our current duty station opened my eyes to Memorial Day. It is not about backyard barbeques or summer vacation. It is about remembering what we have lost and celebrating the sacrifice those individuals made to secure our safety. It is about teaching our children to appreciate our veterans and that brave men and woman and their families who have come before us have scarified in many of the ways we have. On this Memorial Day, as you enjoy the time off with family, remember that this day is about recognizing our fallen heroes and all of the veterans, past and present, who have served and sacrificed for our country.

 

Research Offers Insight into PTSD

 Posted by on January 11, 2010 at 11:15
Jan 112010
 

Research Offers Insight into PTSD

mos_illustrative_logo.1_smallerTwo new studies add to the mounting evidence that post-traumatic stress disorder causes chemical changes in the brain. Hopefully, these findings will not only lead to better treatments, but will help erase the attitude that PTSD is a sign of personal weakness.

Continue reading »

All materials copyright Military OneSource, 2012. Blog content held jointly by writer and Military OneSource, with shared rights to republish with appropriate attribution.