I have had a few people say to me, “Your life is like that Lifetime show Army Wives.” I guess this is something in the mainstream media that people can grasp at to compare a military spouse’s life to. Admittedly, although my husband joined the Air Force, not the Army, this statement is not entirely untrue. It’s true in the sense that we are a tight-knit community. We need each other, and we have a “tribe” that we often turn to in difficult situations. It’s true in the sense that we face many obstacles and challenges that are chiefly unique to us.
At twenty-nine, these obstacles and challenges have characterized my young adult life so far. In a way, I feel that I grew up in the military. It seemed that I graduated from college, got married, and then suddenly I was moving across the country to meet my husband after Basic Military Training to start our new life together. At the time, I didn’t know anyone else who did this. Especially at the beginning, I felt more alone than I ever had.
Moving away from your family and the familiarity of where you grew up is hard for anyone. For us, we also had the added stress of figuring out how the military worked as well as frequent traveling for my husband. I remember one particular memory from our very first year in the military. I was laying on the floor of our empty apartment on Christmas Day (We had no furniture yet and no money to buy each other presents either) thinking about how much I missed my family and praying “Please Lord, help me through this!” It makes me laugh now to remember how I thought things were so bleak, but it genuinely was a difficult time for me.
The challenges I have faced in the military have ranged from things as big as two deployments and navigating the military healthcare system during pregnancy to things as small as finding out where everything is located on the base when it all looks the same (!) and learning the plethora of military acronyms out there. I still don’t think I know them all.
Out of all the challenges I have faced, the biggest struggle for me has been loneliness. This isn’t to say that I don’t have friendships with fellow military spouses and my husband and I have met many wonderful people who would be willing to do anything to help out our family. But the road to this was sticky for me, and I still often don’t reach out enough when I know that I need help. I am always afraid of inconveniencing someone, but I’m slowly learning to accept help from others. I believe that there are people with good intentions who want to help military members and their families. But the lack of discussion about these struggles is possibly what leaves people confused about what we truly need.
If I were a civilian with a military spouse friend, I think I would be bewildered about knowing how to support her. Does she want to be reminded of a deployment by talking about it? Should I even SAY the word deployment? How can I offer practical help without stepping on her toes? For me, the truth is that sometimes I need emotional or practical support, even if I don’t act like I do or I’m afraid to ask. I just want to make a discussion available and take an opportunity to be honest about what I experience.
The type of support needed by military families going through a deployment or a TDY (A temporary duty assignment to somewhere other than home) is not very different from the support that a regular family would need if a spouse is traveling or temporarily away. There is practical support for things like household chores, lawn and car maintenance, and childcare. (Especially childcare, being a single parent while your spouse is away is hard!) I find these things hard to ask for because they involve someone taking time away from their own family to accomplish. So it has been a relief when people have offered to help with these tasks and I haven’t had to ask. For someone to say, “Hey, I’m going to mow your lawn every other week, no questions asked,” is a simple thing that makes me overwhelmingly grateful.
If nothing else, the thing that has empowered me to keep going through these obstacles has been emotional support from other people. That is, from both military members and non-military members. It is the one thing that can help staunch overwhelming loneliness and help me to get back into a positive mindset. I have had so many people reach out just to say that they’ll keep me company if I’m ever feeling lonely, or that they’re always good for a chat. I have had people express their appreciation for mine and my husband’s service, which shows that they understand that what he does extends to every part of our lives and can cause stress at times.
If I could convey the power that emotional support from other people has had on me: There have been times during this last deployment when I got on my knees and just asked the Lord for help to make it through one more day. So even just an acknowledgment from someone about what I’m going through could be the answer to my prayer and keep me going for another day.
Make no mistake, it’s not always like this! But I’m ready to be honest about the times that have been hard. Join me?
Tell us! What advice would you give someone wanting to provide support but not knowing where to start?
Mikayla Peterson is a Texas military spouse who is building a home library that she claims is for her daughter, but really she just enjoys buying books for herself. When not being a bookworm you can find her spending time with her husband, daughter, and two cats.