Dealing with deployment is hard. Today I’m sharing a few thoughts on how to cope as a spouse – what’s helped me and hasn’t helped me, whether you’re a spouse or a friend of a spouse.
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My military husband has been gone for about two months now, so I figured it’s time for an update. The last time I shared about dealing with deployment, he was just about to head out and I felt a little lost; consumed by the never-ending logistics it took to get him prepped and move us out of our home and get myself and pup ready for a cross-country move. While it may have added some stress to do them all at once, the flip side is that at least he was there to help and I didn’t do those things without his help.
I share this post partly to process this for myself, but also because as a military spouse I had a hard time finding posts or articles that combined the “verbal processing how hard/complex this is” aspect with “practical tips on how to deal with it” part. So this is my attempt.
The first month
The same day I dropped Logan off at the airport, I moved halfway across the country. I don’t know if this was a good idea or a bad idea for most people, but it helped to have something concrete to focus on. I was already living in a hotel, so why not? It was also really great to have my dad with me – he did almost all the driving and kept me distracted, which I needed so close to Logan leaving.
I didn’t know what to expect the first few weeks. I surprised myself by not being completely torn up about him being gone. I missed him, but at the beginning it mostly felt like other trips where he’d been gone for weeks or months. It helped that I could talk to him every few days; the joy of him having an office job means he’s not completely unreachable. Even if the connections are often bad we can at least text. So many spouses don’t have that option, and I’m quick to realize that’s a gift not everyone gets during deployment, especially when it comes to my sanity and not worrying.
I may not have been overwhelmed by sadness, but weirdly I was physically exhausted all the time. My theory is that it was a delayed reaction to the chaos of the lead up to deployment. I slept A LOT and still felt lethargic and couldn’t scrounge up the energy for anything beyond the bare minimum of functioning.
- My dad flying out to do the drive back to NC – having someone with me to do that was an enormous help. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own right away.
- Writing down the things I actually did accomplish that day. Even small things, like making sure I drank enough water.
- People checking in but not pushing for detailed answers.
- Sending a care package – it was fun to find things he wanted or might need and send them. It felt like a tangible way to love him, even from afar.
What didn’t help:
- Trying to plan a lot of events or hangouts to distract myself – because of the exhaustion thing, one social event every few days was all I could mental wrap my head around.
- Others offering unwanted advice: no one likes this, but I
wasam especially sensitive to it now. I’ve noticed it mostly around strangers offering well-meaning thoughts on dog training. Because Wedge grew up in a small town, he’s pretty unsocialized. I’m taking advantage of being in a bigger area by training him how to act in public places, crowds, around lots of other dogs, etc. It’s a process, and people offer A LOT of unwanted advice. I know they mean well, but he’s still a puppy and we are in process over here! I’m sure with actual human children this is way worse, and makes me not excited for mom-advice-phase. However well-meaning, if you have a friend facing deployment, be sensitive about offering unsought advice.
- Expecting myself to “get back to normal” any day now – I put a lot of pressure on myself to get it together, which of course meant I felt guilty when I didn’t/couldn’t.
So the question I get all the time is, “how are you dealing with deployment?”
It’s such a loaded question. Not intentionally, but it’s so hard to answer. The short answer is:
It varies day to day, and most of the time I don’t know.
Some days, I’m great. I’m enjoying being back in the land of flowers and great restaurants and loving having the freedom to travel as much as I want.
Some days, I’m not great. I overreact to small complications or changes in plans, and small things tick me off that I usually wouldn’t bat an eye out. I’m pretty sure this is my sadness creeping in, manifesting as general prickliness when faced with the smallest issue. I wouldn’t articulate it as depression or being sad, but I can feel my margins are thinner than usual right now and I suspect it’s related.
- Setting small, concrete goals. They may seem ludicrously small compared to my normal “real life” daily goals. Sometimes the goal is just to get to the gym and then cook dinner. Bonus points if they build on each other, like beating last week’s run time.
- If we run into each other in the grocery store, you don’t actually have to ask me how I’m doing with the deployment. Let’s be real here: unless you’re one of my closest friends, I’m not going to give you an honest answer. It’s just not feasible for me to tease that question out in that one minute interaction. Others may disagree about this, and that’s fine. But for me, no need to ask that specific question when we see each other unless we’re having a coffee chat where you have time for the answer.
- Having a dog. Wedge has totally become my therapy dog. Just having another living thing to focus on, who needs caring for is a great gift that I wasn’t expecting. (Read: I was a little annoyed that the dog would slow down my traveling. But totally worth it.)
What doesn’t help:
- “So, what are you even doing with your time?” Not a helpful question. Externally, I’ll tell them I’m doing a substitute receptionist job, trying to visit friends and family on the east coast and running my business. Internally, it usually makes me question my decisions about getting a full-time job or coming back to NC or trying to travel or why I still can’t seem to have a normal day the way I could six months ago. That’s not on the person who asks me that, but that’s still where my reaction usually lands.
Everyone’s experience of deployment is a little different. For some people, uprooting for a deployment wouldn’t be worth the effort. For others, it’s the best way to get through it. I know plenty of people who’ve taken on second jobs during a spouse’s deployment to keep themselves busy, while I’ve need to scale back what expected of myself in a given day/week/month. The bottom line is, take care of yourself.
I hope this is helpful if you’re dealing with deployment or if you care about someone who is. If you’re interested, I’m happy to talk more with you and hear your experience. We can commiserate and laugh about it or just distract each other. Comment below or get in touch – I’d love to chat!