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When Anxiety Feels Normal

 

Merriam-Webster describes anxiety as
a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

 

Welcome to the life of a military or first responder family…

Receive orders. Schedule movers, schedule cleaners, say goodbyes and more. Drive or fly together, separate or solo to a new place. Live in temporary housing until permanent can be found. Clean and unpack alone because spouse is at work already. Try to make new friends. Try to help your kids settle in. Make sure everyone is taken care of, healthy, has new doctors, new schools and new friends.

Deployment orders come a couple weeks later and it starts all over again. Training, prep your home, kids and your heart to say goodbye. Send off ceremony (maybe), long nights and months ahead. When will I get to talk to you? What time zone will you be in? How dangerous is it really (ok don’t tell me)? When will we see you again? Then, reintegration (its own beast sometimes) and re-adjusting to life “as usual” while waiting for the next piece of paper determining a new home or another deployment comes around.

Night shift. Midnight shift. Court in the morning. Overtime. Paperwork. Dangerous situations (that he doesn’t talk about). Solo parenting despite living in the same home. Trying to find friends together despite never being together. Missing Holidays, birthdays. What’s a “date night” again?

“Rest," “sleep” “self-care”— ha, you're joking right? How about worry, concern, sleepless nights, racing thoughts, “anxiety” is your middle name, but isn’t that normal?  

If you’re a military or first responder spouse all of the above might sound like very “normal” thoughts. If it’s not one thing to worry about, it’s certainly another. For many military/first responder spouses, anxiety just feels like everyday life.

BUT… 

Newsflash, while these thoughts and conversations are our “normal," they’re not the “normal” most of our friends and family live in.

Worrying if your husband is going to be seriously injured or not come home from work isn’t a regular thought for most people. Planning to move across the country solo or live apart from your spouse for 5-12 months at a time or more (multiple times in your life) isn’t the “average” expectation when people say their vows. 

While to some degree we’ve come to accept and act like these situations and thoughts are a normal way to operate, what others don’t often see bubbling beneath the surface of our lives is a crazy case of anxiety (one we may not often recognize ourselves). While you probably won’t hear a military or first responder spouse say “I’m very anxious," you will hear: 

—I’m not sleeping well, but that’s to be expected in this situation right?

—I’m worried, but I know it will all work out! 

—Yea, I think it will all be ok. Tell me, how are you doing? {deflecting}

—I can’t control it so just trying not to think about it too much.

—I’m excited for him to come home, but it will be an adjustment I’m sure. 

—It’s just a few months, I know some people have it worse. 

—I’m fine.

*Most of the above statements are just positive self-talk, but I guarantee you this isn’t how it is when you’re alone every night, you missed a call from overseas, or your kids are sick and he’s not home.

As an enlisted soldier’s wife whose husband was also a DC beat cop prior to enlisting, I have been anxious more times than I count. I would even say anxiety has been so ingrained as part of my life that sometimes I don’t even recognize it. If you’re still reading, I bet you know what I’m talking about. 

In the military and first responder spouse community, we talk about worry, burn-out, and needing self-care, but you don’t see a lot of articles about anxiety and depression specifically. To be fair, we’ve only recently begun to talk about these issues when it comes to the active duty spouse or first responder so of course we don’t hear much about it when it comes to the spouse at home. I believe there a few reasons why, but the main ones I see are:   

  1. We know that everyone around us in our community is going through something similar so it either feels normal or we feel guilty “complaining”.
  2. Talking about it isn’t going to change the situation causing anxiety. 
  3. Admitting to anxiety makes us feel weak.

I’ve personally felt and said all of the above out loud, but I’ve come to change my tune. Why? Because I am so often the temperature gauge and foundation of my family. How I’m doing matters, because I’m an equal partner in this lifestyle and how my husband and I are doing mentally directly impacts our marriage, our children and our community. 

Friends, I give you permission right now (not that you need it) to say out loud that something isn’t quite right, something needs to change. The ones who are willing to stand up and say “something is wrong and we should do something about it” are the brave ones. It’s risky to confront and deal with issues, but what if by speaking up your struggling marriage is restored? Your children find more peace and coping skills? Your neighbor doesn’t feel so alone anymore? Your co-worker doesn’t think they have a problem no one else understand? Your life or your spouse’s life is ultimately spared, because you realize you aren’t fundamentally flawed or beyond help?

I also want to tell you something —  you aren’t “broken” or “weak” and your anxiety or depression isn’t something to be ashamed of or minimized. It doesn’t define you but it is part of your story, and its good and freeing to acknowledge that.

While some of us deal with high anxiety or depression during seasons of stress or change, others are biologically wired to be more anxious and it doesn’t make anyone “weak”. I know several people who struggle with chronic anxiety and they are hands down some of the most thoughtful, creative, giving and caring people I know. I know they can’t “control” their anxious thoughts and just “calm down," take a “chill pill” or subscribe to any other cheap platitude thrown at them. They need real solutions, interventions and techniques or medicines to help them come back down.

If you or someone you know is struggling or cycles through anxiety and/or depression, please don't push a stigma on them or yourself. Get help or offer to help them find help. As we’ve seen in the news again recently, anxiety and depression are very real and deserve to be treated openly and without judgement.

Below are some articles and resources on anxiety and depression to help you understand and also start seeking help if you or someone you know needs it. 

Whil Wheaton and Chronic Depression

How Military Spouses can Reduce Anxiety During High Stress 

One Military Spouse’s Story of Living with Anxiety 

Struggling with Anxiety when your Spouse is in the Military 

How to Live with Anxiety as a Military Spouse

Guide to Possible Causes of Anxiety 

Most Stressful Jobs in America (spoiler alert military and first responder)

The Thin Blue Line Foundation 

Corie Weathers- Breathing Life into Military and First Responder Marriages 

Chris Kyle Frog Foundation

In-Dependent.org 

 

 

*This post was written by our co-founder, Megan Casper. While Megan has a degree in Psychology and studied anxiety, depression and related mental health topics, she is not a doctor, licensed professional or counselor. Please consult a doctor or mental health professional for more. 


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