It hit me all at once. There I was–a military spouse on her way home from a teaching job and the daycare pick up–with the sobbing baby screaming in the back seat.
I had dinner to cook, a bath to give, and the bedtime routine to do before I could throw in the laundry and grade papers. The tears started rolling down my face and my howls of sadness joined the hangry screeches from the backseat.
I was stretched too thin as a military spouse.
A baby and a full-time, high intensity job are enough to make many new parents go crazy. Add in a service member with a heavy military workload, and all of the household and parenting related things were also falling onto my shoulders.
It was just too much. I was struggling to keep my head above water, losing sleep, and losing my mind.
Does it sound familiar to you?
How did I finally manage to catch my breath? With a little help! You can access these same resources where you are!
1. Call Military One Source. If you struggle with anxiety, think you have depression, or just need someone to talk to, call them. They offer free confidential counseling on all things military related. All it took was a short phone call, a brief screening, and the trained personnel at Military One Source found and connected me to a counselor in my area. Just having someone other than my husband to talk to was amazing. My counselor was able to reframe issues or situations in a way that made them seem actionable, and not overwhelming. She helped me to break down each roadblock into smaller blocks that were easier for me to tackle.
2. Talk to your doctor. Yes, it can be a hassle to wait on the line for the appointment scheduler. I get that. But it IS worth it. Mental health is not something to play around with. Your doctor can help you, but you need to reach out and ask for it first. My doctor was able to assess my symptoms and give me a diagnosis relatively quickly. She was also able to offer a low-dose prescription to offer me some relief from those symptoms.
3. Talk to a friend. I went for a walk with a friend, and just broke down. I told her everything: the diagnosis, the meds, the counseling, the loss of sleep, the guilt. Everything. Guess what? She broke down, too. She had been going through the same exact thing, but thought she was the only one. Just knowing that we were not alone, that it was ok, even normal, to feel and think that way was empowering. We could unload all of our issues to another person who didn’t judge, didn’t ask, but instead simply said, “I know, I feel the same way.” You are not alone.
4. Find ways to ease your burden. This was something I did with my counselor. I went through every single thing that was causing my stress: the sleepless nights, the crushing workload, the housework, the cooking. We broke down everything and thought about ways to take some of the stress away. I’ll be upfront: some of it cost money. In my mind, the money spent was so much cheaper than the loss of my sanity.
What were my solutions? Instead of hand creating all of my teaching materials, I bought them at TeachersPayTeachers or found them online. I asked my husband to sleep train the baby and he did. We hired cleaners to come twice monthly to clean our house, leaving me with just the wiping up and light vacuuming. And I meal planned a few slow cooker meals each week, with meal prep on the weekends. By breaking down or outsourcing the tasks that caused me stress, my jobs became easier and I could focus on the joy of parenting and teaching.
5. Get outside! It could be as simple as a walk or you could start running, hiking, biking, open water swimming, whatever. But get outside. Smell the fresh air, see the flowers blooming, the birds are singing, and the sun is shining. Sometimes just getting outside, away from the things that are causing you stress, can be enough to momentarily clear your head. Plus, even light exercise produces endorphins!
Bonus tip: find something that makes you happy. I like running, reading, blogging, and occasionally treating myself to a massage or a pedicure. When I do something that I enjoy, I feel relaxed, decompressed, and ready to tackle the challenging parts of life again. What makes you happy?
Life can be challenging, and the rough spots can seem insurmountable.
I know, I’ve been there, too.
With a lot of help, a group of amazing friends, and lots of miles logged running, I finally feel more like myself. I feel way more capable and in-control as a military spouse. And if life does get out of hand again, I know where to turn to help get everything back on track.
Meg Flanagan is a teacher, blogger, and freelance writer/editor. She is published on Homefront United Network, National Military Family Association, NextGen MilSpouse and the Education Tourist. Meg currently writes about all things education at MilKids Education Consulting.