By Kristin Borg
In so many ways, I am good at pushing through “things” and I have the ability to live in chaos and uncertainty. After all, we are a military family and have been for nearly 20 years. We are used to being resilient through adversity… through deployments, through the many moves, through starting over, living far away from family and spending holidays alone. I have been expected to push past feelings and “suck it up” many times as a military spouse. So when COVID came blowing in, I expected that I would get through the quarantine just as I did all the other challenges I faced as a military spouse. I did, but my mental health took a toll.
To gather my thoughts for this story, I went back to my phone and looked at the pictures and memories from the last two years. Not surprisingly, there were no pictures taken during the weeks that followed a complete shutdown across the country. Although many people don’t know it, I am a long-time sufferer of anxiety, depression and OCD. It had always been triggered by stressful life events. My son, Miles, has Autism. When COVID quarantine entered our lives and took control, we both spiraled downhill after his routine came to a complete halt. I became his new teacher, ABA therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist and mom all in one. Within a couple weeks of not going to school or receiving services and therapies, we had found ourselves in a hole and we couldn’t get out.
Weeks of quarantine turned into months and Miles deteriorated, and I went right with him. I had managed to focus on taking things day to day, but one afternoon, life took an even harder turn for the worse. He began throwing large items down the stairs as he paced back and forth in a fit of rage. He started to do severe head banging and I tried to hold him back safely as he scratched and punched his way free from my arms. His small head left several holes throughout the walls in our home. I thought he was going to jump off our second floor balcony onto the floor below. An hour went by… his room was torn up. Two hours went by… I was in tears hyperventilating because I couldn’t get him to stop. Nothing was working. I was helpless and hopeless. Three hours went by… I called my husband, Joe, in a panic. He had been working long days away from home, but at this moment I needed him.
Here we were at the scariest moment of parenting and the lowest part of my quarantine. We went to the hospital and they escorted us to a quiet room in the ER where we talked through some of our options. One was that we could “Baker Act” Miles. The Baker Act is a Florida law that allows for the involuntary placement of an individual in a psychiatric unit for purposes of psychiatric evaluation. This was real, and it was scary. Miles is a nine-year-old boy with an intellectual disability. I have never left him alone in another person’s care.
I was relaying what the doctors were saying to my husband out in the parking lot — only one parent was allowed in the ER during a pandemic. A social worker looked up multiple inpatient hospitals in the area… ALL BEDS WERE FULL. It seems the pandemic that swept across the nation also took a toll on many other children’s mental health. There was not a single hospital that could take our son. In the most critical part of our mental well-being, no one could help us. Part of me was happy because I was afraid to leave Miles alone without me, but part of me was scared at what we were going to do next. Our only option was to medicate Miles to the point of sedation and go home.
I don’t recall the moment when things just got better. It was a gradual sway of ups and downs and some days gaining positive momentum. With help over time, we slowly climbed out of our hole of despair. I knew that Miles’ and my mental health had suffered and we had to tread lightly. I don’t think there was ever a time in my life where I prayed more. We started piecing together our “new normal” and a different routine.
Our family found things that made us happy. We went to a pet rescue, Fluff Animal Rescue, and adopted one dog… whoops, make that two dogs from the same litter. We did birthday party drive-by’s and went on bear hunts in our neighborhood where neighbors had placed bears all over their homes and yards. Miles’ ABA therapists were willing to do “in-home” sessions in order to get him back to therapy sooner. We went on toilet paper adventures and partied when we scored a bulk-sized package at the store — who cares if it felt like sandpaper. We grew butterflies and watched them fly away. The minute the church was open, we went back and it gave me strength and hope. We taught our new dogs to swim and I was able to reconnect with people I hadn’t heard from in years. I also saw a need in the military community and didn’t want others to feel alone, so I hosted a lunch for a local military wives club.
The last two years have been quite a journey. Many of us took time to re-evaluate our lives. Some took on new hobbies as they had more time for themselves. Some read more books, gained new skills, and conquered tasks around the house. Many started working from home for the first time. Some had less time to themselves, as parents were homeschooling their children. Some people stepped into roles they thought they’d never be in, such as grandparents watching grandchildren. For me it was a journey of living and finding joy again. Yes, I am resilient, but I can also be vulnerable, weak and feel defeated. I can feel fragile at times and scared.
I know now that while I am a military spouse, I do not need to have unrealistic expectations placed upon me. I struggled, yet I was not alone. Perhaps I was resilient, but resilience didn’t mean I couldn’t ask for help. Resilience certainly didn’t mean I had to be tough and suck it up. Resilience meant acknowledging that life threw me lemons and I may not make lemonade today but I’m going to put the armor on to block the lemons from hitting my head. Perhaps it was the moment that I knew I’d make great lemonade one day, just not today, that I had felt resilient.
About Kristin Borg
Kristin is an Army wife of 18 years and the mom of a young son. Her family has two dogs and she likes to spend her time at dog parks and paddle boarding. You can follow her adventures with having a son on the spectrum on Facebook at Smiles for Miles.