Just about this time last year, I fell into what felt like a pretty deep pit of despair. My husband had been deployed 3 months and we still had 5 more to go. It was our second Christmas with him gone, and we all knew we could make it through and still really enjoy the holidays even though the kids and I missed him desperately. I took my kids on an eight hour road trip for Thanksgiving and then had 5 guests for a week at Christmas. We were busy. We had a fantastic holiday season. We even managed to be on FaceTime with my husband when we all opened presents on Christmas day!
Then the exhaustion hit. Reality smacked me in the face that the “big distraction” of the holiday season was over and it was just the kids and me staring down 5 months of being without the other member of our tight-knit little family. I ended up sick with a stomach bug that kept me in bed for 2 days, and even after that was gone I didn’t want to get up and press on. It’s tough when you’re staring down the barrel of depression knowing you have 5 months till your spouse returns and you have to hold down the fort for yourself and any kids or other responsibilities you have. I’ve noticed that family dynamics often work so the mood of the entire household shifts depending on how Mom is doing, and my kids were definitely reflecting my sour mood.
You know what, though? We made it. I managed to not only pull myself out of the pit but to thrive and encourage my kids to do the same. It seems like obvious advice to some, but if you’re anywhere near where I was last year, I hope that these 3 tips help pull you out of any Post-Holiday Blues you might be suffering as the result of a deployment.
Allow for SOME grieving
Notice I emphasized “some”? If I find myself in a funk, I usually allow 3-5 days to be down in the dumps. I might take extra naps or let the kids watch some extra TV. I might find ways to blow off some of my responsibilities to just brood for a short period of time. These are natural, normal emotions to feel. Let me say that again – THESE ARE NORMAL EMOTIONS! Your spouse is deployed. You survived the holidays without him/her. That’s a huge accomplishment, but it’s also emotionally exhausting.
Take some time for yourself. Give yourself the grace to be a real, emotional human being. Have a little pity party. THEN – you have to shake it off.
I often find that I have a much easier time healing emotionally if I’ve allowed the depressive or sorrowful emotions to come and go like waves on the sand rather than try to ignore them completely or holding on to them indefinitely. You’re only human! Give yourself a few mental health days and then you’ll be stronger and more capable of thriving during the rest of the deployment!
Don’t be afraid to express your emotions
Sometimes it’s tough to do this, but I found that being honest with your emotional outlook can be very therapeutic. When I was down in the dumps, I made it a point to not intentionally hide the fact that I was having a tough time. When people asked how I was doing, I told them I was struggling. I didn’t break down every time someone asked, but I did let them know I was having a bit of a tough time and I took offers to help when I got them.
If you’re religious, ask friends for prayer. If you get general offers to help “with anything you need”, make specific requests. I had to admit that the simple task of preparing dinner every night seemed to be overwhelming. I had a few friends make meals for my little family of three. Friends and family often want to help but don’t know exactly how to do so. Express your emotions and needs clearly, and you’re much more likely to get some of that much needed help that can bolster your morale.
Use Resilience strategies
Most branches teach different Resilience strategies to the service members. Resilience is more than a buzz word! Putting some of the Resilience techniques into practice in my life completely changed my outlook and perspective of the deployment and our home life while DH was gone.
Here’s a quick overview of the two I used most that really helped pull me out of my funk. The overlying idea is to be intentional in your thought process and purposefully work towards a more positive view on life. Even if the situation isn’t easy, there are ways to intentionally look for the positive aspects and alter your mindset.
Counting Blessings – the purpose of this technique is to look for and find the positive things in your day and focus on them (as opposed to the negative irritants that fill our lives). With my family, I put it into practice that at the dinner table each night, we went around in a circle and had to say 3 good things that happened in the last 24 hours. Having a 5 and 9 year old made this pretty interesting. Their “good things” were often “I played with two girls on the playground instead of just one” or “So-and-so told one of my friends he thought I was cute.” But it was a great opportunity for both myself and my kids to know that each night we would have to share good things about our day. This made us look for those good things throughout the day so we could tell the family about them at night. We even pulled my husband into this little ritual when we were lucky enough to FaceTime with him during dinner.
- Acceptance – This is a two part strategy including the following:
- Mindfulness – This strategy entails grounding yourself mentally and physically in order to let stress dissipate. The goal is to use your senses when you find yourself in a stressful situation. Take a moment and think about what you’re hearing, feeling, smelling, etc. I would do this while sitting in my car right after dropping my kids off at school. I’d just take a moment to feel the leather of the seat beneath me; relax in the comfort of the familiar car, and ground myself. It only takes a few minutes, but the idea is to just let stressors come and go like waves instead of allowing yourself to focus on them and become oversensitive or strung out as a result.
- Meaning-Making – I call this the “Silver Lining Principle”. Sometimes, I get made fun of a bit because I tend to do everything I can to make the best out of a bad situation. But when trying to make it through the doldrums of a long deployment that seems like it’s never going to end, you have to find positive meaning in tough situations. We had a terrible mouse infestation on our entire block – so I used the opportunity to be creative and build unique traps. I was forced to clear out an entire storage area in our home because of the infestation – I decided it was a good thing because it allowed me to clear out some of the useless things we had kept for too many years. There’s a silver lining on almost every cloud, you just have to intentionally focus on and look for it.
About the Author
Joy Draper has been an Air Force spouse for seven years and is currently with her husband and family stationed at Offutt AFB in Nebraska. She has been married eleven years and has two children. Joy has her BA in General Psychology and her MS in Psychology with a focus in Organizational Psychology and Positive Psychology methods.
Joy serves as a Key Spouse in her squadron and is also actively involved in the Offutt Spouses Resilience Training program where she has worked with a team to develop and modify Resilience Training targeted towards needs of the spouses of active duty service members.