Wellness Spotlight: Abi Ray, LMFTA
The Wellness Spotlight series highlights military spouses and their real world health and wellness journeys in a Facebook live series. Below is an excerpt of Abi’s feature.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR WELLNESS JOURNEY AS A MILITARY SPOUSE. WHERE DID IT BEGIN?
My journey with the military began in 2009 when my husband and I reconnected over a shared appreciation for white-water kayaking. We had grown up in Ohio together, but hadn’t seen each other consistently since high school. I was spending the summer working at a camp in New Jersey around the same time he was visiting a friend in a nearby town. After reconnecting, we spent the following eleven months corresponding during his deployment, often writing each other up to 2-3 times a day. While spending the first year apart isn’t usually desirable for any couple, it actually proved to be a great opportunity for us to share all our hopes and dreams with one another.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY EXTREME LOWS SINCE BECOMING A MILITARY SPOUSE?
I can’t say that I’ve experienced an extreme low since joining the military community but there was a time before starting grad school that I could have very likely been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It was my last year of undergrad and I remember sitting in one of my abnormal psychology courses and reading through the symptoms of GAD. I very quickly thought, “Oh my gosh, this is me!” My sister and I often joke that I just took a very expensive route to getting the help I needed in overcoming anxiety – 2 degrees and a very lengthy licensure process. I can now smile thinking back on the experience, but in the moment the symptoms were very real and very overwhelming.
HOW DID YOU OVERCOME YOUR ANXIETY?
What helped me overcome GAD and what has helped many other women that I work with, is recognizing that emotions (such as anxiety, fear, anger, and depression) stem from our thoughts, and thoughts are something we have power over. I had developed GAD because up until that point I had engaged in anxiety producing thought patterns. Which required me to learn new thought processes, essentially reprogramming parts of my brain. I often suggest that clients think of it in terms of off-roading with a Jeep. When you take a vehicle down a muddy path, you often create tire marks. The more you travel down that same path the deeper and more prominent those tire marks become. Our brain and thought patterns work in a very similar way. The more we engage in a certain type of thinking pattern the more likely we are to repeat it, often subconsciously. So the key is to interrupt it as soon as we recognize it, which is what helps me stay grounded during times of high stress or transition.
WHAT IS ONE PERSONAL HABIT THAT CONTRIBUTES TO YOUR SUCCESS?
Open communication with my husband has been such a vital part of our personal, professional, and relational successes. We are all about accessing for what type of season we are in and making sure our priorities align with the season. If my husband is required to be away for an extended amount of time, I will usually work fewer hours to make sure our daughter adjusts well to his absence. In exchange, when my husband is home he is great about taking our daughter out on little adventures so that I can get a few extra hours of work in. Expressing our parenting and career expectations with one another early on has been a huge help in navigating both. Being committed to unplugging on nights and weekends has also been another huge help.
WHAT IS A HEALTH AND WELLNESS RESOURCE YOU WOULD SHARE WITH THE COMMUNITY?
COURAGEworks Classes- I am a big fan of Brene Brown’s work and usually recommend her books but this time around I would like to suggest her online courses. I’ve taken a few of the workshops she offers to mental health professionals and love that she opened classes to the public! The fact that they are online makes the courses a great asset for military families and our hectic schedules.
IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK TO MILITARY SPOUSES, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I often joke that reading is my love language so it’s difficult to pick just one! But, at the moment, I suggest Shauna Niequist’s most recent book “Present Over Perfect”. Shauna’s words encourage readers to consider the landscape of their own lives, while inviting them to leave behind the pressure of being perfect and begin the life-altering practice of simply being present. I’ve discovered that when we master the act of remaining present, we are more likely to gain clarity on our purpose and engage our core values and innate strengths.
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ABOUT ABI RAY
Raised as a northern girl, Abi Ray MS, LMFTA now resides on the southern east coast with her husband, daughter and over-sized Airedale pup. As a creative and counselor, Abi Ray seeks to encourage and equip women in their personal narrative and creative expression. Her most recent venture includes founding Legacy Magazine, a brand new print publication that celebrates life with service member families, couples, and spouses through personal, professional, and relational enrichment. Most days you can find her unwinding with her family or with one of her favorite forms of creative expression – photography or visual journaling.