Let’s face it, modern military life is not easy. Especially for military spouses, faced with the unspoken belief that we should be grateful for our lifestyle and dutifully play the role of unpaid support staff. When it feels like life is just one thing after another, when we put out one fire only to turnaround and see two others that just lit off, it’s no surprise we start to believe our individual needs aren’t a priority. Before we realize it, it trickles down and impacts our mental and physical wellbeing. More and more, we military spouses are losing the motivation to take care of ourselves.
It’s not that we can’t find the time or that the resources don’t exist, it’s just that we are losing our desire to prioritize our health. Us—the can-do military spouses blazing paths where none have existed. Us—super humans descended from Rosie the Riveter that support our military members and families through the most unimaginable situations. Us! We are so tired/burned out/overwhelmed that we are literally sacrificing ourselves for the greater good. While I can say This is unacceptable! I have to be honest and admit that I’ve succumbed to this siren song. Finding the path back to a stronger me means rewiring the way I think about my military life . . . something I work at every day.
LEARNING HOW TO LIVE THROUGH THE BIG EMOTIONS
My early years as a military spouse were spent tied to the submarine community. I married my husband when he was serving on fast attack submarines, a world I knew little about beyond watching The Hunt For The Red October. Not having any tie to the military other than our marriage, I went into my first tour with little information about what awaited me. During those early days, I suffered that most horrible trifecta of military spouse emotions—fear, worry, and embarrassment. Due to the nature of my husband’s work, I was in the dark much of the time about where he was and what he was doing. Coming from the civilian world where I was a capable young professional, I felt alone and adrift, worrying how I would deal with big issues if they came up. I was embarrassed to think that I knew so little about how to manage my new life as a military spouse. I was embarrassed at the thought of asking for help. It was a demoralizing and draining time, long before the resources we have today existed.
Thankfully, I fell into the welcoming embrace of a strong and vibrant submarine spouse community that guided me through my tentative first months and eventually helped me to become a mentor for others. What those amazing (and far wiser) individuals taught me were two key lessons about life as a military spouse: 1) I was not alone and that all spouses go through these crises of faith; and 2) it’s never a sign of weakness to ask for help, especially when it concerns your mental and physical health. By helping me and making me feel comfortable in my new world, these spouses showed me that my wellbeing was an essential part of the overall mission. They are lessons that are still applicable today and ones I’ve never forgotten.
WHEN EVERYONE’S IDEAL ISN’T YOURS
The opening up of our military life through social media is both a blessing and a curse, especially for military spouses. While we have new channels of communication, we now have to sift through a ton of information which may or may not be correct. I’ve found this to be the worst when researching potential duty stations, where sites like Instagram offer highly stylized shots of life in a location, showing you how wonderful it would be to live there. And so, imagine how soul-crushing it is to discover that a much-raved about location isn’t so great . . . at least not for you.
This happened to me, we received orders to a location many spouses would put on a dream list. I fell into the trap of believing that I, like those who raved about it online, would love living there. I had dreamy ideas of the day trips I would take, the amazing food I would eat, the picturesque life I would get to lead thanks to the military. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I couldn’t stand it there. Everything about the place grated on me. It was tough on our family. The local scene did not fit my personal preferences. Worse, I couldn’t find a community that I fit into, leaving me more lonely than I’d felt in a long time. During the first six months we were there, I spent more time trying to make things better for my family than I did taking care of myself. I was in a motivational downward spiral. It wasn’t until I reminded myself that all of our military paths are unique (as are our families) and that social media is often someone’s highlight reel, that I was able to turn the corner and find my footing again. By embracing the knowledge that this much sought after posting just didn’t work for us, I was actually able to make it work for us—finding the little things that worked and the people I liked and focusing on them, then planning trips further afield to offset the rest. By doing that, I was able to start taking care of myself again, leaving me happier and more content despite not being in love with where we were.
FINDING SOLUTIONS THAT WORK FOR YOU
We’re lucky to live in a time where there are so many resources to help us navigate our military life. From basic to niche, a simple internet search can provide spouses with ample information to navigate our challenging yet fulfilling world. However, I must admit that even I get bogged down by the sheer number of places I can go to for assistance. Despite the fact that I’ve been a military spouse for decades, I still stumble with some of the acronyms and military jargon which can be common when trying to find answers to questions. When I’m really trying to sort something out or seek help, the last thing I want to have to do is translate everything from military speak. That’s a real motivation killer.
For me, I’ve discovered that the path of least resistance is the best route when trying to maintain my motivational mojo. What do I mean by that? Well, I start with thinking about my end goal—am I looking for help settling into a new location or wanting to find a helpful ear to talk to or simply trying to find out where the best coffee is, then I consider which sources are best to get those answers. For example, if I am looking for that all-important cup of coffee, chances are that I will look close to home, either via sponsors or through a local spouses Facebook group—local information is best coming from the locals. But if I’m searching for an answer about regulations regarding a move, I’ll probably head to something like Military One Source or directly to our command. And when I’m looking for tips about my health and wellbeing, then I am absolutely looking to a source that specializes in those topics, like InDependent. By thinking critically, I remove much of the anxiety and confusion that can come from the multitude of sources available.
When it comes to being a modern military spouse, we must reduce the noise and focus on what works for us. We live in challenging and ever-changing times where the motivation to prioritize what’s most important can be shoved aside in favor of just making do. It’s on us to make sure that we stand firm and not let that happen. What works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for you . . . and don’t let that get to you, don’t let it dim your light. Do what’s right for you and hold onto your motivation. In the end, that will benefit everyone.
Cowgirl-turned-nomadic navy spouse, Julie Tully writes about life, culture and the places where they intersect. Her quirky lifestyle has taken her around the world, from rural Northern California to Europe and Africa. Julie’s writing has appeared in Legacy Magazine, Legacy Kids Magazine, InDependent, Mission: Milspouse, and Your Teen for Parents. Her memoir Dispatches From the Cowgirl was published in 2022 and details the years she lived in Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, after spending eighteen years overseas, Julie and her family have embarked on an even greater adventure—rediscovering the United States. You can read more about her on her website, julietullywriter.com, or follow her adventures on Facebook and Instagram.
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