Hopelessness. A powerful, somewhat taboo word, that scares so many of us that it comes out in desperate whispers only to be met with hurried hushes—as though we are characters in a Harry Power novel and Voldemort’s name is being spoken out loud.
While it may not be talked about enough, the truth is that hopelessness is more common than we think, especially for those of us “married” to the military.
MILITARY LIFE WILL MAKE YOU STRONGER OR BREAK YOU
I will never forget the time a colonel told a bus full of Army spouses that this life will either make us stronger or break us. In all of my years serving as an Army wife, no one had mentioned there would be a possibility of feeling broken by this lifestyle. While I sat there wearing my strong, “I’m fine,” external façade, a fear of being exposed rose up inside of me. I was breaking under the stresses of Army life, but I didn’t want anyone to know.
THINGS THAT LEAD TO OVERWHELM AND EXHAUSTION
My family had PCSed six times and lived in eight different houses in twelve years. We buried a child our first year in service. We lost family members to illnesses and had friends pay the ultimate sacrifice. I recently sat on a wooden pew, a mom to two young boys, and watched a new Gold Star wife hold the hands of her two little children at their dad’s memorial service. During deployments, I’ve comforted my crying sons who missed their daddy and listened to them pray fervently for their daddy’s safety. My marriage found itself pulled further and further apart as life became increasingly disconnected. I felt overwhelmed and downright exhausted in my soul.
I’ve learned that hopelessness can creep in and plague us as military spouses, but it can be overcome.
4 Ways to Overcome Hopelessness
1. Be in community
As military spouses, we know that life cannot be lived well alone, yet we also know that community can be extremely difficult to find and time isn’t always on our side to cultivate it. Even though we can grow weary here, this is an area we must relentlessly fight for because we can overcome hopelessness by being in community.
Community lets us know we’re not alone and normalizes our struggles, which can remove their power over us. Battle buddies can offer us a safe space and help us carry the physical, mental, and emotional load of military life.
Do you have a support system? This can include family and friends and extend to neighbors, therapists, babysitters, pastors/ chaplains, and more. Maybe you’re fresh off a PCS and don’t know a soul yet. Where can you find people? Who do you still have in your corner, even if it’s long distance?
2. Practice self-care
Many of the “self-care” ideas tossed around on social media are actually activities that can harm us. Self-care is not pouring yourself a glass of wine when the kids have finally gone to bed and binge watching a show on Netflix, #selfcare. No. Self-care is treating ourselves like we matter and loving ourselves just as we love others. We overcome hopelessness when we know our worth and take care of ourselves.
Are you resting well? Eating well? Engaged in life-giving activities that fill you? What do you need? And how can you express your needs and have them met in healthy ways?
3. Take action
The military can seem to control and dictate our lives, which can cause us to feel like we have to step aside and live passively like spectators. We can overcome hopelessness here by discovering we do have choices and voices and can cultivate lives of purpose.
What are you struggling with? What can you do about it? What makes you feel alive?
Discern areas of your life you can take action in. Rediscover your identity, your passions, your purpose, and your hope as you do. Whatever obstacle or excuse comes up, tackle it; don’t let it detour you. Ask for help. Get creative. Take action.
4. Cultivate gratitude
When we’re overwhelmed by problems, it’s easy to lose sight of the good around us. We can overcome hopelessness by intentionally practicing gratitude. When we fight to notice the good and give thanks for it, we renew our minds and our hope.
This can simply and practically look like grabbing a journal and pen and writing down three (different) things you’re grateful for each day—and then pushing yourself to write two more.
The truth is, no matter the hardships we’re facing, good is hidden all around us, we just might have to do some digging and fight to find it.
Like our service members, we have to bring the fight to the enemy—to hopelessness. It is possible to overcome and find victory here. Military life can make us stronger, better versions of ourselves.
If you’re experiencing hopelessness in the form of suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a safe friend and/or licensed medical professional. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Kristin Vanderlip is an ordinary woman who has known the depths of suffering and despair and knows what it’s like to struggle after experiencing the deaths of her first child and father as well as through her daily life as an Army wife. Kristin has learned how to pursue God in the midst of pain and discover her own life worth living. She uses her words to help women find hope and live in expectation of God’s promises in the midst of unexpected pain and suffering. Kristin is the author of Life Worth Living: A Daily Growth Journal and the upcoming Living Life Well: A Daily Growth Journal for Kids. She writes regularly at http://www.kristinvanderlip.com and has had her words featured online at (in)courage, For Every Mom, Women Encouraged, and in the print magazine iola. Kristin, her husband, and their two boys call home wherever the Army sends them.