I Wrote in Pen, But The Military Had Other Plans


I wrote in pen. I should never have written in that diary with pen.

“There is strong, there is Army strong. And then there is Army Wife Strong.” – Aditi Mather Kumar 

They say it takes a strong woman to love a military man and from the military spouses I have met, I’d say this is 100% true. It is amazing the emotions a military spouse is pulled through.

After years of practice, you would think that the initial impact would be easier to bear. I’ve noticed the speed in which one bounces back definitely quickens every year that passes, but the initial drop kick still lands in the stomach.

As my other half arrived home from another 14-hour work day, my logical brain knew that he was stretched thin after weeks of working these long hours. Readiness to move at the drop of a hat and planning/flying out wherever they are needed was his job now. Whether it is a 4 hour notice to move, 24 hours, or 48 hours, it is a bounce on the balls of your feet job. Ready to launch in whatever direction needed. 

notebook with pencil He arrived home early into the summer holidays and announced his two week leave had been cancelled. Drop-kick one.

What I can only describe as pure unadulterated rage began to simmer from deep in my belly. We all needed that time as a family. We had things booked. Poof! Gone. Insurance called, refunds requested, plans changed. I scrambled to think of how to entertain the kids for those two weeks (plus the three after that). 

A week later, I come down putting the kids to bed to find him finally home and our kitchen full with his kit. He was being deployed to the Middle East imminently. Drop-kick two.

It had been 7 years since he had been to Afghanistan, and now he was going back when it was worse than ever. With this news, everything slowed in my vision as I noticed my simmering rage flaring again. It had settled and made it’s home nicely at the bottom of my belly for the last week, but this news had re-awakened it. It began to spread outwards across the rest of my body. Like a disease, it rapidly reached my eyes (it’s interesting how our bodies process different emotions isn’t it?).

I couldn’t look at him for about two hours, choosing to slay any overly emotional feelings and just feel anger and numbness. The numbness where everything is hazy and off kilter, where you hang in space not allowing anything to touch you, a temporary mind safety.

Until I went to bed, in my physical safe space.

woman breaking down and crying
Photo by Fa Barboza on Unsplash

Then the rage finally overflowed through my eyeballs and turned into weeks of cross tears. My rational side of the brain knew I had been punishing him and it wasn’t fair or his fault. He was just as tired and exhausted. He was just as cross and frustrated. There is no doubt that he had spent those same days wondering whether he would be happy in another profession. FYI, he wouldn’t. Not yet anyway.

With out giving him an option, I began to list the exhausting and varied expanse of emotions that had been running through me. Rage, anger, sadness, worry, frustration, stress, weariness, anxiety, numbness and of course, guilt. Guilt that it wasn’t his fault and I’d just spent a week emotionally punishing him. If anything were to happen to him, I’d spend the rest of my life with the agonizing pain about that.

And he allowed these emotions from me (as he always does) because he knows  that while he choose this profession, I still said yes to him. I said yes to this life, to us, our family, and our future. He does this because he has always been my stoic man and my rock for better or worse, pretty much from the first time I met him.

I wrote in pen. I should never have written in that diary with pen.

I’ve been a military spouse for almost 10 years. I. should. know. better. I was the military spouse who forgot to write in pencil. And I normally write everything in pencil.

There were so many waves of emotions, and they were all so exhausting. I felt like a toddler in the midst of a tantrum. When he was sure I had finished, he quietly replied,”Every emotion…except joy.” His insight was spot on. 

Is that what military spouses feel for every approaching deployment? Every unexpected training, every cancelled plan, and every diary entry scribbled out?

I wonder: do civilian wives and husbands go through these engulfing waves as often as we do? Do we grey quicker? These are often thoughts that circulate my mind. But then everything and life situation is relative so maybe not. 

So I wrote in pen. My bad. What is amazing is that with a decade of experience, I know that I can manage.

I am tired and feeling every emotion but joy, and I am proud to call myself a military spouse. It has made me stronger than I would have ever been. It has tested me to my absolute brink. I have learnt so much about myself. I know my strengths and my weaknesses; when to say no or when to ask for help; what is going to push me over the edge and what I feel will be good to stretch myself and prove I can. I’m kind to myself, acknowledging I am just one person and a fully functioning adult that is able to hold down the fort.

So I spent 24 hours letting myself mope that we didn’t get the summer we had hoped for.

I had a stiff gin to take the edge off and all the junk food I could get my hands on. I complained to all my fellow military spouses that get it. I cried into the fridge so my kids couldn’t see me. I internally yelled at God for making me go through this all over again and making me field questions from my 7-year-old like “Why does God let bad things happen?” or comments from my 4-year-old like, “It feels like we only have a Mummy.”

And then, I put my big girl pants on, started making plans, filled in the diary (with pencil this time), and got on with it. Plans, routine, distractions, and blinkers on to the end. Because life continues, my kids need a present parent, and I cannot and will not stand still, frozen in time. 

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
― Rumi

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Grace Selous Bull
Grace is a Royal Air Force wife and has been for nearly 8 years. She is mama to two fiery girls and one paw pad, and is undeniably British!’ Creative by nature, creative in life she and her family are a consciously creative household. With her background in the arts, before marriage she worked in the London art scene, both at an international auction house as well as for an international art consultancy. Leaving this behind her passion for creativity, art education and the arts didn’t fade but spilled over into her family life. This led her to become an author of a children’s art educational book, Potty About Pots: arts and crafts for home and school and start up her own website, The Rainbow Tree: making creativity accessible. She also began to write for companies like Super Simple. After a particularly difficult deployment last year she has become a strong advocate for creative mindfulness after watching her eldest struggle with anxiety throughout. Using creativity as a tool to get through, she saw her daughter more able to deal with day to day life. Grace believes that creativity is an innate gift every human has and that using it every day allows us to maintain a healthy well being. This is is especially important for children who benefit developmentally, socially, emotionally and mentally in being creative day to day.