A year ago I caught my two youngest using their bare hands to slap, scoop, and stir the water in the toilet bowl. The bathroom was lacquered with water and pure elation radiated from their cores. I imagined that’s how I looked driving to Starbucks on the very day the pumpkin spice latte is released for the season.
But what I had here was not heaven in a cup; it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
My husband was out of town and at the time, he’d been away more times in half a year than cumulatively during our two years in San Diego. I was used to him going away, but not in North Carolina without family nearby. California was my pineapple assignment. As a California native, I had my mom and aunt just about two hours from whatever duty station he was assigned to. Help had been so close, but seeing everything dipped in toilet water without family to sweep in by evening, I just couldn’t pretend to hold it together any longer.
Things I could usually overlook or gently work through – things like canoodling siblings, sticky floors, spilled coffee and a mouthy grade-schooler – were the very things that stirred me up like microwaved liquid in a sealed tight mason jar.
I needed help.
That afternoon I wrote an e-mail to a listing I found below the ‘Need to Talk’ section from that week’s unit e-mail. It was my first time reaching out to a therapist and though I felt silly for the reason of correspondence (being overwhelmed with my kids), I didn’t know how I’d thrive the remainder of his absence if I didn’t tell someone I needed help.
The next week I sat in the battalion’s parking lot working up the nerve to enter the secure building.
I’d have to check-in at the front desk and state my reason for visiting. I shake my head now, but at the time I was embarrassed to sign my name, my sponsor’s name, and my reason for visiting. I’m sure none of these things happened, but I imagined what they’d say and how they’d snicker as the young Marine escorted me to her office.
The next month or so we talked about the kids and about me, but she found ways to seamlessly broach other items. She wanted to know the basics of who I was right before the move. I told her about the steady writing gig I left in San Diego. We also discussed the tachycardia and postpartum hemorrhage that followed our daughter’s birth just three months before the move. The recovery was traumatic, and I wished I’d sought therapy for the postpartum anxiety that carried on for months after Anna’s birth.
I gave life to suppressed postpartum feelings and blew them away in the same sentences. I walked away healthier and with tools to help carry me through trying transitions and everyday life.
And I learned that if I needed help, I had to holler for it.
The Military Mom Collective has a great story on maternal mental health that you can find here. If you too are experiencing a trying transition, an unfamiliar duty station, or are just plain ol’ worn out, maybe some of the things I learned from therapy can help you too.
Appointments are free and go undocumented unless there’s present harm to yourself, your spouse, or family. Your spouse’s unit may offer counseling services too, but if not, the Focus Project and Military One Source are worth looking into. I used to think I’d be an embarrassment to my husband if I sought help. I thought I’d be labeled as someone who couldn’t deal with one of the most common themes of military life, transition. But as my husband said, no one can find fault with someone seeking help.
Make those appointments.
Practice putting yourself on the calendar. Sometimes we do all the things for our kids and forget to take small steps to care for ourselves. We forget to make appointments for ourselves. When hearing I was overdue for follow up appointments, my therapist challenged me to get them scheduled before I saw her next. Within a few months, I was caught up with the dentist, OBGYN, optometrist, and dermatologist.
Reach out to friends and neighbors.
It’s okay to admit that at least at the moment, you’re struggling. No one can bless you according to your needs if you don’t tell them what’s going on.
What’s your thing? How do you like connecting with other people? Maybe it’s through a playgroup or church ministry. Maybe it’s a moms only evening book club or a paint and design class. Find what makes your cup runneth over, then write it in pen so you’re more likely to go.
Drop the kids off.
Don’t feel guilty for dropping them off or bringing a sitter in. There’s a lovely drop-in child care center just three miles from home I’ve used for attending MNO’s or daytime coffee meet-ups sans kids when dad’s been away. It’s also proved convenient for doctor’s appointments and school activities I’d rather not bring the younger siblings to. Though I don’t use it as much as I did after moving to the area, taking small, physical breaks enable me to pour out more generously to my children.
Self-care isn’t an activity we should do only sometimes. It’s a necessity. Now repeat that to yourself until you believe it.
It’s not my child’s school time ‘specials’ that are done only on Fridays. It may mean a morning Bible study before the kids wake up or while they’re watching a morning show. It might mean a daily outside time or a twenty-minute exercise routine. It might mean a chapter a day of your current read or just sitting on your sofa doing absolutely nothing. Whatever it is, don’t forget to treat yourself.
And most importantly, learn to holler for help.
I still have very real overwhelming moments, but today I speak up instead of crumbling behind closed doors. I no longer feel guilty for ordering pizza and take-out when we’re going solo. That’s a home run for me.