The Long Year Ahead

The Long Year Ahead

There is a saying, the days are long but the years are short. I think that applies most truthfully when you are going through a time you don’t thoroughly enjoy. During the times when I was most loving life, each day seemed to end too soon. It was during the rough times when the days seemed to never end. The years seemed short either way.

I had a really hard time when C was a small baby and each day felt incredibly long and difficult. Now that she’s older, each day, overall, is good and often too short. Therefore, even though this year will be challenging, I’m expecting most days to be in the short and enjoyable category. I actually have high expectations that this whole year will go well. If the universe responds to the vibes you send out, then I’m sending out as much positivity as I can. I’m steering clear of negative influences and building up a wealth of positive people and things to inspire me.

J recently left for a year-long deployment. A whole year.

Am I okay with it? Of course I’m not, who would be okay with that? My partner in love, life, and parenting has transformed into a picture with a voice. He is missing an entire year of our daughter’s life which breaks my heart because she is growing and changing so fast. C is missing an entire year of daddy-daughter play time, dates, and trips. She doesn’t yet understand the concept of a year and is not quite convinced that he really won’t be here for her birthday, Halloween, or Christmas this year.

People are telling me that I’m so strong for being able to go through this. The truth is, I only know that I can get through this because our last deployment was so bad. When you’ve already been through a hurricane, any other storm feels like a spring shower.

We were new to Hawaii the last time J deployed. We had only been in our house for six months and C was barely seven weeks old. I was still learning my way around. The people in our squadron were spread out all over the island and the wives rarely got together. I made a few friends, but none that could really relate to what I was going through. Every spec of my time and energy was consumed caring for a newborn on my own. I had no time for self-care, I was a sleep-deprived zombie, and still battling lingering health issues from preeclampsia. The worst of it however, was that I developed severe postpartum anxiety and moderate postpartum depression shortly after C was born. I didn’t recognize it at the time, or perhaps I was just in denial that anything was wrong. I didn’t know that postpartum anxiety was even a real issue until long after the fact. I suffered through each day and I prayed to God every night that I wouldn’t accidentally hurt or kill myself, C, or Dulce. It really was that bad. It was one of the worst times of my life and it took years to mentally recover from.

The basic response I received from people was “You’re doing great! You’re just exhausted taking care of a newborn and stressed that J is gone.” I may have appeared to be doing ok, but I was dealing with so much more than exhaustion and stress. The thing is, if you haven’t gone through postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression yourself, you are far less likely to recognize it in others and really can’t understand what it’s like. I didn’t have anyone in my life that could recognize it and because I kept it off of the blog and social media, I missed out on those people who would have recognized it, empathized, and helped.

People I talked to would say things like:
Isn’t it amazing being a mom?
Don’t you just love taking care of that little miracle?
Aren’t babies the best thing in the world?
Enjoy every moment!

People didn’t respond well when I’d say “actually, it’s really hard and I don’t like it.” I felt shamed for feeling that way so I hid what I was going through from everybody. It’s very easy to hide things when you live so far from everyone.

I hid it from J as well. Communication broke down between he and I during that deployment. Although I can’t say we had strong communication skills to start with. I didn’t tell him about the private hell I was experiencing because I didn’t want him to worry about me and think I couldn’t handle things while he was gone. He was having a rough deployment but didn’t tell me about what he was going through because he didn’t want to upset me. There is advice out there to not “burden” your spouse with your problems during a deployment…. I now know that is bullshit advice. It’s not burdensome, it’s keeping communication open and honest. We didn’t talk honestly with each other during a time when we should have been relying on each other for support. That made reintegration upon his return all the more difficult.

So, am I really strong for going through this year-long deployment? I like to think so. Although honestly, part of me only feels strong because the circumstances are so different this time.

This deployment, despite being so much longer, will be better and here’s why:

  • We only have one child and she’s 4 years old. She is exponentially easier to care for than a baby, we enjoy each other’s company and do fun things together, we can easily travel together, and we both sleep through the night. We get a break from each other for a few hours a day while she’s at school which allows me to get things done without needing a babysitter. I have time for myself now, time for self-care.
  • My mental and physical health is better. No more postpartum hormonal craziness and no more depression. Anxiety does flare up occasionally (although it’s so mild compared to what it was postpartum) but mostly when I’m not feeling well because I worry about something happening to me while J is gone. After a two-year ordeal of poor health, I’m finally feeling healthy again. My diet is better, I’m exercising again, and I continually work at keeping my vitamin levels up and my body detoxed.
  • I don’t feel alone here. We have a close squadron and a great neighborhood that I can call on for help when needed, I have friends that I can talk to, and I have family a few thousand miles closer.
  • I feel comfortable here. We’ve lived in this town for over five years total now. I know the area, I know the climate, and I know the people. I love our house, our neighborhood, and C’s school. I’m not saying I love living here, but I am comfortable enough.
  • J and I are in a better place now than we have been since that last deployment. Our communication with each other never really recovered and in the months leading up to this deployment our relationship was so strained that we knew something had to change. We had a “come to Jesus moment” (as they would say here in the south) and made the decision and a plan to fix things. We found a great marriage counseling podcast that is really helping us understand our communication issues and that we can both continue to listen to and discuss throughout the year. We made great strides and got closer in the weeks before he left than we have been in years. Even a sinking ship can be made to float again if enough love and effort goes into repairing it.

There are many things I’ll miss in this year ahead:

  • Actually there are too many things to list. I most miss late night conversations with J and his physical touch.
  • C says she most misses “riding on daddy’s shoulders and playing with him”.
  • I think Dulce most misses greeting J at the door every evening after work like he’s been gone forever. I’m quite sure that 1 hour and 1 year are the same in her mind.

There are many things I’m looking forward to in this year ahead:

  • Continuing to work on our marriage and communication skills. Thankfully with today’s technology, we can video chat, voice call, text, and email. Communicating is the only thing we can do so we will make the most of it.
  • Deepening my relationship with C since we have a whole year alone to work on it
  • Doing some soul-searching and figuring out who I want to be and what I’m meant to do since I’ll have a lot of quiet nights to think about it.
  • Eating dinner earlier (vs waiting for J to get home late from work) which means going to bed earlier and getting more sleep.
  • Getting in shape. Not because he’s gone, but because I’m finally healthy enough to exercise and run again after two years off. I’m excited to see what this 39-year-old body is capable of… and yes, “wowing” J will be fun.
  • Seeing J later this year. Being a year-long deployment, he does get a rest and relaxation break so C and I will be traveling to meet up with him for that.

While I won’t divulge details about the deployment for security reasons, I also won’t portray a facade of our life as if nothing has changed. This year will be hard, it will be emotional, there will be days that are enjoyable and too short, and there will also be days where bedtime can’t come fast enough. However, I am more prepared than before, both mentally and physically, because of the struggles I’ve been through. I know now that while it is important to maintain physical health with exercise and nutrition, it is also vital to maintain mental health through honest communication, emotional release, and the occasional quiet bubble bath with a glass of wine.

May each day be full and the year be swift but meaningful.

*******
“Say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out honestly.
I wanna see you be brave.”
~Sara Bareilles

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