Respecting Military Families on Social Media

Respecting Military Families on Social Media

TO MY NON-MILITARY FRIENDS:

Do you know what a CACO is? [Kay-co] My guess is no. It stands for Casualty Assistance Calls Officer. You know them from films as the impeccably dressed men in uniforms who arrive on the doorsteps of WWII widows to announce the news of the deceased (think “Saving Private Ryan”). We, in the military community, know them as every day service members, sometimes our good friends, always the people who walk beside families during an injury or grieving process (for months or years) as paperwork is processed and affairs are put in order.

Every unit in the Navy has someone trained as a CACO, should a service member be seriously injured or killed during his/her service. We military spouses understand the role of this person and hope we never interact intimately with him/her, but if we linger long enough, we hear of it happening. We hear of the CACOs visiting and informing every person designated by the service member in the official paperwork. And our entire community grieves.

Years ago, upon an injury or death, the CACO would receive the official list, coordinate with CACOs in other cities and states (if necessary) and attempt to notify the next of kin in-person as soon as possible. But they wouldn’t come between the hours of midnight and 4:00am. Now, in 2022, it’s a minute-by-minute race against the internet, television and social media. It’s a race against smart phones and photos and tweets that can be sent across the world in five minutes or less. And in a world of sensational news stories, military mishaps are just that.

People race to share articles and details- SHOCK THE WORLD, BE THE FIRST TO ANNOUNCE THE NEWS, or maybe even just express patriotism and gratitude for those who sacrifice it all- but have they thought about who might see it? Aren’t we all connected by six degrees? Think of the spouse who is innocently scrolling through Facebook and sees someone share a news story about a military accident or possible death. What if their spouse is in that area or deployed on that ship? SHEER PANIC. What about the mother/father/brother/aunt/best friend or cousin who stumbles upon the news while posting their Wordle score on Facebook? TERROR.

As military spouses we know that when we hear of anything in this category, we aren’t supposed to call anyone or become private investigators. We know that our job is to stay quiet, sometimes stay home and simply wait, because we understand the role of the CACO and we know that the official processes have begun and we are not to interfere, or worse, cause emotional harm to someone who hears through inappropriate channels. We know the Navy will release the names twenty-four hours after the next of kin are notified and we are not to interrupt the flow of information.

Believe me, waiting is easier said than done. I sat in my house once, weeping alone by my front window when my neighbor’s aviation squadron had a death and the name hadn’t yet been announced. Was it him?? What about his family?? Should I go over there?? I wanted to run across the lawn and bang on the door and know for myself what was happening!! But as another wise military spouse once told me: “This is not about you.”

Many of us in the aviation community remember the tragic story of the spouse waiting to hear about the fate of her husband whose aircraft had crashed into the sea. “Search and Rescue Called Off” was shared by a Facebook “friend” before her CACO had made contact with her again. SHE LEARNED OF HER HUSBAND’S OFFICIAL DEATH ON FACEBOOK. Please pause and ruminate on that horrible tragedy.
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Unfortunately that is not the only example of gross social media failures amongst the military community. They are still happening. The only way to stop them is to be ever mindful of the speed of news and the online spaces that connect us all.

As I was thinking about this subject, I was hoping that my younger military spouse friends understood the gravity of these situations. And then it made me wonder if the public did. ? So maybe this is my non-official Public Service Announcement, to share the details of tragic circumstances to help people to understand that while knowledge is power, it is also tremendously tragic if used and propagated at the wrong time. 

Please think soundly when you want to share an article about a service member’s recent death. If the Department of Defense has not yet officially released the names and the photos of the deceased, it is not appropriate to share ANYTHING. If you know the identity before that press release, please don’t post on a family’s timeline or newsfeed because, again, who is going to see that prematurely? Even a simple “I am so sorry for your loss”, written publicly at the wrong time, is vastly inappropriate. 

REMEMBER: it’s not about you. 

And it’s not about me. 

It’s about caring for and respecting military families in the midst of crisis. 

Please join me in protecting our service members and being good stewards of information. 

**If you are interested in further supporting Navy & Marine Corps families in the midst of crisis’, consider donating to The Wingman Foundation at wingmanfoundation.org**

Military Spouses and the Invisible Backpack: a conversation about stress

Military Spouses and the Invisible Backpack: a conversation about stress

“Congratulations on your wedding and welcome to the military!” he said. “Here is your dependent ID card, your application for DEERS and your invisible backpack. Slip it over your shoulders, tighten the straps and you will be good to go.”

“Wait, what?” I said in confusion, turning around, trying to view my back. “You just put a backpack on me? Where? Why? I don’t see it!”

“Oh, you won’t ever see it, but it’s part of the package for every dependent.” he explained. “Don’t worry, every military spouse has one. Try not to let it get too heavy. Next in line please!” 

“What are you talking about??” I tried to ask. Feeling confused, I shuffled out of the room and quietly began my military spouse journey, never fully understanding the baggage I was acquiring along the way. It would take me two decades to fully comprehend the invisible backpack.

****

Moving past that imaginary scenario, the beginning of my Navy life was a little rough, I’m not gonna lie. But through the years I learned to love it and by the time my husband reached twenty years I was 100% in. Sure, I had some strange rashes and unexplained health issues but never you mind that. All was well!

One day during our COVID quarantine, I was discussing mental health with a friend (six feet apart) and our conversation turned to that of military spouses. This friend so aptly described this life like wearing an invisible backpack that gets heavier and heavier as the years pass and I thought her analogy was PERFECT. (Thanks Rebecca!!)

Like frogs in a pot of water that gets warmer and warmer, military spouses often do not realize the stress they are carrying because of the incremental changes. Obviously, we know on the surface that we have challenges before us, but what choice do we have but to go about our business, get the jobs done, get the kids fed and do what we must? We channel Rosie the Riveter, pull up our positive pants, support our spouses and find dear friends to walk with us along the rocky path. But I’ve realized that in spite of our awesomeness, we are not taking enough time to consider the weight on our shoulders and the rock collections we gather. We simply cannot ignore this revelation. It goes like this…

We uproot ourselves and move to a new place. In goes a rock.

We kiss our spouses goodbye and go long stretches of time without seeing them. In goes a rock.

We live with a schedule which is always written in pencil. In goes a rock.

We solo-parent for days, weekends and months. In goes a large, heavy boulder.

We feel depressed and anxious but we don’t want to tell anyone because we are supposed to be “deployment strong”. In goes a rock. And then another.

We live within a constant countdown- when they are leaving, when they are returning, when we are moving- rock after rock go into our collections.

We manage the kids, the job, the pets, the household, the cars, the yard, the next move and all the small but significant details of life which make our backpacks heavier and heavier. But the truth is that we often don’t notice the weight because it disguises itself in the form of subtle, low, chronic stress that feels “normal”. Everyone around us is doing the same thing so this is just life, right? No big deal. (Notice that I am not talking about dealing with the stress of a spouse in war or combat. That stress is real and palpable and impossible to ignore.)

The reality is, these subtle pressures don’t seem like a big deal until our bodies and souls decide enough is enough. My “enough” moment came a few years ago when I was sitting in a dermatologist’s office, waiting for a diagnosis on a wicked rash on my scalp. The doctor took one look at me and said “On a scale of 1-10, this is a 20! Honey, you need to lower your stress, what have you been doing??” I thought about how my husband had been gone over five hundred nights in the last three years and how I had recently moved my family three thousand miles to a place where I knew almost zero people. My shoulders slumped and I began awkwardly crying in her office as I finally acknowledged that I had carried the world on my shoulders and I was exhausted. (So was the doctor after my strange, unexpected outburst!!) 

But the truth is, until that doctor’s appointment, I wouldn’t have told you that I was bearing years of stress. As I said, I genuinely loved the Navy, our base was stellar and I was terribly sad to leave our community, even though it deployed again and again. I would have told you that there were times and periods of stress but far more positive days. So therein lays the problem: because I didn’t “feel” physically stressed all the time, I never did anything to actually relieve it. Because I didn’t “feel” the rocks in my invisible backpack, the stress accompanied me unnoticed and invisible.

I finished that week of doctor appointments with a couple auto-immune diseases on my plate and concluded that ignorance was definitely NOT bliss. While I had a genetic component to ultimately blame for these conditions, I was forced to finally understand that stress was real and active and definitely destructive, if not given proper attention. Armed with new awareness, I needed to remove that invisible backpack and quickly empty as many rocks as possible. NOW.

Do you? Have you ever considered the burdens on your shoulders and acknowledged the weight? Have you sat down and talked with your spouse and family about how you might lessen the load? Because IT IS OK TO NOT BE OK. It’s ok to admit that your shoulders are sore. It’s ok for us to take a time-out, evaluate our habits and start considering ways to help ourselves! 

We can take stress and self-care seriously. This isn’t about going to the beach every weekend or planning a vacation for next summer. It’s about taking care of yourself in small, daily increments. Whatever lowers your stress for a brief moment- DO IT. Not later, but TODAY. Not when a deployment ends, but NOW. Every day. Here and there, make it happen. 

We can be conscious of our schedules and current responsibilities and say NO more often. When your spouse is gone and you are juggling the world and someone asks you to volunteer for something, the answer might need to be NO. When all your kids want to join ten activities at once, the answer might also need to be NO. After my doctor’s lecture, I said NO to everything for a few months in my new city… but felt guilty and uncomfortable. What will people think?? I wondered. Short answer: WHY DID I CARE?? It was my life, my call and my health. I desperately needed that slow time and you might, too. But beware, you might start a blog in the middle of the stillness. 😉

We can hire babysitters or form a co-op to give our busy hands a break. Solo-parenting day after day after day is a weight on your shoulders, even if you adore your young children. Don’t feel guilty. Being YOUR best self is going to make you a better parent. Hear this: there is no golden trophy for the parent who never asks for help or goes through an entire deployment without a minute’s reprieve. The only reward is severe exhaustion. 😦

We can focus on finding community to help and support us– an FRG, an OSG, a neighborhood group, a club or a church. We were created to bear each other’s burdens and live in communion with one another. You don’t need to be a superhero in your own cave- come out and find a tribe!

We can tap into the resources offered to us by the militaryFleet & Family, Navy Chaplains, Military OneSource, and Child Development Centers all have resources to help you. Be brutally honest with yourself and the areas in which you need relief. And if you don’t know where to find it, ask your local spouses. If you don’t know anyone, message me and I will help you!

I have loved our twenty plus years in the military and wouldn’t trade them for the world (my reflections are here). But the subject of stress and mental health must be part of our broad conversation as we go forward. So let’s continue to talk about it, improve it and lighten our backpacks. IT’S TIME. 

Wishing you all the very, VERY best!! 

[Original unmodified photo by Joseph Young on Unsplash]

Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Crying Over Spilled Champagne: the guilt and struggle of 2020

Years ago, when my husband was on a long deployment and my kids were little, I recall a civilian friend comparing our seven month deployment to her husband’s short business trip. “I know how you feel”, she said. I politely smiled but in my head I said “Umm…my situation is MUCH WORSE.”

Later, when my husband changed jobs and never left town I grew accustomed to his presence and almost panicked when he told me he had to travel for seven days. IN A ROW. I remember eating my words a bit and realizing that both situations presented some anxiety for mothers of young children, even if one scenario was more intense. Noted.


Fast forward to 2020. Admittedly, my life during this pandemic has been pretty easy. Since March, my family has not worried about unemployment or paying the bills. We have not worried about groceries or healthcare or a safe place to quarantine. My husband’s job continued as always, I had time to help my kids with online school and our stay-at-home orders found us watching movies and completing puzzles within the safety of our house.


On paper I have zero reason to complain. I have a large backyard in which my children can play, I have a community of friends around me who offer support. Plus, I am an introverted person who prefers to be at home above all else. Isn’t this what I always wished for? More time with my kids, more time at home and less time in the carpool lane? Haven’t I always valued the slow life? Haven’t I wanted time to stop so I can savor this stage of parenthood? YES!! EXACTLY!! So… what is the problem? Why am I feeling… down? (Is that something I can even admit without sounding like a complete jerk?)


Things could be so much worse, I tell myself. People’s businesses are going under, people’s loved ones are dying, people’s homes are being foreclosed and you are feeling down? Your husband isn’t deployed, your family isn’t sick…pull up your positive pants and make the best of this year! STOP CRYING OVER SPILLED CHAMPAGNE!!

But…I can’t. And I am consumed with guilt over it. I feel sad and… (dare I say it out loud?)…a little depressed. I’ve spent the past few weeks trying to snap out of it and distract myself and focus on the positive… but I am still struggling to maintain status quo. And I haven’t wanted to tell anyone because it makes me sound shallow and ungrateful for the ease of my life.


But might this be similar to the example above? If another person has a more intense experience than me, does it void my own? Someone could say “I have it worse than you” and I would agree 100%. No argument. But does that make my struggle unworthy of addressing? (This is my own self-talk here.) What if I stopped ignoring my feelings and actually dealt with them?


See, I haven’t been sleeping or eating or feeling well. My stomach hurts. I have found myself uninterested in doing much besides eating chocolate cake. (Maybe this is why my stomach hurts.) My best analogy is that I am living in a never ending holding pattern with no landing strip in sight. We circle around and around every day, on the same route, watching the same scene below, hoping somehow we will return to Earth.

We will invite friends to our house when COVID ends.

We will return to school when COVID ends.

We will attend church again when COVID ends.

We will travel to see our families when COVID ends.

I won’t be teaching third grade math when COVID ends.

But when is the END?? We don’t know! And that in itself is mentally exhausting. As a military spouse I can say that anything is possible if you have an end date. The unknown is what wrecks the mental game. So here I sit, admitting that my mental game is a bit haggard and disheveled. (Is yours?) Our short term survival-mode has turned into weeks, months and seasons, taxing our adrenals with its nebulous timeline and making us mentally tired. (And I haven’t even mentioned the stress of racial justice, wildfires or our nation’s upcoming elections. God help us.)


For the very first time in my life, this vague timeline feels more like an absence of a timeline. Every year I have progressed from one step to another, into another phase, another journey, another season. But in 2020, I am doing the exact same thing today that I was doing six months ago (just in a different state) and I am unsure when my movement will again begin. My kids are still schooling at home, public venues are still closed, activities are still cancelled, we are social distancing with all of our friends, and still not seeing our families. Our mental states are not only weary, but perplexed. And therein lays the root of my “problem”.


So how do I continue managing my mental health in an era of time that doesn’t seem to move? In my rational moments I do know that our world will eventually get past COVID-19, just like we moved forward from the Spanish flu and other pathogens. (And if not, Jesus is coming back y’all, so start investing in His heart and yours!) But the question remains- what do we do in the meantime, the “down” time, the never ending home quarantine? I’ve been thinking about it.


— We need to honestly acknowledge our feelings and talk with a trusted person about them. Maybe even a counselor. Are you aware of the common signs of depression?

Hopelessness

Lack of interest

Anxiety

Sleep problems

Changes in appetite

Irritability

Fatigue

*BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.*


—We need to try to focus on the here and now, rather than three months down the road. We only know what life is like this week. Or this day. Or this hour. (And hasn’t 2020 taught us that the future is unpredictable?) Make today count!


—We need to try to find small ways to boost joy and keep the time moving forward. Maybe it’s a new soda every Thursday night (true story), decorating your Christmas tree three months early (considering it), Zooming with your best friend every week, leaving your house/ isolation unit for a day in nature or finding ways to volunteer and help your community. Make it happen!

— We can continue to give ourselves the same Grace in Quarantine Land that we offered to our souls in March. Have we forgotten this already? Admittedly, I needed a refresher.

Although I have days where I feel stuck in a never ending spin cycle of kids yelling at me over Google Classroom, I am trying to continue moving forward. One foot in front of the other, one more breakfast prepared in the kitchen, one more morning logging into our computers, one more afternoon reading with my sweet kids, one more evening kissing those precious faces goodnight. I have successfully passed much, much harder challenges than this. Truly, I am grateful for all that I have been given.


But if I feel a little downcast some mornings, I’m learning to be okay with that, too. 2020 is an entirely new sport and the former rules don’t always apply here. Some days I may win and some days I may lose, but I will try my best to make my plays count. And if not…well…there’s always more chocolate cake, right?

Good luck to us all,