Some time ago, I was planning to speak at an event for military spouses. I’d recently written Pretty Much True…, a novel (inspired by the year my husband was in Iraq) that takes readers inside the my-love-could-die-any-second experience in a very raw, very honest, and highly intimate way.
In preparation, I conducted an informal survey of military spouses whose significant others were deployed to get a broader sense of how others handled their deployments. (I knew how I’d handled my experience waiting for my s/o to come home from Iraq, but every experience is unique.) For the original post and all of the responses, click here. What follows is just a sampling.
While these questions and answers appeared in 2007, they’re hardly any less relevant today, and they probably even mirror the experiences of those who waited through any of the World Wars, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
1. Are you male or female? Female
2. In your first deployment experience, where was (or is) your spouse/lover deployed? Iraq or Afghanistan? Iraq
3. Was the person deployed your spouse or your lover? Spouse
4. Did you feel the need for emotional support during the deployment? If the deployed was not your spouse but your lover, did you feel adequate support was still available to you? Yes, I despertaly felt the need for emotional support. It’s been really hard.
5. Did you seek support from spouse groups during the deployment? I have fellow spouses from the same squadron here helping me through this. The spouses of the deployed in my husbands squadron have formed a group.
6. Did the support improve your emotional state? If yes, in what way? If no, why do you think it didn’t work? It has in a way. I love knowing I have women in the same position as me.. and one being a close friend. But on the other hand, most of the women have children and are much busier than I.. it makes it hard to relate.
7. Did you experience any of the following during the deployment? (Please only answer yes if the symptoms occurred regularly or consistently – we almost all have brief periods of weight loss, depression, etc.) Yes. Definitely have slight depression/anxiety. Some days are better than others. As far as weight loss, I do.. but not sure if its all because of working out.. I’m pretty sure its also the stress thats helping the loss. As well as illness’.. but that goes in hand with the anxiety/depression.
a) weight loss
b) hair loss
c) unusual illness
d) consistent lack of sleep
8. How often did you think about your deployed s/o? ALL THE TIME!! He’s on my mind every waking moment.
9. How often did you think about yourself? I rarely do.. my minds mostly focused on his well being and sending out care packages.
10. Was it difficult (emotionally) to maintain your daily life as you had before the deployment? Why or why not? Yes and no. I find it difficult when I do things that we used to do.. making dinner, watching tv, sleeping. But when it comes to my friends and the gym.. I did those more on my own so it’s not SO bad.
11. What word you would choose to express your emotional state for the duration of your first deployment experience? Um, touchy. I guess. Meaning I’m just very sensitive.. always on edge. I can’t seem to relax with him gone.
12. What was your greatest fear during that time? Im constantly scared he wont return home. He’s my life, and I’d die if I never got to see his face again.
13. How did the deployment affect your relationship with your significant other? He and I are stronger than ever.. we can’t wait to see each other!!
14. With friends and family? Friends, I’ve also spent time with family too. But I’m still in our house.. which in a way is making it harder and easier. Easier cause I’m in my own space but harder cause he’s not here with me.
15. Did you think you might be able to use professional help during the deployment (such as therapy)? I have thought about it a couple times. Things have gotten to me a little too much and rather not have any big melt downs while he’s gone.
16. Did you seek therapy? Not so far. Heh.
17. If you answered yes, did the therapy help? N/A
18. Did you take anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication to help you through your first deployment experience? I want to because I think it would help.. but because of a current medical problem.. I can’t.
19. What was your greatest source of support during the deployment? My best friend. My husband and I have been there for each other though.. he’s helped me a lot. When he calls me he can put me to ease like no other. He’s the greatest.
20. What, if anything, would you most want people to understand about the deployment experience of those left at home? I would say to make sure you communicate with friends/family and your s/o. Make sure you don’t hold things in.. it makes it harder.
21. How old are you? 18
2. Deployed where? The first time, he was deployed to Iraq.
3. Spouse or S/O? He was (and is! haha) my spouse.
4. During the first deployment, I absolutely felt the need for some sort of support. I was young (19), just had given birth to our twins and was all alone for the first time in my life. The only one I had relied on had left and I felt so incredibly by myself.
5. I initially attempted to get support from the FRG, but when the deployment began, I was left with a really foul taste in my mouth. The wives were catty, gossipy and very clic-ish (if that’s a word). They would start rumors about the deployment and being as naive as I was, I would believe them. Things like “This war is going to be so short, the guys should be home by May… June the latest.” The guys had deployed March 2nd. I would get ecstatic thinking these people were the authority on what was going on when really they had no idea and were just trying to pass the time. I was disappointed several times by the FRG and eventually gave up. During the end of the deployment, we actually got together and voted to disband it as it was so bad, no one wanted to be a part of it anymore.
6. Unfortunately, no. At least not from the FRG. I did seek support from groups online and those did help a fair amount. It wasn’t like face to face interaction, but it was nice to know someone else was going through what I was and that I wasn’t alone.
A) No. In fact, I experienced quite the opposite — a 50lb weight gain in under 3 months!
B) Yes, quite a bit.
C) I don’t think so.
E) Yes, majorly.
F) YES! I was in a constant state of terror – always sure that next phone call would be with news of an injury, the next knock on the door was a man in uniform to tell me my husband wasn’t coming home.
8. How often did you think about him? Pretty much every second of the day. I couldn’t not think about him. I convinced myself that if I didn’t think about him, didn’t worry about him, didn’t think the worst that something really bad would happen and sneak up on me when I wasn’t paying attention. I was a mess.
9. How often did you think about yourself? Never?
10. Difficult? Normal basically flew out the window the day I dropped him off. I cried all the time, I was always on edge, I didn’t clean, I barely ate (please explain how I gained all that weight! lol), I rarely left the house because I was too scared I would miss a phone call or an e-mail. EVERY aspect of my life revolved around my husband, the deployment and waiting to speak to him again.
11. One word to describe how you felt for the duration of the deployment: Hopeless
12. My greatest fear was losing my husband, my best friend, the greatest person I’d ever known. My greatest fear was that he wouldn’t come home.
13. In a lot of ways, we actually benefited from the deployment as a couple. At the time of our marriage, we were both very young. We were very much in love, but hadn’t yet matured enough to really love one another through all our annoying habits and traits. We would argue over petty things and it wore on us — all this leading up to the deployment. After the deployment, all of that stuff just seemed to not matter. We realized how in love we were with one another and that we could make it through anything together. We realized how strong we’d made eachother and how good we were together. We both recognized the value of time and life and never took eachother for granted again.
14. I started to resent my family for not calling more, e-mailing my husband more, caring more as it felt like the entire country already didn’t care, how could our families not??
15. Yes, I’m pretty sure I should have had some sort of therapy (including medication) during the first deployment.
16. No. I was too scared the Army would take away my children.
18. Should have, but no I did not.
20. What would you want people to understand about deployments? It’s rough. It’s so much harder than anyone can ever imagine. I’ve seen stories written that attempt to put into words what it’s like, but unless you experience it first hand, you will never know what it’s like. I also think that while shows like ‘Over There’ and ‘Army Wives’ are entertaining, they are usually not accurate. The public should try and make themselves more aware of what’s going on, not only with the war, but with the Soldiers and their families. Appreciation isn’t asked for by anyone who joins, nor by their families, but it would be nice once in a while to see that the public is thankful for all that we do (both Soldiers and families). It seems that unless a civilian is directly affected by Soldiers and their families, they have no reason to show appreciation, support or caring of any kind. I’m tired of seeing “We support the troops” on signs of places trying to bring in more business and not for the simple idea of showing that they care. Yellow ribbons and magnets on cars are a nice thought, but people should realize that does nothing to benefit the Soldiers and their families. Every Soldier you see, should be thanked. If they are with their family, you should turn and thank them, too. I went to a rally for the troops during the first deployment (I didn’t support the war in Iraq, I still do not) and I remember very clearly a woman driving by in a car– she looked directly at me and mouthed the words “THANK YOU.” I didn’t support that war, but that one lady, that one ‘thank you’ made me feel like some part of what I was having to deal with and what my husband was having to endure was worth it. Those words have more power for servicemen and women than most imagine. Everytime my husband is stopped and thanked, he gets teary (he’s not a teary kind of guy). It really means more than anything else the public can do.
21. How old are you? 23
4. yes and no – I needed something, but I’ve never really been one to seek emotional support
7. weight loss, hair loss, lack of sleep, depression, anxiety
10. Yes and no – I did fine, but felt like I was outside of myself.
12. that he would die
13. made us closer
14. no difference
16. no – see number four
19. my deployed s/o
20. that it’s more complicated than they think
1. Are you male or female?
2. In your first deployment experience, where was (or is) your spouse/lover deployed? Iraq or Afghanistan? Iraq
3. Was the person deployed your spouse or your lover? spouse
4. Did you feel the need for emotional support during the deployment? If the deployed was not your spouse but your lover, did you feel adequate support was still available to you? Well during a deployment you definitely don’t get physical intimacy, nor that physical support (i.e. hugging, holding etc) so the only thing you hold onto is that emotional intimate attachment. We are told that communication between you and your spouse should be light due to the fact that you don’t want to interfere with the mission, but I feel that the spouse deployed should at least give some emotional support- during our first deployment I started to dread his calls b/c they were only about “i need this” or “can you send this” which yes is important, but there were times I just needed to hear “baby, how are you holding up”. We almost didn’t make it due to this, but we got through it and we have discussed such issues and hopefully with the upcoming deployment it will be different
5. Did you seek support from spouse groups during the deployment? yes, I was an avid FRG member
6. Did the support improve your emotional state? If yes, in what way? If no, why do you think it didn’t work? No — my husband was in the reserves and most of the wives were in their 40′s while I had just turned 20 and I just married my soldier – so while it was nice to just be around other wives from the unit, I didn’t really relate to any of them
7. Did you experience any of the following during the deployment? (Please only answer yes if the symptoms occurred regularly or consistently – we almost all have brief periods of weight loss, depression, etc.)
a) weight loss
b) hair loss
c) unusual illness (yes)
d) consistent lack of sleepyes
e) depression yes
f) anxiety yes
8. How often did you think about your deployed s/o? all the time, I kept my cell phone by me at all times (bed, shower, movies, family outings, etc) as well as keeping messenger on and at the highest level – sometimes sleeping in the computer room
9. How often did you think about yourself? sometimes – I think mentally you have to get yourself out of deployment status for a while otherwise it will consume you and when your SO comes home and the homecoming doesn’t go according to the way you thought, I feel you can almost resent your soldier b/c you consumed all of yourself into this deployment with looking foward to a certain homecoming situation and when it doesn’t happen then you think “I never put me first anywhere”
10. Was it difficult (emotionally) to maintain your daily life as you had before the deployment? Why or why not? yes – espescially with my husband being reserves and the wives being so scattered – so I was constantly around the civilian side and hearing people complain about their SO being gone for a weekend or a couple days just drove me insane – plus I wouldn’t go into buildings where I had no cell phone reception in fear of missing a call and most of my friends just didn’t understand that
11. What word you would choose to express your emotional state for the duration of your first deployment experience? numb
12. What was your greatest fear during that time? I think my greatest fear during that time was him not coming home – but more towards the end was the fear that when he got home would we even be compatible and still love each other just as much as before
13. How did the deployment affect your relationship with your significant other? well we almost divorced – I started to resent him b/c I heard about all the down time they did have and how other soldiers did call their wives and I barely got a call during that time plus I had asked him to just write me letters and I only got 2 during the deployment – but like I said before – we got counseling and we talked (ALOT) and we have discussed the routes we are taking with this next deployment to avoid (as much as possible) those issues
14. With friends and family?
well I definitely found out who my friends were- some didn’t even come around b/c they thought I would just cry and cry and they didn’t want to deal with it – I also dealt with the “friends” and I use that term lightly- that thought they could do a political debate with me and felt that I would be for the war and everything else b/c of my soldier – I may support my soldier 110% but that doesn’t mean I want him to go off to war and support the reasons as to why we were over there in the first place – - – It definitely brought me closer to my family b/c that was all I had
15. Did you think you might be able to use professional help during the deployment (such as therapy)? I think it would be beneficial – just to talk to someone who isn’t fed up of hearing it b/c all too much the people you are around either don’t understand at all or are going through it as well and well – most times they don’t want to listen b/c that means they have to face their situation and anxiety as well
16. Did you seek therapy? afterwards, yes
17. If you answered yes, did the therapy help? it saved my marriage
18. Did you take anti-depressants/anti-anxiety medication to help you through your first deployment experience? I was prescribed sleeping pills but only used them the week after he left from R&R which was the harder of the 2 goodbyes in my opinion
19. What was your greatest source of support during the deployment? army wife groups I found online
20. What, if anything, would you most want people to understand about the deployment experience of those left at home? that just because we are home doesn’t mean our life isn’t hard – Not only do we have to support our soldiers but we are left here in this world where we don’t have a “mission” to keep us occupied. Instead we are at home where there is a constant reminder of our spouse/lover at every corner- there is an empty spot in bed that when he is gone feels like its the coldest part of the house- as well as dealing with the constant reminders of him being gone when we do leave the house b/c we have to deal with the constant questions from everyone as well as the news channels airing every day “2 soldiers killed” when you are praying that one of those soldiers isn’t yours but then your heart drops b/c you know some wife across the country is having her world close in on her and so its a lose/lose situation…. a deployment doesn’t just take one person with it overseas …it affects everyone who is close to that soldier but the person that is most affected is the wife and girlfriend who instead of just taking that soldier- they took our world with them
21. How old are you? 24 … was 20 when he left.
For more, click on the above link to the blog and check out the comments. Every day for more than a year at a time, these people are going through this. It might be interesting to hear from more of them what it’s like.