If there is any doubt that depression and anxiety can sneak up on a gal, my friend Nancy would tell you it certainly can. She is an Army spouse as well as a veteran, and has three busy, active children. This lady has always seemed to have energy galore and an ever-present can-do attitude. So I was surprised when she wrote me a long Facebook message recently, describing what she’s been going through.
First, she talked about steadily gaining weight despite healthy eating and regular exercise. Then she described the “blah” feeling that overtook her like a heavy blanket, followed by heart palpitations, neck, back and arm pain, shortness of breath and dizzy spells. But what really scared her was her blood pressure. At one point, she said it climbed from 117 to 141 in seconds. To the doctor she went, where she was poked and prodded and bled and tested.
Thankfully, all her medical tests came back fine but she was diagnosed with anxiety and mild depression. As Nancy put it so well, “caused by the everyday overload and by the mentality that many of us veterans and military wives carry with us: “suck it up and drive on.” I think when it gets this bad, it can be difficult to even realize you are in trouble.
Nancy said she was shocked when her doctor diagnosed her with anxiety, never for a moment guessing that was a problem for her.
And one’s husband doesn’t need to be deployed to feel overwhelmed. Nancy’s husband is not, though he does travel frequently for work.
But day-to-day obligations and pressures can easily build up and reach the point where one’s body manifests physical symptoms, like my friend’s. For me, when I get particularly anxious or stressed, insomnia becomes a nightly visitor.
For others, it’s an inability to get out of bed or a racing heart or a combination of things.
The point is that we do not have to live like this. Military spouses are excellent at taking care of others but often remiss when it comes to ourselves. And though this type of stress is not the exclusive domain of those of us married to the military, the combination of our lifestyle and unique “job description” creates the perfect storm for such a crisis.
After her health scare, Nancy’s husband booked her a two-hour massage, which she said helped greatly with her aches and pains.
He also started pitching in more on household chores and childcare. And they agreed to resume their lapsed couple time and date nights. These things made a big difference, Nancy told me.
But she also realized she hadn’t been making the time for her beloved hobbies — scrapbooking and photography. And as much as one’s health is affected by stress, I believe the soul can be equally harmed by not doing what gives you joy. Nancy dug out her camera and started taking pictures again.
Another friend of mine — Karin — also is a photographer, and a military spouse and mom to three boys, two of them deaf. She recently told me that for as long as she can remember, most of her time has been spent mothering her brood, providing extra care and attention to her youngest, who in addition to his deafness, has developmental issues.
This has been good for her boys but perhaps not always so good for her. Between the kids and her husband’s demanding job, she hit a wall a while back, feeling drained and empty.
Then — after a heart-to-heart with her husband — she went on a life-changing trip to Nepal, camera in hand. She returned feeling passionate about life again and full of vigor. So she decided to go again, this past weekend, in fact. She met up with a friend at the airport in Nepal and the two are currently adventuring together for a couple of weeks.
Of course, you don’t have to go to Nepal to recharge yourself. My point is that Karin and Nancy both recognized that something important was missing in their life — something that filled their souls and gave them pleasure. The trick is to see this need before your health and relationships suffer.
There have been times in my life when I knew I was in a rut or stressed out but didn’t know what to do to rejuvenate. In that case, I suggest just doing something — anything. Some suggestions: try a new exercise or return to some activity you loved in the past; take a bubble bath; book a manicure, a pedicure or a facial; pull out your dusty sketchpad and pencils; take a nature walk; sneak away on a date night; browse the library or get a special coffee and wander slowly through your favorite bookstore; have lunch with a friend who makes you laugh; take a day-trip to Austin and check out a museum or park. The options are limitless if we only decide we’re important enough to make the time.