Seeking Help: What I Wish I'd Known
When Dave first joined the Navy, I bought a copy of The Bluejacket's Manual, and remember reading it pretty thoroughly- not understanding any of what I was reading (BUPERS? CHAMPUS? DEERS?) None of it made any sense to me! Where I would I fit in this new and strange world, or what was expected of me?
Were my own expectations unrealistic?
I slowly learned, from visiting my local library and finding a very outdated book meant to guide and direct new military spouses, that what was expected of me was to support him in everything that he did and never draw attention to myself in a way that would be detrimental to his career. Being young and eager to learn, I took that to heart. It sounded so simple of course…I would support him, and of course, I would keep my nose clean. How difficult could that be?
There's always a "but."
If it sounds too easy, it is. What do you do when you've been living with mental illness for most of your life? Back in 2003, when we got married, what I thought was the right thing to do was to internalize what I was dealing with and not draw attention to myself. In my mind, seeking help was drawing attention to myself, and drawing attention to myself was drawing attention to him. I suffered quietly, dealing with an eating disorder, depression, and severe anxiety, with no help, for a very long time. I was scared that seeking help would be detrimental to his career.
I wish I could go back in time, take that hurting young woman into my arms, and share with her what I know now: that there is no shame in reaching out when you are hurting (especially to your spouse). Don’t keep your pain a secret from them. There is no glory in being the archetype of the strong, silent spouse who supports their spouse's career, no matter what the cost, up to and including your own mental health- because your happiness and well-being matters, too, and I wish I had realized that when I was 19.
Where can you find help?
The Lifegiver Directory can help you find a therapist with experience treating military families, or a passion for working with military families. You can also reach out to your installation's family support center for confidential referrals and assistance, and of course, you can request an official MSAN mentor to guide and support you through every aspect of this life. Remember to take care of yourselves as much as you take care of your spouse, and if things are hard right now, take it from this salty Navy spouse— it gets better. I promise.