And then there was this season of deployment – the best way I know how to describe it is Ryan & I were both simply weary. We’d just gotten through what we thought was the half way point, but rumors of extension (that means coming back later than the initial homecoming date we’d been given – it happens ALL the time in the military) made me wonder when (or if ever) we would actually be half way. When would the downhill part start?
At the same time, Ellie’s sleeping was terrible – my amazing newborn sleeper turned into a 7 month old that woke up at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 6:30 a.m. and for good at 7:30 a.m. (if I was lucky – often earlier). She couldn’t sleep anywhere but her crib. I was trying to start weaning her, putting in all the effort required to try to figure out solids, paying really close attention to her growth, worrying about things like any other new mom – and feeling like a fish out of water.
Meanwhile, Ryan was flying a TON, got sick for the first time & just had really limited time to communicate. All of this coincided with a moment when we also both had run out of steam.
I’m sure many of you have read about the five love languages – Ryan and I use the language of “running on empty” to mean our “tanks” are really low. When we haven’t had enough time together, or haven’t been loving each other well or haven’t been intentional enough about our marriage – we both feel it. Deployment intensifies the possibilities for that and puts numerous road blocks up in terms of ever “filling your tanks.”
We both have what could be the worst love language for a military couple – quality time (for those of you not familiar, the five are: words of affirmation, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, quality time). The first two months, for the most part, we defied the odds – we, through a lot of effort, were able to feel like we were getting quality time, even if we were half a world apart (see this post on the practical things we did for our marriage). Skype dates, even if we lost connection 40 times in an hour, were still able to fill that bucket. It felt like “us” even if it was hard to hear each other, we had pixilated images and our conversation was interrupted countless time. Emails that felt like a conversation on our couch after E went to bed made us feel close to one another. Mail was something tangible we could hold onto. We clung to it all.
By August though, one word kept coming to mind: weary. As I’ve talked to other military spouses, I think most deployments include a period (or many) like this. Whether it’s because of a baby, a job, another situation or just general exhaustion from the emotional toll any deployment requires – you’re just weary. In some ways, it’s a more subtle emotion then some of the other phases lots of deployments go through (anger, grief, sadness, loneliness), but weariness is tough. It also shines a light on how different your realities are – one of the central challenges of loving each other through deployment is how incredibly different your experiences are. What was so hard for me during this deployment, by and large wasn’t an issue for Ryan (sleepless nights; constantly doubting my mothering decisions/responsibilities; taking care of our house/finances/life) and of course, I knew nothing of what was so hard for Ryan (not being able to hold his baby girl for months on end; being away from essentially everything and everyone who is familiar to him, flying countless hours, constantly being pushed mentally/physically as a pilot, etc.). If you think about it – we both had literally never been where the other person was – I’d never been to the part of the world where Ryan was deployed, never even spent a night on a ship, have never even ridden in a helicopter, let alone flown one, never spent a day in the military. Likewise, Ellie is our first baby – Ryan has never been a stay at home parent, never cared for a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 month old, never had a spouse deploy, never weaned (probably never will!) a baby or done sleep training (one of the most miserable things ever to do alone).
So, though we both were weary – the underlying issues were so different. We had to dig so deep in our marriage – this meant meeting each other where we were while leaving judgment at the door, having grace when one of us was short/snarky, and reminding each other of just how strong our bond was. Running and yoga were huge for me – they would settle my heart, give some clarity to my mind, bring me the bit of peace I needed.
There’s that song/book “Going on a Bear Hunt” that I’ve read with Ellie a bunch of times – it’s about all the mountains, rivers, etc you need to get through – and you “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it – gotta go through it!” There’s no better way to put what this season was like – you can’t do much to make it more comfortable, we just had to get through it.
During this season, I was being really productive during Ellie’s naptime on pinterest (ha!) and decided to do a search for deployment. I came across this quote: “when I say I’m tired, I actually mean I’m sad.” It hit me like a ton of bricks – I hadn’t been able to put that into words. That was in part because, being sad is not a really familiar place for me. We all have emotions we tend toward – some of us are more anxious, enthusiastic, quiet, shy, excitable, etc. Well, sad is just not an emotion where I log a lot of time, but this deployment had me dwelling there – and of course I was a new mom, so I spent a lot of time talking about how tired I was. This quote reminded me that sometimes I needed to acknowledge that tiredness was mixed with weariness & that it was helpful to realize it was ok to be sad Ryan was gone.
This post was really hard to write – in part because it’s just hard to put these kinds of feelings into words without sounding trite. That said, I really wanted to write it in case one military spouse read it and knew she was feeling was something others did too. So, if you’re reading this, and your husband is deployed, and you’re weary – hang in there. Ask for help. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Get a massage. Go get your favorite meal. Curl up with a book you just love. This too will pass – he’ll be home soon, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now.
*photo above: sometimes, instead of tackling my to do list when E finally went down for a nap, I'd make myself a latte & curl up on the couch with something I'd wanted to read -- that bit of respite was so often what I needed.