I am to blame…

I cried yesterday, hell my eyes didn’t even dry all the way before I found myself crying again. My heart aches, and it could have been avoided. One of my sisters and her children lost their lives, one of my sisters succumbed to that which was plaguing her; she will forever be remembered for how she died.  I failed her, her husband and their children; it was in part my fault…

Friday, May 6th, Danielle Biggs and her children, were found dead; the result of a suspected murder-suicide. I will not pretend to know what she was struggling with, what her anguish was a result of, I only know how my heart hurts. Almost as tragic is the way that the Biggs family was found; the deployed Airman (husband and father to the deceased) contacted neighbors via Facebook to check on his wife. I am not blaming the neighbors, I am blaming all of us- collectively it is our fault.

Honestly, we live in a community- DAMN IT, a COMMUNITY (that thing were we have a sense of responsibility to each other based on our commonalities) were we laud taking care of each other. Yet this sister and her children we failed, we failed tremendously. We failed in a way that can never be taken back, our attempts to correct our in-actions will never return her or her babies to their loved ones or our world.

It is our fault when we create a culture where it is seen as a weakness to ask for help. It is our fault when we see something wrong, but chose not to do something right. It is our fault when we create a culture where cyber attacks are acceptable. It is our fault when we encourage the idea that seeking helping would hurt our service members career. We are at fault when we value career more than life.

The only way we can attempt to rectify something so tragic is by making every effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again- EVERY EFFORT!!! Military Spouses of Strength announced last month that we were going to be closing; after this tragedy we have decided to re-brand. Military Spouses of Strength will still exist, but in a smaller capacity Our focus will be in providing mental health resources (never will we notify commands; however if suicidal or homicidal ideations are involved we will report to proper authorities), facilitating SOFA Talks, and being a daily source of encouragement.

Your help is needed- you HAVE to be the eyes and ears on the ground! You HAVE to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and reach out, even to those you might know, if you think they may be struggling; a false alarm is a relief compared to a house fire. One team, one fight.

Are we in this together? Are you in this with us?

 

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Grateful for Graciousness

As I was fortunate to have family to support me, some of my friends really struggled with the changes to the availability and the attentiveness I was able to give them. My friends while I was still in Alaska were discouraged that I would no longer have “get-together’s” even if to just hang around a fire and chat. Nor would I go to their homes. My time was consumed with just trying to keep myself from collapsing with exhaustion or to focus on trying to think straight due to the extreme pain, lack of sleep and probably from side effects of the meds.

When I came home to NY, I no longer would let many know I was actually coming home as I would feel obligated to spend time with them and then fear I would need to back out because I just couldn’t do it. I was back in NY for some time before many even knew I was back. My best friend for years took a week of vacation to spend with me. It happened to coincide with the time my household goods were delivered. So as many are likely aware, it can be a stressful time. Did we actually receive ALL of our household goods and was anything damaged.

My best friend, another military spouse was willing to spend her vacation with me unpacking my stuff. We worked well together. At the time she gave no indication as to her noticing differences in me. We discussed my health, about how I felt with the loss of my abilities. I struggled with key words, even memories. I was constantly tired and in pain. She seemed very understanding. Recently, as in February she admitted to me that she really was seeing me struggle. Struggle with following along in our conversations, organization, and coordination as well my energy to go, go, and go. Something she and I always did when we spent time together.

Admittedly, I was caught off guard that she would now almost four years later sharing this with me. But she stated she didn’t say anything before because she could tell I was struggling and didn’t want to add any unnecessary stress. I was grateful for that. First, for not contributing to my struggles then and now for being honest with me to share her feelings with me as it pertained to the changing Renee. She has learned to kind of play it by ear. We make plans but they may not always pan out. And I’m thankful for that.

As far as my other friends, most of them high school classmates at home in NY. We chat via Facebook, but usually only get together once a year. I can’t make commitments and let’s face it, life kind of consumes us and our jobs, household responsibilities and up until recently I was a full time college student; so I had little free time. Some of my friends have other invisible illnesses so they understand and struggle with the same things I do. So I have changed.

I’ve changed in the way that I no longer spend lots of time with friends. That time spent used to be consumed with: chatting over coffee, dinner, dancing and even volunteering at events in the community. Now any time spent together is often just for a short visit, about an hour of chit-chat. I can no longer make commitments to volunteering. If I feel well that day, I will participate but I have learned that not making those commitments is better for all. In the sense that I won’t push myself to go to an event and be miserable for days after or that others aren’t relying on my and I don’t show. Although some of you may begin to understand the NEW Renee, but there is more just about me. I will share with you on that topic next time.

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Losing Interest

renee nae EDITEDI hope everyone is doing well.  I left you last time with how I was trying to cope with losing my professional identity and how I turned to my family to deal with that.  When it comes to my family, I feel I was extremely fortunate in this area.  At the time of my diagnosis with fibromyalgia we were stationed in Alaska; so far away from my family such as parents and siblings.  It was just my husband and two foster teenage boys.  My husband had been extremely supportive; in fact he encouraged me to seek help from the doctors to determine what was happening with me.  He could see my changes.

He witnessed me going to bed earlier although I seldom actually slept and if I did it was not restful sleep at all.  He witnessed me fight to accomplish simple tasks that before were not even an issue.  Such as switching laundry over; I would move clothes from the washer to dryer and then not turn it on.  That was something I seldom ever did.  He at times became frustrated as I would be trying to explain things and I would struggle with finding words and/or lose track of the conversation half way through.  I also lost interest with intimacy.

When my husband observed me losing interest in activities I previously enjoyed; such as hiking, camping, socializing with friends he really knew something was off.  It was what I did.  I was always going and doing something.  I loved having friends over for a bbq or to sit around a fire and chat.  I could no longer find the energy for this.

The teenage foster boys were a reward for me.  They brought joy and energy to me.  Although like any teen they also brought some trying situations.  They had not known me for long so I’m not really sure how aware they were of what was going on with me.  The older of the two, has now become a permanent member of our family and is 21.  He knew I was dealing with an illness, although I don’t specifically recall telling him what it was at the time.  He was active in sports and I was excited he had an opportunity to participate in them.  I began to struggle with going to watch him play football and soccer.  I loved watching him play.  I became discouraged again with not being able to support him at these events.

As you know I retired.  Shortly after retirement I returned to my home state of NY.  I was close to my family again.  This is where some difficulties came as it pertains to my family.  My parents and siblings who all have kids of their own were aware of my fibro.  But they had not seen the changes occurring.  So they expected the old me to come home.  The old Renee who was always going to their children’s sporting events or taking the kids on adventures; could no longer do that.  I had no energy and at times was embarrassed by my inability to follow along with the stories the kids were telling me.  My nieces and nephews were no longer little, they were old enough to observe this and at times ask, “Aunt Nay Nay, why do you not understand what I’m telling you?”  That nearly broke my heart.  I often broke planned engagements with them.  I had not learned to say no just yet.  I was excited to be home and see my family and the kids.

We soon all adjusted to my inability to be so active with them.  Again, I feel privileged to have the support system from my family especially their understanding of the “new” me.  It is a huge stress reliever.

~Renee will continue sharing her experiences living with an invisible illness over the coming weeks.  Check back next Friday for the next installment in her personal journey series, “Where Did ME Go.”

 

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Five Types of Military Moms

Trending on Facebook is a humorous video showing the different types of Moms you meet. From the PTA Mom who is always organized and herding the group to the Experienced Mom offering well-intentioned advice or the always-late Hot Mess Mom; I’m sure you have met or see yourself in one of the stereotypes. As military spouses we take it one step further with our own five kinds of Moms (and Dads) unique to our lifestyle.

Pre-deployment Mom – As things amp up this is a time of anxiety and preparation for whatever Isaac Newton has planned for her THIS time around.  She may be trying to process the fact that he really is going; all while knowing it isn’t real until boots are in theater. Often times she is recognizable by the fact that she is calling around asking members of her military family if they wouldn’t mind being placed on the pick-up list for school.

Deployment Mom – As a single parent she has the sole responsibility for the welfare of children, animals, cars, finances and the yard.  Life is changing and all the planning in the world will not fully prepare her because each go around is different. She may stand in the freezer isle telling her three year old to choose anything for dinner while her newly mobile 10 month old pushes the cart all while getting that “Bless your heart” look from a retiree wife who has been there more times than she can count.

Sustainment Mom – There is confidence in her routine and daily schedule.  New independence has given her and the kids a chance to try out activities such as art classes, fitness programs or recipes. Showered with a clean house this Mom calmly walks the aisles at Target looking like she has been handling it like a pro the whole time.

Re-deployment Mom – Now there is the anticipation of a perfect homecoming.  Once again, nothing is certain until the plane lands and you see them getting off the bus.  Although there is a great deal of excitement there is the apprehension and worry about the moment you lay eyes on each other.  She is often out trying to find just the right dress to greet her man and searching Etsy for cute shirts for the kids.

Post Deployment Mom – Ah, the Honeymoon Period we all look forward to. The rules and routines of the house have changed and now is the time to renegotiate roles.  Just because one person took out the trash and another paid the bills before the deployment that doesn’t mean the same will happen now that they are back.  There may be a nice glow on her face as she takes the time to reconnect with her spouse.

Unofficially there is a sixth type.  The Undeployable Spouse Mom. Although they haven’t technically been in your shoes they have seen the effects in their friends.  When life gets crazy this Mom is a great one to turn to because chances are she has backup at home.

You know all too well that the mom you are today is not necessary the one you will be tomorrow.

~Brenna Clark is a West Coast girl the Air Force has transplanted in the South.  Having moved five times in ten years she assumes she has seen it all until, well, life happens and something new is tossed her way.  Currently a stay at home mom of two beautiful children, Brenna is often seen volunteering with the military and local community and ready to jump in to help out at a moment’s notice.

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Was It All In My Head?

renee nae EDITEDI left you all last time saying I would take you on my journey.  The journey of how fibro affected my profession, my family, my friends and me.  I will start with my profession; as this is the one area that was probably the hardest for me to accept.  At the point of an official diagnosis I was approximately 18 years into my active duty service.  I was being seen quite frequently by doctors and specialists for about a year and a ½ prior while trying to determine what was going on with me.  Was it all in my head?  And yes, I asked myself that many times.

That question, “Was it all in my head?” likely only exasperated my symptoms.  I kept pushing through; the physical training, the long hours, the volunteering to be involved with activities, and even furthering my education.  After all, I had been doing all that for years.  It was and I believe still is expected of our service men and women.  But at what expense?

I had dropped a class I was taking as I realized quickly that likely I was not going to do well in the class as my ability to concentrate was not nearly as good as it once had been.  I had never backed out of a prior commitment like that before.  It was very discouraging to me.  I also declined a nomination to be president of the squadron booster club and to participate in other activities on the installation.  I didn’t have the energy to give it, its full attention.  The booster club events were a lot of work.  Some say for little reward, but for me seeing smiling faces at the events we held, often the summer BBQs or annual holiday parties was all the reward I needed.  I really did find comfort and satisfaction in knowing others were enjoying themselves because of my hard work.  Being involved in these types of activities was me, it was what I did.  Not participating became another stressor for me.  I couldn’t seem to win, if I participated the activity would not get the attention it deserved and when I didn’t participate I felt like I was not only letting others done, but I was lost in, what do I do now?

I started making doctor appointments to coincide with physical training.  Admittedly, I was never a big fan but it was necessary and I enjoyed the social and team building aspect of it.  I was finding ways to get out of it.  Mornings were particularly rough for me due to morning stiffness and often lack of sleep.  The physical training especially at O-dark-30 in the morning was brutal for me, resulting in pretty much making me worthless for the remainder of the day.  I was able to perform tasks that were routine and had become second nature for me to do after many years of doing them.  But if I was asked to be creative or do something out of the ordinary it took much more time than it had in my past.  That became an additional stressor as I was not exceptive of that additional time I was taking.

I had a commander, a first sergeant and a chief that for the most part seemed understanding of my situation or at the very least accepting of these performances or should I say, “Lack thereof.”  They did not really know me and perhaps I’m wrong but I felt like I repeatedly let them down in comparison to my peers and the contributions that were made to our squadron and the installation.  Thankfully I had an awesome crew working for me that for the most part needed little guidance and it was a great stress reliever for me.

So I struggled with making it to retirement.  Was it the right decision?  I knew it was what was best for all.  It was best for my health; it was best for my unit and ultimately best for the Air Force as I was not likely to ever fulfill my fair share of responsibilities especially when it would come to a deployment.  Deployments are another topic that has and at times still really brings me down.  So as I’ve said, I chose to retire.

I gave up the biggest part of who I was.  What I’ve done and known for years, the commitment to serve others was a big empty gap for me.  Although I still maintain contact with many through social media sites and an occasional call or text, it is not the same.  I’ve lost the connection, security and comfort of seeing my brothers and sisters in blue every day.  That unspoken understanding of each other’s struggles and successes was and still is moving for me.  I was losing my professional identity.  And more importantly, where did the old ME go?  So as I gave up that, I leaned harder on my family for fulfilling that gap.  My family will be where I take you next on this journey.

~Renee will continue sharing her experiences living with an invisible illness over the coming weeks.  Check back next Friday for the next installment in her personal journey series, “Where Did ME Go.”

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I WAS STRUGGLING WITH LOSING ME

renee nae EDITEDIntroductions only seem appropriate in the beginning.  My name is Renee and I’m 43 years old.  I’ve been married for 25 years and have an adopted son who is 21.  When I got married, my husband was serving in the United States Coast Guard.  I eventually joined the United States Air Force after he was honorably discharged where I made a career of it.  I retired in 2012 after a little over 20 years.  My retirement was planned, however I retired a few years sooner than I had originally planned to.

My time on active duty doing a job I loved, working with amazing people and experiencing opportunities I would not have otherwise, was cut short by an invisible illness.  Although those very close to me could see the change.  I at first hid everything.  I satisfied their concerns and curiosity with, “I’m tired and/or just getting old.”  Although the getting old part I seldom admitted to.  I was struggling with losing ME.  I could no longer do everything.  To include my job.  My job was suffering at first because of all the doctor appointments, trying to figure out what was going on.

Perhaps my years of doing it all was catching up with me?  Perhaps the pressure of the responsibilities as a leader was getting to me?  Perhaps I was getting old?  Perhaps, just perhaps there was something wrong?  I’m thankful that I was overseas when I started really struggling.  As many of you know we seldom see the same provider every time you go to the clinic.  Whether it be due to deployments, training or permanent change of station the lack of seeing the same provider is not only frustrating in the sense that we have to tell them AGAIN what is going on and/or what has been done already in the line of testing can be very irritating.  But also, since we often see different providers they don’t get to see the outward signs of what is changing with you.

Because I was overseas and fortunate enough to see the same provider, 90% of my visits, she could see the physical changes in me, not just what I was describing to her.  I said earlier it was an invisible illness.  Well it is.  But there are subtle outward signs that were being seen.  The circles under my eyes were getting darker and deeper.  My hair was getting thinner and more brittle and I really don’t have much hair to begin with.  It’s baby fine and I think most 2 year old precious girls have more hair than me.  My weight was fluctuating up and down, of course I liked the down part, but there was no change in physical activity and/or diet to warrant the changes.

So I’m going to share a journey with you.  A journey that will describe not only the physical and psychological struggles but the emotional struggles of dealing with this invisible illness.  How it affected my profession, my family, my friends and me.  This journey is roughly 6 years in dealing with this illness.  This illness is fibromyalgia .  You may ask why I’m sharing this journey with you?  Well, I feel those living with any illness, especially an invisible one, that it is our responsibility to educate others about it.  Now, I’m not a doctor so I can by no means explain the medical part of fibro, but I can educate you to my experiences as well as the feelings that I share with others I’ve spoken with about how we feel when dealing with outsiders that can see nothing wrong with us.  So I will get back with you all soon.  I venture to say I’m not alone in dealing with this and I hope that it helps some in understanding people like me who are living in a world where many don’t understand invisible illness.

Learn more about fibromyalgia here and join Renee over the next few weeks as she shares her personal journey living with this invisible illness.

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Volunteering is Good for You

I joined Military Spouses of Strength in July of 2015 as their Social Media Coordinator.

Not being familiar with MSoS, I needed to do some research. At the time, I thought that I didn’t have much experience with “mental health”, but it turns out that I do. We all do. But more on that later. 

I was moved by Military Spouses of Strength’s founder’s story, and knew that I wanted to help. I realized that there are people in my network who could benefit from learning about Military Spouses of Strength, and the services offered.  You can read about Liz Snell’s story here.

“In 2013, she founded Military Spouses of Strength, to provide information, support and give strength to other military spouses who maybe struggling with depression or mental illness.  She designed a  website that gives milspouses a place to get connected and be supported while changing the stigma that is associated with seeking help!”

Also, I was interested in learning about Social Media, and a great volunteering perk is learning new skills!

Back to my experience (that I didn’t realize that I had) relating to mental health:
My experience? I’m a human being. I have personal experience with mental health.

You see, depression and anxiety don’t pick and choose who they visit and torment. I have had family and friends suffer from anxiety and depression, and to be honest, I haven’t had a very good understanding on what they were/are going through. By volunteering, I have learned so much about myself and others, and especially how the military spouse community is affected.

The topic used to make me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I don’t feel that discomfort anymore. I feel compassion and the need to support those who may be needing help.

Military Spouses of Strength has assisted me with my understanding about depression and mental health, and the importance of providing a safe atmosphere for those who might need help.

I am proud to be a volunteer for Military Spouses of Strength.

~Britni Miltner is the Social Media Coordinator for Military Spouses of Strength.  Britni recently started MilSpouseResource.com, a personal blog that offers information, support, and an inspiration for military spouses in all walks of life. She is a Scout with Millie and is a volunteer Mentor for Military Spouse Advocacy Network’s New Military Spouse Support Program. She also joined the MilSpo Project’s Advisory Board in 2016. Britni is resourceful, organized, and believes in the Golden Rule. Yoga is good for her mind, body and soul, and spending time with family and friends is important. She’s a proud Navy spouse, has held many volunteer leadership positions, and strives to never stop learning. She graduated from Auburn University in 2004 with a degree in Entrepreneurship and Family Business, and she bleeds orange and blue.

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