Why I gave up.

Last week I talked about fighting back from depression even if it overwhelms you again and again. Introspection, self-reflection, leaning on others for support are all very important keys to being able to fight and withstand. But there is something more for me that has been the key to unlock my happiness – I gave up.

Two months ago I wouldn’t have been able to put this in words. I stumbled upon an article about this very fact – giving up – and realization hit me about what I had experienced.

Ever since I was little, my entire drive has been “what’s next?” What are you going to be when you grow up? What are you going to major in when you get to college? Who are you going to marry? How many kids are you going to have? Stay-at-home mom or career? What’s for dinner this Friday, when it’s only Monday? Lose 10 pounds by summer. Cover that grey. Get rid of the crow’s feet. Everything was always how to make myself better; how to make life better for those around me. Always a goal to achieve; always a drive to overachieve.

Always going. No wonder I broke down after 12 years of marriage to my first husband. Still after I remarried, I was driving myself to achieve. Be the best Army Wife. Be the best Commander’s Wife for the soldiers and their families. Not bad goals at all but detrimental to my well-being.

So last August, I gave up.

I simply gave up the drive to achieve. The drive to be the best at whatever I do. Many don’t admit it to themselves that being the best drives much of what we do. Bake brownies for the bake sale? Well, mine would surely taste the best and garner many ooh’s and aah’s. Throw a fourth of July party? Well, it’ll be the best decorated party on the block. Dress for a unit ball? Well, my entire outfit, hair, make-up and nails will be carefully crafted to be absolutely perfect.

I said enough.

I do what makes me happy now and I don’t feel once ounce of selfishness. I am still doing; I will always be a doer. I am still caring for others and taking care of others. That will always be me. And I take care of myself. But I don’t live and breathe to be the best at what others need me to be or do. I don’t even do this for what I desire of myself. I live and breathe for BEING NOW. Not for living for the future.

I don’t have some amazing goal for my business – to grow eventually large enough to need to hire out or begin selling wholesale. I grow my business each morning I wake up to it with a smile. That’s enough for me. And I have never been happier to work every day.

Is giving up for you? I can’t tell you that. If you had said to give up to me 20 years ago, I would have said you were crazy. Aren’t we supposed to want the best of ourselves? Yes, but what I didn’t see is that our society teaches us to want the best for ourselves with a caveat – it’s what society sees as the best for us and not what we see as the best for ourselves. Now I choose what is best for me.

~ Jennifer Smith began her life as an Army Wife on December 19, 2011. This is her second blog series with Military Spouses of Strength sharing her personal journey with military life.  She has chosen to use her creativity and empathy to share experiences, encourage others to share experiences; to knock down some walls or at the very least, to pick at the cracks.

Join Jennifer over the next few weeks as she continues to share her personal journey, “Still Learning as I Go“.

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Make Your Heart a Priority

Heart Health Blog Post smallAs the calendar flips into February, we start thinking about hearts. Valentine’s Day is first to come to mind, but it should be the heart beating in your chest. February is National Heart Month with an emphasis on raising awareness for women. Military spouses often put the care of others as a priority over their own health and welfare, and while caring for others is important, taking care of yourself is too. One of the best ways to make yourself a priority is by getting your annual wellness check. These annual visits to your primary care physician can be a chance for you to discuss any concerns you have about your health.  Heart health should be one of the topics of discussion when meeting with your doctor each year.

We’re going to single out the women here for a minute since heart disease is their #1 killer! And all those things you’ve been told about what to look for when you’re having a heart attack may not be the warning signs you actually need to be looking out for.  Women’s warning signs are often different than the ones experienced by men. Heart disease can affect any age so don’t think it can’t happen to you.  Head over to the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women page to read about real women’s stories with their own heart health and then take the Heart Checkup to access your own heart health risks.

The Military Spouses of Strength team wants you to make yourself a priority this February. Make an appointment with your doctor and put yourself first for a change. Don’t wait, your health depends on it!

References:

American Heart Association. (2016). Go Red for Women. https://www.goredforwomen.org/.

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UNLOVABLE

What do you do when your world falls apart?

When all of the “Yes I Can’s” and “I am Strong’s” crumble around you and you find yourself sifting through the ashes wondering, “What the hell was that?”

So awhile back I shared my journey as a “new” Army Wife. The quotes are because I’m not a spring chicken and neither is my husband. I affectionately refer to myself as a “new/old” Army Wife. During the journey I chronicled in my blog posts, I thought I freed myself from the weight of pride – from the shroud of depression that cast self-doubt and questioning on everything I did. But in fact, it seemed the more stalwart I became, the tighter the invisible barrier into the Army Wife cliché became.

For those who had not been part of my previous journey, let’s see if I can sum this up succinctly for you: I married my husband later in his career; I felt alone and adrift trying to make sense of Army social protocol and I was ostracized by women in my husband’s unit, depression threatening to overtake me; I experienced a self-discovery phase and thought I had found my purpose. Six blog posts in a nutshell.

After those blog posts were finished, I experienced what I can only surmise as a group mean girl mentality in an unfortunate series of incidents. And upon writing about it (naming no one), my writing was chastened.

Resulting in a blackness with no shape – of tears and screaming and threats to leave the place I so obviously had no place in. Depression overwhelmed me. Why do we keep trying? What’s the purpose in overcoming depression – no, not overcoming, but battling depression and all of the evil that tries to knock us down when it only comes back again and again?

It’s choice. That is the one thing that can never be taken away from us. Choice. I choose to stay. I choose to stand. I couldn’t do this alone. It took all of my hard work; all of my introspection to build the base I needed to stand back up. And my husband; without him I couldn’t have done this. He values me; to him, having to make effort is worth his time. I am worth his time. He tells me I make him a better man and I can’t imagine life without him.

So you see – it’s worth it. The fight. Each fight makes you stronger. Each mistake is a learning piece of a base on which you can stand back up on when you get knocked down. Each self-affirmation is your soul’s ability to soothe during turbulent times. I will no longer buy the rhetoric that I am unlovable – that I am crazy, controlling, irrational or over-emotional. I have embraced my intelligence, my personality and my emotions.

I have grown my new business – I am an artisan. I paint and create jewelry. Every time something threatens to bring me down, I overcome it. Oh, I’m not perfect. I have lapses. For example, a spouse from the unit recently approached me at an artisan show and began talking about unit stuff. It took everything I had not to go off too much – I couldn’t control everything. Of course some of my anger and hurt seeped in my words – I’m only human.

Choice.

I choose to participate in what I call the good part of the Army. Those parts that attempt to build others up; to offer support. It’s still there. I saw it recently in a base-wide spouse luncheon I attended. Everyone who approached me wore a welcoming smile. That’s the feeling I had been searching for and was missing.

In regards to negativity and being treated as though I am unlovable, in the words of a wise woman, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

~ Jennifer Smith began her life as an Army Wife on December 19, 2011. This is her second blog series with Military Spouses of Strength sharing her personal journey with military life. You can find her first series, Learning as I Go here. She has chosen to use her creativity and empathy to share experiences, encourage others to share experiences; to knock down some walls or at the very least, to pick at the cracks.

Join Jennifer over the next few weeks as she continues to share her personal journey, “Still Learning as I Go”.

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Hello 2016!

A new year has begun and with it comes endless possibilities.  What new and exciting things are you planning for 2016?

Here at Military Spouses of Strength, we can’t wait to see what 2016 brings and we’d like to share with you, our faithful members, our 2016 Plan for the new year.

  • MSoS will continue the Mind, Body, Spirit concept in 2016, renewing our focus to encompass health and overall wellness for military spouses and their families.
  • MSoS will create curriculum to provide training and webinars helping to empower the military spouse in all areas of their life.
  • MSoS will provide resources that enrich and strengthen military spouses in regards to mental health, wellness, education, and career choices.
  • MSoS will strengthen our outreach programs; Peer-to-Peer Support Groups, blogging opportunities, Therapy Thursdays with Dr. Ingrid, #CrushTheStigma campaign, #YouMatter campaign.
  • MSoS will develop a spouse mentoring program to provide additional support to military spouses in their everyday walk through life.
  • MSoS will continue to grow our Partnerships with organizations most benefitting the needs of our members.
  • MSoS will offer a multitude of volunteer opportunities within the organization to support our growth and expand our outreach in the military spouse community and beyond.

We are so excited for 2016 and the opportunity to continue sharing our Mind, Body, Spirit focus with you.

The MSoS Team

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The “Blues” or Something More

This week, I have had lots of people reach out to me and ask: how do you know if you are depressed or maybe just have the blues? Let me first say that I am not a doctor. If you think you or someone you love may be suffering from depression, please seek medical attention.

After much thought, I have decided that rather than rework the wheel, I will just reuse something I have already written that fits the bill. Below is an explanation of what MY depression looked like. Each person suffers in slightly different ways. When it doubt: seek help.

Concentration Problems: People with depression have trouble focusing, making decisions or remembering things. If you know me, you know that I menu plan. I plan 6 days of menus, shop for those ingredients and stick to them. I simply could not make a menu. I couldn’t think of what I used to cook for my family on a daily basis. Seriously. I could not do it.

Sleep Changes: People with depression can have either insomnia or hypersomnia (oversleeping). Most days, I am up by 5:15 getting Dave’s breakfast made, lunch packed and seeing him off to work. About the time Dave leaves I get Patton up for school and continue with my day. Unfortunately, I suffered from insomnia. I would be exhausted by 8:30, head up to bed and be unable to sleep. So, I would pull out my Kindle to read or my iPhone to watch Netflix. Either way, I would normally be awake until midnight or later. After a few days of this, I would crash and go back to sleep once Patton got on the bus and sleep until well after noon. I would lie to my family and say I had a headache, because the alternative was admitting my depression and I wasn’t able to do that yet.

Guilt: People with severe depression may feel helpless, view their depression as a weakness and be very self-critical.  Yes, yes, YES! Everything in this house that went wrong, was a direct reflection of me. Patton isn’t doing well in school: I should have been more on top of his grades, pushed him harder, and monitored him more closely. No Christmas cards? Totally my fault.  Messy house? Yep, couldn’t make myself do anything to fix it. And of course I saw my depression as a weakness—that’s why I left it untreated for so long.

Loss of interest in daily activities. People with depression have little or no interest in former hobbies, social activities or sex. They lose their ability to feel joy and pleasure. This is the one that affected me the most. Looking back I see so many times that should have tipped me off. I love going to the gym. In my mind, I knew that the endorphins released from a great work out would have made me feel better, but every time a friend invited me to TRX, I had an excuse why I couldn’t go. Eventually she stopped asking.

With Dave’s job, there are social activities that we are expected to attend, and I did. I put on a happy face and drank, laughed and seemed to have a good time. But it was so exhausting. I would sleep for hours and hours after an event because it was so exhausting to me. Or maybe I was hung-over, because drinking excessively (another sign of the big D) was another way to cope with being there.

Loss of energy. People with depression feel fatigued, sluggish and physically drained. Even small tasks are exhausting and take much longer to complete. Here’s the part where everything starts running together. I have no energy and getting dressed seems like an accomplishment most days, so the idea of a Christmas party or social event. UGH. I have trouble concentrating and no energy so cooking and cleaning were nearly impossible. I remember taking some clothes out of the dryer and realizing that I felt like I was moving in slow motion. It seemed like folding those towels was never going to end.

Anger or irritability. People with depression often feel agitated or restless. Their tolerance is low, tempers are short and everything (and everyone) gets on your very last nerve. Not only was I hypercritical of myself, but those around me as well. This was a big one for me and I am having trouble narrowing them down to pick one to talk about.

But there were two defining moments for me.  The first came from my oldest, McKinley. I don’t really remember what the circumstance was but he said “Gosh Mom, you are the angriest person I know!” Ouch. That hurt. After that, I spoke to Dave about what McKinley had said wondered aloud if maybe I should go back on my medication. He responded with: “I don’t think that’s true, babe”. Apparently denial runs deep in our family. The final straw occurred in my Safe Haven since moving here: the Wood Shop. Dave and I had spent days working on a project and there was a problem with a cut. I was feeling like nothing I did was good enough, like Dave questioned everything I said and all of my ideas were cast aside. Things got a little out of hand. Have you ever seen the show “Scandal”? Ya know those parts when Millie goes absolutely crazy psycho yelling at Fitz? Well that’s what I did. We didn’t speak for an entire day following that.

This last part is going to be tough for my editor to read.

Suicidal thoughts. People suffering from depression may have thoughts of harming themselves. For me, it wasn’t about getting Dave’s gun and shooting myself or running my car into a tree. It was more like…what would happen if I took a Percocet and an Oxycodone? What if I added a few shots of vodka with it? How about an Ambien too? That was the day I decided to get help.

I really can’t explain how sad it makes me to read this excerpt from my original post admitting that I was sick. But at the same time, I am so proud of how far I have come in the last 9 months.

If you think you are suffering from depression, here is a quick online assessment that could be your first step in the right direction. Click here to get started.

I know I say this every week, but I am going to continue to say it over and over and over. Please reach out. You don’t have to do this alone.

~Tonyia Doyle is a Navy Spouse, mom to 2 handsome sons, and back with another round in her blog series, Tonyia: My Real Life. She continues to blog as a way of talking about her own struggles with depression and other mental health issues. Through therapy and medication, she is working towards her own healing and has chosen to again share her real life with MSoS readers in hopes of raising mental health awareness. Please join her over the next six weeks as she shares her continuing journey.

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Saving Second Base

Hip-Hip Hooray! We are going to talk about boobies today!

Now that I have your attention, it’s time to turn this conversation to a serious topic. I am sure you can guess with all the pink swag running around that this serious conversation is about breast cancer.

According to the Susan G. Komen website, 231,840 new cases of breast cancer will happen in the United States alone with 40,290 deaths. Despite these deaths, there is a 99% survival rate with EARLY detection.

Now, we are probably a lot alike in that we’ve heard the stats about breast cancer many times. We know we are supposed to do self-exams with our “fun bags” monthly to check for lumps. For me at least, I really didn’t take that seriously. I mean, I have implants, so I move my implants around every day to prevent scar tissue from building up. To move my implants, I have to touch my breasts. So, that counts as “checking” yourself right? No. Not at all. At least not until this summer.

My world was rocked in July when all of the sudden, my friend found a very hard lump the size of a golf ball in her breast. I was with her when this happened. In fact, I felt the lump even before her husband. I tried to remain calm and positive for her, but in my heart and my gut, I knew this lump was bad. Within two weeks, my friend had been diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. For me, the “numbness” and blasé attitude toward monthly self-exams disappeared.

Fast forward a few months when I suddenly was educated on a form of breast cancer that not many women know is out there—which is deadly because with IBC, inflammatory breast cancer, a diagnosis starts out at stage three. This form of cancer, typically the most aggressive and fastest growing, doesn’t typically form lumps because the cancer forms in sheets in the breast tissue, and symptoms can literally come on overnight.

For me, the first noticeable sign was aching and tenderness under my right arm and in my arm pit followed by swelling in my right breast and extreme nipple tenderness just on the right side. Within a week, I began feeling a tingling sensation in my breast that felt similar to milk “let down” when I was nursing. Additionally, I developed an itchy and painful rash—this actually turned out to be shingles. The concern for the doctor was treating the shingles first and then screening for breast cancer saying that “The shingles virus lives in everyone who had chicken pox, but the immune system must be low or suppressed for the virus to actually be able to surface.”

So, as I wait for the shingles to go away—and to get home from a business trip—to be screened for breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I ask you to please, educate yourself on IBC so you know what to look for in this aggressive and often “lump-less” form of breast cancer. I also ask that you take breast health seriously by religiously checking yourself monthly for abnormalities. Schedule a reminder in your phone if needed.

For information on IBC from the Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/types/breast/ibc-fact-sheet

~Ashley Wise is a life transformation and change expert who has not only studied human behavior and the power of thought for the past decade and a half, but has also learned from experiencing multiple traumas and abuse first hand—not only living to tell the tale, but learning to be passionate and thrive again in life. Her energy draws people to her like a moth to flame—and She is honored and humbled to be trusted to help. She lives to be of service to those in need.  Visit her website for more information http://www.ashwise.com/.

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Rosemary’s Top 5 Halloween Candy Alternatives

I love autumn.  The cooler weather, the changing leaves, and most of all being able to wear sweaters and drink hot chocolate in the morning!  It also means that Halloween is approaching and every seasonal aisle in stores is filled with bags of cavity-inducing candy!  This year, fight the urge to pass out candy and instead hand out something different.  These are my top 5 Halloween treats to replace candy.  All these ideas can be found at some local stores such as Michaels Crafts, Party City, Costco, Oriental Trading, Amazon, or your favorite grocery store.

My TOP 5 Alternative Ideas

Number 1

Stickers or Tattoos.  Simple, not messy, and even the tweens and teens like tattoos!

Number 2

Small trinkets or toys like bubbles, mini stamps, or bouncy balls.  My kids love bouncy balls from the dentist.

Number 3

Organic Crackers & Cookies.  A healthier alternative to the sugary sweets most parents are handing out.  My kids enjoy Annie’s Brand.

Number 4

Pencils and erasers.  However, I also know that the local school districts where I live ban any pencil that is not the standard yellow No. 2.  Promotional pencils, logo pencils, or pencils with fun are prohibited, so having a cool pencil to do homework at home is appreciated out here.

Number 5

Bookmarks.  My kids love to read, so this is something we need in our house.  Usually we have strips of paper holding the place of our books.  I know a lot of people go digital, but nothing beats having a bookmark.

One last word of advice

As you can see there are a lot of ways you can hand out something that isn’t unhealthy.  I would caution against handing out homemade foods and fruit.  Those go straight in the trash when they’re in my children’s bags because I never know where those came from and if they have been tampered with.  Overprotected?  Perhaps, but I’d rather be safe than sorry!

I hope you enjoyed these alternative ideas and let me know what you’ll be passing out this year for Halloween!

~Rosemary E. King, SBD is a Birth and Bereavement Doula®, author of How to Hire a Doula, and Reiki Practitioner.  She lives in the PNW with her husband, a sailor stationed on the USS Stennis, and six children.  Rosemary enjoys reading John Grisham books, going on adventures with her kids, and volunteering with Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America.  Check out her website, www.rosemaryeking.com for additional information.

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