by Jana Wanner, Guest Contributor
As someone who suffers from anxiety, I know it can be difficult to be married into the military lifestyle.
The millions of unknown possibilities of PCSing.
Or not PCSing.
Spouses on frequent TDYs, frequent deployments, frequent field time, frequent training.
Health care troubles.
And doing most things on your own while your service member is away.
It’s a whirlwind of unknowns and possibilities, which can make your anxiety skyrocket. I know having anxiety is a taboo subject, and we aren’t supposed to talk about it. But, I’m here to talk about it.
There was a time that I was ashamed of having anxiety.
Canceling plans with friends.
Racing heart when I felt scared or nervous, sometimes even out of the blue for what seemed like no reason at all.
The feeling of constantly needing to be accepted by your peers, other military spouses or your spouse’s family.
Avoiding small talk. Shutting down and getting quiet when you’re around big crowds or around people you don’t know.
The constant questioning yourself,
“Wow, did I really just say that? I look like an idiot right now.”
And my favorite,
“Did I just do something wrong?”
If this is you, keep reading.
If this isn’t you, keep reading anyway. It may help you when you find yourself around military spouses who have anxiety.
How to Live with Anxiety as a Military Spouse
When I used to cancel on my friends (or when I still do it sometimes) it’s always a good thing to remind them that my anxiety is not something I can control. Anxiety does a lot of things to those of us that suffer. It’s easy for those who don’t have anxiety to say “Just suck it up and do what you need to do.”
Let’s put it this way. If you have a fear of snakes and someone puts you in a room full of snakes…are you still going to be able to do what you need to do? Will you be able to sit in this room and put on makeup without fear? Or cook dinner without fear of the snakes in the room? Or even send an email? No. You will be focused on your fear of snakes the entire time and you will be figuring out any possible way to get out of that room as fast as you can.
This is what people with anxiety go through. All day. All the time. There is no escaping your fears. No matter how unrealistic these fears seem to other people, they are very real to those experiencing anxiety on a daily basis.
We feel trapped, constantly in fear, with no way out.
And when you do have a way out (canceling plans because they seem too tedious at the time) you run as fast as you can.
The constant questioning yourself is another harsh reality that you face with anxiety. Here’s a fun story. It wasn’t fun at the time, but I can laugh at myself now.
A few years ago, I went to a ball with my husband. I was quietly sitting at the table, reading the plan of events from the program. As many with anxiety know, this is a coping mechanism some of us use in order to keep from making eye contact or awkward small talk.
Next thing I know, someone is tapping my shoulder. It was the sergeant major of my husband’s unit. He had been standing there holding his hand out (from what I understand, for at least a minute) smiling and waiting for me to look up. I had no idea. I felt like a complete idiot. I immediately shook his hand, smiled and apologized profusely.
The entire night, I was thinking “I am such an idiot! I just embarrassed myself and my husband!” In reality, it was a light-hearted moment. At the time, I did not think of it that way. And the truth is, he probably completely forgot about it after walking away.
But I dwelled on that moment for the entire night. Oh, who am I kidding? I dwelled on it for an entire month.
That’s the reality of anxiety. We dwell on things, no matter how trivial these things are sometimes.
You should never let anyone tear you apart because of your anxiety. One time, someone said to me, “Well if your marriage is fine, if your finances are fine, and everything in your life seems pretty perfect to anyone looking in, how can you possibly suffer from anxiety?”
It doesn’t work that way, people.
Those of us with anxiety have suffered our fair share of traumatic events, probably early on in childhood. Or maybe a major traumatic event as an adult (or several).
In my case, it was many years of traumatic events from childhood. Only my husband will ever know some of these events. I will never speak to anyone, other than my husband, about them. Those events set me up for anxiety and panic attacks later in life. Throw in the unexpected realities from military life and anxiety and panic attacks are going to happen, whether I expect them at the time or not.
So for people to not know what you have gone through, it should not be of their concern why you suffer from anxiety. You owe no one any explanation. If they truly love you or care for you, they will accept you, anxiety and all. And if they truly love you and care for you, they will work closely with you to figure out how to get through your most anxious moments.
If you’re around someone who isn’t talking much or if they are shutting down after you have had a lengthy conversation with them while in a big crowd of people, they aren’t being rude. They aren’t thinking that they hate you.
They are busy trying to figure out if they are being judged.
They are busy trying to make a quick exit to go re-charge, so that they can possibly come back to talk to you later. Or maybe they just ran out of things to say.
Those of us with anxiety have big hearts. That’s because we can feel pain more than others. We may be sensitive, but we love deeply.
If you have anxiety, you are not alone. There is help. Visit your doctor for a referral for cognitive behavior therapy or other treatment options. There is help if you feel like your anxiety is getting worse.
Please do not feel ashamed because there is no shame in getting help. There are many who suffer from anxiety and it’s not as taboo as it once was!
And for those of you on the outside looking in on those of us with anxiety: We may not always show it or some people may not see it, but we are listening. We are paying attention. We have feelings too. More than you will ever know.
My name is Jana and I am a stay at home mom with 2 great kids and a wonderful husband. We are currently stationed in Georgia. I love traveling the world with my husband, no matter where the Army sends us. I also love to write, I love wine, and I love the 90s.