Green. The color of new life. The signal to go. A cheerful, springtime color.
It’s also the color that tells me that my husband is okay. It’s the little green dot next to his name on Facebook, indicating that he is “Active Now.” When that green dot is there, it means that he is safe, sitting in front of his computer or on his iPhone. It makes my heart jump in excitement, and I can also give a sigh of relief for the moment.
I wanted to give a “life lately” update, since I have been horribly absent on my blog. Nursing school has basically taken over my life! Add deployment in there, and you have one harried, ragged nursing student and military wife. Right now, my stress levels are not nearly as high as they were a month ago, since I successfully passed my third semester of the BSN program at my school. Yes, it’s summer school now, but I actually have more time to catch my breath.
In January, the “semester from hell” began, although it seemed fine as first. I had my interview on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, which put me on a high, but soon after that Mark left on his third deployment. I’m telling you: deployments may get more familiar, but the goodbye never gets easier. In fact, it may become more difficult each time. Since he had to attend pre-mobilization training at Ft. Bliss first, I dropped Mark off at our local civilian airport. His first two deployments, he left with other soldiers from his military base, so this felt very different yet no less sad.
We sat outside security for 15 minutes, holding hands, trying to chat cheerfully, and taking a few pictures. Before he got in line, we prayed the St. Michael prayer….and to my dismay, I let a tear escape and roll down my cheek. I’ve promised myself to never cry during a deployment goodbye, but for some reason I was unable to hold it back this time. I kept my eyes closed while we prayed, hoping he wouldn’t see the tear, and then tried to surreptitiously wipe it away. But who am I kidding? Mark is an intelligence professional – he notices EVERYTHING.
Our hug and kiss at this goodbye were quick. I wanted to linger, but I could sense that Mark didn’t want to get too caught up in emotion. This deployment was a difficult decision for him…and for me, since I had a say. It would’ve been easier for him to stay home with me and Zoey, do the once-a-month thing with the Reserves, and snag a government job. But this activated Reserves deployment was very tempting for two reasons: one, it would give him a HUGE boost for his intel career; and two, it would be guaranteed income for over a year – with most of it being tax-free.
I will admit that, at first, I did not want him to take a deployment. He applied for the position on November 11, 2016 – Veterans Day, ironically. In my journal that night, I wrote:
I really don’t want him to go…I don’t feel that swelling of pride…I don’t want him gone for [X] entire months while I struggle through nursing school while running my doTERRA business, working at the VA, and taking care of Zoey and the house. I feel like we have given our time to the country already. The Army doesn’t want him full time…why should we continue to sacrifice??
I still held some bitterness in my heart. The Army involuntarily separated him from the active component just a month before. He had sacrificed his physical and mental health and safety over two combat deployments to Afghanistan. He had been diagnosed with PTSD, TBI, sleep apnea, and esophageal issues probably stemming from burn pit exposure. Not to mention the strain that deployment and post-combat issues place on a relationship and marriage. Hadn’t we given enough??
Yet in that same journal entry, I went on to pray:
Yet, Jesus, I know that for some reason, you may want Mark to deploy to [X]. I know that he would be using his CI [counterintelligence] skills there, which you seem to have endowed him with. He definitely has found his talent within the CI world. I praise and thank you for that!! :) I thank you for taking care of us this year….I ask that you give me the grace to accept, joyfully, what you ask of Mark.
Funnily enough, my next journal entry wouldn’t be till the day after he left for pre-mobilization. By that time, I had come to accept it – even with some pride which was absent a couple months before. Yet I also began dealing with fear, which I wrote about in this post and which still plagues me. I know, it’s more likely that he will come home in one piece than “something happening.” But if you’re a military wife, you KNOW that your mind “goes there” more times than you’d like. You get jumpy when there’s a knock at the door that you don’t expect. You wonder if you should keep your phone off silent at night, just in case you get a call with bad news. You rehearse in your head – almost without consent – what your reaction would be. Morbid? No, just a coping mechanism.
And THAT is why we get so excited about a little green dot. I do, anyway. Some of my friends gave up Facebook for Lent. Sorry, but Mark lives in my phone, and our lifeline is Facebook! Seeing that green dot screams “I’m here! I’m okay!” to me.
It took me awhile to get into a deployment rhythm, but eventually I got there. Well, until I had to unexpectedly move out of our house. Of COURSE this would happen during deployment! On the very day that Mark left the country, I got a call from the (new) property manager (a whole other story!) about needing to move soon. As exasperating as it was at first, in a weird way I welcomed the very big distraction from the deployment/nursing school grind. I found a lovely, dog-friendly apartment complex that was more conveniently located to all the places I frequent. My amazing, in-their-60’s-but-spry parents came to help me move over spring break. (It would’ve truly been a pain without them!) Mark’s twin brother Matt was able to get his own apartment in the same building. (He had been living in the house with us.) This is the first time I have lived without another human being, but I have to say that it’s nice having my own space. Yet it’s also wonderful to have a family member just a corridor away. We get together for meals frequently, update each other with information we’ve gotten from Mark, and Zoey gets to give German Shepherd kisses to her Uncle Matt.
The semester wore on and my anxiety heightened. I never knew when to expect a panic attack during an exam. Sometimes I was fine, and sometimes it almost felt like I was dying. Finally, I’d had enough. I was at the end of my all-natural rope. Don’t get me wrong, I love my natural solutions like essential oils. But these things just weren’t cutting it for me. Walking around with constant underlying – and sometimes raging – anxiety was stress enough on top of nursing school and a deployment, but throw in periodic panic attacks and you have a recipe for a break-down. In fact, I have let myself break down and cry a few times.
So I asked my primary care provider if I could try medication, specifically a beta blocker for test anxiety. He was totally agreeable to that. Let me tell you: that drug works like a miracle for me. (Disclaimer: I’m not giving out medical or nursing advice here. Just saying what works personally!) My only regret is that I didn’t start taking it sooner! My heart rate stays normal, the adrenaline rush doesn’t come, my anxieties melt away, and I’m able to think much more clearly during an exam. I’m very happy with my decision, and I’m planning on writing a blog post about “when natural isn’t enough.” We shouldn’t beat ourselves up when we have to turn to medication, especially when the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. It’s worth it to me to take a medication in order to prevent my body from ramping up its adrenaline into a full-blown panic attack, which stresses my adrenals, sucks away mental energy, lowers my immunity, and ultimately could derail my performance in nursing school.
And now, here we are: it’s May already! I’m a little over six months away from graduating with my BSN and being eligible to take the NCLEX (RN board exam). It’s kinda surreal! The only bummer is that Mark won’t be here for my Pinning Ceremony. But I knew that at the beginning of the deployment, and I should be thankful that he will be able to watch it via FaceTime, time and place permitting.
With Memorial Day coming up, my mind has been on all our fallen soldiers and their families. My heart breaks for their losses, while at the same time feeling thankful for the freedom we have on account of their sacrifices. Losing your servicemember in combat is the worst nightmare of every military family, so I keep my sights on that little green dot. The green dot means life. It signals another conversation between us, even if that conversation is “just” instant messaging that gets interrupted periodically. (I mean, he’s lucky to have any internet at all where he’s at!) As much as fear plays with my head, I’ve grown in gratitude and reflection. I’ve been able to rekindle that pride that was lacking when we were making the decision for Mark to throw his hat into the deployment ring once again. As I wrote just the other day in my journal:
I think I need to think about how truly kickass Mark is, what an amazing opportunity this is. It’s just with every great opportunity there comes risk as well – and some risk has to do with life and death situations. No matter what happens, I’m proud and thankful. Because Mark is doing something truly great for our nation and our future. We don’t have to do this, we get to do this.
I don’t suggest combining nursing school with a deployment. But IF you do it, know that you’ll learn a lot about yourself and that your limits will be tested, sometimes on a daily basis. Embrace the moments you have “together” – via the wonders of technology. And know that, as far away as homecoming seems, every deployment comes to an end. And so does nursing school.
Thanks for bearing with me through this epistle of an update! Hopefully the next entry won’t be so long, but I felt that this was necessary given my absence. Writing is therapeutic for me, and it was so helpful during the previous deployment. I will do my best to make blogging more regular!
Much love to you, my readers!