It’s hard to believe that it’s the last day of the year. 2017 was a doozy. It’s impossible to sum it up in one word or even a paragraph, thus this blog post was born.
I rang in the New Year 2017 with my husband Mark while visiting family in Wisconsin. We made vision boards with his family, putting into pictures what we wanted to accomplish during the year. At the moment, our boards are in household goods being shipped across the ocean, so I will have to wait and see what all came true for me. I know that graduating from nursing school and taking horseback riding lessons are two of them!
Mere weeks after the turn of the year, Mark left for what I thought would be the entire year. He deployed to east Africa, and thus began a long period of separation. I held my head high and took it in stride, though the quiet and loneliness ate at me sometimes. I took to documenting life on Instagram Stories, which was a lot of fun and also made me chuckle. Lack of human interaction at home? Just hop on Instagram and start talking!
In February, I was given news that I 100% did NOT expect: I had to move. By May. By myself. Because we were unable to renew the lease on our house. Given that I was up to my neck with my senior year of nursing school and had little time off, the only feasible opportunity to move was during spring break in March. My gracious parents visited (which they were planning on doing anyway) and helped me. Thanks to their help, I only had to hire movers for the furniture, which was not very expensive and was a quick job. Zoey (our German shepherd) and I moved into a brand-new apartment at the Addison Ridge complex in Fayetteville. My brother-in-law Matt, who had been living with us in the house, rented his own apartment in the same building. I was appreciative to have my own living space yet still have family nearby.
The spring semester of nursing school was THE HARDEST by far. There was a period of time where I thought that I wouldn’t make it. My test anxiety got worse and panic attacks during exams became common. One of my teachers had “enough belief for the both of us,” as she told me at graduation, so with her mentorship and a lot of hard work, I made it! I may not have been the smartest student in the class – in fact, I was probably one of the lowest on the totem pole – but I am also not a quitter. If there’s one quality I possess and may brag about, it’s perseverance. That got me through on more than one occasion!
My class continued through the summer with classes and clinicals hardly without a break. One reprieve was over Independence Day break when I spent several days at Topsail Beach with Grammie, my aunt, and two cousins. Zoey also got to come along! We stayed in an ocean-side beach house and spent countless hours in the sun and playing in the water. It was so rejuvenating!
May brought anticipation to my heart, as Mark was given approval for R&R. So we began planning a cruise to Alaska! At the beginning of August, we reunited for a blessed two weeks, celebrating his birthday in Seattle and then sailing on the Norwegian Pearl for a 7-day cruise to Alaska. We had the time of our lives and it was the break we both needed – Mark from the harsh environment of east Africa and me from grueling nursing school. We each were dealing with our own hell and it was wonderful to enjoy a slice of heaven together.
A few weeks before our cruise, Mark got some exciting news: he was given an active duty offer with the Army (as he was in activated Reserve status), and they wanted to send him to……Germany! I was over-the-moon elated. It was the best news we had gotten all year! Moving to Europe is something that happens to other military families, not to us. And Germany specifically? Well, that was a dream come true! (It seemed so good that I asked, “Well what’s the catch?”) On Mark’s birthday in August, he received the official offer and PCS date, which was for 15 September. It was a very fast turn-around, which entailed him returning to Africa for one week after our cruise, flying to Fort Bliss for out-processing from the Reserves, flying back home to Fayetteville (and seeing our apartment for the first time) for 10 days, before moving out to Germany. It was a complete whirlwind, and I felt a little bit of disappointment that he had to go out there by himself at first. But, there was no question I would stay and finish my final semester of nursing school.
My final months of nursing school didn’t seem real. I think I lived in a state of disbelief all the way until graduation….at times, I still can’t believe that it’s over and I made it through. The second eight weeks of the semester brought the final push with our 120 hours (ten 12-hour shifts) of preceptorship at the hospital. I was assigned to an orthopedic/neurology surgical floor, on night shift! (I had asked for night shift if possible.) I cried after the first couple shifts from physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. I told Mark on the phone that asking for night shift was a horrible decision. It felt like I had gotten run over by a bus. (It felt very similar to the jet lag I’ve experienced since being in Germany.) My appetite vanished, my bowels were off, and I felt situationally depressed from being up all night and sleeping during the days. I finally figured out how to “flip” myself to being up during the day during my time off. I worked three shifts per week, three weeks in a row, and finished my 10th and last shift the morning of my birthday. Let me tell you, when I first started I felt incredibly intimidated, even just shadowing my preceptor, because we had so many patients. The next shift, I took on one patient for myself. I eventually worked up to having three patients myself! By the end of those 10 shifts, I felt so confident and my preceptor praised me on the strides I took. It is a humbling feeling to be caring for other human beings in their most vulnerable state, and I consider it a solemn responsibility.
Throughout my last semester of nursing school, I was multi-tasking: finishing my BSN out strong, and preparing to move to Germany! Moving across the country with the military is one thing; moving across the world is quite another. I got a full taste of Army bureaucracy as I navigated “the system” solo. From NTS, UB, and HHG, to “no-fee” passports, to sending our car overseas, to paperwork for Zoey, I’ve done it all. It was frustrating at times, but as many things were for me this year, it was an exercise in growing my brain. Every experience can build character as well!
Thanksgiving brought a reprieve from the craziness, as I flew home to Texas to celebrate with my family. Not knowing the next time I’d be back made me savor each moment, and it was a much-needed recharge before the final week of nursing school and packing up to move. Mama calls me a world traveler, but at heart (and legally, I might add!) I will forever be a Texan.
A week before graduation, my parents arrived in town….and again helped with preparation for moving. (They semi-joke that all they do is help their grown children move!) We thought we’d have some downtime, but each day seemed like it was taken up with preparing for the next shipment to be packed and picked up. My parents, who never served in the military, got an inside look at what it’s like to PCS overseas. That is a look that most civilians will never get! I’m so thankful for their help and love.
December 8th was my nursing school Pinning Ceremony, which was like our graduation. Each BSN graduate gets a special pin, which many wear with pride on their name tag once they become an RN. It was a beautiful, poignant, and emotional ceremony, one that I will never forget. I’m incredibly thankful that Mark was able to “be” there via FaceTime, with his brother Matt holding the phone the entire time. Even though Mark was away at training and then deployment for most of my time in nursing school, his love and support was always with me. I could not have done this without him! He believed in me when I was on empty. It’s hard being married to a nursing student! ;)
At that point, I was living in a near-empty apartment. I am so grateful to my friend Jenny for lending us air mattresses and bedding to use that last week in North Carolina! Mere days after graduation, I loaded up my luggage, Zoey, and her crate into a rental SUV, said a tearful goodbye to Mama and Daddy, and drove the six hours to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. I met my friend Margaret, her husband, and daughter at the airport where they helped me with Zoey and the luggage. They gave me my final send-off from America, and it was great being able to connect with one of my besties from college (the first time around).
Before I knew it, Zoey and I were Germany-bound….and just seven hours later it was touch-down! There was Mark, waving as I came through customs. After loading up my luggage and getting Zoey, there he was to hug me! The three of us were finally reunited after this long, grueling year. Words can’t describe the joy and thankfulness! There were some nail-biting moments during that deployment, especially when he was in Somalia. It’s a period of time that I’d never want to relive.
As I write this, less than two hours (Germany time) from the new year of 2018, Mark and I are listening to the sounds of “Feuerwerk” – fireworks – down in Füssen, Bavaria. In the less than three weeks I’ve been in Germany with him, we’ve visited multiple cities and two other countries (Switzerland and Austria). While still jet-lagged and trying to get used to a different country and culture, I’m taking full advantage of our time here. I know this is just the start of our European adventures, and I look forward to sharing them on this blog with everyone! You can also be on the lookout for a new site and endeavor I will be starting as an RN. ;)
Frohe neues Jahr! Happy New Year! May your goals and dreams be big for 2018! And may you enjoy health, joy, and peace in the new year.