Wake Up, Kick Ass, Repeat
What a great title right?? I'm sure most of us can relate to that cyclical feeling especially if you're a fellow military spouse and it's PCS/Deployment/Exercise season. Days seem to feel like weeks, weeks feel like months, and our stress meters seem pegged out on the "Danger: Pending Explosion" mark. Just when you feel like you have finally gotten all of your ducks lined up, some multi-faceted setback swoops in and knocks you backward and upside down. How you recover from those moments is vital to every aspect of your military spouse/family journey. Dr. Kendra Lowe's book, Wake up, Kick Ass, Repeat: A guide to self perseverance within the military spouse life cycle, is all about equipping you with skills and thought processes to rise up from inevitable setbacks and thrive.
You're not alone
Dr. Lowe shares stories of other military spouses she gathered during her research. I found myself underlining so many snippets from their stories, that I related to, that I had to start writing them down instead or the whole book would be underlined.
"I had isolated myself for so long that the fear of going and sharing myself with a large group of strangers what would not be there for me in the future was just too much for me to overcome." Renee pg. 20
"In 'normal' life, these disruptions are considered amount the most stressful life-changing events that can happen to a family. In a military family, these are considered the norm." Diane pg. 36
"My military spouse network...always listened, loved, and welcomed me broken." Diane pg. 40
"[My family and friends] received the programmed, automatic response [I'm okay] because it made THEM feel better, not me." Kate pg. 62
"It's still OK for us to feel discouraged when the mission takes priority over family time." Lucy pg. 92
Sounding familiar? I know I've uttered all of those over the years at one time or another. Knowing you're not alone is a powerful first step to overcoming setbacks because you'll be more likely to seek the help you need. That help may be in the form of fellow spouses, service specific resources, mental health professionals, or a combination of all of it. Trying to shoulder it all on your own, though, will break even the strongest among us.
The power of a group
I've been reading this book on my own. It's brought up memories of skills and processes I vaguely remember covering in various courses, both in and out of the military. While seeing them again mapped out in her book sparked those memories, they clearly were not cemented and had not made the lasting change the presenters in those courses had hoped for. Dr. Lowe organized her book so that it is best covered in a group. "Ultimately the goal is for military spouses to be able to reinforce each other and create a form of collective strength" pg. 17. She supplies reflection questions and exercises to kick-start group conversation and to get the group sharing stories like the very relatable ones she presents - Renee, Diane, Kate, and others. I've found at least one other military spouse in my neighborhood to start reading this book. I'll share her thoughts next time.
Seeking help doesn't mean you're weak
"I wish I had not feared seeking out help, but the reality is that this fear is still alive and well in our military community. We need resources that can reach our spouses when they are unable to reach out themselves." Nicole pg.97.
There's a stigma in our society, both in and out of the military, that seeking help for "non-physical illness" means you're somehow damaged goods, broken, lesser, or weak. Nothing could be further from the truth especially if you're a military spouse.
"approximately one in four military spouses wake up every day under a heavy layer of stress" pg. 44
"the stress level among military spouses is potentially twice that of the civilian population" pg. 45
"military spouses experience levels of stress similar to those of single parents" pg. 45
The Military Family Lifestyle Survey, conducted in 2018, showed that 9% of the spouses surveyed had had suicidal ideations pg. 43.
Our role is difficult, studies, data and research recognize that. However, old mentalities of "suck it up butter cup" still plague our culture. One need not look further than the Vietnam Veteran population to know that this mindset kills. How do we overcome and change our mindset?
Steps to change
Start with working on yourself. All big changes begin from within. Dr. Lowe presents several skills and processes in this book that you can use routinely for yourself. They are like any skills (dribbling a basketball, playing an instrument, drawing from memory) they need practice, you won't get it right every time from the first time on. Practice, practice, practice. And know you're not alone!! In fact, you may be in the majority. Reach out to others in similar situations and see if they are experiencing the same stress level, fears, uncertainties, that you are...
….And form a group! If images of dull, church basements with sad looking people sitting in a circle on half-functioning folding chairs just popped into your mind, erase that! Those are the old mindset and those are what got us here. Fill your group with people who are courageously confronting their stress just like you. Use this book as your starting point and go from there. Groups are powerful. Groups change things.
Spread the change. Encourage others to seek the care they need. That care could be in the form of a house cleaning service, a carpool for afterschool activities, a dog walker, a weekend away while you watch their kids, all the way up to formal mental health services. Become an active advocate in your community for debunking the "non-physical illness" stigma. We all need some level of help and it is more than okay to ask for it. Once you do, so will others.
I'll be continuing to read Wake Up, Kick Ass, Repeat and will bring not just my own thoughts next time but also those of at least one other person reading the book now too. I'd really like to hear your thoughts on the book, the stigmas, stress effects in your life, or any other related issue. Please don't hesitate to reach out in the comments below, via email, or on any of my socials. The next post will be coming your way on June 30th!