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A Hobby Is Not the Answer

I haven't written anything lately because life has been hectic. My husband returned from Afghanistan ten days before our first child was born. For those of you who have reintegrated from a deployment and had a baby, I imagine you can understand that doing those two things simultaneously has not been easy.

I was on bed rest at the end of my pregnancy, so my husband came home to an enormous wife in bed and his mother-in-law in the house. And then a screaming new infant joined his life as well. Those first few weeks are rough on any parents, but my husband has had a really tough time with it. He was quick to get frustrated, quick to tire of her crying, and quick to not be able to handle the stress.

I was proud of him when he decided to see one of the mental health professionals on post. I was proud that he openly admitted that he needed help and wasn't afraid to let his fellow soldiers know it.

He went to his appointment and unloaded. He talked of back-to-back deployments over the past two years. He talked of the soldiers in his company who died this spring. He discussed frustrations he has with his job and with some of his leadership. He talked about the stress of a new baby, which should be a wonderful thing since it has come after three years of infertility and loss, including miscarriages during deployment and SERE school, but sometimes it doesn't feel so wonderful when the baby wakes you for the fourth time during the night. (I'm sure it sometimes feels like SERE school!) He wove it all into one big story and bravely put it out there, searching for help from a professional.

The mental health counselor told him to "get a hobby."

Now, perhaps this advice could be helpful to some people. Perhaps down the road in another session they could've talked about ways he could channel some of his energy or distract himself from stress. But he felt mightily belittled to be told that "a hobby" was the answer to how he was feeling about the death of his co-workers and the stresses of war.

I am proud of my husband that he is going to give it another shot and meet with someone else. But I hope this is not how other soldiers feel when they leave their appointments, that the counselor was brushing off years of stress and frustration. "A hobby" will not cure what ails our servicemembers when they're at their wit's end, and I hope other counselors out there have more to offer than that flippant suggestion. After nine years of war, our military needs better mental health advice than "get a hobby."

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