Winter Blues and MilSpouse Blues: Depression

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Editor's note: Depression is something just about everyone struggles with at one time or another - and I think that with the stresses of deployments, single parenting, moving, and other issues, military spouses probably get more than their fair share of depression cards dealt. 

I know that when depression hits me, not only do I spend an inordinate amount of time on my couch watching movies like Old Yeller, reading books like Where the Red Fern Grows and hitting up Sam's Club for the football team sized package of Zingers and Twinkies; but I also can't figure out how to snap out of it on my own. 

Sometimes I don't even realize how depressed I actually am, and that is exactly why my fellow military spouses are so important.  They've been there, they know what is going on, and how to help.  I just need to let them.

And that is exactly what our guest blogger from The Lemon Stand is writing for us about below: 

I think everyone tends to get the "winter blues" in varying degrees at one time or another.  I've had extensive experience dealing with depression, and I think it makes me look like a schizophrenic version of the "The Odd Couple" (a TV series based on a Neil Simon play and 1968 movie). I think I was about five years old when the TV series began, and my father liked to watch it on our family's black and white TV. Yes, I know this dates me, but I'd still rather watch old comedy shows that are truly funny without being offensive than most of what passes for television entertainment today. I think I'll just stay very happy in my Jurassic Age upbringing. Oscar Madison was overly pessimistic and a slob. Felix Unger was overly optimistic and a neat-freak, and when life circumstances throw them together they end up room mates. Oscar was always grumpy and the way it was scripted made you feel his world was always gray. Felix was scripted to be obnoxiously happy and positive.  As their lives play out, you discover that neither is completely gray, nor sunshine.  Life happens.
The shorter days of Winter can seem gray, and its effects can cause the grumpiness to subtly take over your life. Shorter days can affect even the most positive and happiest of souls. Scientists believe this problem is caused by a person's body clock being out of sync due to the lack of natural sunlight. People who suffer from winter depression are often diagnosed as having Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). If a person already suffers from depression, lack of natural or bright sunlight can worsen it in the winter months.  Others just notice what we call the "Winter Blues."

Signs of depression can be any of the following:

Withdrawing from social activities

Isolation or isolating yourself from friends and family

Feeling like you have a lack of control over your life

Feeling empty

Feeling overwhelmed

Feeling anxious

Being unusually irritable

Feeling a general lack of energy

Extreme fatigue

Loss of desire for physical activity

Loss of desire for physical intimacy


Difficulty concentrating

Difficulty getting out of bed

Desire to sleep more

Craving sweets

Craving carbohydrates

Weight gain

Loss of appetite

Weight loss

This list barely scratches the surface. There are as many causes and treatments of depression as there is the species of animals that live in the ocean (although, if you are using my analogy as a guideline, you’ll have to remove the Loch Ness Monster from your list of animals… so you might want to get a more expert opinion about this than mine...).

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the "Winter Blues" is successfully treatable using a number of options. I have a 'light' lamp and although I DO have to set a timer now when I use it, because I forgot about it being on once while I was sewing and ended up with a 'sun burn' on ONE side of my face... in the middle of winter... Do you know how hard it was to find aloe in New England in the middle of winter?

One of the many causes of depression can also be stress. Life will always have some kind of stress. Jobs, bills, school. And let's call a spade a spade, shall we? If you are a milspouse, then your middle name is STRESS. Add parenthood... guess what? Life starts to climb the stress meter. Don't get me wrong, children really are a blessing and an absolutely amazing miracle and I only occasionally think of trying another military spouse's idea of contemplating the logistics of selling them on eBay. But, if you come from planet Earth, then they are hopefully Homo sapiens who are not exactly angelic nor clean, nor quiet unless they are asleep 24/7. And then there's that caution you have to take with that do not fold, spindle or mutilate in the instruction manual.

Do you have teenagers? Your life's stress meter definitely goes DOWN because they can help you with their siblings and chores around the house... until they are swapped with aliens from another planet... Not to worry.  They will be returned eventually. At least I have HOPE that they will. I'll be sure to get back to you when mine are returned.

All kidding aside, everyone is different and the causes of depression are too numerous to list without trying to vie for book length with Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, so I want to make perfectly clear that ANY kind of depression is serious, and as such, should be attended to by a professional immediately.  

Having had extensive experience with SAD to severe depression, I wish I could tell you I have found any magic cures or even something that works consistently because there are so many factors that affect depression. In my opinion, for what it's worth, I believe that milspouses are more susceptible to any of the smorgasbord of depression issues than the average citizen. It is also my belief that milspouses have an even increased risk than some of the others. Let me try to explain this.

First of all, I think isolation is a killer (and when you are agoraphobic and claustrophobic like I am, the obstacles just seem to multiply). The internet, in this regard, is a double-edged sword. Face to face contact with people of your own peer group, especially if you are the family of a Reserve, Guard or Individual deployed separately from their unit is tremendously lower than active duty spouses. I can't remember the percentage of Reserve and Guard that make up the military force deployed in the world today, but it is a lot higher than you would think.

All of those families are separated by distance to most military installations that can realistically support them with just basic needs much less just daily moral support, whether a spouse is deployed or not. I do not mean to imply in any way that it is any easier for the families of active duty folks. It’s not. The challenges are just different in some aspects. My opinions are just that, opinions. That said, I have been an active duty service member, an active duty milspouse/service member, disabled veteran, and now the spouse of a full time Air National Guard member.

I believe the military lifestyle, as a whole, requires a really strong support system. There are inspiring and self-sufficient families who thrive without a military family support system. That inspiring and self-sufficient family would not be my family.

The internet allows for at least some kind of connection of support to draw on, but for these outlying families, it's like re-inventing the wheel in terms of trying to discover WHO to ask for help for any given problem. HOW to ask for help without feeling you should be able to tough out a situation out because you think everyone else is handling it just fine.

You may think this because your contact with numerous members of your military family is very limited. There is also the fear that your problem will seem insignificant to other milspouses. WHERE to go for help is also often a problem.  It's a fact of military life that there are leaders and then there are politicians within the military machine.

I'm going to say something that is definitely a hot button item for a lot of people, but because I believe it sometimes is part of the problem I feel I would be remiss in not mentioning it for the reasons I'm about to state.  As far as I'm concerned, the solutions are more what I am interested in figuring out and improving upon. I'm concerned with helping others in the same leaky boat, bailing with the same leaky bucket. I'm concerned with helping all of the members of my military family make it safely to shore.

I have to admit that I do not have a lot of experience with FRGs and their sister service equivalents, although I have heard and read extensively about both ends of the spectrum in terms of effectiveness of what they were designed to do. I HAVE had experience with military wives 'cliques', both enlisted and officer, both active duty and 'weekend warriors' types.  I can honestly say that I have been lucky enough to have mostly the most supportive and inspiring kind of spouses, but I do know there are those who undermine any support that might be given simply by subtly or not so subtly playing the rank card. How is anyone helped in an atmosphere of inequality and/or fear? There is another reason I mention this.

Military life is by no means perfect, and I truly believe it is mostly what you make of it, but there are Reservist and Guard wives who don't even have a clue that a game is even being played, much less what the rules are to navigate successfully to the finish line for themselves, their spouses and their families. I'm NOT saying they have the short end of the stick. There are benefits and drawbacks to both large group support and small group support. I have sat on both sides of this fence.

So the internet may help START connections, but to truly thrive in this kind of lifestyle and stress, you need physical support. Even if that is just a living, breathing, human being who sits down for a cup of tea with you and who 'gets it'. They are not there to solve your problems or give you leads, although that is always a plus when it happens. But it's like a documentary I once saw about the plight of children in Russian orphanages who were rarely, if ever held. They either died of neglect, grew to have no ability to connect to what was right or wrong nor the knowledge of what the true power of touch and kindness can accomplish, or at its worst, they became brutal individuals who needed counseling and care they never got.

It is my belief that all people need to feel the touch of another human being often to thrive. The touch can be as simple as a listening ear, a small touch on the hand or shoulder. Yes, many families have members whom they touch often, but that touch is often instigated by someone else's need, such as a child. The human touch I mean is one that asks nothing in return. A touch that is in truth, a wordless communication of more than just understanding. It communicates support in a way that has tremendous impact.

I believe the lack of human contact is the negative side of the internet.  Much of the communication done via the internet is blurred by very powerful illusions. First there is the illusion of anonymity. An illusion that basic courtesies of communication don't need to be observed because no one knows who you REALLY are. An illusion that you can hide behind a cute little icon. An illusion that you have become a dehumanized, nameless, faceless entity. This illusion extends to the communication that that you think is actually taking place.  

Messengers and receivers believing that complete communication of thoughts and ideas are being sent and received in the manner intended with the emotion it was meant to convey.  Think what it would be like for a deaf person to try to communicate with another person... in a room... with the lights either very dim or completely OUT. Sign language is not going to be very helpful in this situation. All communication, when using the internet is in reality stripped blind of any facial, physical or tonal cues that occurs when two people are face to face. The receiver of the communication is now faced with trying to mind-meld with the messenger to make sure what they think the message they received is truly what the sender intended. The power of the written word can make miracles happen, but also it has the same amount of negative impact when used without the knowledge that within the internet network, we are all blind and deaf.

For me, depression has taken many forms in greatly varying degrees, impacting my family and I in ways I could never have foreseen nor even conceived of. Because I am a service-connected disabled veteran with PTSD and major depression, I fall into the category that is completely on the far side of the spectrum. I have accepted that I will have a life-long relationship with my own version of Nessie. That doesn’t mean that Nessie gets to scare the locals and drag my family and I around the lake every day and twice on Sundays. It means that Nessie is no longer allowed to dress up as a gigantic pink elephant in a purple tutu with gangster bling spelling DISSASSTER across her butt (By the way, as you can see, Nessie can’t spell…) that stands in the middle of my family’s living room of life. Communication, real and meaningful, complete and equal understanding of a message conveyed,  has been one of the biggest impacts in my battle with SAD and major depression. I think it all comes down to reaching out to touch someone- before they need it and while they are experiencing it -that truly can cut short anyone's vacation in the deep, dark, cold, depths of the Marianas Trench.

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