Raising a family in the military can be overwhelming, especially during the past 12 years of war and, presently, it’s aftermath. No wonder so many of us feel tired these days. How do we keep ourselves from being so worn out by it?
“The Spoon Theory” might offer military spouses some insight. Christine Miserandino created the Spoon Theory to explain how having lupus meant she had to consciously think about things and make choices when those who were healthy didn’t have to.
She thinks of her energy as if she has a limited number of "spoons" that have to last the whole day instead of having as many as she wanted. Everything she did cost her one spoon so she had to be careful about how to spend those spoons. (Read the complete explanation of Spoon Theory here).
The same thing can happen during the daily trials of life as a military spouse—we have a limited number of spoons that we can spend.
With deployments and other high stress events, we may find ourselves with less spoons available to spend. As a military spouse with an autoimmune disease that affects how I live each day, here are some ways I see that the Spoon Theory can apply to us:
Energy is not infinite. Every person does not have infinite energy and if we aren’t careful, we can deplete that energy and weaken our ability to handle even seemingly minor things.
With the knowledge of this finite energy, we can view things in terms of “How much does this really matter right now?” and “Is this worth my energy?”
For myself, I have chosen not to expend energy on things I simply cannot control, such as my husband’s work hours and impending separations due to training and deployments. If I get bent out of shape over things I cannot change, then I have less energy for the things I can change and for the things I have made a priority in my life.
Know yourself enough to take care of yourself: Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and it is OK. Being that we have finite energy, we aren’t “super spouses” who conquer all.
Sometimes, we have to say no. Sometimes, we have to pass on attending a social obligation. Sometimes, we have to take a time out to recoup our energy. Sometimes, we even have to ask for help.
There is strength in knowing yourself well enough to do what you need to do to take care of yourself, even if it means you don’t fit your idea of perfection.
Keep a spoon in reserve. We are all familiar with the “deployment curse.” Knowing that catastrophes will likely happen when my spouse is away, I have learned that I need to hold onto a “reserve spoon” and not spread myself so thin that I break.
So when the car breaks down, I can at least think clearly enough, after I have uttered every swear word in existence for 5 minutes, to call a repair shop instead of crumpling into a crying mess in the middle of my driveway.
With a combat deployment, I am already operating on a less than full tank of energy due to the constant fear and worry in the back of my mind. I need to be even more aware of how I expend my remaining energy and I have to hold more in reserve, since I don’t have my husband around to provide his support and assistance.
We don't know what people keep private. For many who have health issues they appear healthy on the outside. You aren’t going to know their personal battles unless they tell you.
We all know someone who appears to have it all together and sometimes we gauge our ability to handle our lives by how we compare to them. What we don’t see is what they have chosen to keep private.
We don’t really know them on a personal level, so why are we making them a standard of perfection that we can’t seem to attain? As long as we are happy with our choices and with how we are living our lives, it doesn’t matter if it’s not “perfect”.
There are no absolutes for how to deal with life as a military spouse. All we can do is keep pounding away at the trial and error method until we find what works for us as individuals.
Melissa Campbell is a wife, mom and volunteer. In respect to other military spouses, she is considered “seasoned”, but believes the learning never stops and personal growth is a constant with failures along the way.