How Do You Stay Calm in a Crisis?

Tornado-damaged vehicles and buildings are shown on Sunday January 20, 2019, after a tornado hit Wetumpka, Ala., on Saturday afternoon.  (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)
Tornado-damaged vehicles and buildings are shown on Sunday January 20, 2019, after a tornado hit Wetumpka, Ala., on Saturday afternoon. (Mickey Welsh/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Calm in a crisis does not come easily to me. Anxiety comes easily to me. If there is nothing actually wrong, gimme a second and I can point out 20 impending signs of doom. It’s a little gift.

So you would expect that when my wheel (not the tire but the actual wheel) started grinding off my car in a part of rural North Carolina where the Children of the Corn come out to play, that I would go ahead and dissolve into a bucket of goo.

Not so much. I think it is because I’ve been a military wife long enough to know that no one is coming to my rescue. No matter how genuine the need, the world expects military spouses like us to just deal with every crisis on their own. We are swiftly taught that goo is not an option. Goo is a byproduct of crisis to be disposed of discretely by the side of the road.

Goo is not a "calm in a crisis" option.

That is why I am always interested in how spouses handle a crisis. Whether you get a call from a hospital in Germany that has your service member, or you are suddenly assigned to Ebola Central, or your kid is in the oncology ward, or your job is downsized, or your flight is delayed and you have no childcare, or you just have to deal with a car problem, military spouses start dealing automatically.

I never see anyone follow the tips you see in a magazine, do you? I never see anyone huffing on lavender essential oil or reciting a mantra or doing Balasana on the side of the road to appease the corn god.

Instead, I see spouses deal. You have to deal. Sometimes I think that we spouses pick up whatever tool comes to hand first -- anger, fear, self-reliance, goo. Sometimes I think we pick up whatever tool we’ve found that works the best -- power, information, money, staying positive, deep breathing, making lists, creating teams, calling mom.

What is your go-to tool in times of crisis?

Me? I start collecting allies. That comes first for me. Always. I like dealing with crisis surrounded by a group. So I limped into a gas station on the next exit to the tune of metal grinding on metal. I used the ATM to get cash to tip the nice people I was going to meet.

Then I turned on the friendliness. I turned it up higher. Because I find that there is something about me that makes people hate me when I’m angry. Exasperates them when I cry. And forces them to become their best, most helpful selves when I’m positive and smiling and using their names, pretending like we went to the prom together in matching dresses. And, of course, the tipping.

I was delighted when Jordan at the gas station recommended a dependable service station. Jack and Richard (the darlings) diagnosed a problem they could not fix that would require the dealership 78 miles away. Marilyn at AAA figured out how to get that tow for free. Debbie at the dealership asked for pictures of the wheel and wheedled Jamie to bring in the parts. Tony the tow truck driver stopped so I could get lunch and Raymond drove me to my hotel. My husband kept sending me texts of encouragement and cautions against stray corn gods.

The bill for this repair turned me into a bucket of goo once I hit the hotel room, of course. But I got through.

That’s the part I think so many military spouses miss. We get so focused on the crisis and how we shoulda, coulda, woulda prevented it or dealt with it better that we never take the time to note that we did, in fact, handle it. Handling things is one of those signature moments of competent adulthood. It is important to look back and see what tool we reached for and how that served us and what we will do in the next crisis.

Because a crisis is always around the corner when you are living a military life. What tool will you use next time?

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