In so many ways, you can never fully prepare yourself for a deployment. They are exhausting, lonely, long and present challenges that you can’t begin to imagine. But… it isn’t all gloom and doom. They are also opportunities to learn about who you are, what you are capable of and deployments force you to do things you wouldn’t have tried otherwise. Like many things in life, deployments are what you make of them. I have now survived three (eight months plus) deployments, and while each was different, there were things that I have learned from each one that definitely made our lives easier and more fun.
1) Knowing and understanding the deployment cycle really helps you to make sense of your thoughts and feelings. It also made me realize that I wasn’t going completely crazy and that this was ‘normal’ and a part of the process.
2) Attend deployment sessions. Knowledge is power. Going to sessions and getting factual information is essential. Avoid listening to gossip and rumours as they are seldom based in reality and usually only serve to stress you out.
3) Be smart with finances. We learned this the hard way. We were so excited about all the extra money we would be getting that we went right out and got a new car before he’d even left. There were so many unforeseen expenses during the deployment that we ended up being in debt! Having debt to deal with on top of everything else makes life a lot more challenging. Wait until you know how much you will be getting, until you get it and talk explicitly about how you want to spend it.
4) Make yourself a priority. When you are happy, you are better able to manage what life throws your way, more compassionate and understanding, and you also make those around you happier. Be selfish sometimes and make no apologies for it. Take time for yourself, have a ‘selfish’ day, go to the spa, spend the day in your PJ’s, etc.
5) Ask for help and when people offer it say “Yes”! I am sure we could all manage without help, but you want to do more than survive. You want to have some time and energy left for having fun and doing things that renew you too. People feel wanted, valued and useful when they help others, and you will feel supported and a lot less tired.
6) Make a communication plan. Deployments will end, despite them feeling as though they are endless. When they do end, you want to feel as though you connected as much as you could during the deployment and not have further resentment about a lack of communication. I wrote an email a day. I sent pictures every week. I knew that I could not expect that I would get one back or that they would be read the same day or even week but it was a great way to connect and let my husband know all the little and big things that were happening in our lives. Ensure that you also know what to expect in terms of communication so that you aren’t left feeling forgotten or unloved.
7) Ensure you know your home. This may sound silly, but it is a fact that something always breaks down or goes horribly wrong once they are deployed! Know where shut off valves are located, insurance information, billing information, company contact information, etc. For each deployment I had some sort of disaster – pipe burst, roof leaked, flood in the basement and I could go on and on. I never had enough or updated information and this just added to the stress and frustration!
8) Be organized – chaos equals additional stress. Put a calendar in the kitchen and mark everyone’s commitments, activities, holidays, etc. Make a meal plan for the week (this reduces the annoying questions or complaints about what is for dinner) and makes life easier in the evenings – with one less thing to think about. I have bought baskets for everyone’s things at the front door so that I don’t break my neck climbing over a mountain of things or hear the grumbling about not being about to find a hat or keys. Try to grocery shop in bulk and hopefully this will reduce the number of times you have to go to the grocery store.
9) Sleep more. Most of us rarely get the recommended amount of sleep. When I am well rested I am more patient, happier, a nicer person to be around, I eat less and feel soooo much better yet… I rarely ensure that I get enough sleep. Turn off the TV, plug your phone in away from your bedroom, don’t eat or drink past 8pm and make getting a full night’s sleep more important than Facebook, TV shows, internet surfing, gaming, etc.
10) Find something fun or funny to photograph every day. It is easy to get into the habit of finding things to complain about, get mad about or cry about – deployments are tough and incredibly frustrating at times and, like most of you, I am not always able to see the positive side of things. Finding something that made you laugh or smile will change your focus and, ultimately, how you see the world. It also changes the way other people interact with you. Life is way too short, kids grow way too fast, and things can change in a second so commit to spending time each day finding something that brought you joy, made you smile or laugh until you thought you’d have an accident.
Don’t wait to do all the fun things when they’re back, put life on hold or attempt to freeze time during a deployment. Trying to do any of these will be an incredible waste of your time and energy. My advice is to decide that a deployment is an opportunity. It is a chance to do things differently, learn about yourself and overcome challenges you didn’t think you could. It is a rollercoaster but be one of the people that get on, scream and laugh, not one that watches everyone else having fun.