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Louise's Blog

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Iraq and Afghanistan….you’ve changed me

Over the last few months I have blogged each week about the feelings and emotions of separation, I mentioned in a few posts about how I feel I have been shaped by various deployments and promised to write a post about it.

My husband is now home for a little while and I feel strong enough to put into words how the last 17 years have made me who I am, I’ve never openly spoken about this and only my very nearest and dearest know the extent but emotional well-being is something that interests me and I am really keen to hear your thoughts.

Do you think your emotional well-being is/has been affected due to deployments/separations?
Let’s go back…waaaaay back to 2002 I know, I know, some of you reading this were probably still at school then but I forget how long I’ve been living this life! 2002 I was 20 and training to deploy to Iraq with my regiment then I found out I was pregnant and couldn’t go so remained on rear party and waved off my husband. Nothing could really have prepared me for that Iraq war, it was a million times worse then I could have imagined with absolutely no contact at all. I was lucky in that I was serving so felt slightly comforted that people would tell me anything I needed to know but still I was young, pregnant, not long married, in a foreign country, all my friends had deployed and my family were all in the UK. It was really tough.
 
Iraq happened it was a 3 month deployment that initial war, my husband returned, I had our daughter and then….WHAT?! he went BACK to bloody Iraq this time for 6 months. I went back to work after 14 weeks maternity leave and seemed to badly bimble through that second Iraq but ultimately it lead me to leaving the Army as I just had no support and looking back this is probably where it started to affect me.
When I reflect I can’t quite believe everything I went through living in Germany on my own with  a new baby….my neighbours were dodgy so I had the military police camped out in my flat looking through the spy hole for 3 days, another neighbour called my health visitor to say ‘my baby wouldn’t stop crying’ thanks for that as if I wasn’t aware! I also got posted to a new regiment that continually reminded me ‘you are a soldier first and a mum second’ right, thanks for the support!
Myself and our daughter survived and my husband returned for what seemed a short while because then he was deployed on a UN tour of Cyprus. The wheels slightly fell off at this point and I ended up flying out to Cyprus with our daughter who was now about 18 months old.
In the space of 2 years or so I had got married, had a baby, been posted, survived about 16 months of deployment and I was still only 23, I just collapsed in a heap.
 
I needed to recharge, I was totally burnt out. We got a posting back to the UK and I remember really feeling a sense of relief, a really turbulent three years had taken its toll. I talk a lot about our emotional fuel tanks and blogged about it, READ HERE, at this point in my life my tank was totally empty.
We had a few years to catch our breath and my husband didn’t go away, let’s fast forward a bit to Afghanistan. Now we must be in 2007 and my husband had changed regiment to a UK based and then deployed to Afghanistan, the day he deployed was also the day my mum told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was all a bit of a blur this tour but was the first our daughter really understood he was away and the contact was really sporadic. He returned and my mum recovered.
The next tour of Afghanistan in 2010/11 was really where I suffered the worst. I really believe long deployments, especially those which come with danger can really scar you. Iraq and Afghanistan were so scary, you just didn’t know if that knock at the door would come, you played every scenario through your mind, you feared the worst and hoped for the best. Those emotions are exhausting.
I had a pretty stressful job, our daughter was 7 years old, we didn’t live in quarters at this point and now I can be reflective I was not coping one bit. It started before my husband even deployed, just the thought of going back to that worry was sending me over the edge…I knew what was to come, I knew how hard it was going to be and I was frightened for myself and my emotions. Then he deployed. I was anxious and wasn’t sleeping, I actually remember one night having my dad on speaker on my pillow all night because I was going stir crazy with worry. I tried to self help and bought myself some books, searched the internet, read some blogs, I joined Twitter which opened up a community of others going through similar and actually made some friends through that which I will be eternally grateful for.
I was working full time, I was crippled with worry and uncertainty, I was desperately trying to help my daughter who was not coping at all with the deployment, I was trying to avoid the news and papers, I was trying to keep everything as normal as possible and failing….
It was without doubt the darkest time in my life
I developed what I now know to be stress induced OCD, it crippled me at night time. (I have never openly discussed this so please be gentle with me but I hope it open discussions) I had so much going round in my head I just couldn’t process it, along with the consuming responsibility for a child who was coping really badly with the deployment the output was this behaviour I couldn’t control. I would have to unplug EVERYTHING, I was obsessed with checking the front door was locked about 100 times, I always needed to check the cooker hob buttons were off…..I’d then go up to bed, wasn’t satisfied so had to go back down and check everything again….then I’d get back into bed….and so the cycle continued. Sometimes this would happen for maybe an hour or more up and down those stairs, checking and re-checking until I passed out having to get up sometimes just five hours later for work. Over the seven months this got worse and worse, I was utterly, totally emotionally and mentally exhausted…the front door didn’t even survive the ordeal I had to have the door replaced twice because I had pushed the handles so hard to check it was locked I ended up breaking the mechanism. I was very very private about what was happening only confiding in family and my best friend because I was embarrassed and confused and I am very thankful there was no judgement from them, just worry, they wanted to take it all away but they couldn’t.

That tour is why Little Troopers exists.

I got through that tour in one piece as did my daughter, not entirely sure how but those seven months along with all the other deployments previously shaped me, it is why I am who I am today. The OCD subsided and these days if my husband goes away I can feel if it is returning but it is never to the extent it was back then, I know what triggers it, I know it is temporary and I know to give my mind a break. We have a long Afghanistan tour coming up in the new year and I can’t lie and say I’m not apprehensive because I am, I want to cope, but only time will tell.
Emotional well-being is so important and it is also important to know yourself and learn about yourself. Our bodies are really complex and stress can have many different outputs, this is just my story and my experiences with hopefully the aim of sharing being that if you are reading this and  going through a deployment and you feel like you aren’t yourself then just know you aren’t alone and it is often temporary. Your light at the end of the tunnel will come, I promise.
Below is my favourite quote and something I live by, it is so very true. I hope this post has brought some comfort and strength. 
Lots of love, Louise xxxx

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About Louise

Louise herself served in the British Army and saw active service in Kosovo. Her husband is a serving soldier who has undertaken six operational tours of duty since their daughter was born in 2003. Louise is passionate about helping all the Little Troopers at home through the anxiety of deployment and also the stress of a long course or exercise having experienced first hand the impact it can have.

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2 Responses

  1. I'd always worked been in control of my life and took everything in my stride. I'd been married to my soldier since 2003, moved from the south coast to Scotland and enjoyed every posting, lucky I work for civil service and transfer office when posted worked well. We fell pregnant in 2008, and were posted to Germany. My boy arrived a month early and I'd had no time to make friends, 10 days after leaving hospital husband went on pre deployment training for 6 weeks, I walked around house crying not having a clue what to do with this baby, hiding it as best I could from everyone I met. Husband came home for 2 weeks then left for next 6 months.. Hardest time of my life, I couldn't control baby or emotions I was worried about husband, living in Germany no close friends or family around. Came through it and went on to do voluntary work helping out those who were in the same situation.

    Deployments got easier to manage, (Apart from West Africa tour, Ebola scared me). We all manage as best we can and it is hard esp when your moving away from your support networks, I would say harder back in the days of hand written blueys, I've filed them in the attic, sure I'll enjoy reading one day, at least with the technology of the day it's easier for the kids to stay in touch with Dad.
    Your work now will help so many not to feel so alone. Well done you and the more things are talked about the more people can recognise their own symptoms and get the help that is out there.

  2. Thanks for sharing Sarah and I think what this post has shown and the comments is that everyone has a story, this isn't isolated many military spouses 'cope' privately but I so hope talking and sharing makes people as you say not feel alone and we really are all in this together. (I too have blueys filed somewhere mostly from Iraq 2003, all numbered!…not sure when I will be reading to read them!!!) Lots of love xxx

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