Silent tears ran down my cheeks. I tried to look straight ahead and listen politely, but my mind was racing with a million questions.
The nurse turned to me and said “sweetie, are you OK?”
I nodded. I wasn’t OK. I wasn’t fine. Inside I was freaking out. Outside I was trying hard to appear calm.
“How often do I need to change the wound dressing?” I asked the nurse.
I was sitting in a surgeon’s outpatient room. I had a minor surgery to remove a cyst near my collarbone. As part of my follow-up care for proper healing and to prevent infection, I needed to have the wound dressing changed twice a day.
“Can I do it myself?” I asked the nurse.
“Of course not. Just ask your husband to do it.” she said.
My husband, of course. That would be the logical solution. But my husband wasn’t at home and wouldn’t be at home that night. He was gone for a week. A military assignment that he couldn’t miss and now I felt lost and alone.
“In that case, ask your mom or your sister,” the nurse said.
I shook my head.
“A close friend?” she offered.
Who in my neighborhood would be the person that I could ask to change the dressings for my minor wound? See even as I type this question, it seems like such a minor thing. But to me at that moment it wasn’t a minor thing.
It was a huge inconvenience. I’m a private person and now I needed to tell an acquaintance that I had a cyst on my collarbone and oh, by the way, can you change my dressings for it?
It was a level of friendship that I wasn’t emotionally prepared to climb into with one of my neighbors when I stepped into the surgeon’s office that morning.
I felt so alone. Really truly alone.
Have you ever felt lonely in military life? Do you ever feel so alone even though you are surrounded by the military spouse community?
Feeling lonely is normal. Feeling a little lost and feeling so alone happens to even the most outgoing military spouses. It happens to the perky and positive ones too.
It’s an emotion that can slap you across the face when you realize that you need someone to help you. That’s when I feel alone. I feel alone even though I know I can call any other military spouses in my social circle at any time.
But I know I can’t feel alone for too long. Here’s what I do when I’m feeling alone in military life.
I allow myself to be humble.
In the case of the cyst removal post-surgery care, I need physical help. It wasn’t a pleasant task. It wasn’t like asking a friend out for lunch or coffee. It was a basic medical care kind of request. And there was nothing that this person was going to get out of helping me. No benefit whatsoever.
It’s humbling to ask for help in these kinds of circumstances. You realize all the things that you do independently and take for granted. Depending on the kindness of strangers (even if they are also military spouses) can be a tough pill to swallow.
But in these moments, I allow myself to be humble. I remind myself that it’s perfectly normal to ask for help. In fact, the nurse told me I needed this help. I couldn’t do it myself. I couldn’t be Wonder Woman. I couldn’t be amazingly-awesome-independent military spouse.
In this case, I needed to be a humble, swallow-your-pride military spouse.
I allow myself to forgive.
My immediate reaction to these types of situations is anger toward my husband. Stupid Navy. Stupid deployment. Of course he isn’t here to help me. Of course not. It starts with a seed of frustration, branches off into anger and then flowers with bitter fruit of resentment.
Being mad at my husband for a situation that he can’t control doesn’t bring me any closer to a solution. My anger doesn’t change the fact that I need help and I feel alone.
During these times of loneliness, I allow myself to forgive my husband. Clearly it’s not his mistake. It’s not his error. But I need to tell myself that I forgive him for being gone during this time. Forgiveness brings me a step closer to acceptance. Once I have acceptance that I can’t change his deployment I can focus on what I can control in this situation.
I allow myself to be vulnerable.
When I reflect on periods of loneliness in my life, I find that my feelings of being alone were related to my desire to appear strong instead of weak to others.
I didn’t want others to know that I had a cyst. I didn’t want others to know that I needed help. I worried about what others would think of me instead of allowing myself to be me. I wasn’t allowing myself to be vulnerable.
Being vulnerable is part of friendship. If you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, your friendship won’t deepen. Trust can’t happen without secrets. Empathy can’t happen without mistakes. Loyalty can’t happen without alliances.
When I allow myself to be vulnerable with a potential friend I am letting this person know that I value her as a friend. I’m ready to trust her with my personal baggage. I’m ready to let her in.
I’m ready to ask her to change my wound dressing.
Finally I don’t feel so alone anymore.