Wednesday, September 25, 2013

What Navy Wives & Navy Girlfriends Ought to Know about Homecoming Depression

photo credit: Lst1984 via photopin cc
Your Sailor is home! Your husband, boyfriend, wife, or girlfriend is home! So why do you feel like this? Sad . . . like you're depressed?

Because it possible to get depressed even after homecoming. It makes no sense whatsoever but it does happen. Here's what you need to know:

And it will pass with time. Do not forget that the deployment cycle has put your brain through a literal roller coaster of some of the most intense stresses and emotions that people can experience. What do I mean? Well, in case you don't already have it memorized:

The Emotional Cycle of Deployment

     Stage 1 - Anticipation of Departure
     Stage 2 - Detachment and Withdrawal
     Stage 3 - Emotional Disorganization
     Stage 4 - Recovery and Stabilization
     Stage 5 - Anticipation of Return
     Stage 6 - Return, Adjustment and Renegotiation
     Stage 7 - Reintegration and Stabilization

In other words, it's emotional chaos in your brain for six to ten months! So when it's all done and over with, your brain may be a little burnt out. Seriously, you've just gone through a lot, so emotionally, you are tired! It's normal and reasonable to expect your emotions and your brain to have a little bit of a crash once it's all over, you know like how someone collapses after a marathon.

* Cycle taken from: Coping with Separation The emotional cycle of deployment Service Member and Family Handbook available from The Fleet & Family Support Center. Or Information about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment on

What You Can Do Right Now!

1. Keep living! 
Don't just stop talking to friends and start sleeping or crying all the time. That's a one stop track to being really depressed. The thing about depression is that it comes with a desire to give up, so this is actually a really difficult thing but really important to do. A part of you just wants to give into the sadness, but I'm telling you right now that is going to only make things worse. You may feel numb and unmotivated and tired but keep getting up at the same time, keep your routines, keep seeing friends, keep working out, keep eating right, keep going to school or to your painting class or book club or whatever. Keep doing things that you do normally. Maybe even do new things if you think it might help. 

2. Change Negative Thoughts into Positive Ones
photo credit: Mykl Roventine via photopin cc

A huge part of depression is pessimism, and it will happen without you having decided to make it happen. It's like something in your brain has literally been switched from on to off. Suddenly, things you loved a month ago now suck, friends who meant the world to you seem distant, and you feel like you can't do anything right.

The really bad thing is that you just feel this way, but what you don't realize is that there is actually a little voice whispering these negative things to you. You need to start listening for that voice, catch it, and change it. This is actually a psychological technique. I'm not just making it up.

For one day try to listen for and write down in a notepad or your phone every single time you think something negative. Then right underneath that thought, turn it around into a positive.
     A. I am so fat.
     A. I am thin and I am beautiful.

     B. I don't want to get up in the morning.
     B I can and do get up in the morning because I am in control.

     C. I hate myself. I can't do anything right.
     C. I am an awesome person. I am awesome because of a, b, and c, and I do things right all the time, like when I did a, b, and c.

Notice that many of your negative thoughts will be general and overreaching, meaning that they include phrases like: "always," "never," and "all the time" and they won't be specific but will state things as if already proven. These words might not seem like they can have power over you, but imagine someone constantly whispering these things to you over and over and over. Now imagine someone doing it without your knowledge of it, so you don't even realize you should be fighting back. This is literally something that occurs in our heads when we get depressed and it makes it worse.

Remember, you won't know it's happening. You won't hear a voice or notice these thoughts not until you look for them, but trust me. They're there and you have the power to change them.

Highly recommended book that deals with this topic: Self-Esteem: A Proven Program of Cognitive Techniques for Assessing, Improving, and Maintaining Your Self-Esteem by Patrick Fanning and Matthew McKay.

3. Talk to Your Sailor!
It's important that your Sailor understands what you are going through and that it is a normal part of the process. It's important that she or he knows to be patient and understanding of you and what you are going through. He or she shouldn't be expecting you to suddenly be happy out of nowhere. It's going to take a little time to get over this.

A Resource for Your Sailor: 8 Steps to Help Your Spouse with Depression

What You Might Have to Wait For.
You might have to wait a while before you feel happy and normal again, but if you fight these feelings of sadness you will get there sooner rather than later. For some people it might happen in a matter of weeks or months, but for others it might take a couple of months.

If you feel like you still aren't seeing a change after a significant amount of time, you should speak with your doctor. The Navy offers counseling for these types of situations, and your doctor can help determine whether or not you could benefit from medication.

Warning: medication is not a cure-all for depression. People take medication and don't feel any difference at all where others will take medication and have an unwanted result, including manic episodes where they are too high and happy or too low and sad. I've seen this happen and it's scary. Taking medication for depression is never something to jump into lightly.

What You Need to Remember!

1. This is a part of the process. 
Growing depressed during any point in the emotional cycle is not a symptom of you being weak or incapable of handling this situation. It's included as a part of the cycle. It's a sign that you are going through it. It doesn't mean you can't handle it. It means you are handling it - this sadness is a part of what you are handling.

2. You are not alone! 
San Diego, Calif. (Nov. 2, 2002) -- The wife of Chief Journalist Steven Robinson, a crew member aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV 64), waves American flags as a sign of support for her husband as the ship departs San Diego for a regularly scheduled six-month deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Photographers Mate 2nd Class Kimara Scott. (RELEASED)
You are not the only one experiencing this. Anxiety, depression, and feelings of emotional and sexual distance are so common in military spouses that it is included in the "what to expect manual," so don't ever think you are alone in this or that you are the only one responding this way.

3. You are one of the strongest people in the world. 
Look at what you just went through and survived! You got through a deployment. You took care of yourself, you family, your home all by yourself and all while terribly missing your significant other.

You are an amazing person for doing what you did, and you have every right to go through the emotional processes that come with that kind of sacrifice. Take pride in what you have done for your loved one, your family, yourself, and yes your country. You are one of the strongest people in the world!

What do I know about it? No I am not a therapist or psychologist. But, in addition to having depression in my family, I too suffer from reoccurring depression and have survived several episodes prior to and after my becoming a Navy Wife. I'm giving this advice based off of my own experiences, what I've witnessed others experience, advice given to me from psychologists and therapists, and from research I have personally conducted. I hope what I have learned over the years can now be helpful for you. =)

Have you experienced depression after homecoming? How did you break out of it? What is your #1 Tip? 

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Buy Her Book A White Room!
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I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
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In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

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