The story about the 21-year-old air force mama of three and her baby girl (who is my youngest’s age) dying of neglect keeps circling around in my brain. The response it’s gotten from people, especially military spouses, does too. How messed up is it that in our little MilSpouse microcosm culture we have both the message of, “Put on your big girl panties and deal with it [the unspoken part is on your own, you whiner],” AND also the message of, “Well we have all these resources why didn’t YOU reach out and grab onto them?” How does, “Deal with it yourself!” work on one side of the equation and, “You should have asked for help!” work on the other?
Never mind the fact that there are SO MANY resources it’s hard to know where to start. There are so many MEDIOCRE resources that it’s hard to know what will really help. And there are so many mixed messages about needing help and getting help out there that it makes one afraid to take a step.
I don’t know why this one has hit me so hard. They all do to one extent or another–these stories, I mean. Volunteering with PSI, every month or two I’m on the phone with a Mom who is depressed, has a baby, and doesn’t know what to do and I worry that this is one of my ladies. Even more I grieve that maybe this is someone who didn’t know there was help to be had and what if they’d just found an email address or a phone number to reach out to. Maybe it’s because she has three kids and that baby’s age hits me hard. Or maybe it’s because I’ve felt the beginning of the slow spiral myself these last couple of months of feeling so freaking overwhelmed again. When she says, “I was just so tired of changing the sheets,” I don’t cringe with outrage and self-righteousness. I cringe with recognition of the emotion (thank God I’ve not sunk to the point of the actions).
I just keep thinking something needs to shift so this doesn’t happen anymore or at least as often. I keep wondering if she could have just had someone, someone who had been through it all, or come through something similar, to put her arms around her and hug her tight and say, “You’re NOT alone, you’re not to blame, and with help you can be well,” and then to help her sift through the resources to find ONE that might help.
I keep thinking that we need to purge out the resources that do nothing, and focus on the ones that do what they do well and make it easier for everyone to get to those.
And more than that I keep thinking that we (military spousedom) HAVE to stop eating one another alive. Telling people to suck it up when they are in profound pain to the point that they can’t function well enough to care for themselves or their babies doesn’t work. Shaming people who are brave enough to tell the world that these things are hard and are sometimes more than they can bare on their own has to stop. Telling smug anecdotal stories about how you came through similar circumstances just fine and that other wives in your particular historical era did too does nothing to help (and just makes me want to ask you, “Ok. Fine, but what about the ones who DIDN’T make it through, who succumbed to something like this or equally as tragic?”). If we can’t make our community a safe place to fall, then people are going to keep falling through the cracks and dying from the shards of glass we’ve stabbed into their backs in the process.
Most of all, I want to rewind the clock by a month or so and move next door to this woman… And then have the fortitude to get to know her instead of being a hermit like I so often do. And I want to put my arms around her, and help her sift through the resources, and tell her she is not alone. I want to move one of the incredible women I’ve encountered who have come alongside me and done life with me and seen me and heard me-whichever one of us would have been able to reach through the fog to help her–right down the block from her and I as well.
And that really means that I need to be the person on my own block right now, looking for the Mom who is overwhelmed, the kids who are just a little too hungry and needy. I need to be the kind of spouse that I want around when the bottom seems to be falling out and all of the “ANDs” of life pile up. I might not be able to fix this, and I can’t save anyone–it’s not my job. But I can be a good friend, and sometimes that is an incredible lifeline.