When I Say I’m Fine and I’m Not

Last week was a not my greatest showing. If I were on stage in a bedazzled gown competing for a ‘scholarship’ (::eye roll::) awarded for irritability and annoyance, I would’ve been a contender for at least the Top 10 – no swimsuit parade necessary. I was frustrated. I was angry. And I was exhausted from trying to argue with myself. I did my best to hide it from my husband and kids but my poker face failed me and my inner turmoil was noticeable. So when Clay asked me if everything was okay, I responded with, “Yeah – I’m fine.”

Except I wasn’t fine. And he knew it.

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Despite growing up in a two-parent household with three younger siblings, there were moments when I felt like the people tasked with loving me the most didn’t really know me. By all accounts, my childhood was happy. I played with my siblings, I had plenty of friends, and I actively pursued sports. But despite having the outward appearance of an active and social existence, I slowly came to the realization that no one truly got me. I was the ‘quiet’ one in my family – I devoured books and often found myself retreating into the comfort of my own thoughts. And a move across the country during my middle school years pushed me deeper inside my head.

I’m sure the dichotomy I experienced as a teenager is far from unique. I often felt like the true me existed somewhere in the space between the image I projected and the thoughts that never left my head. Even though I had a boyfriend, friends, a job I loved, and a busy calendar in high school, I’d feel lonely because I felt that no one really knew who I was – and perhaps that’s because – like most teenagers – I was still discovering who I was as a person.

And then I met Clay during my first few weeks away at college. Over those formative years, our relationship grew into something that I’ve struggled to put into words since. We spent hours talking about anything and everything. We laughed when no one else did. We learned how to effectively communicate and create spaces where we could retreat when we wanted to leave the rest of the world behind. I finally had an understanding of what life is like when someone truly gets you.

18 years later – it’s safe to say that he still gets me. So when I say that I’m fine and I’m really not – he knows.

In my defense, I said everything was fine because my frustrations were Army-induced and I knew that there was absolutely nothing either one of us could do that would immediately alleviate my desire to continuously scream “It’s not fair!” while stomping both feet. You know those little twinges of jealousy that begin to sprout when someone announces that the military is sending them to an amazing place? Or when a spouse is able to have a fantastic career? Or when the family gets to experience something amazing at the hands of the military? Normally I am able to prevent those little jealousy buds from sprouting into something bigger but lately I’ve been cultivating an environment inside my head that was allowing them to thrive.

All of these unproductive, poisonous, and infuriating thoughts that I’d unsuccessfully fought off came to a head last week. So on Thursday night, we put the kids to bed and then opened up a bottle of wine as we settled in for a conversation that we went into knowing it would be difficult and likely filled with statements that could be misinterpreted and hurtful.

I consider myself pragmatic. I understand that the Army does not owe me anything. I get it. As a spouse – I am nothing in their eyes. If anything – me and my children are financial burdens and obstacles for the Army to get around in order to have more of my husband and his time. This May marks 15 years in the Army for Clay. And since I’ve been in the picture since his cadet days, I’ve been by his side for the majority of the ups and downs – often times with an annoyingly positive attitude. I’ve encouraged him to compete for difficult positions. I’ve hugged him tight before sending him off to war. I’ve turned down job offers because we received last minute orders across the country. I’ve consoled children because they miss their dad. I’ve gone weeks without communication. I’ve learned to be flexible and how to manage last minute changes to plans. And I’ve learned to give when the Army asks for more.

To Clay’s credit – I’ve felt like an active participant when it comes to his career. Whenever he is presented with an opportunity, we discuss it and make a decision together. But there is only so much control we have when it comes to the Army – beyond choosing to stay or leave. It’s no secret that I dream of living overseas. Honestly – there have been times when the prospect of doing so is the only thing that keeps me happily grinning and bearing it for the sake of the Army. At times it has been so close that I can taste the hefeweizen and chianti. But then something ‘better’ for his career comes along and he is given an offer he can’t refuse.

I told Clay as tears of frustration poured from me that it is absolutely infuriating that I am sacrificing so much for the sake of his thriving career in hopes of ‘someday’ getting stationed somewhere I really want to live. When we were in our twenties, it was easier to accept the not-so-great aspects of the military – after all, we had our entire lives ahead of us. But now we’re in our mid-thirties – I no longer feel invincible. Time is slipping through my fingers like handfuls of sand. I told my husband how there are times when I wake up feeling like a barbell is on my chest – weighing me down and preventing me from realizing my hopes and dreams. And I told him how the death of Luke Perry has only exasperated these feelings.

Growing up, I’d go into the family den and sink into the brown velour couch as I turned on the TV. As soon as Beverly Hills 90210 came on the screen, I’d set the ‘jump’ button on the remote to ensure that I’d have a quick getaway should one of my parents come into the room. They didn’t approve of their 9-year-old daughter watching the exploits of high school students in California but nothing was going to keep me from Dylan McKay on Wednesday nights. I am the age now where I think of 52 as young.  I explained to Clay that Luke Perry’s untimely death is just another sad reminder that we aren’t guaranteed time.

Perhaps one of the more disheartening aspects of my little breakdown last week is that if you were to ask me if I like having a husband in the military, I’d answer, “Yes!” approximately 94% of the time. I honestly do not currently desire a life on the ‘other side’ and do not wish for my husband to throw in the towel. But it sure would be nice if the Army threw a little carrot my way. Moving overseas is not in our cards anytime soon. It’s a tough pill to swallow. And his next assignment will likely be in a place that I don’t really want to live. I’ll make the best of it. I always do – complete with a smile. But I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t growing tired of doing so.

Clay and I talked a lot about our future that night as we shared a bottle of Restless Earth cabernet sauvignon. He understood my frustrations and expressed his own frustrations with having a career that demanded so many areas of his life. I explained that I just need these moments to wallow and stomp my feet because it can be incredibly difficult to constantly be molding my goals to fit within the confines of his ever-changing career. I am human, after all.

Last week, I wasn’t fine. But I am now.

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5 thoughts on “When I Say I’m Fine and I’m Not

  1. I get it. We were SO CLOSE to Stuttgart orders last March. It was well within our reach. And I am going to be so sad if Nick gets out at 20 and we never experienced an overseas move. I tell my close friends often that everything in my life is pretty great: healthy kids, healthy marriage, health in general. The one area of my life that suffers again and again is my career. But if I had to choose any of those areas to suffer, I would choose my career without hesitation. But, it still sucks on days when I feel like my brain is rotting, my income is 0 and I see peers graduating with their PhD’s. I feel incredibly inadequate as a person because of my lack of a job. I know I shouldn’t, but my personality needs a career to feel justified. I think yours does as well. Right now, I”m toying with three major life changes in regards to a career. I need to decide my June. And I can’t decide because I don’t know where we may live after this. And the next duty station absolutely decides if i will succeed or not. So, my life revolves around his career. The one thing that keeps me a little placid is a pension and medical benefits after retirement. I can hold on a little longer to keep those benefits, which will be well worth it in our older years (assuming there is still enough money in the government to keep shelling them out). I honestly thought of you the other day while I was researching one of my options…I’ll message you about it.

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  2. It is okay to not be fine all the time. There are days when I just want to scream because I know the Army dictates so much of our life. I didn’t sign on the dotted line but I know that Kyle depends on my support and I suck up those frustrations and press on.

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