Thursday, January 30, 2014

Well, no, it's not supposed to be a secret...

There is an article making the social media rounds, titled something like "the 7 guilty secrets of trailing spouses." The secrets are things like "sometimes I envy my husband's life," and "I don't find fulfillment in my children alone."

I read it, and I thought, well, duh. These aren't secrets. Everyone knows this, don't they?

Apparently, judging from the number of DS and FS spouses forwarding this article, everyone didn't know this already.

Listen up out there, all of my friends and friends-to-be: do not feel guilty, ever, about the bad stuff you're feeling as you make your way through your day. It's so completely normal as to be mundane. Boring. Nothing to write home about.  It never occurred to me to blog about it because, well, it's so universal as to be yawn-inducing.

Many bloggers, myself included, are guilty of putting a Pollyanna spin on our lives. Well, and why not? I don't need to wallow in my misery in such a permanent, public forum as this. I'd rather focus on the good stuff.

Because, when you get down to it, it IS mostly good. There are days when I'm driving down the road, past camels and mosques and storefronts covered in Arabic script, and I think to myself, damn. Here I am, and I'm doing this thing, and I rock. I know where the store is, and I know who my friends are, and I can toss off just enough Arabic phrases to make my way in this world.

But there are those other days, too, and if you say you've never experienced them, well, then, I say you're a liar.

A dear friend of mine - I'll call her StealthMode - will tell you with a smile now about those first raw weeks in Beijing, when she called her husband every afternoon at work, often more than once, crying hysterically and telling him to get his ass home now with a plane ticket because she was done, and she wasn't staying in this hell hole another day. But of course you know she did stay, and she learned to love it there, at least more often than she hated it. She and I and all of our other friends bonded over stories of those kind of days, so it never occurred to me that such feelings should be kept hidden, tucked away as guilty secrets.

No, no, no! You're doing it all wrong if you're keeping those kinds of secrets. Because the truth is, you're supposed to be scared sometimes. You're supposed to be lonely, and angry, and depressed. You're supposed to be jealous of your husband's job on those days when he's off having dinner with some Prince somewhere while you're trying to cobble together some form of dinner that your kids will actually eat. You're supposed to get mad on the days when you have to give up your plan to go to the gym because one of the kids got sick and he can't possibly break away from work in order to pick them up from school. You're supposed to have days when you walk into the lunch room, look around and walk out in tears because you don't have a single friend in there and now you have to eat alone at your desk. 

You're supposed to have days when you hate your life with a hate so powerful you can taste it, bitter and cold in the back of your throat. You're supposed to have days when you want to go home. You're supposed to have days when you just can't face getting out of bed.

But you know what you're not supposed to do? You're not supposed to keep these feelings secret. Not ever.  Because if you try to swallow that bitterness down, it gets stuck there in your throat and you get stuck there under your blanket and you let it take over everything about your life.

No. Don't do that. Own the bad stuff. Own it. Hold on to it, roll it around in your hands, examine it from every angle. And most of all, find someone else you can tell about it. Because when you tell someone, often as not it'll start to seem funny. Or at the very least, it'll start to seem normal.  And once you find the funny in it, you can let it go and start uncovering the good stuff.

Let it go. Everyone feels that way sometimes. You're nothing special. But this? This crazy life you're leading? This is special. This is worthwhile. Yes, it's maddening sometimes. And yes, when your Internet stops working on the same day as your toddler dumps the very last box of imported Trader Joes cereal on the floor and the grocery store is out of milk and your only friend in the whole country is too busy to talk and your dog ate your favorite slippers and your house ran out of water and your husband has to go out to a fancy dinner with some important visitors and why the hell can't you buy lettuce in this gawd forsaken country anyway, then yes, you will hate your life and everyone who had a hand in sending you here to this land devoid of lettuce and iced mochas and friends.

This is normal. This is okay. This will pass, and another day will come along and you will look around and say to yourself, I am doing this. And I rock.


NiCLO said... [Reply]

You are my hero. This sums up why I haven't blogged in 9+ months...time to get back on the horse. THANK YOU!

Nomads By Nature said... [Reply]

So true. So very stinking and hilariously true. It's a daily struggle, isn't it, to find the balance and overcome fears, loneliness, and overwhelming negativity at times. I think the only antidote is reaching out and owning it to the point you can laugh about it. That is true bad@$$ strength. That and celebrating the "I rock" moments more often. Five posts in with more on the horizon, we hope, these not-secrets don't hold as much power even though all the challenges that come with older children in the Foreign Service create all sorts of "failure feeling" moments. At least I know that they are learning resiliency right along with me. That's a good thing.

llcharlie said... [Reply]

I AM doing this. And I Rock!!

Lisa Kastelic said... [Reply]

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I am really bad at voicing when I need help or when things bother me, but this made a lot of sense to me.

Meaghan said... [Reply]

Totally yes - and all of those things apply for the working end of the couple too! How often I've thought "what the hell am I doing to my poor family, dragging them around like this? How will I ever begin to repay the debt I owe my husband for agreeing to this ridiculous scheme?"

I have to remind myself to savour those moments when I look around and have to pinch myself because I can't believe how lucky we are to live this lifestyle.

Kristi Lonheim said... [Reply]

And applies to those work in international schools as well. Thanks for the clear voice. said... [Reply]

So true! Well said! {{waving!}}

Donna said... [Reply]

@Meaghan- So true! My husband says those things all of the time. The truth is, he can never repay me. Nor I him!

Donna said... [Reply]

@Nomads By Nature - "Learning resiliency" - that's exactly it! We're the most flexible people I know. But it sure is a steep learning curve...

Donna said... [Reply]
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna said... [Reply]

@llcharlie- You do rock! Yes you do!

Sylvia Carnes said... [Reply]

Friends who promise to talk you off of the ledge are way more valuable than lettuce and you can find them just about anywhere. Sometimes they're on the ledge next to you.

BombayJules said... [Reply]

So true and so perfectly shared!

Kate said... [Reply]

Allow me to throw out a controversial little nugget: these things are accepted as "secrets" because it's still more common to have trailing wife's than trailing husbands.

I was speaking to a colleague of mine the other day. She's also posted in the Middle East with a trailing husband. She sounded exhausted and frustrated, and a bit lonely. I said to her "hey, if you ever need to talk to someone who isn't your husband, I'm a phone call away".

Her response? "Yeah, it would nice to get a break from the constant stream of resentment".

It was like a gong had gone off in my head. I honestly Thoth that I was the only one going through that every day when I get home.

I wonder if it's considered more socially acceptable to be the resentful one when you're the trailing husband, and you're expected to keep these things a "secret" when you're the trailing wife.

Thinking out loud, clearly.

Kate said... [Reply]

Ug. Wives. Damn autocorrect.

Steph Snode said... [Reply]

So well stated! I'm a military spouse and not a FS spouse, and I haven't lived over seas, but have had all these same feelings and situationally rough days with our 11 moves in the last 17 years… I think your sentiments also broadly apply to most parents in their everyday lives too. But for some reason it does feel like those of us moving in service of our country are supposed to be beyond the downer days or feelings. So not true, but owning and accepting the bad times help us better appreciate the good and give us such wonderful stories to share. I'll try to remember that when we move in 6 months (to a completely new place) and my spouse leaves for 12 months ;)

lynnlees said... [Reply]

Well said and so true - thanks! :)

Donna said... [Reply]

@Steph - Feeling your pain, as we move in a few months ourselves and it is NOT an easy thing to do. Add in the separation and, well, I'm feeling for you. Hang in there...

The Smart Expat said... [Reply]

Well said - you do rock!! OK so its tough being an accompanying partner (sorry can't bring myself to use "trailing spouse") but you're right, we all have the choice to wallow in our private and not so private pity parties, or we can get up and do something about it. Today's accompanying partners have some many more options to live meaningful lives than our predecessors did, so thanks for the great reminder that despite all of the bad stuff, the lives we lead are an enormous opportunity.

Megan Castellano said... [Reply]

Thank you for this post. We are a brand new DS family (just my husband and me so far) still in Falls Church. There are days that I wonder what we are getting ourselves into and is it all really worth it. I wonder whether it will be better when we get to our first post - will we have more friends there, more contact, less isolation. I feel like I know nothing about the life we are jumping into and I wonder whether I'll be able to let go of everything and everyone we left behind. I wonder whether I will find fulfillment with my children or envy my husband's job or be able to find work overseas...

It's comforting, yet terrifying to know that those of you with so much more experience than me are still sometimes struggling and looking to find the answers, yet you can say that on the whole, it is worth it.

Donna said... [Reply]

@Kate - I definitely think you're on to something!

Donna said... [Reply]

@Megan Castellano- welcome to DS. It's crazy in here, and it definitely isn't right for everyone, but really, the ups frequently outweigh the downs. Get into the FB DS group and the trailing houses group. You'll find tons of resources there. Also look for Jen Dinoia and Jill Perlman's blogs, along with A Daring Adventure - DS spouses all, and they've got it going on! Good luck - I'm sure we'll run into each other in real life soon enough.

Trimble Travels said... [Reply]

We've been in the FS for about 13 years and have been at our current post 18 months and this still sums up my day some days. Thankfully, less now than in the beginning, and less often than in our first few weeks at this post...but there are days just the same! But I agree with someone's previous post...I've felt this way even while living in DC. Though I love my own country and I love being back in America when we get to serve there, sometimes it, too, feels like a foreign land. Thanks for being brave enough to say it out loud!

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