Deployment/PCS Homefront

Hard to Breathe

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I was trying not to watch the time. I had deliberately put my phone on the table three feet from my bed. Far enough away that it took a little effort to repeatedly check the time on it but close enough that I could answer it before it completed its first ring. But I knew it was late. The kind of late where nothing is on the TV except infomercials. I had read half of a five-hundred page novel. I had washed my face, washed it again, and then washed my hair because I needed to do something with the time. I couldn’t sleep and the reason really was dumb to me. I grabbed my phone and typed a quick email:

“I know you’re okay. I really do know that. But call when you can or send an email if you can’t call. I’ll be checking my phone in a little bit.

I love you.”

And I felt so stupid – because I know how this works. But I had a feeling in my chest that made it just a little bit harder to breathe. That feeling that could defy the migraine medication that had absorbed into my system hours earlier that should have knocked me out cold. That feeling that would go away as soon as I heard his voice or saw his email.

And I felt so stupid for feeling that and at the same time I felt stupid for feeling stupid. I know that this happens. I know that we all get those uneasy moments where something doesn’t feel right. I had gotten them twice when he was in Iraq and I didn’t truly breathe again until after I heard his voice. I did not know until after the deployment that those two moments were times that presented a difficulty for him. And that didn’t make the feeling any better. True both of those times he had walked away – but what he walked away from made me cringe. The only two things I know about his first deployment – the only two things that I have ever heard him talk about. Only one that he still talks about from time to time. The other that he has never spoken of since the first time.

But tonight I couldn’t breathe. At least it felt that way – to have to work to take a breath, to force yourself to remember to exhale. Too often I caught myself holding the air in my chest – lost in a thought, focusing on the heavy weight pressing against my throat and then I would almost choke as I pushed the air back out.

I tried to reassure myself of how well I know the process – how everything happens if something happens. Reviewing the procedures in my head – timelines, time-differences, protocol. I knew I was having a crazy moment for doing that – maybe from sleep-deprivation. I knew he was okay because none of this had happened. I knew he was okay because he just had to be okay. I knew he was okay because I just did. I knew it…

But I really didn’t. How much time had passed?

I grabbed my phone and clicked on the envelope. Deep breath in.

“Connecting … Checking for mail … [Gasp] Loading 1 message”

“I’m okay. Busy. I love you. Get some sleep.”

I could breathe.

That night, my mind went to a place that we never want it to go but that we all go to. Fear. Every time it has hit me in different ways – once like a hard, violent punch to the gut. Coming on suddenly, knocking my legs out from under me, forcing me to crumble. Another time it was a nagging feeling that stayed with me for two days – it didn’t hinder my activity, didn’t stay in the forefront of my thought, but remained with me in everything. Something that felt like a rock in your shoe that doesn’t quite distort your movement, but makes each step just slightly uncomfortable.

This was not like either of those. This was not quite panic but not so little-noticed. I was having a battle within my own mind between two very different unknowns – the unknown of safety and the unknown of harm. And there was nothing that could end that battle but those words – simple, uncomplicated sentences. “I’m okay. I love you.”

“I’m okay.”

There are few words that are better to hear and see than those words at this time in my life. “I’m okay.”

“Get some sleep.”

I could breathe.

I rolled over, hugged his pillow and fell asleep with the phone in my hands.

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15 thoughts on “Hard to Breathe”

  1. This is a very well written post, and I know that I can relate tho this! I was tearing up just reading this because I have had a few of those moments myself. They are hard! It’s incredible what a simple short “I am okay” email will do for you! Stay strong :]

  2. I too have had plenty of moments like this – thank you for sharing!

    I think it’s important for everyone to know that not only are spouses often left behind to carry the tasks of being both parents, maintaining the home, and keeping finances under control while thier military member is deployed, we also deal with the anxieties of not knowing how and where they are throughout the day and sometimes not communicating for days on end. This coupled with the other extra burdens we face during a deployment make it very difficult not to let the mind wander away to those places we never want it to go… but I believe that happens because we just love them so much – and none of that other stuff really matters, except for them coming home.

    Great stuff!

  3. What an eloquent post! I loved this. I know exactly how that feels, and it was put into words so well.

  4. I remember those days like they were yesterday. Deployments are so tough! I remember something hubby and I did so that I could have some peace of mind. Whenever they would have a blackout time when they couldnt call for weeks for whatever reason he would go buy something from the PX, something in the 1-2 dollar range so I knew he was okay. It was like our secret code and it was a huge relief to me when I could check his account online and see that he bought something and was ok. I know this isn’t feasible in all situations, but for most it is. Great article!

    1. Sara, What a GREAT idea! I have never heard this before! I will be sharing this with my friends if you do not mind. Like you said, not always possible, but if it is what a great relief!

  5. Wow! What a well done description of THAT moment – hard to believe that such a short writing can sum it all up. Thank you. I intend to share this with my “civi friends.” I think it will help describe to them what we go through. It also gives a glimpse to new wives on what they will be facing – not that they really WANT to know, but for some the anticipation of NOT knowing what’s ahead is worse.

  6. I hated that feeling, and just wanted it to go away. There was once a time when I didn’t hear from my husband for 3 weeks and I swear I had a knot in my stomach and no air to my lungs for the whole 3 weeks. Its a hard feeling to control, but it’s amazing how we pull through and get through it right? We are stronger than we think……..

  7. I have been having that feeling a lot lately. Not so much worried about him, because I feel like he is relatively safe for now. It’s more a feeling of when will you call. I’ve had my phone glued to me, on the highest ring possible, just in case he calls. He’s told me he will for the past three days, but nothing has come through. The only reason why I am feeling this way is because I have gotten my hopes up, feeling like I will get to hear his voice, and it never comes. I wait patiently sometimes and anxiously others. I know it’s not quite the same as your situation, and I am so glad to hear that he was safe and could write you a brief message to tell you so! This story just went straight to my heart. I am not looking forward to moments like this in the future, but I know that as a marine s/o I’m strong and can get through anything!
    Loved this 🙂

    1. Kelsey, you CAN get through anything! Stay positive like you are and REAL about everything. Thanks for sharing! Thanks your marine for his service from me, please. : )

  8. It’s funny that she mentions not being able to breathe. During a very traumatic time in my life I was taught how to ‘connect’ to my breath and my heartbeat to keep out the scary thoughts. Around the same time I came to ‘The Work Of Byron Katie’ and was taught how to stop the stressful thoughts from coming back. Since then I rarely have a sleepless night! I chose Peace over Pain now!

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