Phoebe is struggling with feelings of depression after transitioning out of the Air Force and becoming a stay-at-home mom and student. Although she had no desire to leave the military, she decided that was her only option when she learned she was pregnant and the Air Force rejected her and her husband’s requests to be in the same location.
I was hoping to get the 20 years. I didn’t want to get out. I loved the camaraderie, the feeling that you get when you’re around other people. I liked the service to your country that you do and how much people respect you for putting your life on the line. I didn’t even feel like it was a job because I wanted to do it. I melted into the military really well. And I like it a lot. I did. I still do. It was everything about me.
Even when it was the worst day ever, I still loved my job.
I feel very comfortable putting on the uniform. I felt very comfortable with finances. I was really good at that. I felt even more comfortable being in the Air Force. I felt more comfortable as a mom because I have more patience. I had all the patience in the world and I had the power to stick up for myself. I had the staff sergeant rank coming to me that I worked hard for. It satisfied me so much as a person, I didn’t need anything else. My work was enough. And then when I came home I had all the patience left in the world for my child. When I came home, even though I was exhausted from work sometimes, I would get a second, third, fourth, fifth wind after coming home. However exhausting the day was it didn’t matter.
I started going to school here and I get paid $2,000 a month to go to school full-time, so that’s kind of nice. But it’s just not the same. It’s not the same satisfaction as being in the Air Force. It was doing a service to my country and I always was proud. I was so proud of my dad every time he came home. And I loved the uniform. People think I’m silly because when I was in basic training I put on the uniform and I just did a little dance. Because I was like, “I have my own!” I used to wear my dad’s and pretend that it was mine and now I had my own. My dad and I developed this really strong bond too. I’d be like, “Did you get your ABU’s? I went and bought mine! Did you go get your stripes? I bought mine!” And then he was going to come and tack on my staff sergeant stripes for me. He was going to be in his blues.
When you got out, what did you think you were going to do?
Go to school. I always had that in my head, not realizing that being a stay-at-home mom you don’t have time for anybody or anything else except for them. It was hard to get all that school work done. When am I going to get it all done?
And when you move to a new place you don’t develop a support network overnight.
I tried to get involved in the spouses’ club. That’s a big gossip spider web of women. I’ll tell you that much. I’m sure some spouses’ organizations are great, but this one is not. It doesn’t fit me. The Air Force fit me. Not the spouses “gab-gab” session. That just doesn’t suit me very well. And all these people would say, “Oh I’ll help you, but you live too far away.” Okay, then don’t tell me you’re going to help me, especially when I call on you and I need it. It’s just so hard dealing with this.
Stay-at-home moms always seem so happy and great, but when you get in their cliques, they’re mean. They’re so mean and then they suck the life out of you. At least that’s what it felt like for me. The Air Force was awesome. At least I knew what to expect from the Air Force and I was okay with that. There were rules. There were guidelines so you know exactly what’s going to happen if you mess up, because it’s written right out there. But in this civilian life, there are no rules. There are no expectations. There are no guidelines. People can hurt you and just walk away and it’s okay.
Little things started to affect me tenfold, more than they normally would have.
Then I started paying attention to things. I realized that I had feelings of not wanting to live anymore. Every morning I’d wake up and I didn’t want to be here. I just didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to run a marathon anymore. I feel more exhausted now being a stay-at-home mom than when I ever did being a single mom, working and pregnant. I mean, how is that possible? I wonder if it has something to do with the way I’m thinking, more of a mind-over-matter type of thing. I think my brain is just messing me up with my new life.
It’s not fitting like I thought I would. (Staying home) is not as rewarding as I hoped it would be. And it’s very selfish I think to say that. I feel guilty saying it. But it’s really not as rewarding. I need a break and I don’t get a break anymore. Or they’re very far and few between. Little things get me down and depressed very easily. I don’t feel the same satisfaction I did from being in the Air Force.
*At the time of this interview, Phoebe was seeking professional help for her depression, a problem she has grappled with at various points in her life. Free and confidential counseling is available to all military spouses and their families at Military One Source.