Hitting the Deployment Wall: 9 Strategies to Help You Cope


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Unilever & Operation in Touch via MSB New Media. The opinions and text are all mine.

When John was deployed, I found myself saying, “I can’t do this anymore” more than I care to admit. I couldn’t stand one more minute of deployment. I felt like I was going crazy and that it was absolutely impossible to spend any more time away from him or worrying. I felt like I was drowning. And every news story talking about action on his base made it feel worse. Mortar rounds were shot into his base regularly, sometimes when he was outside. (I know, I know, that’s what happens in war, but it was tough to hear about all the same.) A plane horrifically crashed and news outlets everywhere posted footage of it weeks before John’s homecoming.

When you feel like you can't go on, you can. How to beat the deployment wall.

I lost a lot of weight because I stopped eating… even peanut butter cups (what?!). I felt like I couldn’t be away from my phone for one second. And I spent a lot of time in the horizontal time machine– you know, my bed– sleeping away hours because I couldn’t stand them awake.

It was bad.

I was banging my head against the deployment wall. And it was terrible.

Learn from my mistakes so you don’t have the same sensation. (It’s not fun, trust me.)

Work it out

Especially when you’re depressed or upset, it can be so tough to get off the couch or out of bed and exercise. But the change of scenery and the physical activity is important to get you feeling better. If you’re intimidated by working out, pick something that you actually like doing and then make it a goal to regularly do that activity. When John was deployed, my weapon of choice was walking on the treadmill or doing the ellipticals. Not something that would win me gold medals (or any medals or even ribbons), but it was something that made me feel tons better about myself at a time when I wasn’t feeling that great about anything.

Collect some quotes

Because I’m a person of faith, I wrote some Bible verses and prayers on Post-Its and put them on my work computer and in my wallet. I can’t tell you how many times I read those notes to myself. They helped to calm and focus me. Depending on your religion, you might find this helpful. Consider uplifting or inspirational song lyrics, quotes, or affirmations, too. Put them in places you’ll see and read them when you’re upset or feeling despondent.

Find joy in small things

The days during a deployment can seem monotonous– waiting for an email or Skype sesh or letter from your partner, making dinner, missing them, doing to work. It really can turn into a blur. But this is a year (or however long) of your life, too. Take time to enjoy the small things that make you happy. Go out of your way to find those things and bring that joy into your life. For me, that sometimes meant buying flowers for no reason or ordering sushi with my sister. Other times, it meant watching really, really trashy reality TV (Dance Moms, anyone?) and just luxuriating in not doing anything for a few minutes.

Make goals

One of the best things I did for myself was to create a deployment bucket list. I wrote down 100 things I wanted to do in 365 days and worked on ticking them off. My list ranged from books I wanted to read to recipes I wanted to try to accomplishments I wanted to achieve. Without the list, I wouldn’t have walked my first half-marathon or read all of the books by two of my favorite authors. I wouldn’t have started this blog. It gave me something to focus on that had nothing to do with deployment.

Ditch the electronics

…sometimes. I know we live and die by our phones and our computers. But it really is important for your mental and emotional health to get some away time from the electronics. Maybe that means not taking your phone on a run or spending time reading without it next to you. If you’re worried about missing a phone call from your partner, turn the ringer up and put it on the other side of the room. That way, you’ll be able to hear notifications, but you won’t be able to check your phone every 45 seconds.

Talk positively

It is really easy to get sucked into your own vortex of negative self-talk during deployment. When you catch yourself doing this, try to remind yourself of the positive things about yourself, the deployment, and your partner. It’s something small, but it can make a real difference.

Spend time with others

Especially if you’re living by yourself or with very small children, find time to spend time with other adults. They don’t have to necessarily understand what you’re going through, but you do have to enjoy being in their presence. Schedule it in, if you have to. You need human contact beyond Facebook and emojis.

Treat yourself well

Sleep. Eat healthy (at least most of the time). Be kind to yourself. Seriously– be intentional about the way you’re treating your body and mind. It will make you feel so much better, and you’ll feel more empowered to tackle deployment.

Hang on

Deployment is a stressful rollercoaster that just doesn’t let up. If today feels like a wall, wait for tomorrow. It will be better. When you’re hitting that wall, remind yourself that it will change. Homecoming will come, no matter how far in the distance it seems, and it will be awesome.

If you’ve already been through deployment, please share your tips on how you get through the difficult patches!

When you feel like you can't go on, you can. How to beat the deployment wall.


20 Responses

  1. Oh Jo, I’m sitting here reading this with tears streaming down my face. I have found myself not eating, checking my phone constantly, and staying in bed wishing I could sleep away the next 200 days. So much of what you mentioned is me. It makes me feel so much better knowing I’m not the only military spouse who has hit this wall. I often feel like I’m not cut out for this while all the other women are just so strong. Thank you for these tips. One of the things I’m doing to get through this is to plan lots of fun trips — some big, some small. They give me something to look forward to and then during the trip I’m so busy having fun or spending time with friends or family that I’m not constantly checking my phone or feeling depressed.

  2. Jo- I’m going through a deployment right now and while I haven’t really “hit a wall” with missing him, I have with trying to deal with my two energetic young boys (I feel like I just don’t have the patience anymore). My husband has spent about half of our marriage away, but never for a full year like he is doing now. Before, when I was feeling overwhelmed with being a mom, I’d just remind myself that my hubby would be home in x number of days. Now, it’s hundreds of days :( So instead, I set smaller things to look forward to- only 2.5 weeks until school starts! Only 4 weeks until Labor Day vaca with my family. Only 4 more days until church, then my kids will be in their own class while I sip on coffee in my own sunday school class. Only x number of weeks until the halfway point (when I’m gonna go celebrating with my friends). Setting these small milestones help me keep going day in and day out with young kids in the house. If I tried to only look forward to the homecoming, it would just bring me down because it’s just too impossibly far away.

  3. I am at the very beginning of a year long deployment with my husband, and it is extremely difficult. I have. absolutely wondered how all of the other spouses hold themselves together, and I feel like I could curl up in a ball in the corner to waste away. I’m sure it’s going to get even more difficult as the time goes on since I am also looking at hundreds of days. To top things off, we are newlyweds so I’m extremely overwhelmed with the entire situation.
    I hope that I can keep myself occupied and focus on the end goal of him returning.

  4. This is my boyfriends first deployment since we’ve been dating, and even though I am not a military spouse……I am having the worst anxiety I’ve ever had. some day’s It’s a piece of cake and other days It’s so hard! We found out after a week of dating that he was getting deployed and 8 Months together before he left, I definitely am going to try the inspirational quote idea! I am also at hundreds of days left!

    1. I’m also a military girlfriend, I know what you’re going through. Some days suck, and some are great. You’re so much stronger than you think, taking it one day at a time helps so much :)

  5. Hey! I don’t remember hitting a wall (that hurts) but I do remember snapping at my parents like I had been the one under all the stress of deployment, not my husband. It takes longer for the one staying behind to build up that much stress, but when it happens, people don’t understand why you’ve snapped. Welllllll…if you’ve never been on deployment, or been the one left behind, you’ll never understand. That said, I have done things during deployment to keep me from going crazy.

    (1) EXERCISE. Being a Beachbody coach and trying to stay consistent with my fitness groups helped. I’m not a fit guru, or a bodybuilding personal trainer, but I did lose a lot of weight, and never wanted to go back to that old, icky-feeling me. I know what it feels like not working out. I hate it. So I stayed with the fitness.

    (2) HEALTHY EATING. I get crabby and tired if I eat carb load. Your body knows if it’s not receiving the proper nutrients it needs; your brain will feel it. You might get “edgier” with others, more emotional. Don’t forget to eat Vitamin B! Broccoli was the winning vegetable for me. Yep. That rhymed.

    (3) BEING A VETERAN. This helped immensely. Understanding the other side. Knowing exactly what’s going to happen on that communist floating prison–I mean–ship. If my husband didn’t call for a week, I noticed, but I knew why. I remember everything. I mean…EVERYTHING from my deployments. There would be times I wouldn’t call my parents for a month. I worked 18-hour days. I would be happy with my hubby if he told me “can’t talk, I got off work early so I’m going straight to bed for a good six hours.” Six hours? Hot dog! That’s a lot of sleep! You go, dude! Sleep away!

    (4) DIPLOMAT. Be a diplomatic wife with his chain of command. Before they shipped out, I handed off a gift bag to my husband, and told him to deliver it to his senior chief. It contained a letter letting senior know that I love my husband, he’s a very good worker (we used to work together, so I know), and that I am watching you. In a nice way. With that letter was a bag of homemade cookies. Nothing better than homecooking to the military. If you think you’re kissing tail, you’re not. You’re putting a positive spotlight on your spouse and giving him an attentive barrier. A barrier, meaning, the command will be more lenient if he messes up (he will mess up; everybody does), and they’ll take special note that he has a family who’s watching out for him, and that’ll boost the possibility of getting more opportunities. My husband was going up for first (E-6) and was having a difficult time with the test part. He got awards for good performance at work ‘n’ stuff. I think that helped. At least…I hope my diplomacy helped with some of that. Keep in mind that everyone on that ship will be under stress and they will forget about those cookies and letters you send. It happens. In the end, it doesn’t matter. They’ll kick themselves for saying things that shouldn’t’ve been said. Cuz when you see them, you’ll thank them for being nice to your spouse (even if they weren’t). And you’ll thank them for keeping an eye out on your spouse (even if they didn’t). You’re the diplomat. You’re the face of the family. Be civil. It calms the storm on the ship during deployment and the storm at home. It really does help.

    (5) MAKE SUNDAY FAMILY DAY. Do it. Just do it. Pay attention to your kids. My father said Sunday was his favorite day when he was young cuz every night was pajamas, cocoa, and TV. His mom did laundry only on Sundays and cocoa was dinner because they didn’t have a lot of money back then. But those were his best times. Make memories with your kids. They love you.

    Also had a lot of hobbies to focus on, and care packages to keep me busy. But ultimately, knowing exactly what goes on during deployment is what kept me from going full Dependa on people, or just a total jack-monkey.

    1. been down this road before. Talk about memories. I could feel the little tickle in my nose as the clot left his. It’s like when you pull a huge booger out and it’s got a big juicy stringer attached to it from way up high. Anyone know what I’m talking about? LMFAO I’m so kinda kidding. I wouldn’t know what that last part feels like.

  6. I am also at the very beginning of a year long deployment with my husband, and it’s been extremely difficult. i’m constantly getting upset i can help thinking of the negative stuff that i read online. with a teenager and preteen is so difficult kids at this age :/
    i find myself crossing the calendar everyday and homecoming seems very distant is extremely overwhelming .

  7. Jo,

    Today was the day I was meant to find this post.. totally at random on Pinterest.. but today, and for the last week or more, I have been fighting this wall. Deployment blues suck, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. He will be home and our life will begin (we were married just a few weeks before he left) together. Over the two deployments he has been on the few things I found helpful were:

    1) Staying busy- don’t have any children so I didn’t have to worry about taking care of anyone needing me, staying busy with crafting and organizing or reading (I highly recommend the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon), or taking a class at a local community college. Something to occupy your excess free time (if there is such a thing) truly helped and kept me from worrying more than necessary

    2) Accepting that bad days happen. You will always miss your loved one who is away, and some days just harder than others to hide that. Today was one of these days, and today I was just not strong enough to hide my worry and how much I missed him. Accepting that some days are harder than others allows, at least me, to know that deployment blues happen, and although you will always miss your loved one, you don’t always have to be top notch strength. Your friends and family know what you are going through… or at least they try, let them help by being a helping hand up when you have a bad day. Accepting it also allows time to feel things and the next day is a new day and can be started fresh.

  8. I am currently less then 100 days away from my soldier returning. I’m trying to get everything for a house set up, which the lease starts in 44 days, so that when he comes home there is a home. I’ve also never moved away from home. I really try to be very flexible and positive but just yesterday he brought up a topic that had me on the verge of a panic attack. I keep telling myself I’ve made it this far whats another couple of months. But it seems to be getting harder the closer it gets. In the fall there were lots of holidays and events close enough that I would just look forward to the next few weeks for Halloween or Thanksgiving and fantasizing about next years how we will be together for it. Now I just want to fast forward to get him home already. Reading your blogs and others comments helps to know that I’m not the only one feeling this way.

  9. Oh thank you so much for taking the time to write this! Today I hit the wall and hard. I’ve been trying to stay busy with work, school, trainings an a million other things but today I the cookie crumbled when I got lost on my way to work ??.
    I thought I was the only spouse who was not “army strong” but reading through comments and all of your advice definitely helped. Thanks a lot.

  10. Just found this blog through pinterest. Trying to get prepared for my husbands first year long deployment coming up in about 6 months. Thank you for sharing as I have done/felt most of these things when he has been gone (several months at a time) and understand more now the importance of what you are saying. I am currently working on a journal for him to take and it will be filled with prayers, scripture, pictures, funny memories and jokes as well as getting his family involved and having them write in a few pages as well. This is so he will have something to read in his down time while he is away.

  11. Hi,
    I am at week 10 of a 15 week speration. It’s ok because it’s summer but I also am trying to get our house ready for sale and raise our baby on my own. I feel like it’s taking forever but at least there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

  12. I have found a lot of comfort in your blog. It’s been 70 days since I’ve heard from my boyfriend and I’m really struggling with that. The more information and advice I have really helps me cope. Thank you.

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