Blog from the founder of the charity Little Troopers. Military wife and mum sharing thoughts and feelings of being a British Armed Forces family.

Little Troopers is a registered charity supporting all children with parents serving in the British Armed Forces, regular or reserve. We provide fundamental resources, initiatives and events to ease and aid repeated separation periods aiming to keep parent and child connected and bonded even when miles apart

4 Dec 2017

I promise I won't give up

I have tried so many times to write posts over the last few weeks but just couldn't find the words, it really has been a strange time for a few reasons but today I decided I wanted to write a thank you to YOU, yes you for reminding ME I can't give up.


As you know if you've followed recent posts my husband was recently deployed for a few months, while he was away we found out he was deploying in early 2018 for seven months. This wasn't a tour that was on the radar or we were expecting so it took me a while to process it and get my head around it whilst frantically deciding we needed to book EVERY SINGLE FESTIVE ACTIVITY on the planet all at once so we had the most amazing Christmas we have ever had and we would waft through the seven months apart blissfully on the memories.

You and I both know there is a blog post coming very soon where the reality is oh so very different!

I am even rolling my own eyes at the way I am striving for a perfect Christmas prior to a long deployment because the pressure will be too much, emotions will be running high and I will be dreading the inevitable so will have the strange detachment behaviour I seem to have perfected, but hey I'm human and deployment does odd things to me!
I am living and breathing this military life just like you are, I was in the military and I'm married to the military with our own Little Trooper, moving lots as we live in military housing. Little Troopers was founded because my daughter needed support and no one would help me, her, us.... it was founded because lots of other military families said they also needed specific support, there was a very clear void in the support offered to children who have one or two parents serving in the British Armed Forces.

I absolutely did not wake up one day and want to start a charity, I had left the military and started a very full on and very full time corporate job but my daughter was suffering right before my eyes and no matter how many emails I wrote NO ONE would help and empower me to guide her through the challenges she was facing. I had to do something, anything to ease her suffering.

I read every single one of your emails and messages, I cry tears at most of them, I KNOW how much military children need this charity, and I promise you I won't turn my back on them.


We applied recently for some vital funding because as a charity we have always struggled to be granted funds and right now we are dangerously low. We don't have overheads, we don't have staff, we don't have a big bank balance but we are the sole charity for all children with a parent serving in the military and we aim to do as much as we can with the little we have to support as many of the 130,000 military children as we can. We were unsuccessful in the funding which was a real blow for lots of reasons but the main reason was to look down the long list of successful bids and see MILITARY CHILDREN AS A WHOLE ENTITY WERE A NON REPRESENTED GROUP, I don't understand it, not one successful project to roll out a consistent approach for support to military children at all and the theme of the funding was families. It isn't about me or Little Troopers, I don't really mind who provides the support but military children deserve recognition and specific tailored support for their various unique challenges.
I couldn't manage a blog post at the time as I was angry and disappointed but I did post on the Facebook page and your comments, messages and emails made me realise WE can still recognise our children, you and I can make sure they get the support needed. It is evident that the Little Troopers community is a strong one, filled with love and compassion and together we will and can be powerful.


I am promising you I won't give up, I will continue to give all my time and love and energy into making sure each day we survive to exist so our children living in this military life don't grow up disadvantaged, they grow up strong, proud and we helped them navigate through this British Armed Forces world we live in.

So thank you for your comments, messages and emails you made me realise we don't need 'their' approval or money because I have you and together we can ensure Little Troopers remain.

Lots of love, Louise xxx

6 Nov 2017

We got there......finally!

"You must be so excited to have your husband home, is it just fantastic?"

This sentence has been said to me a lot over the last 2 and a half weeks and I feel such pressure to say the right thing, when someone is in front of you asking that question there is an answer they expect...."Yes it is just fabulous and we've been walking on air since the second he walked through the door" but that really isn't the truth.

I think many people from outside the military community have a romantic view about how this person in uniform comes in and out your life and it is rose tinted, great for photo opportunities and something like out of the movies. 

The reality is though it isn't like those quotes you see shared over the internet.

 
Your partner packing a bag and leaving your life for a few months and not having any input in the daily upbringing of children or life in general isn't easy then having to have the ability to manage your marriage on one 15 minute phone call a week which is testing for the strongest of couples to the teaching yourself to fix anything and everything via google searching!

That void is then filled by your partner returning and expecting everything to be exactly as it was as if a pause button was pressed when they left the front door months ago. It isn't.

You will have bought things, changed the living room around, your child will have done lots, changed and grown. You will have been to weddings and christenings on your own and you may well have been through situations that have tested your resilience while you were flying solo. You definitely didn't experience a pause button over that separation period!

This post is about time, it has taken me and my family a full 18 days for us to 'be back to normal' it has been a tough couple of weeks, we've not been walking on air and it hasn't been rose tinted. That time has been needed for all of us to find our feet again, catch up on what was missed and to get things out of our systems that we bottled up over that deployment. I know I talk about your light at the end of the tunnel and sometimes maybe we focus on that return date too much because the truth is sometimes the light at the end is actually a couple of weeks after they come home.


We persevered, we talked and ultimately the years of military life we've lived and the love that we have meant that we stuck with it and knew we'd get there eventually and once again we have. We found our normal but it wasn't instant and it did this time take longer that maybe some other times.

As always be kind to yourself, no homecoming will be the same but ALL will take time and as I say for us that was nearly three weeks! So if you are battling that initial period at the moment and you feel alone because it isn't how you imagined yet, breathe deep and believe that your normal will come, just give it yourselves time.

Louise xxx

30 Oct 2017

Iraq and Afghanistan....you've changed me

Over the last few months I have blogged each week about the feelings and emotions of separation, I mentioned in a few posts about how I feel I have been shaped by various deployments and promised to write a post about it.

My husband is now home for a little while and I feel strong enough to put into words how the last 17 years have made me who I am, I've never openly spoken about this and only my very nearest and dearest know the extent but emotional well-being is something that interests me and I am really keen to hear your thoughts.

Do you think your emotional well-being is/has been affected due to deployments/separations?

Let's go back...waaaaay back to 2002 I know, I know, some of you reading this were probably still at school then but I forget how long I've been living this life! 2002 I was 20 and training to deploy to Iraq with my regiment then I found out I was pregnant and couldn't go so remained on rear party and waved off my husband. Nothing could really have prepared me for that Iraq war, it was a million times worse then I could have imagined with absolutely no contact at all. I was lucky in that I was serving so felt slightly comforted that people would tell me anything I needed to know but still I was young, pregnant, not long married, in a foreign country, all my friends had deployed and my family were all in the UK. It was really tough.

Iraq happened it was a 3 month deployment that initial war, my husband returned, I had our daughter and then....WHAT?! he went BACK to bloody Iraq this time for 6 months. I went back to work after 14 weeks maternity leave and seemed to badly bimble through that second Iraq but ultimately it lead me to leaving the Army as I just had no support and looking back this is probably where it started to affect me. 
When I reflect I can't quite believe everything I went through living in Germany on my own with  a new baby....my neighbours were dodgy so I had the military police camped out in my flat looking through the spy hole for 3 days, another neighbour called my health visitor to say 'my baby wouldn't stop crying' thanks for that as if I wasn't aware! I also got posted to a new regiment that continually reminded me 'you are a soldier first and a mum second' right, thanks for the support!

Myself and our daughter survived and my husband returned for what seemed a short while because then he was deployed on a UN tour of Cyprus. The wheels slightly fell off at this point and I ended up flying out to Cyprus with our daughter who was now about 18 months old.

In the space of 2 years or so I had got married, had a baby, been posted, survived about 16 months of deployment and I was still only 23, I just collapsed in a heap.
  
I needed to recharge, I was totally burnt out. We got a posting back to the UK and I remember really feeling a sense of relief, a really turbulent three years had taken its toll. I talk a lot about our emotional fuel tanks and blogged about it, READ HERE, at this point in my life my tank was totally empty.

We had a few years to catch our breath and my husband didn't go away, let's fast forward a bit to Afghanistan. Now we must be in 2007 and my husband had changed regiment to a UK based and then deployed to Afghanistan, the day he deployed was also the day my mum told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was all a bit of a blur this tour but was the first our daughter really understood he was away and the contact was really sporadic. He returned and my mum recovered.

The next tour of Afghanistan in 2010/11 was really where I suffered the worst. I really believe long deployments, especially those which come with danger can really scar you. Iraq and Afghanistan were so scary, you just didn't know if that knock at the door would come, you played every scenario through your mind, you feared the worst and hoped for the best. Those emotions are exhausting.

I had a pretty stressful job, our daughter was 7 years old, we didn't live in quarters at this point and now I can be reflective I was not coping one bit. It started before my husband even deployed, just the thought of going back to that worry was sending me over the edge...I knew what was to come, I knew how hard it was going to be and I was frightened for myself and my emotions. Then he deployed. I was anxious and wasn't sleeping, I actually remember one night having my dad on speaker on my pillow all night because I was going stir crazy with worry. I tried to self help and bought myself some books, searched the internet, read some blogs, I joined Twitter which opened up a community of others going through similar and actually made some friends through that which I will be eternally grateful for.

I was working full time, I was crippled with worry and uncertainty, I was desperately trying to help my daughter who was not coping at all with the deployment, I was trying to avoid the news and papers, I was trying to keep everything as normal as possible and failing....

It was without doubt the darkest time in my life

I developed what I now know to be stress induced OCD, it crippled me at night time. (I have never openly discussed this so please be gentle with me but I hope it open discussions) I had so much going round in my head I just couldn't process it, along with the consuming responsibility for a child who was coping really badly with the deployment the output was this behaviour I couldn't control. I would have to unplug EVERYTHING, I was obsessed with checking the front door was locked about 100 times, I always needed to check the cooker hob buttons were off.....I'd then go up to bed, wasn't satisfied so had to go back down and check everything again....then I'd get back into bed....and so the cycle continued. Sometimes this would happen for maybe an hour or more up and down those stairs, checking and re-checking until I passed out having to get up sometimes just five hours later for work. Over the seven months this got worse and worse, I was utterly, totally emotionally and mentally exhausted...the front door didn't even survive the ordeal I had to have the door replaced twice because I had pushed the handles so hard to check it was locked I ended up breaking the mechanism. I was very very private about what was happening only confiding in family and my best friend because I was embarrassed and confused and I am very thankful there was no judgement from them, just worry, they wanted to take it all away but they couldn't.

That tour is why Little Troopers exists.

I got through that tour in one piece as did my daughter, not entirely sure how but those seven months along with all the other deployments previously shaped me, it is why I am who I am today. The OCD subsided and these days if my husband goes away I can feel if it is returning but it is never to the extent it was back then, I know what triggers it, I know it is temporary and I know to give my mind a break. We have a long Afghanistan tour coming up in the new year and I can't lie and say I'm not apprehensive because I am, I want to cope, but only time will tell.

Emotional well-being is so important and it is also important to know yourself and learn about yourself. Our bodies are really complex and stress can have many different outputs, this is just my story and my experiences with hopefully the aim of sharing being that if you are reading this and  going through a deployment and you feel like you aren't yourself then just know you aren't alone and it is often temporary. Your light at the end of the tunnel will come, I promise.

Below is my favourite quote and something I live by, it is so very true. I hope this post has brought some comfort and strength. 

Lots of love, Louise xxxx


22 Oct 2017

A bittersweet homecoming

I don't really know where to start with this post, it seems so much has happened in a short space of time, it's taken me a while to process it all and to reach the point where I could share.

My husband ended up only being away for two months in the end, I think what it does prove is no matter how long the separation period you go on the same journey, we feel the same things be it two months or nine months. Be kind to yourself.

I found out while my husband was away that he is now being deployed for seven months in early January, this will mean nearly 10 months out of 12 he will have been away from home. We weren't expecting this deployment and finding out by text and not being about to chat through everything together was tough.

I felt really numb

He was away, he'd come home, we'd get back to normal for a couple of months then he'll be off again. I also know myself and I REALLY wanted to deal with it well so that there isn't a black cloud over Christmas. It is happening and I want to be a supportive wife so I'm trying very very hard to be positive and know that I will be OK with the help of lots of special people who are in my life.

Enough about the pending deployment.......my husband came home last week and it has taken a full five days for us to settle back into being in each others company. 

How about you? Does resettling back into things take a while for you?

I don't know if I have always been emotionally complex or if 18 years of military life has made me emotionally complex...but the fact remains I am.

Excitement isn't something I feel, relief is always there but not excitement. He came in at about 4am and got into bed, it was dark and I couldn't see him but I was glad to know he was home, it was strange to have someone breathing next to me, how can even breathing annoy you?! The next morning he surprised our daughter and went and woke her up and she was beside herself, so so happy she wore a huge smile all day.
Then reality kicks in, the kit that is left everywhere, the tidy house which suddenly isn't tidy any more, the over flowing washing basket, the empty milk carton....the list is endless and for a couple of days we bicker and I snap. He does really try and blend back in and make it as smooth as possible but I think when they are away we force ourselves to be strong and independent so we  can survive so when they come back it is hard to readjust, just as it was hard when he first went.

The pile that lets you know they are most definitely home!

The harder I push him away the more I need him to pull me closer

 A marriage in the military really is often all or nothing...you go from not hearing from them in nine days to suddenly they are home and on leave at home by your side 24/7 and for any human no matter how adaptable you are, no matter how flexible you think you are emotionally it is hard to switch between the two and no matter how much practice you have I find it doesn't get easier.

So we are five days on from him returning and I feel like its been a really tough 10 days or so of restless nights sleep, emotions running high and over thinking but we are getting there. We feel comfortable again and as a unit we are readjusting and getting used to being 2+1 again.

Some very specials friends and family have been right by my side these last couple of months and I also know they will be there come the New Year once we are saying our goodbyes again. The thought fills me with dread but I am determined to have a really nice couple of months before that is upon us.

For now though......my lobster is home. Louise xxx

13 Oct 2017

DING DING All change!!!!!

Some times it really can feel like you are on this separation train and for this week its has been a funny old ride and it is now our time to get off, I haven't dealt with that very well.

So this was meant to be a three month separation for us but my husband messaged me this week to say he is now coming back next week which means its only been just over two months. It is strange isn't it that in military terms we think that is such a short time but to others outside the military being separated with little contact for over two months would be huge. We shouldn't let ourselves devalue any separation, all are tough.

OK so potentially some of you reading this will be thinking I should be happy about this, jumping for joy, delighted that our light at the end of the tunnel has arrived sooner that we thought and lets be honest it is normally the news that they are delayed not coming back earlier.

The truth is I wasn't happy when I first heard my husband was coming home early

I promised to write an honest account of ALL the feelings and emotions through a separation and so that needs to be the good, the bad and the ugly and do not think this has been an easy post to write. I am laying my soul out but the point of doing that is hopefully to spread that strength that if you too feel any of these things, it is just part of the train ride.

I have now processed things throughout this week and feel ready to articulate what I felt and potentially why and also how I came out the other side.

My husband text to say he was being put on an earlier flight home, he of course was really happy and asked me not to tell our daughter so he could surprise her. All I could think about was how I had planned lots of things, my diary was packed, I was seeing people, saving money and going places in half term AND THIS WASN'T IN THE PLAN!! I was in my groove, the last three weeks or so I'd got there and finally felt like I was coping with deployment and actually enjoying some elements of it. 

My mind had accepted the change and processed it and we were doing just fine.

Now you were going to come home and ruin all that.

Do not for one minute think this has any reflection on my love for my husband, I adore him and have missed him so so much this last couple of months. In that time we have spoken maybe four or five times and I feel like so much has happened at home and he doesn't even know, it has been a tough one. I reacted badly and was a bit of a bitch to him, I pushed him and his excitement away.
I have been kind to myself this week and tried to have time to explore my feelings. You see it is about emotional safety, our emotional fuel tanks take batterings as military families and sometimes I close down to keep myself emotionally safe. It looks like for us we have a seven month tour on the horizon in early January and I found that out again by text message a few days before the early return date. I knew the rollercoaster I had just been on in this separation and just managed to level out and I knew he was going to now come home and I would fall back into family unit mode especially with Christmas leave and then I could already see the next deployment on the horizon.

I was scared. Scared for me and my emotions.  

 


I rationalised, talked about it and as the days passed I came to terms with both things and allowed myself to feel excited about my husband returning. I have missed his face so so much and I honestly can't wait to see him.

Historically I am not great at homecomings, never have been. I find it all a bit awkward and much prefer my husband to just come home with no big fuss and get back to some kind, our kind, of normal.

It really is an emotional rollercoaster and although I never get used to it I am better these days and being kinder to myself, learning why I feel what I feel. We can't control our feelings but we can talk about them to give comfort that we really are all in this together.

Louise xxxx

9 Oct 2017

Me and my Little Trooper

Monday comes round so quick and I am at the point where I can't remember how long my husband has been away, the weeks have merged and I am no longer just getting by each week, it is just situation normal for me.

That isn't the case for my daughter

She has really struggled these last couple of months and this last week I have been thinking about the effect being part of a military family has on my daughter, she is a teenager now and as I have always said be it babies, toddlers, young children or teenagers we have, they all experience some challenges with this military life they just look a bit different through the ages.

I am not from a military family at all, I did move about a bit but from 7 - 17years I was in one place, in one school, with the same people around me and those people are still in my life now. I really worry my daughter won't have that. She has moved so much and been to so many different schools her friends are always in the here and now, we have another move coming so she will have to move again for her A levels. This part of her life she actually seems to not be so bothered about, we talk about the people she's met along the way and I believe it has been a positive in some ways because she isn't a shy child and knows now how we sometimes need a deep breath and some rescue remedy to get us into that room full of strangers and to make friends, this will help her now and as an adult.

Separation has had an affect this time, more so than usual, I look into her eyes and I can see sadness and I feel useless because I wasn't a military child, I don't know exactly what that feels like as a child and I wish I did.

Me and my daughter are so close and I do credit this to being a military family, over her 14 years of life I would estimate that cumulatively six of those years my husband hasn't been at home...that is a LONG chunk where it has just been me and her and your relationship becomes intense, this has positives and negatives. This is the first separation where I haven't let her stay in my bed and if I am honest that has been hard for me as I had become reliant on that but she's 14 now and it was right that I broke the habit and she's just slept in my bed one night when she was poorly. A few people used to say to me 'she shouldn't sleep in your bed' they may or may not have been right but in that moment that was a coping mechanism we both used to get through deployment and separation.

The questions have come thick and fast this time which we haven't had for a few years, some are hard to answer.
"Why can't Dad text me all the time"

"Dad always wants to speak to you for longer than me"

"Why does Dad have to be in the Army"

"Can't he just say I don't want to go"

"I wish Dad wasn't a soldier"
 
What I do know is I support my husband in his choices and I relay that to her, I still to this day regret getting out the Army and I'd never want him to have the same regrets I do, I often get jealous when he goes off as I wish it was me sometimes.....but that's another post! 

Ultimately I just wish I could understand better what she feels and thinks growing up as a military child and my question to you reading this is; if you were a military child yourself does that help you parent your own children in a military family?

 

I do worry and it plays on my mind, is she being damaged? will she grow up like any other child? will she look back and feel it had a negative impact? Just yesterday she went into town with her friends and came back with a huge bunch of lilies she had bought me with her pocket money "why have you bought me those babe that is so thoughtful" and her response was because she'd heard me cry on Saturday night after I put the phone down from her Dad. 

My heart broke.


I try so hard to be strong for her and to not be overly emotional about him being away but an example right there that our children are tuned in to us and how we feel. She made my day with those flowers and I felt so full of love.

For us and our family I know she will go on to be a well rounded, good humoured and hopefully adaptable adult and she has always had the love and support to get through the challenges and hurdles she has faced as a military child and I know there are more to come! 

I founded Little Troopers because I needed help so I could support my child, I couldn't find anything out there and hopefully even if just a little bit the resources and community that has formed is helping and empowering us all to get over those hurdles, together.

There is no right or wrong, remember that. We all just do what we can to get through the days giving the love and support we can to our Little Troopers to guide them through this military life.

Louise xxx

2 Oct 2017

Wishing my life away one week at a time

Life is so precious we are all very aware of that and yet here I am wishing mine away day by day, week by week. I have been very guilty of doing that many times in the past too when we have been separated, wishing the weekends to go quickly, hoping the week speeds past in a flash to reach that light at the end of the tunnel.

The last week has been better than the last few that is for sure, although I am at the stage where I have to squeeze my eyes tightly shut to try and remind myself what my husband looks like. I believe that after a period of time our minds adjust, as humans we resist change and a period of separation is a change that we need to mold to, that takes time but eventually we get there we find our groove and it seems to get a bit easier, providing there are no unexpected hurdles in the road!

That is not to say it's plain sailing, I just mean I haven't cried every day this week!

I feel like a bit of a bruised fruit, so many deployments and separations over the last 17 years some of which have been so hard especially the Iraq war and early Afghanistan I feel like they have shaped me, those emotions have scarred me (I do promise to blog about this in the future). On a daily basis I'm fine as they are buried but that fear, those feelings come flooding back whenever I am faced with another separation period and for me that is why it gets harder not easier and seems to take me longer these days to find that place of acceptance at the beginning of a deployment.

Communication can be interesting while you are separated and definitely sporadic, everyone's experiences are different and I beg you if you are in a regiment/close military community DO NOT enter into the "have you heard anything this week" conversation, it is the worst, the most horrid feeling to hear of others getting calls and you haven't heard a peep, even though they are all in the same place and in your mind doing the same thing. 'He doesn't love me enough to call' 'He's not missing me' all these feelings are normal (or is it just me that thinks these?!) so just avoid those discussions, don't ask and don't tell...... its kinder for everyone and there are so many other things to start a conversation about instead.

 

When you have children, especially older children, you have to share your limited call time with your loved one and that is something this week I was reminded of and honestly, I was in the wrong and I feel so awful about that.

My 14 year old has a need to speak to her dad and I hadn't appreciated that...I of all people should have recognised it. My husband rang and it had been ages since I'd heard his voice and I was so pleased and happy that I got selfish with time, when I put my daughter on the phone he only had literally 4 minutes then had to go.

My daughter was devastated and it was all my fault

"You got 15 minutes and I got 5" I felt so terrible and writing this post I have tears in my eyes, she's missing her dad, she hadn't spoken to him properly in three weeks and I should have been more mindful and shared the call time equally with her which if you have more than one child must be even harder. I know I am the adult, I love my daughter beyond words and I don't want you to judge me for being selfish it wasn't a conscious decision but we get stuck in this bubble at that very moment in time when we take a call don't we, doesn't matter where we are or who we are with because right there and then everything stops to take that call.

Sharing is hard when you sometimes miss them so much you hurt inside

I learnt a big lesson this week and I am promising myself a few things...not to wish my life away or at least to try not to do it too much and to be mindful of not being selfish with phone time for the sake of my Little Trooper.

We aren't perfect and no matter how long you have or haven't been part of the military community every separation will be a different experience depending on how long, where you live, how old your children are at that time, if you are working, how strong you are feeling in that chapter of your life....there are so many variables.

Be kind to yourself, learn lessons about how you work and know that your light at the end of tunnel will come...eventually.

Lots of love,

Louise xxxx