Friendships as a Military Brat Pt. 2: Loneliness My Old Friend
Like I said in the last part of the blog, loneliness can sometimes be a big part of military dependent life. The frequent moves take away friends; deployments and TDYs take away parents. And the varying locations make it hard to live near extended family.
Up until the transition from middle school to high school, I had no qualms about the nomadic ways of our family. But, I became much more reserved as I got older, making it harder to establish new friendships.
The Hardest Move
The summer between 8th and 9th grade was the first time I was uncomfortable and unhappy with a move. I was going into high school, and while all of my friends were trying out for sports teams, going to assembly to learn about their future high school, and signing up for classes, I had absolutely no idea what my high school was even named or what town it would be in.
We moved from Wyoming to Northern Virginia just a few weeks after school ended. There was a goodbye party, my sister's graduation from high school, and then the packing and driving across the country that we all know and love. I had recently lost my golden retriever to cancer, and my sister was going to college. They were the two most stable friends I had, and now I would be on my own.
On top of all of it, this was the big transition to high school. I was already nervous about what high school in DC would be like, and when I pulled up to my school for the first time, I practically begged my parents to let us move back to Wyoming.
Culture Shock, Loneliness, Settling In
I know now that I went through some major culture shock that summer. Wyoming is all open spaces and, from my middle school perspective, very little crime. As a 14-year-old, DC seemed like a really scary big city, where the only news stories you hear about are of murders and armed robberies. I felt like my future classmates were probably all in some kind of gang and that I'd see stabbings on the regular. For the first few months, I was afraid to leave the house.
Our neighborhood didn't have any kids my age, and it would be a few months before dance team would start. I tried joining a youth group. But I was so out of sorts, it took me a while to get the confidence to actually talk to anyone. My dad started work pretty soon after we got there, and my mom was stressed trying to find a job and navigate getting her teaching certification renewed. This was the first time I had ever felt really alone.
But it got better. A couple of months later, dance team practice started. At first, I was afraid to insert myself into a group of friends, but eventually, they took me in and ended up being some of the best friends I've ever had.
My school was totally safe and full of people who were highly motivated and had big dreams for their future. I started learning how to get around DC on the Metro, had my sweet sixteen riding in a limo around the national monuments, and learned so much from living in a diverse and historical place. It ended up being my favorite assignment.
Hello Again, Old Friend
That made the next move all the more difficult. The move between my junior and senior year from Northern Virginia to Montana came with a whole new host of issues. But the one that stayed the same was loneliness.
This time that loneliness stuck around a little longer. People had already established their "groups" and had been together for all of high school. Cracking into a new group is not an easy task. It makes it much more difficult when you spend most of your time Skype-ing friends from your old school... which I did, a lot.
I could go on about this move, but that is another blog for another time. The main point is that I got through, and by the end of that year, I was well-prepared for the challenges that would come along in college.
Now that I am farther removed from these phases in my life, I look back on them with a lot of pride in myself and in my family, for getting through them... and doing it successfully to boot! In fact, it makes me all the more proud of all military kids who go through these kinds of experiences.
Moving at such a transitory time in your adolescence is one of the hardest things to do as a kid. You lose a lot, you experience what it truly feels like to be lonely, and you are faced with the uphill battle of re-establishing your identity and relationships from scratch, just to be faced with it again in a few years.
Developing an Understanding
It is important to note, that there can be some uncomfortable and, sometimes long-lasting side-effects to this life. Depression and anxiety start to develop, and if not treated properly or with the right attention, can lead to much greater hardships for the family. Furthermore, just because you survived it as a kid, that doesn't mean it doesn't have lasting effects that you may notice later down the road. These two moves happened years ago, but I am still impacted by them because they occurred at really pivotal times in my development.
One example of its impact is that I get more anxious and sad in the summertime. It was pointed out to me that since I always moved in the summer, my brain got used to moving being the norm. Now, when summer comes a trigger goes off that tells my brain it's time for that change and loneliness, and I start subconsciously preparing myself for it... even if we aren't going anywhere.
What Can We Do?
First, I think the first thing we need to do as a community, is to have a much better understanding of what military kids go through when they move. People often talk about it on a very surface level. "Oh, it must be hard moving a lot."
But by diving deeper and sharing our stories, we can pin-point those universal hardships and better communicate those to communities near bases. This would help to improve programs to welcome new kids (military or not) into the school and community.
Second, it is important for parents to understand and educate themselves on the potential impacts military life has on your kids. The "suck it up and stop crying" method, is not usually very successful. I really appreciated that my parents were always open to talking about how I was feeling, and exploring every single option to make the situation better, even if it meant letting me paint a wall in my new room dark teal.
I'm not saying give your kids their every demand to appease them. But if there is something you can do to show your appreciation for their sacrifice, do it. I felt like my parents sometimes over-appreciated me, but it made me not mind moving so much. I knew they recognized the challenges and admired me for facing them every time.
Third, as adult mil-brats, we should take time to notice how our mil-brat experiences shaped us, for better or for worse. When I got out of the mil life (for a short time in college), I thought it was all behind me. But I soon realized that the military fundamentally shaped so much of my personality that it would never be behind me, nor should I want it to be. A lot of the things I went through as a kid (even the lonely summers) were some of the best preparations I could have experienced for adult life. It's all a matter of how you decide to frame it in your own mind.
Please share your stories and thoughts on this. It was fun to hear what people thought about the last blog, and I hope we can keep the conversation going! The final part of this series is about true friendships, and the more light-hearted side of friendships: the military way.