A few months ago, I wrote about an average day. At one point in this deployment, my days were fairly typical. They were long, but could still be relied upon to follow a broad-based routine. Today, and for the past two months, most days have been anything but typical. This has wreaked havoc on any kind of structure I’ve tried to impart to my day. My PT schedule is merely a dream (literally, I’ve dreamt about PT), and I have begun thinking of 2014 just so I can start planning again (I never said I wasn’t OCD – actually, I’ve admitted to a bit of OCD from time to time).
Just a few weeks away from the end of the deployment, all of us are ready for our time in Afghanistan to come to an end. I think it’s even more exciting because Christmas is just on the other side of our return to the U.S.
I have begun planning my courses for the spring semester, and have my new car all picked out. If things go really well, I will get off the plane in D.C. and take a taxi to the car dealership to pick up my car. The thought of me showing up in Arlington with all of my deployed gear is enough to make me smile.
But back to Afghanistan (getting ahead of myself): the dynamic on the ground changed significantly when we changed commanding officers (and staffs) the second week of September. This is the primary reason life has been a little more than hectic.
Learning a new commanding officer’s priorities, values, idiosyncrasies and perspective on life is a challenge in the best of circumstances. Halfway through a deployment, just when operations are starting to kick into high gear again, makes the task exponentially more challenging.
About two months ago, I had put together a new plan to take better care of myself. This included a new lifting/cardio routine, with a few minutes of yoga in the evening and two mornings to “sleep-in”. I made myself do a few things to unwind from the day, whether it was taking a hot shower, going through a yoga routine or reading a book. The plan, when followed, worked splendidly. I was feeling better, getting more restful sleep.
But the days got longer; the demands of my CO and of my Marines increased. Very quickly, I stopped doing the good things for me. Physical fitness has taken a backseat (see my previous blog where I state, “sometimes sleep is more important”). Some days are very long, and emotionally draining. It’s all I can do some nights to drag myself back to my room and undress to go to sleep.
When I reflect more closely (admittedly, when I find the time to reflect), I find there are a few great things emerging out of this busy period. First, I have found that there are other ways I unwind. I have dinner nearly every night with someone – whether it is my 2 or 3 master sergeants (MSgts) or the 2 new majors who came with the CO in September. Before (when I was following a stricter schedule), I used returned to my room to eat some tuna and soup. Now, I go to dinner with fellow Marines. And we laugh. Oh my, do we laugh. The day recedes as we regale each other with stories, whether it’s Afghanistan or back home.
My MSgts are also trying to teach me football. For the first year in my life, I am making a concerted effort to learn about the game. I have a team – going all the way back to my roots – the New York Giants. Yes, they are having a terrible year, but I’m having a lot of fun learning about the game through them.
This is a way of taking care of myself I never would have put into my schedule.
Second, I have decided that it’s a bit late in the deployment to try another routine. My days are so unpredictable; I would rather not try to start something new – especially when I know that sleep will win out most of the time. So I am focused on January 2014 for my new regimen.
Third, to combat this a little (and to ensure I’m ready for the half marathon in Florida in January), I have found a running partner. One of the other majors runs every morning, and I often go with him. Even if it’s just 30 minutes, it’s something. I feel better; I’m getting ready for the race in January (a half marathon in Florida!). He is also a great running partner: he’s reliable, a critical thinker to the core, with a great sense of humor. We keep each other entertained as the miles go by.
As the deployment draws towards its conclusion, there are many things for me to remember and to contemplate. One of the things I will take is that there are innumerable different ways that I can take care of myself. Structure and routine will always be part of my life; that’s just who I am. But sometimes I also need to let go a little. And sometimes, I need to let other people be there for me. As I re-read what I just wrote, I realize that instead of taking care of myself by myself, right now I’m taking care of myself by being part of a community.
People often say that Marines wear their hearts on their sleeves. They couldn’t be more right.
The transition back to being a civilian is going to be tough! So be patient with me, if I swear a little more than you remember or if I seem curt in my responses. I’ve gotten used to being around Marines and it’s going to require an adjustment period. It’s a good thing I have a few weeks to orient myself back to society!