Wednesday, December 19, 2012
I've never been someone who has a large number of close friends. Rather, I always seem to have a couple of close personal friends and a larger network of more general acquaintances that together, provide me with a strong support network. Here in Albania I am fortunate to have developed two close friends who, over the past year, have become confidants. They are my shoulders to cry on when the going is rough, they are here to share in my joys, and most importantly, they provide me with the much needed in-person girl time that is the number one thing I miss from home. Because they are also foreigners living in Albania, they understand the frustrations of daily life here and realize that no, I am not making these hard to believe stories up. I would truly be lost without them here in the wilds of Albania and fear their returning home (which will happen before we depart). On a daily basis, however, Glenn is the foundation of my support system. I think that living overseas, separated from the military lifestyle to which we had grown accustomed, has brought us closer together. Without the ready interference and/or influence of family and friends, we have come to rely on each other more than we ever did in the past. Whether it be our family time together or our arguments, everything is more intense here. Working in the same place, we know and work with the same people and are able to share the events of our days with each other at a level that would just not be possible if we weren't operating in such a confined environment. This mutual support is so important but does not completely fulfill my support needs.
But where is the rest of my support system? Back in the States I had a ready cadre of casual girlfriends, both military spouses and life long civilian friends, who were a part of my extended support network. Depending on the need there was always someone within easy reach to provide needed support. Here in Albania, I am physically much more isolated. Sure I can still reach out via email or Skype but with unreliable Internet access and a six plus hour time difference my circumstances are just not conducive to picking up the phone to chat. (Although with my ongoing insomnia, in the middle of the time difference is usually pretty easy to overcome). As a means of reprieve, I've immersed myself in a variety of activities, from paid work to volunteer organizations to my responsibilities as a mother and an attache spouse, in order to provide a balance in my daily life. As busy as these activities keep me, they still don't provide me with the emotional support that I (we) all need.
Upon deeper reflection I'm realizing that currently, my steadiest form of emotional support is virtual. It comes in two forms. First, I'm a member of numerous online forums--from those exclusively for military officer spouses to general ones for parents and social commentators. While I often lurk and only cautiously post, these anonymous forums have become my true sounding board and support system. Whether I am questioning my parenting skills or my own role in my community (and what exactly is my community?), there is always someone out there discussing the same issues and concerns. Someone else has always been there or done that. It makes me feel like I'm not alone. I have a strange sense of safety when I read and post in these forms. They may only be quasi-anonymous but without actually knowing the people out in cyberspace, it feels safer to be honest. Yes, people may be harshly judgemental but sometimes that is exactly what I need to hear. And the fact that I know I won't be running into them any time soon makes their judgements easier to handle. (The exception is a Navy group that I am a part of that started out completely anonymous for me but over time I've come to realize that I actually know or know of most of the women in the group). These forums serve as my therapy sessions and given their ever growing popularity, I suspect I am not the only one who feels this way.
My second form of support is writing. My blog is my most public outlet; it is my therapist, my friend, and my personal sounding board. It helps me put into (most times) clear words my thoughts and ideas of everything from food and travel to family and world issues. If something is bothering me, I write about it. The clicking of the keyboard followed by the reading of what I wrote puts things into perspective for me. Sometimes I go back and read what I have written and realize that I am being irrational. Other times I realize that I have valid points. While I have recently started blogging on a (mostly) daily basis, my writing is much more extensive than what is out there for public consumption. For every blog entry I post I have at least two more that I'm either not brave enough to publish or I have enough common sense not to put out there for the world to see. Regardless of where my ramblings end up, sitting down to write is incredibly therapeutic.
All of this doesn't make up for face to face contacts with real friends but for the time being, these activities provide me with the support system I so desperately need. We all need support and and sometimes we need to find it in unconventional ways. That doesn't matter. If it works for you, go for it.
So what is your support system?