Recovery from Relocation

The longer we are active duty military, the more quickly and aptly I’m able to self-diagnose and articulate the funk I’m in. What it is this time, is something I have recently described as the Post-PCS Crash, also known as Complete Depletion. There is a process to arriving at this state of being, so I’ll explain.

For the few weeks leading up to the move, you find yourself in “get it done” mode. You’re working at break-neck speed to offload unwanted home items; you’re purging, and organizing. Physically, it is tiring.

You are saying goodbyes to friends and Army family; you are trying to protect your heart; you are making sure the kids are doing okay with the weight of the move. It is summer and you will be darned if you let the move eat up all of the fun, so you try to plan for some adventure and enjoyment to mark the time; but not too much fun because you don’t have the energy for it. Emotionally it is tiring.

Then, you have the “move week” where you are truly functioning on high-surging adrenaline. The packers and movers are in and out of your house; you are feeding them, overseeing their progress, trying to estimate whether or not your belongings will arrive at the next place safely. You clean and empty your way out of your house; wiping away dust, memories, tears.

You make the physical move, for some this takes hours and for some this takes days. You and your spouse drive both loaded down vehicles to the next state; they are heavy with cleaning supplies, air mattresses, suitcases, duffle bags, Crock-pots, emotions. You try to reframe the whole thing as an adventure…a road trip of sorts…are we having fun yet? 

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You arrive and you inquire about your next house. Is there one available? How long until we can move in? How long until we receive our household goods? Mentally, you assess how your things may or may not fit into the house. You will deal with various housing issues like urgent repairs and financial matters— deposits, turning on utilities while you are still paying last bills at your old address, pro-rated rent, long-term temporary housing until your real estate closing.

You store or donate what you don’t need— d***it we just sold our mower and weed eater and they *don’t* mow your back yard on post! It’s like a drain plug has been pulled from your checking account. You’ve just paid to have your house and carpets cleaned, the grocery budget is a joke that mocks you after weeks of eating out; and now you are buying and replacing what you do need to make your new house functional— rugs, doormats, a new broom, extension cords, a lawn mower, and bedding because you’ll be reconfiguring your kids’ bedroom furniture yet again.

You are in desperate need of a good night of sleep or maybe some alone time, maybe both. You are hotel weary. That continental breakfast was sufficient on day one or two, but by day twelve if you ever see another stale pastry, it will be too soon. Or maybe you are so tired of sitting in your empty house on nothing but camping chairs. You are like a turtle carrying your home on your back as you trek laundry for a family of five down the hall, across the street, or in and out of your car at the laundromat. You are starting to sorely miss your creature comforts. Literally.

Household goods arrive and you compulsively begin unpacking and arranging your house to make it a home. These are the days where that adrenaline is surging the hardest. You are already worn out from the previous few weeks. And now, it’s go time. Slow down, pace yourself, some may say…but you just want to unpack and settle as quickly as possible.

Yes, the movers bring your things inside the house. Yes, they do most of the heavy lifting. But these few days are truly back-breaking. You are ripping off tape, unwrapping packing paper like mad. You are squatting, lifting, arranging…dishes, books, closets, keepsakes. You’re moving things from room to room, exhausted, sweating, and sore. Just one more box. Just one more hour. Just one more room. Then you can rest. You think the finish line is in sight, but those big brown boxes with packing tape and stickers loom over you. Rest? Not anytime soon.

Cardboard boxes in apartment, moving day

When your kids are a little older, the unpacking can be a family affair, thankfully. Many hands make light work, and the faster things are unpacked and settled, the faster, you hope, everyone can begin meeting neighbors, making connections, and enjoying the new place. There is a temporary, albeit false, sense of ahhhhhhhhh— the house is unpacked and looks a little like home, it’s starting to feel like we live here.

There are a few days or weeks when you’re floating on the adrenaline high of the move. This is the period where I’m wearing my rose-colored glasses and my Pollyanna-cheerful-we-are-gonna-love-it-here-and-golly-gee-this-is-super attitude carries me along.

You check out some cool attractions in your area—eat at the local spots, enjoy the amenities on post, visit a church, ask strangers where they have their hair done, orient yourself to the nearest Target, revel in the glory of having a Trader Joes (if only temporarily), and begin having conversations with your neighbors. These are the activities that follow after your boxes are unpacked. These are the activities that help you acclimate to a new place and new people. These are the activities that temporarily trick you into thinking you have arrived and you are settled.

As much as you fight to maintain a positive attitude and optimistic outlook about the new place and the fresh opportunities…what goes up must come down. The universal law of gravity is also the universal law of a PCS. It’s the let-down effect or what I’m calling the PCS Crash. A prolonged period of stress is finally coming to a close or at least tapering off and your body is telling you it is time to rest and chill-the-heck-out.

Another way the sudden decrease in pressure can set you up to crash and burn: “Emotional stress and physical stress kick up the same inflammatory response, which opens the door for illness or the let-down effect…” After either type of stress dies down, there’s “a down-regulation of the immune system, a suppression of the immune response, [as a reaction] to the easing of stress.” In addition, the surge-and-fall of stress hormones could knock down dopamine levels in the brain, which can trigger overeating and substance abuse as people (unconsciously) try to raise their dopamine levels so they can feel reward and pleasure again…” (U.S. News and World Report)

Over the past few days I’ve begun feeling the crash. I have been irritable, snippy, more anxious than usual, and flat worn-out. I actually succumbed to the exhaustion two days ago and took a nap at 10 am; I’ll probably do it again today as I woke up at 5:00 am with my mind racing. A few years ago, I would have tried to outrun the tired and choke it out with more busyness and activity. And as the blurb from the article above suggests, some use food or drugs to feel reward and pleasure again. I’m a busy-junkie, but I’ve learned that’s not the way to solve or remedy the Post-PCS Crash.

You remedy it with as much rest as possible. You go to bed early, you nap often, and you relax. You don’t put pressure on yourself or your family to do anything other than replenish your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional reserves. You stay still. You breathe deeply. You pray and meditate. You exercise. You take long walks. You look out around you and up to the sky. You eat healthful foods. You read or watch television or journal. Busyness does not eradicate exhaustion…rest does.

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Those of us who are military spouses know that this rest-chasing is difficult to master. We want to maximize our time on station; see the sights, meet the people, do the things. And in time, we will, but we cannot pour from an empty or broken cup. It’s easy to allow a PCS to take center stage of our lives when it comes.

There is so much to do and most of it feels urgent and necessary. There comes a point though that you have to let the urgent and necessary die down and fizzle out. There comes a point when you have to set aside the hustle and embrace chill mode. I don’t like the image of crashing and burning. I prefer the image of my body (and mind) telling me it’s time to slow down, stop if necessary, wait, rest, and to enjoy an interlude of tranquility. Won’t you join me?

Here’s to plentiful rest and recovery from (y)our recent relocation!

 

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20 thoughts on “Recovery from Relocation

  1. Lisa G says:

    So thankful for your words of wisdom and insightful-funny-honesty. The PCS Crash is a real thing. As a fellow “busy-junky”, I need as many reminders as I can get to not run my own cup dry especially in times of transition.

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  2. Laura says:

    Your synopsis of a PCS move is so accurate. I find that the post-PCS crash hits me hardest when I realize I am lonely. It happens after the bustle of settling in when there are quiet moments and I feel compelled to have adult conversation. In those moments I realize I have to start all over again. I have to introduce myself and tell the same stories and open myself up over and over again to strangers hoping to establish a deep connection with someone for the relatively short duration of time I will physically spend with them. That’s where I am right now… again. Thank you for sharing. It means a lot to spouses like me to hear from someone who “gets it.”

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  3. Elizabeth says:

    You forgot to talk about the loneliness. When your husband has insta-friends at work, you have children who are bickering over who gets which room. The hardest part for me is the post-move crash. I have to find a job. I have to register the kids at a new school, which includes getting them physicals AGAIN. Starting over is hard. Finding real friends is even harder, and with each move, it seems more and more hopeless. Don’t forget to talk about the depression. It follows me and hits me harder and harder each PCS. Just when I have truly settled, made some real friends, and started to get really, really good at my job– it’s time to move again.

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  4. Mom says:

    You put life into words beautifully! AND you don’t have to be military to have lived through PCS! Thanks for putting it into perspective.

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  5. thethirtysomethingbride says:

    As a Marine Brat, I experienced much of this as well as witnessed my mother bear the brunt of 27 (give or take some forgotten locales) relocations. I don’t think I ever put all of this together as a process, just family life. When it’s all you know….
    This does help explain why post-move , I remember coming home to my mom sleeping in the middle of the day . Out cold. WHAT?!?
    This article brought back such a flood of memories, both good and bad.
    I can’t stand the smell of cardboard boxes.

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  6. Christy says:

    YES. We are a Coast Guard family and did PCS number 7 in 14 years last summer. Thankfully this one is a rare 4-year-tour, but I am just feeling DONE with the whole moving process. Especially with the lack of housing (we had to buy a place this time around and have never gotten to live in gov’t owned housing) and lack of assistance from the CG in getting acclimated. We will stick it out until 20 at this point, but it’s such a bigger sacrifice than people realize.

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  7. Valerie says:

    How true! I got to really hate the Air force! We were posted in the Christmas holidays until our children reached school age, then part way through the school year, just to add to the joys of it all! When my husband resigned, I felt a great amount of joy in taking the box of varied curtains and drapes to the welfare shop, knowing that the next home would be our own, so I would not have to rifle through looking for something that for the windows! I am now in my 60’s, and have wonderful long term friends and a stable life. Our children are adults, and aren’t in the military! I don’t blame them! They turned out very well indeed! Oh, and some of those friends are treasures s accumulated along the way.

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  8. Carole Suponcic Loberg says:

    As an Army Brat I relate to you and your relocations. I experienced 9 moves throughout post war Germany. Now I realize that I never learned how to make friends. No Best Friend. My friends in the later years of my life are my family. You are correct in stating this brings back both good and bad memories.

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  9. CJG says:

    I would add to this the mental toll it takes to deal with all the breakage (especially irreplaceable items that insurance gives less than 10% of the value of.) and the consumption of time and energy the claims process is. There’s so much shadow work in a move, it becomes my full time job for 2-3+ months (an international move is 4+ months, by the time you go to all the medical appointments, passport appointments, reduce a car, ship a car, and then on the other side you have to get visa stamps, (not the ones at the airport) pet passports, you have to go to the cell phone company 4 times just to figure out what documentation they want to not charge you 2,000 euro in deposits for 4 lines, and then the house hunting, and living in a hotel for 2+ months, trying to cook on the balcony in an instant pot (that I had to order off of amazon UK because it needs the right power, but had to find an address to get it shipped to, because it wouldn’t ship APO) for every meal because eating out in Europe is freaking expensive, etc.) it is genuinely a full time, unpaid job, that we do for months on end.

    I’ve become an online shopping expert because of our time in Asia (even my 12 year old was too big for clothes there) and I spend hours online finding the best deal/will actually ship to me, so we can afford to get the kids their school stuff (I just had to order 2 laptops from amazon because the kids’ new school in Spain requires them to each have their own laptop, and jengaing the *we can afford 2 at the same time* with the *will it do what we need it to do* with the *will it ship apo* took me 6+ hours of work. (From my cell phone in a hotel.)

    6 months before a move I’m already mentally game planning the move, 6 months after the move I’m still mentally rehashing the move for lessons learned (current assignment is 12 months, so I will have 2 solid years of mentally moving by the time we get to our next resting place.)

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  10. Katie says:

    So very true! All of our moves but one have been to an overseas location, so there’s a whole new set of stressors involved there! What if you can’t orient yourself to the new Target or anything familiar? What if you have to deal with a language barrier? Three of our four kids have been born in foreign countries. The only thing that truly gets me through it is my faith and turning to my husband and our own little family. There are hardships but also many blessings.

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  11. Martha T. says:

    Thank you for this! You expressed SO WELL, what we all go through! As I face our final military move (retirement) after 30 years of active duty, I REALLY needed to read this. Adding to the usual ‘moving stress’ is the overwhelming flood of emotions, memories (mostly good) from the past 30 years. What a ride it has been!! I plan to make this last ride a smoother one, by taking your advice and finally learning how to REST! God Bless!

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  12. hudson2001 says:

    Dead on. Thank you. We are in the midst of unpacking boxes right now. It’s a nightmare as the house is smaller than the previous one so it’s taking four times as long because not only do I have to unpack, I also have to decide what gets sold, what stays packed, what goes to the basement (thankfully there’s a basement), etc. Not one kitchen thing fits–the cupboards and drawers are actually physically smaller. WTH?! It’s exhausting, both mentally and physically, as I want to cry with each item I *try* to put away but try to keep a brave face for the kids so they don’t stress out. I’m counting down the days until retirement.

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  13. Frank says:

    This is why (plus a million other reasons) I have always felt that our wives have one of the toughest “jobs” in the military. For us active duty members, we show up and generally know what we will be doing, who we will be working with, and our schedule; for our wives, it’s constant troubleshooting, scheduling and running about just trying to make life bearable for our families. You ladies have my unending respect.

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