For many military kids, the amount of chaos felt familiar. Having to make peace with the fact that there was still a lot of information that we didn’t know, people we knew were dying or having lifelong health issues, losing contact with loved ones-the works. While it was difficult, it was shocking to me how similar it all was to a deployment. Parts of me fell into a sort of calmed state due to the repetition of this part of my life.
A lot of the same feelings came up for me that I felt when my dad was deployed. I was angry that I didn’t know what was happening, scared because things felt like they’d never get back to normal, and frustrated that parts of my formative years were being ripped away.
I realized that I was starting to spiral into a fit of anger and fear I hadn’t felt in years. I was yelling at everyone in my family, isolating myself from everyone I knew, skipping things I knew would help my mental health, and taking my anger and fear out in unhealthy ways. I had resorted to a lot of my old coping mechanisms, most of which was a subconscious action. When I was in third and fourth grade, I struggled with knowing there was nothing I could do to keep my dad safe, that it all felt out of control. I used to wake up every morning and play animal jam on the family computer, or I’d read fantasy book after fantasy book, over and over again. While these were small actions, they were in my control. About halfway through the pandemic, I logged back into animal jam, for no reason I could pinpoint in the moment. I dug out my books from fourth grade and lost myself in the mediocre plots. And for a while, I was in control again.
If playing old video games and reading kids' books during a worldwide pandemic and political unrest taught me anything, it’s that the military and what you learn during that time never leaves you. I had hated almost everything about being an army kid. I always felt like I was the only one in my class who had never had the chance to have a best friend or to feel like I had secure roots. I blamed my dad for a long time for leaving us, even though I had known it was out of his control. I knew blaming him was unfair to him and my family, but it was easy. And while I felt all these rising feelings, I could draw the parallels much more easily. I knew that escaping into a world where the worst thing to worry about was whether or not your spiked collar was rare, or if Percy Jackson would make it out of the labyrinth alive, was a way to focus on what didn’t feel crazy and terrifying. I knew from years in the military that escapism can be a coping mechanism, and that’s ok.
While the military portion of my life hurt, it taught me how to stay calm and manage day-to-day during a crisis. How to remain grounded when everything and everyone around you seems to be floating away. And if that means playing animal jam and rereading Percy Jackson books, then that’s how I needed to support myself.
2020 was a hard year for so many different reasons. I had seen and experienced this before, though. In the beginning, I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so mad, but then it clicked. I was scared, and my subconscious was telling me that my dad was deployed again, which obviously didn’t make sense. He was still here, but that didn’t change the fear. However, I knew that I had fought for what I had needed in order to heal and become healthier. I knew that I had a support system that cared for me and I could rely on, and I knew that holding all of my pain and anger, and fear it wasn’t going to be helpful for me, or anyone else. Sharing your experiences, and letting others in, is the only way to move forward. Even if you feel like how you were coping wasn’t “normal”, who’s to say? We’re living through something that we were never prepared for. I can promise you that you aren’t alone, though. I felt a little crazy as a 17-year-old playing a game meant for kids under 10. But, if the military had taught me anything, it’s that what is helpful and makes me feel in control is what is normal. And I believe military kids are creating that normal.
Mia Seligman is a 17-year-old daughter of a medically retired veteran. She moved to Asheville when she was 12, which was the sixth place she had lived. Mia enjoys listening to records, playing electric guitar, and thrifting with friends.