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‘On a Lonely Swing’ by Ellen Mimi Owusu

By Ellen Mimi Owusu
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 19th June 2008, I remember that day vividly, it felt quite cold all around. Sitting all alone by myself, intermittently, I will look out of the window, gaze outside, and then turn back to my diary.

If I could not verbalise how I feel, then I must find comfort in what I love most, writing. Even with the heating on to keep me warm, I felt cold and so lonely. My husband had just left for the United States of America for a 6-week exercise.

I had arrived in the UK just 6 weeks before; joining my husband to start our lives together. And in those moments of his absence, I felt like being in solitary confinement in my own home. And that was when it struck me what it really means to be a military wife.

Years ago, my big sister invited me to come live with her whilst her husband who was an Army Officer in the Ghana Army was away on a peace-keeping mission. At that time, I did not think much of it, for me, it was an opportunity to spend time with my sister. Also, I was in Journalism School, and their place of residence was close to my school, so it made so much sense to move in with her at the time. But it seems I missed a certain detail of the loneliness of an army wife in those days I lived with her.

Here I was, years later I find myself married to a British Army soldier, living in a village in the southern part of England, and he is gone away for weeks! My mind was flooded with memories of what my sister might have been going through when she asked me to come to stay with her. My situation was like my sister’s, but different in the sense that I had no immediate family or friends around. All of them were far away on the sunny coast of Ghana. 12 years down the line, I know too well how life can be scaringly lonely and challenging. Indeed, being an Army wife is a call to learn to be on your own, faithfully, and triumphantly.

Humans will always be relational and social, reliant on interpersonal interactions and relationships to survive. That is essentially our make-up, it’s no wonder that prolonged loneliness is associated with many serious health consequences such as an increased risk of depression, anxiety, dementia, stroke, and heart disease, etc. As an army wife, there are many times in your life that you will be on your own because your husband is either serving abroad on operations or on exercise. The loneliness becomes very real if your husband happens to go on operations. Can you imagine that after the 6-week tour to the USA, my husband left for Afghanistan for a six-month operation? At this point, I can readily relate to the experiences of many others whose spouses or partners are engaged in vocations that require extended periods of being away. The loneliness struggle is real!

How then does one combat this situation of loneliness? I will share a few tips from my survival toolkit.

#1: Make quality friends - To avoid loneliness, I quickly made friends with other army wives. I am an introvert, but I quickly realised I needed to make friends to survive the six months my husband was going to be away. I made a few friends, and one of them has become one of the closest friends I have ever had. Such a kind and beautiful soul, she was especially there for me during my pregnancy days. I don’t know how I could have survived that period without her! Certainly, one of the surest ways to keep your spirit up is to make friends. A simple 10-minute call can change your whole mood, even someone knocking on your door, to check up on you can make a whole lot of difference. Since being in Belgium, I have begun to make friends too. I recently had a day out to the city of Brussels with a friend I recently met here in my neighbourhood. It was so much fun. It felt so good to be out of the house and just have fun.

#2: Attend programmes and social events in the community - Show up to events and programmes, even when you don’t feel like it. It is easy to fall into a lonely routine, especially when your partner is away. Sometimes you get invited to a programme, but because you will be going alone, you decline the invite. Truth is, choosing not to go can even make you feel lonelier. If you feel lonely, this is where the good friends you have made come in. So, my advice is to show up even when you don’t feel like it. I remember one of my most memorable times in England had to do with attending a birthday party some years ago. I accepted the invite but on the day of the party, I decided not to go, because I was going alone. Thankfully one of my friends I made called to say she was coming to pick me up, so we go together. I had so much fun at the party and I interacted with so many people. I clearly would have missed out if I had not made it to the party.

#3: Don’t be shy to ask for help - Ask for help when you need it. Sometimes you might feel you can do it all. There is no shame in asking for help sometimes. It is genuinely human to ask for help. There were occasions I had to call on some of my husbands’ friends to help sort out issues with my car or even help me do my grocery shopping.

#4: An opportunity to focus on yourself- Sometimes, being alone, also offers you the opportunity to either focus on your education, professional development or even a new career or discover your talents. A couple of years ago, my husband was sent to Kenya for 6 months, during his absence, I took the opportunity to enrol in some online courses. These certificates I acquired became very useful when I applied for a job a year later.

#5: Enjoy the loneliness- And finally, learn to enjoy your solitude. “Be alone, that is the secret of invention; be alone, that is when ideas are born” (Nikola Tesla) Being alone offers you the opportunity to think and take care of yourself. Personally, I tend to write more and even exercise more when my husband is away.

I want to give a big shout out to all the army wives I have met along the way, past, present (and those I am yet to meet) I salute you all. You have made this journey bearable. You are the Soldiers’ Soldiers. And it is for God and Country!