First Impressions of San Diego and Military Spouse Life

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Relocating to a new place and starting over is never easy. While I welcome the adventure and embrace the opportunity for a new beginning, in all honesty this particular transition from Hawaii to San Diego has been a bit of a challenge for me.

On the bright side, I am mostly happy to be back on the mainland and closer to family. I have thoroughly enjoyed things I missed dearly while in Hawaii like Latino culture and road trips. Our new home is much bigger, newer, and nicer than what is standard in Hawaii, and we absolutely love it. San Diego is a paradise for foodies and vegetarians. There is much more access to cheaper and fresher organic food than in Hawaii, a huge plus for our healthy and conscious lifestyle. Even better, food in our pantry and fridge does not go bad after a few days like it did in Hawaii. Best of all, this move has brought me and my husband, Judah, closer than ever and ignited a passion between us that I did not know was possible amidst all the stress and chaos that comes with military moves and isolation from loved ones.

We have been slowly settling into our new home, new jobs, and new life here. I rejoiced over small victories like finding a nail salon and a Thai restaurant that is what I like and am used to. I am learning my way around, adapting to the climate and tempo, and when time permits, enjoying the many wonderful things the San Diego area has to offer. And it certainly kept me quite busy getting our new home unpacked, furnished and decorated, which is definitely something exciting that I enjoyed.

But if I am being completely honest, it has been quite a roller coaster. For the first few weeks, much of me felt a very melancholy homesickness for my beloved Hawaii. I built an exhilarating, deeply fulfilling, and overall incredible life from scratch there and it has been harder than I imagined to leave that behind.

Hawaii Blues

The good news is that as of this week, I am getting into the swing of things and have emerged from my Hawaii blues. Over the past weekend, hubby and I had a blast in Balboa park, which certainly helped to lift my spirits. Plus two of my closest friends are planning trips here in the coming months, so that gives me something to look forward to.

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Balboa Park, my favorite place in San Diego (so far)
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Casa del Prado exhibits the very beautiful and intricate architecture found throughout this historic park

But I believe what really took me out of my slump was the discovering that the real root of the depression I experienced was tied to two things: 1) My new job and routine, which means me essentially starting over in my career after I had already established myself, as well as a long commute in heavy traffic that really seems to take a toll on me, and 2) The fact that this move was not by choice, but rather it was due to me being a military spouse and us being sent to our new duty station, which will occur every 3-4 years or sometimes even more often. I eventually realized that the lack of say in my fate and future is the biggest adjustment of all for me.

Coming to terms with that caused me to do some deep reflecting and put things into perspective. As usual, gratitude is always the answer to any of life’s tough times. I am married to my soul mate, which in itself has been the greatest blessing and accomplishment of my life. I managed to have a great job waiting for me, which is often very hard for military spouses to do. I have an amazing support system regardless of how far away I am from them, awesome travel plans ahead and always so much to look forward to. Besides, Hawaii and San Diego are two of the best possible duty stations the Marine Corps offers, so we have definitely been lucky so far. Focusing on these positive things was the medicine I needed.

Now I am finally getting used to my new life and feel at peace with everything. But the truth I learned from this is that everyone adjusts to big life changes differently. We should never resist our emotions or feel guilty that some things may be more difficult than others. We have to embrace and explore our feelings in order to move forward. I am usually the type that can thrive and stay positive no matter what, so I totally did not anticipate experiencing any difficulty in adjustment and began to not even recognize myself with how down and depressed I felt. I didn’t think twice about moving and assumed it would be a breeze for me, like it was when I moved to Hawaii. But that time, I chose to start a new life rather than being thrust into it. Plus Hawaii is amazing so that made it easy. San Diego is also amazing but I don’t think anything will ever compare to Hawaii. That led to another a-ha moment for me: nothing in your life should ever be compared. Each chapter is a separate and unique experience in your journey and all of it has a distinct purpose.

I recently learned that other friends of mine who left Hawaii experienced similar sadness and longing. Who wouldn’t miss paradise?! Plus I have heard these kinds of setbacks are extremely common among military spouses during moves. This just proves that most of the emotions we experience are completely natural and healthy. The ups and downs of life are inevitable so we should never beat ourselves up, but instead be thankful for what is going right. Judah has been an incredible partner and source of inspiration for me throughout everything, and it’s made me appreciate him in a whole new light. I now know for sure that together we can and will survive anything thrown our way regardless of where the Marine Corps sends us. But without this challenging experience, I probably wouldn’t have the same confidence that I gained from this. How is that for perspective?!

Either way, as a military spouse I don’t have much say on where we live and when we move. This is our first PCS together and since Judah plans to make the Marine Corps his career, this is only the beginning of many PCS moves to come. I have no choice but to get used to this and make the best of every situation and circumstance. I tend to be a type A personality who is constantly planning and feels the need for control over my life. So being a military spouse presents a much needed life lesson in flexibility for me. I have already learned to accept the many things that are beyond my control. You just have to go with the flow and enjoy the ride. The nomad life of moving every few years certainly suits a travel lover like myself well, so I am sure that it is only a matter of time before I become a pro at this adjustment stuff. If anything, the last month has taught me precisely how to deal with this situation in case it ever happens again.

Overall, the experience of military moves will make anyone much stronger and more resilient. In fact, I am convinced that military spouses are among the most resilient people on earth. I am sure that we will move to both places we love and places we hate over the next 15+ years of my husband’s career. But either way, I am down for the ride.

 

For those interested in the many differences between life in Hawaii compared to life in San Diego, here are my initial reactions and first impressions:

The people. One of the things that initially shocked me once we arrived (before we even left the airport) was the amount of people staring at me. In Hawaii, a mixed girl covered in tattoos is the norm so no one looked at me twice. The need to “fit in” has never bothered me, but it was certainly nice to feel at home amongst similar people when living on Oahu. Generally, Hawaii residents are open-minded, accepting, and relaxed. They smile and warmly greet each other like family, and the aloha spirit is evident. This is a stark difference from the mainland, where people are usually quite rude and cold towards each other. They are always in a hurry and will literally run you off the road. In fact, California is not the extremely progressive, eco-friendly state everyone tends to imagine. I have often been startled to realize how unfriendly people can be here. Not everyone is a liberal hippie (if only…) like they are perceived to be by those in other states. There are rednecks and assholes here too. People litter and pollute the environment just like anywhere else, sometimes even more so. Surprisingly, people here are really not much different than what I was used to growing up on the east coast.

The weather. Everyone tends to agree that Southern California has ideal weather because it is sunny and mild year-round, and lacks the uncomfortable humidity like the east coast and Pacific islands. I kept hearing that “dry heat” is supposed to be better. Well when Judah and I arrived here, they just happened to be experiencing unprecedented heat and humidity with temperatures in our area hitting 107 every day that first week. Quite a welcome. While it’s definitely better than sticky humidity, it was still pretty extreme. It felt like an oven outside. It has since cooled down (thank goodness) and I am actually looking forward to the chilly winter months ahead with temperatures in the 60’s for my boots-and-jacket-wearing pleasure. I am truly thankful to live in another place with great weather.

Pollution. This definitely caught me off guard. I had always heard that smog is terrible in LA but no one ever mentioned San Diego has a problem too. There is usually a haziness in the air which I keep asking locals about this, but they either don’t seem to notice it or completely deny it. However, based on my research, air quality is definitely an issue and concern here. All the smog makes sense though considering the volume of traffic here (more on that below).

Desert Environment. Coming from a lush, tropical oasis like Hawaii to living in a semi-arid desert is another shock for me. There are palm trees and beaches here, which is enough to keep me happy so I cannot complain. But it’s definitely a very different terrain. There is brush and cactus everywhere, snakes, huge spiders, and wild fires- all things I am completely unaccustomed to. It is pretty fascinating to me though. Judah and I made sure to visit the San Diego Botanic Gardens soon after our arrival to learn about our new environment.

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Images taken of the unique vegetation at San Diego Botanic Gardens in Encinitas

Crowdedness and traffic. I remember Judah constantly complaining about how crowded Oahu was with 1 million people on a tiny island. However, 3.3 million people in the San Diego area feels a lot more overwhelming to me personally. Everything is more spread out than on an island, but there are far more people here which leads to some pretty brutal traffic. Rush hour on Oahu was notoriously awful but it’s got nothing on my commute here. My job is about 30 minutes away from our home in Escondido, but takes me an hour and 15 minutes some days, which is spent crawling on an 8-10 lane highway. I’ve never been more stressed and drained from traffic in my life, and this is coming from someone born and raised in the DC area which has some of the worst traffic in the country. The good news is that infrastructure in California is fantastic and traffic flow is well designed, with lights to control merging onto highways and a lack of bottlenecks, which were all too prevalent in Hawaii. Even still, I don’t know if I will ever get used to the traffic here though.

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View of the very heavily populated San Diego county from Double Peak Park, not far from our home

Even with all the pros, cons, and shocks; I had to remind myself that when I first visited San Diego in 2014, I fell in love with this city so it’s only a matter of time before I fall in love with living here. I know I can and will create another extraordinary life here too. Just like I will anywhere I go.

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