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InDependent: A Wellness Community for Military Spouses

By Erin Pesut

While stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany, Leslie Brians, Michele Bradfield and Meg Gotheridge talked endlessly about fitness, food, yoga, and health and wellness trends. The three women, all military spouses, knew they weren’t alone in wanting to find healthy ways to live amid the unique challenges faced by military spouses.

But there was wasn’t a resource within the greater military community that provided the kind of interaction, support and focus on individual wellness and health that they envisioned.

So these women, with the creative resiliency that’s often found within the tenacious hearts of military spouses, started fashioning what they were looking for. As they forged on, an idea began to sprout. Soon InDependent bloomed into being as a nonprofit website that seeks to connect military spouses to health and wellness resources and support and to encourage them to act to support their own physical and emotional health and well-being.

InDependent reaches out to spouses from all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard and the attached reserve units, no matter where they live.

InDependent is revolutionizing how spouses can connect with one another, link each other to resources they need and forge a community. There are now about 16 local InDependent communities near military locations around the United States – from West Point to Lewis-McChord. The largest such group is at Fort Bragg.

Via its website and Facebook page, InDependent also has guest-contributor blogs, interactive weekly Wellness Spotlights and an annual week-long virtual health and wellness summit for military spouses.
Weekly Wisdoms

Weekly Wellness Spotlights are shared on Wednesdays. Military-spouse hosts answer a Q&A and go live on Facebook to share more about their individual wellness journey. Popular topics include diet, nutrition, exercise, aspects of mental health, the importance of self care, what resources have been most beneficial to their military life and what strategies are at the foundation of their success. But spouses also dish about how fashion can play into a healthy mindset and the importance of calendars, scheduling, and time-management. Connecting with other spouses also includes the not-so-talked-about realities of living as a military spouse. The Q&A asks about the highs, but also shines a light on the lows.
What Healthy Looks Like

The name InDependent itself stems from the term “dependent,” the phrase that describes the spouse’s relationship for military purposes to the service member. InDependent wanted to be rooted in what encouraged the empowerment of these dependents, especially when it came to their own health and well-being, which can look different from person to person.

Since its beginning in 2013, InDependent held fast to the idea that no one path towards wellness looks the same. Evie King, InDependent’s community and operations manager (and the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Spouse of the Year for Fort Bragg), has always appreciated that. “I love that InDependent doesn’t push a specific way of wellness because that is such a personal thing,” she said.

When it comes to food and seeking what works for your own lifestyle, InDependent co-founder Brians, now its creative director (and the Armed Forces Insurance Fort Bragg Spouse of the Year for 2016), noted, “What is best for you…you have to uncover that for yourself. It takes time and effort and that’s not selfish – it’s empowering.”

Brians said that within the InDependent communities, some spouses are vegetarians, while others are carnivores. She said, smiling, “Healthy is different for everybody.”
The 3rd Annual Virtual Summit: Renew You

Each year, InDependent hosts a virtual week-long wellness summit.

“This year we’re coming at it from the idea of renewing oneself and avoiding burnout,” Brians said. Why? The topic stemmed from experience. “Because we were feeling burnt out both professionally and personally,” Brians said.

King said, “You hear so often from military spouses that they can’t do something for themselves because they’re doing something for their kid, their spouse, or their family. How are we supposed to care for our families when we’re working on empty?”

The intention behind a virtual summit also makes sense, considering the circumstances inherent within a military lifestyle. “If your spouse is deployed, who is going to take care of your kids?” King said. “If you’re working, are you willing to use your vacation days? Plus, the chances of bringing all of these world-class speakers to one event is not happening. But, we can certainly interview them!”

The only thing needed to attend this wellness summit? Wifi.

This year the 7-day summit will start March 5th. Registration is open to all spouses from every service branch, spouses of veterans, active duty, national guard and reservists. For the first time, registration will also be open to first-responder spouses (police officers, firefighters, 9-1-1 dispatchers, and EMS members).

Video interviews are conducted in advance and are available to participants for two weeks after the event. VIP registration of the event also offers participants private admission to an online community via Facebook which comes with the ability to connect with other participants, compete for prizes (including an all-expenses paid trip to the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation Empowered Spouses Retreat) and join in on daily fitness and cooking demonstrations.

Each day, for five days, two wellness experts will share their story and their resources for a balanced mind and body.

This year, the lineup of presenters includes:

•This year’s host, Corie Weathers, a licensed professional counselor (LPC), author of Sacred Space: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage and 2015 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year
•Tiffany Smiley of Hope Unseen LLC and wife of wounded veteran Scotty Smiley, who was severely injured and blinded in 2005
•Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home
•Liz Wolfe NTP, author of Eat the Yolks and Purely Primal Skincare Guide
•Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth
•Lara Casey, author of Make It Happen: Surrender Your Fear, Take the Leap, Live on Purpose
•Rohan Gunatillake whose book Modern Mindfulness addresses the importance of healthy relationships in conjunction with technology
•Jess Atkins, the co-founder of Stylebook, a closet management app
•Jonathan and Kylie Towns, a member of the Dallas/Fort Worth police department currently assigned to the Patrol Division and his wife, Kylie, who works at a private school near Dallas
•Brittany Boccher, the 2017 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year and the founder and director of the Down Syndrome Advancement Coalition “Tank Filled Love” project
•Kate Horrell, a mother and military spouse who is savvy about growing money, wealth, and resources

InDependent ultimately aims to empower. Although the military lifestyle can be taxing, draining and certainly take a toll, “this life is actually really amazing if you let it be amazing,” Brians said. “You have to give yourself permission to be healthy and happy. We want to give people permission that it’s okay to not be perfect.” She has witnessed firsthand how a community can not only bring spouses together, but also lift them up. “We’re all in this journey together,” she said.

To learn more about InDependent, their programs, their meet-ups, or their 2018 virtual summit, visit www.in-dependent.org.