When she first married into the military, Charlotte Harker was battling extreme anxiety, which kept her at home and away from the community. With two young children to care for and a husband deployed overseas, Charlotte fell into a rut, feeling alone and lost.
But when she turned to social media to connect to the outside world, she found new friendships and as well as a new career. Now, Charlotte is a military spouse Instagram influencer with a huge 25,000 followers.
Marrying Into The Military
Charlotte and Ash met at school at the tender age of 13, and romance blossomed between them at 16. That was in 2015 when Ash was in the process of joining the British Army. Knowing this was his childhood dream, Charlotte accepted she’d have to marry into the military in order to stay together.
At first with Ash in the Army and Charlotte still a civilian, the young couple would see each other every other week. It was during this time that Charlotte gave birth to their son, and eventually the family moved into their first family home when Ash was posted to Warminster in Wiltshire.
Charlotte remembers that the move was hectic, saying: “I quit my job, packed up and went. It was a bit chaotic because we moved ourselves, and our son was only four months old at the time.”
After moving into to their married quarters, Ash was deployed abroad, leaving Charlotte with a baby in an unfamiliar environment. This was when anxiety began to creep in.
To cope, Charlotte hid away at home to avoid meeting new people; the very thought of going out into the community triggered her anxiety.
She explains: “I suffer quite badly with my anxiety, so social situations with people that I don't know I find quite overwhelming. So, the idea of doing that with a newborn – when my only support was out of the country – it was a no-go.”
Although Charlotte had been managing to run her own business part-time with a baby, when her daughter arrived, it became impossible due to the demands of parenthood. This compounded her isolation despite loving being a mum.
By 2019, Charlotte was missing a local support network, so she turned to social media to find and connect with other military spouses.
Ending Loneliness With Instagram
Charlotte began to rely heavily on Instagram as her social outlet; she remembers being amazed when she discovered numerous other women in similar circumstances online.
She said: “There are quite a lot of Instagram handles with ‘military wife’ or ‘military house’ or ‘quarter’ in the title.
"And it's surprising how many have taken to Instagram and showing what they're doing with their quarters – like decorating and ‘hinching’ – and who are connecting with other wives.”
She adds: "I connected with quite a lot of other military spouses. And by doing that you've sort of got friends in your pocket. And it was a couple of months ago when I was talking to a lady, and it turns out our sons go to the same preschool.”
Because Charlotte had already come to know her acquaintance online, she readily accepted an invitation to a coffee morning. With that, she took her first courageous steps towards creating a new social circle.
Not only did Instagram connect Charlotte with other wives, but it also helped her re-establish her self-identity and confidence, which had been eroded by becoming a wife and mum.
Currently based in a peaceful village near Ash’s current posting in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, Charlotte is enjoying the military life. Although she still suffers with anxiety, she’s learned to manage it well.
The Power Of Social Media
Social media has the potential to create exciting opportunities for anyone struggling to find a new network of friends. Charlotte encourages other military wives to sign up.
She said: “Get on social media and connect with people in similar situations to you.
"It doesn't cost anything to drop someone a message and just say, hi. That's it. That's all you need to do.
“If you're not comfortable walking into the welfare or going into the community centre, don't feel the pressure to do it. But look at social media and try to connect with spouses that way. Talk to some other women who may feel the way you do. And go from there.”
Recognising that many other wives are also struggling with anxiety, Charlotte has set up special Instagram groups where sufferers can share their feelings and support each other.
Charlotte invites other military wives to drop her a message or to join one of her Instagram groups. She can be found here: @armyhousewifelife.
This article features as part of Mind Kind - a week-long series of interviews, videos, case studies, and practical tips and information on mental health and forces families, across BFBS platforms.
The week will culminate in an interactive panel session on BFBS Radio Facebook on Friday, July 3 at 1pm (UK time) to bring together families, mental health experts and welfare champions to help support forces families with the mental health challenges they face.
If you have a question you would like our panel to discuss on July 3, please email [email protected]