By Claire Necessary
Live in the moment
YOLO (You only live once)
As the spouse of a resident, I will admit there have been times when the above phrases made me grit my teeth. Someone would say something about being present and I would roll my eyes. For a time in our medical journey, I found myself putting off life and only looking toward the future. One of the many ways that medicine is such a unique calling is because there is so much front-end investment. You work so hard for so long that it is easy to live only in the future. It becomes second nature to think we can do that after medical school or residency.
During the first year of medical school, I was often resentful and irritated by the amount of time that it required. There was a period of major adjustment when I had to learn (the hard way) that I could either stay resentful and irritated or I could find ways to live life in the midst of the journey.
That is exactly what I did. I got a Master’s degree and I dabbled in a multi-level marketing business. I had several jobs, including becoming a teacher. I found ways for me and my husband to prioritize our social life. Although we didn’t have money, we still found ways to go on quick trips with the little money that those random jobs would provide.
We also got our first dog during medical school. Looking back on those late nights when that little puppy and I would sleep on the couch while my husband was studying late at the library makes my heart all warm and fuzzy.
There was a shift in expectations and a level of flexibility that had to be cultivated. Don’t misunderstand, I am still a control freak and still struggle with being flexible, but I gained the ability to seize those free moments whenever they would arise. When he had a break or an easier rotation or off days, I had to take full advantage of those. The key was jumping right back in to “us” time after living so independently the majority of the time.
Thankfully, I am married to one of the most selfless men in the world, who is both incredibly hard-working and laid back at the same time, so I took my cues from him. We both did our own thing, but maintained a healthy relationship by setting our marriage as a priority and learning how to live in the present while on the intense road to becoming a physician.
We are in our last year of residency and will be starting a fellowship in a month and a half and I can honestly say I do not feel that I have put off living our life together. We have two beautiful healthy boys, we have a house, we love our city and community, I have started a second advanced degree, and we have created so many amazing memories over the past ten years. While, of course, we plan and think about our future, we do not put off living in our present. We love our life and wouldn’t have changed one thing about it. I am still in awe of medicine and what my husband has learned and the things that he can do. There is nothing like it and we must not lose sight of that.
Here are some practical ways I have learned to live in the moment:
- Plan trips and travel. Plan them, pay for them in advance, and get them on the calendar. It is too easy to stay down in the grind and not come up for enjoyment.
- If you want to start your family – do it! We waited until after medical school to have our first child, but we had friends who had babies in medical school and thrived. There is never a perfect time to have kids and your bank account will never be full enough.
- Be flexible and occasionally spontaneous. When a friend invites you to a party, but your spouse was planning to study for a test next month, urge him or her to take two hours off to go hang out. If you can get last-minute tickets to a sporting event or concert, get them and enjoy!
- Stay healthy. I cannot stress enough the importance of staying healthy. There will be times when you and/or your partner won’t feel like there is time for sleep, exercise, or preparing healthy meals. That is absurd! Maintaining your health is not only vital to success, but it allows you to thrive and live your life to the fullest. Commit to a healthy lifestyle.
- Do whatever it takes to combat stress. This will look different for everyone, but is vital. There is no denying that medicine is a highly stressful career, which often translates to stress with medical spouses and partners. Experiment with diet, yoga, meditation, running, talk therapy, or anything else you can think of to help you and your partner stay ahead of the inevitable stress. Put a game plan into place before you get overwhelmed. Also, many medical schools now have services dedicated to the mental health of their med students.
- Find community with others who are on the same journey as you. There are groups and organizations that you can join that will help and support you tremendously as a partner to someone in medicine. The unique lifestyle comes with things that are sometimes hard to express to someone who hasn’t experienced it. When you have others around you who understand those unique challenges, you will find support and understanding in a judgment free and caring environment.
Whatever ways you find that are right for you and your family, I encourage you to stick with them. Find ways to make the most of your free time, be spontaneous every once in a while, and learn the power of the present. Being present doesn’t have to be some mystical and far-off concept that takes years of honing special skills in order to achieve. It simply means being at peace and enjoying your moment-by-moment, being thankful and satisfied.
Claire has been married to her husband for 10 years and they have two boys and live in Atlanta. She loves to write about culture, church culture, community, and relationships. You can read more at her personal blog, follow her on twitter @acnecessary, and like her Facebook page.