Tuesday, June 30, 2015

8 Tips for Surviving Intern Year (As a Doctor's Wife)

As of today, Charles' intern year is over. He worked nights the last three nights, is sleeping it off today, and will start PGY2 (post graduate year 2 -- i.e. the 2nd year after med school graduation) tomorrow. One down; two to go. Woo to the hoo! 

Below are some things that have helped get me through this year. I can only speak to my experience, but I think the principles are pretty universal, regardless of specialty or program. Heck, I think a lot of these are pretty great for any relationship!

1. Focus on the Present
Have you seen The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? In it, there's a bit about surviving for the next 10 seconds. Can you survive for the next 10 seconds? Of course. So you just keep on keeping on, 10 seconds at a time. Sometimes, this year has felt like that. It's not always easy, having two little kids at home, far from family and established friends, with a husband who works more hours than you want to count. It is easy to get discouraged when I think about about doing this for another day/week/year/several years. But now? Today? I can get through today. I've got this. I'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.

Living in the present also means enjoying the joys and blessings that you have now, instead of focusing on a misty, magical, hypothetical future when training is over and everything is rosy and perfect. Which may be true, and may not be. But regardless, it robs you of the joy that you can experience now.

2. Manage Expectations
My hardest times and biggest disappointments this year have come when I expected one thing and got another. Some people say to have no expectations of your intern spouse, but I think this sells everyone short. That said, I do a lot better when I expect Charles to work late and he gets off early (or on time) than when I expect him early and he gets in late. For me, knowing his schedule (so I know what "should" happen), communication (see #3), and some established "rules" and routines help everyone navigate the evening, regardless of what happens at "quitting time."

3. Communicate. Then Communicate Some More.
Figure out what works for you: talk, text, emails, phone calls, beers on the deck, Q&A sessions, whatever. Then utilize it. Often. Make sure that you and your spouse are talking about everything. Work. Home. The news. Sports. Movies. Your state of being. Your joys. Your victories. Your worries. Things that just aren't working right now. Things that are. Make/find time to enjoy each other's company, to work out problems, and keep things flowing nicely. Just not all at once -- that would probably be a little much for even my chatterbox tendencies.

4. Blame Residency.
Believe me, no matter how much they love what they are doing, no one wants to stay late on Christmas dealing with a terrible situation with a terrible outcome. (Yes, we know this from personal experience.) Charles certainly does not want to miss time with his family for work or to respond to another page. He doesn't want to hear that pager in the middle of the night. What he does want is to help people, and to do honest work to provide for his family and to make it possible for me to be home with the kids. What he does want  is to be with us. What is does want is the best training possible to be the best doctor he can be. Residency is a cruel mistress, but one we both accept for the good of our family. When your husband is gone, when you miss him, when you are just sick of it. Don't blame him. Blame residency. 

5. Make Time for Yourself.
Make time for yourself in ways big and small. I generally find it pretty easy (often too easy) to put myself last, but I learned the first weekend of motherhood than an unshowered Mama is a really, really cranky Mama (read: terrible Mama). As a result, I have no issues asking Charles to bounce a baby or letting Sofia/Daniel Tiger/Mickey Mouse help out so that I can take a shower every day. There is no shame in my coffee drinking game. I'm getting better at voicing my need for a longer break. It is so important for everyone to get some time out. And make sure that your spouse gets some down time, too. Charles hits the gym a couple of times a week, when he can manage, and I know that he needs that as much or more than I need my breaks.

6. Get Out. Make the Most of It.
Whether you've moved to a new city or are living in the same place you always have, GET OUT!! Yes, I'm shouting at you. Yes, getting the kids into the van is like herding cats. Yes, making friends is hard, but I try to get us out of the house every.single.day. Whether it is the playground, meeting up with friends, story time at the library, an activity like the zoo, or just boring old errands, we leave after breakfast and we come back for/after lunch. It makes the day go faster and smoother. It makes everyone happier, more socialized, and less stir crazy. I'm connected with a great group of fellow residents' wives, and while I don't make evening activities often, the kids and I go to play group and see our "play group friends" at activities during the week, too. I've also gotten to know people at Church and am friendly with the other spouses in Charles' program. Is it exactly like home? No, but we make the most of it anyway.

7. Don't Keep Score (Unless You're Actually Playing a Game).
If you are constantly playing games, it breeds anger and resentment. Who works harder? Who has it worse? Who changes more diapers? Who got the least amount of sleep? Who cares? No one wins those games. Instead, take it all on as a team. You'll both be happier.

And while you're at it, don't keep score with anyone else either. Maybe spouses in other specialities have it worse. Maybe it's worse to be a military wife. Maybe your problems are small potatoes compared to someone else's, but know what? That doesn't diminish your experience, your worries, your fears, or your struggles. You've got your crosses. I've got mine. And those crosses are heavy enough without adding score-keeping them.

8. Keep the Faith.
If you are a person of faith, you need it now more than ever. Giving it to God has never felt so good! This year, the blessings of Catholicism have really made themselves known. I'm so thankful for the variety of devotions available to us. I'm so thankful for the variety of Mass times that have allowed us to worship as a family somewhere, sometime every single weekend since beginning residency. Yes, I've nudged a tired, post-call husband a couple of times during a homily, but how wonderful it is to have him helping me wrangling kids and worshipping at my side?!? By making faith a priority, it keeps us both mindful of our real goals and what led us here (with all of its levels of meaning) in the first place. It also gives us stable footing when things feel rocky. It gives us hope when all seems lost. It gives our struggles meaning. It gives us a rhythm to life. Honestly, I can't imagine how much harder this would have been without faith -- for either of us.

But the biggest thing of all, friends, is to keep a positive attitude. Yes, things may be hard, but you will get through them. And looking back, you might just be living some of the best years of your life.

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