We have suddenly found ourselves in year four of medical school. FOUR. This means we are 75% there. Within 10 months, Jason will be walking across a stage and I’ll be crying in the audience and OMG where did time go???
So many stages are required to become a practicing physician; each stage with its own amount of hardship and complexity. Undergrad, med school, residency and if you’re extra lucky, a fellowship: all before procuring your first official job (please Jesus let this happen before we’re 40). There’s still many more steps in our journey because, hello, we are still breathing. But we are in the last year of med school! I still can hardly believe it. There have been highs and lows and everything in between. Both easier and harder, better and worse than we thought it’d be. Med school is a pretty intense process: imagine having a pot of character flaws and turning the burner on high. It’s messy. It’s life.
Here are some reflections and lessons from the past three years because I process via word vomit.
It’s not just doctors
One important realization I’ve had is, it’s not just doctors. It’s not just doctors who are busy. It’s not just doctors and their families who feel strained by the demands of their career. Some send a spouse overseas for 12 months in volatile war environments while some spouses have inconsistent schedules and income streams. Some spouses have to travel weekly while some have busy seasons at work that require loads of overtime. Some spouses are entrepreneurs who invest their own capital into an idea (sometimes again and again). If Jason hadn’t chosen the medical profession, his career would still cause strain at some point. That’s just the reality of sharing a life with another person who is passionate about what he/she does.
Stop worrying about unknowns
A lot of our future is hypothetical. There are a lot of stereotypes about being a doctor and being married to a doctor. It is easy for me to start making assumptions based on hypothetical scenarios (often regarding Jason being an absent husband and father). But, time and time again, our life looks different than proposed stereotypes. And it’s not fair to assume things about what Jason will be like in the future because I just don’t know. Because there is a history now where perceptions and reality don’t match up, I’m finding so much peace in not worrying about what our life could look like in the future. Sure, I have to have a dose of realism about what is to come (intern year, am I right!?) but I don’t get hung up on the details anymore. This is SO FREEING.
Living in the tension
Jason and I have this reoccurring argument. We’ve had it many, many times. Thanks to age and wisdom, it has become kinder and more constructive over the years. But we still keep having it, which is both exasperating, and kind of funny? It is a complex argument: two people who are both making sacrifices and wanting the other to recognize it as such (and in our weaker moments, wanting the other person to feel bad about it). Jason is sacrificing time and energy – time that could be spent with me and friends and family and just relaxing, but instead it is put towards studying. He sacrifices countless weeknights and weekends and holidays. He sacrifices for us – to get good grades and good test scores and good recommendations so that he can have better residency and career options, which impact both of us. He sacrifices emotional and mental energy to be fully present at work with his patients and colleagues. At a low point, he feels a mixture of anxiety/exhaustion by the whole process and guilt for not spending “enough” time with me as well as guilt for the sacrifices I’ve made. I sacrifice by sharing my husband with med school. I sacrifice by moving with him, by working to support both of us. I sacrifice because my plans, if they involve Jason, always have to pass the test of “is there room in the school schedule for this?” I sacrifice by sometimes staying home to be with him or sometimes going without him. At a low point, I feel a mixture of loneliness because he’s not always available and resentment at his restrictive schedule, and sadness that he feels pulled in many directions between all of his responsibilities.
It’s hard. It’s so hard sometimes. We both want the same things ultimately – love and security and a full life. Together. We adore each other. It’s just in the day-to-day when we’re trying to figure out how to find balance between all of the wants and demands of life. The last time we were discussing this, it occurred to me – why can’t we just live in the tension? What if we don’t try to fix this, this friction, and just accept it as a part of our relationship? Two people with ambition and passion who are trying to make a life together; sometimes there is overlap in ambition and passion, sometimes there’s not. Perhaps as an outsider this seems obvious, but it has been a huge mental shift for me. I am now more focused on how to call out when we are feeling the strain, but rather than trying to reason and solve and correct, just accept and move on. Accept that sometimes we will disappoint each other, and accept that the other can’t meet all of our needs (hello, important!). Accept that being married sometimes brings joy and sometimes sadness. Be grateful that, above all, we have each other.
I have a bad habit. Often, when things are not going well in my own life, I blame med school. It’s the underlying cause of all my problems, right? Not happy with my job? Blame med school. Not happy with my friends? Blame med school. Not happy with being in Des Moines? Blame med school. It is, put plainly, destructive. It is me defaulting to an easy way out and not confronting my own issues. I’m working on it. When I had a particularly rough patch, I took it out on Jason. I finally realized, no, it’s me. It’s all me and I can either make the best of it or the worst of it. I apologized to Jason and worked to focus my attention on my own attitude. It was a game changer and now if I fall into this thought pattern, I can more quickly recognize and redirect.
Before I make the entire experience sound melancholy (it’s really truly not, at all!), med school has been a wonderful framework for me to learn more about the fantastic human being I married. I won’t go on and on because it can be so dull to read about someone gushing about their significant other, but. There has been so much joy and intimacy in watching and participating in the process of Jason growing more into who God created him to be. Seeing Jason working so hard at his own dreams spurs me to continue to do the same.
Jason has consistently prioritized family in his decisions, so much so that his loyalty sometimes takes me by surprise. He has sought to find a specialty that will allow balance in life, and he is very realistic with his career aspirations, knowing that a career isn’t the only important thing in life. I am much more prone to search for my self-worth in what I do, both inside and outside work, and he is my steady reminder my worth is not at all tied to what I do.
Advantages of adventures
Because I am incredibly practical, the largest reason why I wanted Jason to consider medical schools outside of Arizona was for the adventure. I had lived in the same state for 24 years and was itching for new experiences. And now three years in, I see how important this particular adventure has been in my life. It has been packed full of personal growth and discovery, largely due to being in this unfamiliar environment. It has been packed full of trips and outings: we’ve explored the heck out of the Midwest – Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Kansas City, and a multitude of little towns, state parks and campgrounds in the area. And the people! Our stay in Des Moines has been packed full of good people. Good people who make life sweeter and more meaningful. I firmly believe life is too short to postpone adventure and if anything, we are inspired to pursue it all the more.
Again and again, we are learning to enjoy the journey and not to focus on the destination. This whole medical education process is so long (between 11 and 14 years depending on Jason’s next steps) and what a loss if we spent the whole time waiting for the next season. Life is a gift, a beautiful bittersweet gift, and we are intentional about savoring these days together. We get to do this together. I can’t emphasize together enough. The togetherness of our relationship is a huge, beautiful chunk of my life and I cherish it.
So, year four. We’re tougher and wiser now. Let’s do this.