Monday, September 29, 2014

What Do You Do When You're Alone?

Out of curiosity, someone recently asked me this question. Fortunately, we were in a group and the conversation shifted, so I was saved from answering. But the question shocked me to my core and has been burning in my mind ever since.

What do I do when I'm alone?

The truth is, I'm alone more than I like to admit. And I hate it. I have always hated being alone. It's the consequence of being an extrovert and drawing my strength by being around other people. Being alone and at peace with myself is something which does not come easily to me. It is one of my biggest inner flaws I have had to address over the years.

Residency is just a different time beast than I imagined. True, Jared spent a lot of time studying during medical school, but we were in a familiar place with long-time friends. I recently learned I have been truly spoiled by being able to stay in the same state, let alone the same city, for undergraduate AND medical school. Apparently, this is not the norm for most medical families. Being spoiled may have helped me in medical school, but it sure doesn't help me now.

Some of you may be rolling your eyes and thinking, wow, I WISH I had even an hour to myself! But what if those hours stretched into endless days and nights while the person you loved the most is away from you, often in a place you cannot reach them? You might migrate over to my camp at that point.

I'm sure I sound quite ungrateful and short-sighted. I have a lot of blessings, and residency will not last forever. I am quite aware of these facts. But facts are very poor company.

And I am not alone in being alone.

Many of the women in this residency journey are often alone. I've listened to my friends and hugged them when they cried because of how much they miss their husbands. The paradox of this whole situation is there is no one to blame for how much we are alone. Our husbands don't choose their schedules, they are just obligated to keep them. The hours HAVE to be this intensive because it prepares our young doctors for the future. It's just a sad part of reality right now.

So what do we do when we are alone? 

Here are some things which help somewhat:

Work on Independence

This is an absolute requirement of being a medical wife, whether you were before or not. Your husband won't be around, so you will have to learn to step up. This means paying bills, keeping track of finances and most household chores. I was sick for a few days, and NOTHING got done at my house! We basically ran out of food. This can be a grim realization, or you can use it to empower yourself. Your husband needs you to support him, because he is also going through a difficult time.

Find Fulfillment Away from People

Jared is an introvert. He regains strength by being alone. Some of you may also be this way. But for those of us who are extroverts, fulfillment must come from another source. Of course there are days when I meet up with girlfriends or go to church, but those days are few and far between. I will be starting a job this week, so that will certainly help!

But on the days when there are no activities and no people, invest in yourself. Read, write, cook, learn a skill, perfect a hobby, explore new places...learn to enjoy these things solo. And honestly, the only way to do this is through repetition. Do it over and over again. Refuse to let alone time dampen your enjoyment of an activity. Through time, I have learned to enjoy solo experiences.

Accomplish One Good Thing

There are days when I am so sad and so lonely, I can barely get myself out of bed. I think, what's the point? No one even knows I'm alive today. You may experience those kind of days too. If you do, I have learned the best defense is to set a goal: do One Good Thing. Make your bed, do the laundry, clean the bathroom, go to the library, try a new One Good Thing to bring light to your day.

Love on Something or Someone

Sometimes, when you are alone so much, you forget how to love on people. Isolation can cause you to focus way too much on yourself! I don't know what I would do without my dog. On the bad days, Henry is the only reason I might go outside. I often like to take Henry for a walk or to the dog park. You might also catch Henry and I cuddling to some recorded TV Jared doesn't like ; )

If you don't have a child or pet, or want a change of pace, show love to someone else. Can you buy someone's drink at Starbucks? Let someone into your lane while you're driving? Call a loved one or old friend? Any of these activities will loosen your "love muscle" and connect you with people.

What do you do when you're alone?