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Overcoming Angry

It was Wednesday night & it was gymnastics night. After two hours sitting in a small enclosed space, giving smiles and thumbs ups through the window, I was done. & every single week, the same scenario happened and I braced myself for my rage.

You see, Wednesday often felt like the rest of the world’s Friday. Fellowship life means there is no typical work week, because there are no days off. & as many of you moms know–every day is a work day. It was a solo-parent marathon. Year seven. Eight if you count that year I was pregnant. Everett’s part time Preschool was W-F, which meant I was solo, 24/7 parent from Saturday-Wednesday with no backup. By Wednesday when I dropped them both off at school, it was all I could do to just sit and keep it together.  To take a breath with someone not needing me for like, a second, was divine. It was my recovery. I made a point to go recharge every Wednesday morning at my favorite coffee shop and spend an hour or two writing in my journal, reading my latest book or catching up on texts/emails with friends. It was MY time & nothing got in the way. It was blocked off on my calendar. BUSY. No exceptions. By noon on Wednesdays, my cortisol level had dropped to a reasonable level and I was ready to weather the inevitable frustrations of another long week, knowing I had two more days to work or get uninterrupted housework/grocery shopping/errands done.

But then there was Wednesday night.

It was enough for me to have to sit for two hours straight (dreadful!!) but at the end of our two hour gymnastics classes there was this family. & every week, this family did me in. & let me make it clear–my rage had nothing, not a single thing to do with this sweet family. It was me. MY current state of angry, that was probably written all over my face, that was the problem.

When you have a husband who regularly works 14-21 days straight, then gets maybe one day off (to sleep), who has a regular 3:30am-10pm workday with a pager ringing all night on the days he actually gets to sleep in his own bed– your worldview gets pretty jacked up. This results in having a little two-year-old boy excitedly pointing to the hospital as we drive by, declaring “that’s where daddy lives!” Yeah. Awesome. To which I try to explain that where daddy sleeps is his home, and he sleeps at our house. “Not aw-ways,” says that little blue eyed boy. & I realize that I have to find a better answer, that most nights his dad did come home, he has come and gone while his children were asleep. Home is where Daddy’s family is, I explain. But I am not sure he ever believed me.

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(image by Kate L Photography)

I digress. Back to Furious Wednesdays.

So as I am sitting there in this stuffy gymnastics viewing area, waiting for a text from my husband (one of two each day I’d usually receive on time–signaling the end of his second 6-8 hours long case–heart surgery is no joke) I watched this family. & the fire would start to burn. This sweet dad always arrived about 30 minutes before their classes started. (hot button one: DAD WAS AT GYMNASTICS–BEFORE KIDS ARRIVE!! I mean…!) He was clearly coming straight from work and brought Chick Fil A dinner for the whole family. (hot button two: THE DAD SUPPLIED DINNER!I can’t even…) Then all on his own, he set out the sticky mat, and arranged his wife and daughters’ food and cut the berries into little pieces and had it all arranged in a neat little foursome before she even arrived. (by this time I probably had my jaw on the ground or pursed lips, depending on the week…) & then, he went and stood by the door. He waited for his wife’s minivan to arrive and he went out and GOT THE KIDS. (can you imagine?!!!) I mean, like, she didn’t carry a single child into gymnastics. & dinner was all ready to go when she got there. (and that is when my eyes probably turned red.) One week I overheard her complain that he got her the wrong thing and it took everything in my power not to turn and smile (probably with tears welling in my eyes) and scold her for her lack of gratitude. She had a husband, there at gymnastics, who brought DINNER and SET IT UP FOR HER. I cannot count on one hand the times my husband was home for dinner over the course of that last YEAR of fellowship. He never made it to see my kids gymnastics. He was never there. At all. It was me. Always, just me. & my kids. And watching this perfectly sweet, loving family just…hurt. & that hurt, felt like anger.

The part of the story that, in retrospect, still tugs at me is that I couldn’t be happy for them. All I could do was be angry. I was just…Angry. With a capital A. Or maybe all caps. Probably for the better part of two years (seven if I am being honest) because there was a massive, gaping hole in my life.

styleberry_2016_married to medicine

(image by Kate L Photography)

I think all too often we overlook the very real challenge that medical training is for a family. We cling to the “it gets better” fallacy and hold on to our family, our marriages–for dear life. & pray to God we make it through. Many don’t. It’s painfully obvious that medicine and marriage are two things that don’t go together very well. We had more than our fair share of “D word” arguments over the last several years and now that I have had a couple of months of family time, for the first time ever, I can see exactly why. Our life was not sustainable the way it was. It just wasn’t. & if I had reached a point where I was absolutely, 100% ok with only seeing my husband from 4:15-4:30 am and for ten minutes at night (maybe) before he fell asleep passed out, my marriage would have been over.

We fought about dumb shit. We fought about big shit. We were both in such a place of stress and anger, carrying workloads well beyond our capacity, that it could not have gone any other way–except divorce, had we not cared enough to fight at all. & I really believe that to be true. There was a brief point of apathy that crept in and I tried so hard to shut it down. I kept telling myself that the moment I stopped caring, it was over. & I really freaking cared. Things just never seemed to go our way. Days off ripped away, stuck doing busy work at the hospital, pulled to rounds by another attending all the while missing another event/holiday/birthday/celebration/day together.

Residency/Fellowship sucked. It almost broke us. & I want to share this because I really, really want those of you walking this path behind us to know that you are not alone. Because it can feel lonely–doing life without a partner. No one can fill that void.

I tried so very hard to be optimistic (it’s my nature) but I am also not a sugar coater. Managing expectations of the resident/fellow spouse is a very practical way to handle this lifestyle, but how do you thrive when you get to a point where you must have ZERO expectations of your partner? My answer: you can’t. You either decide to get through the suck together, or you give up. Both are ok. It’s a choice. We watched it go both ways for colleagues, yearly.

Back in premarital counseling some 13 years ago, our pastor counseled us on two things that still stick with me. How lucky we were to have him. But I think of them often. They are:

#1: Marriage is not 50/50. It never will be, so you must accept the fact that it will always be off balance, one way or the other. You have to find a balance, or rhythm of imbalance that works for you.

#2: MD: Marriage Daily. One of us may have a real MD after our name, but let it be a reminder that there is another one that deserves an equal amount of respect: Marriage Daily.

There was no Marriage Daily in residency or fellowship. We were depleted and alone and found it very, very difficult to tap into any balance whatsoever. But here we are, eight years of training later and we’re exploring a new groove. A new version of Marriage Daily.

I can now look at intact families without rage, because I am healing my gaping hole. The anger is fading. The burying of so many emotions over such a long time period is stopping. & I am starting to share the load for the first time ever as a mother. I have never had anyone else in the house to do the dishes or put kids in the bath. To hug a little person in tears or read that story just one more time. Or even to snuggle at the end of another exhausting day without feeling like I needed to be somewhere else, doing something “more productive.” I even just ordered two more car seats (can you imagine?!!) We’ve never needed them. Ever. My husband never drove the kids anywhere by himself. He was never with them by himself. That one day off he had every couple of weeks included a lot of that passing out I mentioned earlier. I couldnt leave. He’d fall asleep–and how couldn’t he? Home was the only place he could be where no one was going to die on his watch. It was insane. & I can’t imagine functioning on his (lack of) sleep schedule. But life is changing. I even left on a Saturday to a brunch for our new school and went without hiring a babysitter. He was home on a WEEKEND. & I could leave, alone. First time EVER.

Sound familiar? It takes this life to know this life. Some people never understand. Why you have to get off the phone the second your husband rings through or walks in the door. Why you don’t share vacation time with anyone. The time is so precious. SO precious. There is never enough.

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So this story, my story, is shared for all of you still trying to survive, alone. Time & time again you’ll hear me talk of “seasons.” That residency/fellowship season was the worst. There was so much good, but there was a whole lotta ugly. But it’s over. This season comes with new challenges, new separations, new expectations, new responsibilities. But it’s different. It’s not smooth sailing, but nothing compares to training.

They say you learn a lot about yourself in the darkness of life. That the tough stuff defines you. & I know this to be true. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I did not live the last few years how I did. None of this is an accident. I am convinced that Everett didn’t sleep as a baby so I would have infinite compassion for my husband, who regularly stayed awake for 36 hours straight. I am convinced that I landed in St. Louis to learn several big lessons. Because as shitty as life was there, I met some truly beautiful people who enriched my life, and my children’s lives, in ways I never expected. My restlessness there took me out into the forest where my kids and I explored and we got the itch to adventure and make that a regular part of our lives forever. It led me to tell color stories in living rooms that weren’t mine where I explored my creativity in a new professional way. The loneliness in such an insular culture made me so grateful for my inclusive community of givers in Texas, a community that I have jumped right back into. Like I had never left. I didnt realize what I had until I was gone. Funny how that happens. It also made me grateful for all the encouragers I have had along the way. Those who have supported me and cheered me on and continued to reassure me in my darkest hour. I am on the other side now. It’s my time to give.

I am not sure what life will continue to hold for me here in San Antonio. Now that the days of being a resident wife and fellowship wife are over, I am now married to the attending. Weird. Military medicine is full of different challenges than civilian physicians face, so we are navigating this new life and figuring out how it is all going to work. I am giving myself a couple of months to settle into our new routine. We opted to rent for the first year here while we decide where to put down our roots, exactly. So this, dated, dark rental poses new creative challenges. & our new school community is an active one. So there is no shortage of ways to fill my time. I am pretty sure I will not be taking any new clients until after the new year. We’ll see. My kids are both in school full time now, & my house isn’t that big. So I may get the itch after I finish painting the whole thing. Which will probably happen next week. A restless creative I am. Always. :)

Here are a few resources for those of you in the thick of residency or fellowship training. Hang in there. Being married to medicine is hard. But as one of my medical friends always said, “you can’t stop time!” It will end. Promise. Sending you a big hug & wishing you a post call day soon!

& I know I have shared this before–but it is so great and spot on & I want to share it as much as I can because it is an excellent, excellent resource.

Thanks for sticking around & visiting this dusty ‘ol blog. She’s due for an upgrade. Eventually. You know, in all my spare time. Until then, you can always catch me on Instagram. :)

Xoxo.

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  • Beth Santizo - Shawna, I don’t ever comment on blog posts but I just had to on this one of yours. I’m not married to the military, or medicine, but so much of what you’ve written here resonates with me. Being the “default parent” is lonely and frustrating and certainly requires strength to both get through and see beyond the tougher times. You are such a strong woman. Thank you for sharing. And for being so candid and honest, and truly inspiring. Congratulations to you and Tommy – what a beautiful story you two have. xoxo BethReplyCancel

  • Amber - Beautifully written! Thank you for your honesty.ReplyCancel

  • Melissa Fulton - And it’s posts like this that continue to inspire me and keep me coming back even after any absence. Thank you for your honesty. Your blog encouraged me through grad school and internship in order to become a children’s therapist. Truth be told, many of us go through complete and utter “Darkness,” depending on the season of life we’re in. Thank you for your authenticity and honesty. I’ve had more than my fair share of this in the past 5 years, but it’s comforting to read someone share many of the same struggles I’ve had!ReplyCancel

  • Rhonda - This made me tear up. I’m married to a doctor. In the middle of medical school we were having babies. And it was so stinking hard. Sometimes I feel like we’re not allowed to discuss being overburdened when you’re married to a dr or especially when we were in med school and residency. I always say when we were in school not when he was in med school!vwe both survived it
    Loved your honesty in this! ❤️ReplyCancel

  • Sara - I’m Not married to someone in medicine, but my husband works offshore on a boat for 4+ weeks at a time. When he’s home, he’s often resting, getting into a normal sleep schedule after working nights, and he frequently gets called back early. He has no cell phone reception & has a very short time window of when he can call. I can’t call him unless it’s a true emergency. I can so relate to your post. I’m 39 weeks pregnant with our third daughter, have been alone & really struggling to keep up with my 2 small kids nearly this entire pregnancy. It’s very likely he may not make it to her birth.
    It is so hard to be married when your spouse is really never home. Most people do not understand this kind of life. Not sure I would recommend it to anyone honestly. I’m glad to read that you’re in a new season & things are smoothing out. We are looking forward to a promotion (hopefully in the next year or so) to get to have more time as a complete family. I know when the kids get bigger, he will be home more. They will really need him more as they grow up. Just gotta make it to that point!ReplyCancel

  • Mara - Hi Shawna – I appreciated your honesty and vulnerability. I am happy for you and your family that you are in a new season. Hugs!ReplyCancel

  • Brandi Telles - Oh Shawna you had me in tears. You are such a strong amazing woman. Your family is so lucky to have you! Congratulations on making it through the darkness. Enjoy the light :)ReplyCancel

  • Kaley - Wow, what a big load you have had on your shoulders for such a long time. I can’t imagine what it was like to basically be a single parent for the last 7 years. I was alone for almost 2 years while my husband was in the middle east and it just about did me in. I can totally relate to how you felt at gymnastics, I remember looking at happy little families back then and being so very jealous! I’m so happy for you that you are now on the other side. You are an inspiration!ReplyCancel

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  • Donna Rovito - Shawna, thank you for sharing this emotional synopsis of your life in fellowship (and before!) You’ve nailed it SO well and your words will help others cope!

    Thanks, also, so the shout out to Physician Family (www.physicianfamilymedia.org) AND to one of my very favorite Facebook pages, Nurturing Medical Marriages with Kim Blackham. We’re all trying to do the same thing – help good people cope with what can be a VERY difficult life by building connections with other people who GET IT. Good work and best wishes on the next part of the journey!

    (And if you’re ever in the mood to write a blog for Physician Family, just let me know – editor@physicianfamilymedia.org)ReplyCancel

  • Ilana - Thank you!
    I often felt the rage, and, being married to an ob-gyn in solo practice, with five kids, I found myself doing everything alone. My kids assume that daddy is not coming with us. I have to remind my 12 year old that he does not automatically get shot gun in the car because that’s where my husband occasionally rides.
    And those intact perfect families, with perfect Sunday plans, two parent drop off and pick up… ugh.
    Everyone keeps telling us to wait. We’ve been married for fourteen years, and I got him in medical school. The while life was waiting.
    So thank you for being honest.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - Great post! 2 years left (1 residency and 1 fellowship)….it’s been a long haul. Thank you for sharing your experience.ReplyCancel

  • Nichole - Shawna,
    Your truth telling — thank you. Years ago I read your blog continuously and I only recently rediscovered that you are writing again. I went back and read all the posts. I am so happy to read your words again and to know that there is another mama out there up as early as I am! I relish my quiet mornings and hope they give me the space to be a little more patient and gentle (and forgive myself when I completely lose it because we should already be out the door! in the car! I’m late for work!). I am so glad I rediscovered your space here :)ReplyCancel

  • Cori - You. Are. Amazing.ReplyCancel

  • Erica - AMAZING. Here we are in the last (I really hope he doesn’t add one more year) of 8 years of training after med school for CT Surgery in a super-fellowship that wasn’t needed but so wanted, and I have all the feels. Thank you for writing this. I am with my kids ALL the time. People do NOT understand the pain of pretending everything is fine and that holidays without dad are just as nice. I sincerely thank you for adding your resources and the reminders from your marriage counceling.ReplyCancel

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