By Amy Rakowczyk, SDN Staff Writer
We’re a few months into the new medical year and wherever your spouse is at in their medical journey, they’re likely feeling stressed and overwhelmed. As their partner, it’s impossible for you to not be affected by the weight your spouse is carrying. You’re probably watching them struggle, but feel like you can do very little to help them. Your spouse may also be pulling away, crawling into their little world of medicine and overwork, which will lead to you feeling less supported and loved by your partner, and leaving you with more responsibilities to shoulder.
It’s not fair and it’s not easy, but this may be your reality right now. So as you are watching this medical spectacle play out and you’re being dragged along for the ride, I invite you to indulge in some self-care.
It’s important that you accept this invitation. Sometimes we need an invitation or to have someone give us permission. So here you go. You have permission. You have permission to give more attention to taking care of yourself. Permission to take breaks and add some joy into your life by doing things that light you up.
Often when I’ve talked to other spouses about self-care, they feel dismayed at the idea because self-care feels selfish. We feel like we should always be thinking of others more than ourselves. We should always be productive, working, checking off items on our lists, and showing some tangible signs of accomplishment. We leave self-care off the list because it’s not quantifiable, not something that we can easily show any progress made.
But you know what? This is a trap. Doing more “things” depletes you, which makes you less likely to enjoy your day-to-day routine, less interested in taking time to do something you enjoy or to spend time with friends, and less available for your spouse. Giving yourself as much attention and care as you give others is not selfish, it’s actually essential. Why? Because if your spouse is not able to give you the support and love you need right now, who or what is going to fill that void? You have someone that always will—YOU.
YOU actually can provide love and support to yourself ALL THE TIME whether or not your spouse is available. And the strange thing is that the more you support and love yourself, the more you can love your spouse and the more they can love you. When there’s no neediness attached to your relationship, then both of you can be more open, more available, more loving.
So how do you bring self-care and self-love into your life? Many of us have lived our lives so far with little love for ourselves. We know all the things we don’t like about ourselves, all the things we would change. We sometimes wish we were different, and often beat ourselves down whenever we feel like we’ve messed up or aren’t measuring up. If you’re able to spend the mental energy fueling these self critiques, then isn’t it possible that you could redirect that same energy into building yourself up and comforting yourself in times of need?
Loving yourself is not something that happens overnight. It’s a learned skill, a seed you have to water everyday. But you know what? You CAN do it! Just like you have committed to your relationship with your medical spouse, in which you nurture and give to that relationship everyday, you can do this for yourself as well. This is self-care. It’s the farthest thing from being selfish. The more you nourish and give love to yourself, the more you can give to others, including your spouse.
Steps to Self-Care
- Daily Sacred Time
Set aside time—maybe even just 10 minute— that are dedicated to being with yourself. Now you may feel like you’re already alone all the time because your spouse is never home! But, this “being with yourself” is not working on “things” or distracting yourself by scrolling social media or watching TV. It is a mindful and present time to connect with yourself.
It starts with being curious. Notice your feelings, how your body feels, and what thoughts are running through your mind. Then do an action that feels right for you to honor yourself and send loving energy to yourself. Here are some ideas:
Forgive yourself. A simple little, “Yeah, today was rough. I feel bad about X and that I did X. I’m struggling a bit right now. I forgive myself for that. I forgive my actions and any hurt I’ve caused myself or others. Tomorrow I will try again.” Stop and try it now. How did that feel? (More on forgiveness below under #5.)
Gratitude journal. You’ve likely heard of these. Have you tried one yet? If not a journal, try a positive end of day reflection. You can get a specific journal to write in each night before bed (or a regular notebook works too) or you can simply ask yourself a question. In my house, we try to ask each other at the end of every day, “What went well today?” and then the follow-up question, “What did you do to contribute to that happening?” This practice helps us program our brains to see more of what’s going well, and how we played an active role in making those good things happen. It also elevates our moods and makes us feel more content and hopeful. If you’re curious to learn more about the science behind why gratitude practice works, you can look up “external vs internal locus of control.”
Pray or Meditate. If that’s your thing. This sacred “you” time you’ve set aside is a great opportunity do it!
Paint, Draw, Write, Sing, Play Music. Do something creative that makes you light up!
- What’s your one thing?
What could you commit to doing every week that is good for you, makes you feel better, and adds fun and joy to your life? Is it as simple as taking a walk around the block? Meeting or calling a particular family member or friend? Taking a long shower or bath? It can be anything that quickly makes you feel lighter and more connected. For example, in my community we have a weekly meetup for medical spouses. It is a time to get together to support and connect with each other. It is something that really fills my cup and I go to great lengths to attend these meetings because it is my one thing. I always feel better after these gatherings.
Take a minute now to think about what your one thing is. What can you commit to that would serve yourself and bring you a bit more support and self-love into your life?
- Get inspired
Is there a person, book, movie, or song that can flip things around and really make you feel good? What are some useful places to look for intentional messages you can feed to your mind that will be inspiring instead of defeating? Try putting this “feel good” thing in place of something that you would normally do to fill time but you know causes you agitation or anxiety (such as reading the news or scrolling through social media).
- Do something fun!!
Life is full of serious stuff. But it also can be fun!! What is something you could do where you could be creative, silly, laugh, and let loose? What would your younger self do that you would still enjoy now? For example, I love to dance and listen to hip hop music. Sometimes I’ll find a fun YouTube video to follow, or if I can, I’ll drop in on a Zumba or other dance class.
- Love your body
Feed it good food. Massage it. Make it feel pretty or handsome. Dress it up and take it out. This idea is from the book, “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero. I love the way she talks about taking care of our bodies as a form of self-love. Sincero gives us permission to indulge in making ourselves feel good. Isn’t is crazy that we sometimes need that permission? Not only can we work to nourish our minds with self-love, it’s sometimes easiest to start with our bodies. Give your body love and the rest will follow.
Can you find some gratitude for what your body does for you? Even with all the imperfections you may see, can you take a moment to thank this incredible, and yes, beautiful house your soul gets to hang out in during your time on Earth? Take a moment now to thank your body and then brainstorm and decide what can you do to make your body feel good!
- Start healing your relationship with yourself
This one is much harder to do, but the results are profound. I invite you to consider the gift of forgiveness for yourself. Forgiving all the hurt you’ve caused yourself, for all the things you wish were different about yourself. Acknowledge you’re like everyone else—just a human being on this journey of life trying to figure things out. It’s messy, it’s hard, and sometimes it hurts.
It’s also beautiful, abundant, full of grace and light. It’s easier to see the bad and dwell in the dark, but forgiving this tendency will help you free yourself of it. “I forgive myself, when I have acted or spoken harshly to myself or to others. I am trying my best.” Try it now. Or if it’s too much to say this directly, try listening to this meditation. At the end of this clip there is an excerpt from one of my favorite Rumi poems. “Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
Counseling is also a great tool available to you. Counseling is so important if you feel stuck and unable to find any love for yourself. Let someone who knows their stuff help you discover that seed of love and help you nourish it.
So, fellow medical spouses, self-care is not a selfish thing to do. It’s actually one of the best gifts you can give yourself, your spouse, and those around you. And there’s no limit to the love available, so giving yourself more love doesn’t mean you’re taking any away from anyway else.
Self-care is not easy, but it’s so important to start making time for this and building this “I’m loving on me” skill. As your spouse continues through medical training and then into a medical practice later on, you will be so thankful that you can gift yourself love and support whenever you need it.
About the Author
Amy Rakowczyk is a medical spouse, mother, writer, singer, and former voice instructor. She currently resides in Galveston, TX with her husband and two young daughters. She enjoys helping other spouses navigate the world of medicine and actively participates in support groups and activities. Her husband is a Family Medicine resident at UTMB Galveston and did his medical training at The Ohio State University.