How to find friends outside of the medical world
By Amy Rakowczyk
A big part of surviving medical school and training as a medical spouse is having support. It’s way too challenging to do on your own. You need a community that understands your situation and can be there during the ups and downs of training.
However, what if you don’t have access to this kind of community? What if there are few other medical spouses near you, or spouses that you relate to? Or what if the other spouses are simply busy with their own lives and they don’t expend the effort to stay connected? If you’re in this situation, it can feel very lonely.
If you are working, you do your work everyday sometimes feeling like there’s this whole world your co-workers won’t understand or be interested in hearing about. I worked full time in a non-medical job while my husband was in medical school and it felt like I had to hide that part of my life. My co-workers wouldn’t be able to sympathize if I aired my grievances, and especially when it came time for the Match, I didn’t mention to anyone that we were likely leaving the area, and therefore, leaving my job.
If you are looking for work and haven’t found anything yet, life becomes an existential crisis. Days start to feel low and mundane, without purpose or drive. “What am I doing here??” can become a daily question.
If you have children, they will keep you busy, and exhausted! Through your kids, you will have the opportunity to meet other moms and dads who will understand the challenges and joys of parenting. Some of them might even have spouses that work long hours, so you will also have that in common. They won’t understand all of the demands of medical training, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a deep and meaningful friendship.
Whatever your situation, if you don’t have an easily accessible, relatable, and active medical community available (such as a spousal support group, groups like Side By Side, etc), medical school and training can be a very isolating, lonely, and overwhelming experience.
If you are feeling the medical training blues and need a friend to connect with, here are some tips on how to find it. The key word here is FIND. When you’re lonely, all you want is for someone to reach out to you, ask you how you are, and give you some love and support. Unfortunately, that is likely not going to happen. You have to make the first move by reaching out.
It’s up to you to find it, as hard as it is. But you can do this, and need to do this for yourself! Here’s how:
#1: Acknowledge that this is hard.
Part of feeling lonely and unsupported is the guilt and shame that comes with it. “I should be stronger than this,” “Why does this feel so hard for me?” etc. What you’re going through is hard, and you can acknowledge that fact. Regardless of who you are, medical school and training is hard. Being a medical spouse is hard. You’re doing hard work. This acknowledgement will help empower you and give you a feeling of achievement. You’re working each and every day to make something out of an otherwise challenging and often unfavorable situation.
#2: Let yourself wallow for a bit, and then move forward.
There are times when you just need to stop, check in with yourself, and feel all the feels. Sit with the emotion, just feeling it, without creating or following any sort of story about that feeling. This is not easy, but this is the way you remove the power and hold these emotions can over on you. Simply, “I feel really alone.” Just feel that feeling. No story attached.
Then after a bit, resolve to move forward and brainstorm some baby steps you can take to help you feel more supported. Resist the urge to succumb to the thoughts of isolations and doom. Keep moving forward, even if it’s in small ways. Help yourself by changing the inner dialogue from “I’m lonely” to “I don’t want to be alone. I’m not alone. I’m surrounded by people that want the same connection as me.”
As an example, I have a neighbor that I’ve met several times in passing and we keep saying we should get together. Months had passed and we never did. One day I was feeling really overwhelmed and lonely. I thought of my neighbor, and I made the commitment to reach out to her. We finally met up and had a great time. It’s not magic, it’s effort and dedication. I have to continue to reach out to her, to grow this connection, but I already feel the rewards. I feel less alone and I have some peace of mind knowing that a friend is just across the street.
#3: Find friends.
Say you’re new to a city, there are few medical spouses, and you don’t know anyone. That feels awesome, doesn’t it! Your medical spouse will be off at med school or training all day and you’re just there. Doing your thing. Trying to keep a smile on your face. Where are you going to start finding people to hang out with? Friends to connect with?
In the past, before I had kids, I was at a loss with where to find friends. I ended up joining a group on meetup.com and another on Facebook, which was kinda weird, but also a good way to start doing something. I realized those weren’t my people, but it was still fun to get out and be around people. Here are some places you can look:
- Participate in church or a spiritual community.
Many of my friends met each other through a local church, a community group within the church, or a Bible study. If that’s your thing, it’s one of the easiest ways to get around like-minded people who are ready to connect. You just have to show up.
Is there an organization or event that you interests you where you could volunteer your time on a regular basis or for a single event? Some ideas are the Humane Society, farmer’s markets, community events like 5K runs or cancer awareness, wine/beer/food festivals, the Boys and Girls Club, or community theatre. Organizations are always in need of help and it’s also is a great way to get out of a funk and connect with other people.
- Take a class.
Not a class where you just go in and out without having to talk to anyone. Some type of class where you actually have to engage with other people, like an art class or sport. Yes, adults can do art and sports too! In several cities I’ve lived in, there are continuing education classes for adults through the city’s park and recreation department. The classes range from computer classes to art, dance, music, and sports. I have really enjoyed the classes I’ve taken and was able to meet a lot of new people there.
Is there anyone that you might want to start going on walks or jogs with? Do you have kids or dogs that you can stroll around the neighborhood with, looking for potential friends? It’s not weird, it’s sociable! That’s how people used to meet each other!
- Create a wine & cheese night (or some other theme) and invite some people over.
Can your spouse send out word to some other couples they know through school/work? You might have no one show up, but then again, you might have a handful of people come and voila! friends! This is how I met one of my best friends while my husband was in medical school.
- If you have someone that you enjoy seeing, invite them out for coffee or happy hour.
This is especially true for medical spouses who are doctors themselves. You also feel isolated and without support. There’s probably one or two fellow med students or residents that you connect with. See if they want to meet up sometime to hang out.
So, fellow spouses, I know there will be times when you feel alone and are struggling with all the things that come with medical training. Even if you’re an introvert and aren’t particularly fond of people in general, you need some sort of support or community to help you through.
As much as you love your medical spouse, they are just not always going to be able to be there for you when you need it. Part of taking care of your relationship right now is taking care of yourself, which includes having a friend or community to lean on so your spouse isn’t expected to be 100% of your support. Try out these simple steps to help you find what you need to get through this season of your life—with hopefully some happiness and enjoyment!
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.