Happiness is not an option

I got an email recently from a resident student spouse who had been reading Surviving Residency hoping it would help her find peace during her husband’s surgery residency.

I want to embrace this time in our lives.  I have re-read the 25 things to do on a call night so many times that the spine is creased there. I’ve made so many lists of what works for me when I’m feeling down about this choice we made that they could fill a notebook, but I’m miserable.  Happiness is just not an option right now.”

Happiness is just not an option.  This is such a powerful statement and it has stuck with me since our conversation with each other.

I remember feeling that way during intern year in particular.  I was so exhausted, lonely, and worn out at times that I didn’t really feel like happiness was an option either.  Now, as I raise three teenagers and two elementary-aged children it doesn’t feel like happiness is an option for me at times either.  It’s within my grasp though, and it takes some reminding … and at times a lot of deep breathing … to recognize that  I can give myself the gift of a happy moment right now.  Will that translate to happiness with all of the challenges in my life?  No.  In really dark times though, doing small things like sitting outside in my serenity garden with a cup of coffee or going out for dinner with a group of friends can help me refocus and climb out of the abyss.  Self-care really can work.

I want to remind you that  it’s also ok to seek out professional help if you feel like you need it. You will not get a prize at the end of training for suffering in silence. You might even discover that failing to get treatment for serious depression or anxiety  prolongs your struggles well into the attending years.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists does provide a therapist locator directory that can help you find a therapist in your area.  You can also check with your insurance company or primary care provider for a referral.

Happiness might not feel like an option, but being unhappy is not the only option.