On the Side - July 2018
The Struggle Of Comparison
by Carol Mason Shrader
Going to medical school was a second career for my wonderful Wade. He had begun a career at NASA as an aerospace engineer the week after we married (yes, we married the week after college graduation). God used several life circumstances to encourage the career-change, and so we knew fairly early that we were heading to medical school, but it took four years of working and taking pre-requisites, volunteering at the local hospitals on weekends and applying to med school before we actually made the jump to medical student marriage.
Because we were saving for that, because we were waiting for babies because of that, and because we were a bit uncertain of where we would land for that, those four years were full of a lot of firsts for our friend-group that weren’t happening for us.
Our dearest friends bought their first home. I will never forget them giving us the tour as they beamed with pride. Returning to our little apartment with no “first home purchase in sight” was hard.
Our Newlywed Sunday School class—the group we began marriage sharing and learning and growing together with—began to have their first babies. I went to baby shower after baby shower knowing that was not on our immediate horizon. I went to “Ladies’ Nights” with the same group where I had no pregnancy tale to share, no delivery drama to entertain them with, no up-all-night-with-a-newborn saga to bemoan. I had no idea when that might become our reality.
And so, I remember feeling terribly alone. I remember feeling rather envious. And I remember feeling very inadequate to even be with these friends, as I had become an outsider in my mind.
I can only imagine how this would have felt today—with social media blasting photos at me non-stop of all those new homes, new babies and playdates. I can only imagine the isolation would have felt all the keener, all the more severe.
A quick internet search provides multiple reports on how people are suffering from depression in greater numbers with a direct correlation to their social media usage. The opportunity to compare ourselves, our home, our vacations—our lives—to our friends via the daily barrage of photos, posts, tweets can lead to a sense of inadequacy and despair.
Now, don’t misunderstand me, I LOVE social media. Facebook and Instagram allow me to stay connected with friends all over the globe—from high school to medical school, residency, fellowship and every move we have ever had to make. I adore watching my friends’ children grow up in this close, personal way that the distance between us wouldn’t allow otherwise. I personally over-share on all my mediums because it is my passion to encourage medical spouses as well as special needs’ moms and my children have given me permission to do that. I have blogged for the last 10 years in the hopes that even one mama might be encouraged as she begins her own journey.
And yet, I am burdened for those who might struggle with depression due to social media comparisons.
As medical wives, we are all over the place, right? We have those brand-new-to-this-world medical student wives who are trying to budget money for basic needs—I remember when getting the repair for our front headlight was going to cost $25 and I just didn’t have that in our budget that month!
We have residency wives who even though they are getting a too-small salary finally are having to struggle with making ends meet. Oh how I remember when the Kwik Trip in Rochester, Minnesota had their bananas for 14 cents a pound and that was a day to celebrate!!
And then we have those who are in the post-training years, building new homes, taking awesome vacations, reaping the benefits perhaps of all the years of training.
“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:4-5, NIV 1984).
How in the world do we navigate being connected and supporting each other, while avoiding the “compare then despair” complex?
1. Joining groups that encourage us in the road we are on can help.
For example, we currently have more than 2,200 members in our Side By Side Facebook group. This is a wonderful community where women on this medical journey can encourage and support one another through Godly-interaction.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV 1984).
2. Limit our hours on social media.
Research shows there is a direct correlation with the volume of time spent online and depression and anxiety. Last week, we were on a family vacation with limited access to Wi-Fi. I have to confess that the first day, I had legitimate withdrawals. What if I was missing big, big things in my friends’ lives?? I really felt anxious in my disconnection. It was a huge wake-up call for me. I found that when we had Wi-Fi I was like a starved person trying to cram food into my mouth—right until my youngest called me out on it. I purposefully put my phone away and realized the social media cleanse was good for my soul.
“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV 1984).
3. Make a List
When the days are hard, I am a huge proponent of the assistance of a good old-fashioned blessing list. Do what works for you—write it on paper if you need to visually see the list, make a mental list if the action of DOING one more thing stresses you out.
Ironically, when my now-21-year-old-son was 11, he created a blog for me called “The Blessing Counter” because he KNEW how important it was for me to make these lists. He knew this exercise in looking for the bright spots would be vital to my mental health
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV 1984).
I can’t pretend that finding a balance will be easy. The fact is, there are seasons in our lives where our only social interaction might be online—I have lived that. Social media is imperative to staying connected to friends and loved ones as we move and travel during our medical marriages. And the ability to seek and offer prayer support through our social media communities is a blessing.
My prayer today is that you realize the pitfalls of too much time online. I pray that you find connection without obsession. And most importantly, I am praying that you remember to lean on the One who can meet all your relational needs.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23:1, NIV 1984).
Carol Mason Shrader recently celebrated 27 years of marriage to her NASA engineer-turned surgeon. She loves being connected to the many friends God has given her in their journeys during these years through social media but also loves a face-to-face coffee date with friends in real life.