When I was 16 and figured out I wasn’t exactly handling life the way I “ought” to, I started to blame it on myself… not that most people don’t. Most successful people I know have a natural habit of constructive self-criticism which they utilise to their own betterment. That’s awesome. I really like the idea of doing that – but the problem is, I still don’t think I really know how just yet. I don’t think my mind quite grasps that fine line where self-criticism switches nastily into unhelpful self-loathing. And whilst this sounds like a cry for help, it gladly isn’t – because before reaching out at 16, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you my self-loathing wasn’t good for me. I wouldn’t have been able to accept I was being too harsh on myself. I would have outwardly rejected the word ‘anxiety’, and told you I’m ‘just not good enough’. But instead, I told my mum, then my sister, then my dad… then my doctor.
When it got too much though, I stopped. I made the mistake of thinking I was bigger than my mental illness and hid from it. Suddenly, HSC year came around; trials started – and, guess who wasn’t at most of their HSC trials? Me. The anxiety overcame me. I was bed-ridden, depressed. I lost hope that I would ever study to be the doctor I so badly wanted to be. Somehow I got through the HSC, and I have to thank my doctor and disability services for that (If you take anything from this – don’t be ashamed to use the resources you might sincerely need!). I sat the HSC in a solitary room because even the sight of a fellow classmate made my armpits drench, my head spin and my hands shake.
Fast forward almost 4 years of tertiary education and I’m now sitting all my exams in exam halls. I sat the infamous GAMSAT – that’s 5 hours in an exam hall with over 600 other people. I always naively believed my anxiety would somehow leave me upon getting into medicine, like acceptance would be the breaking of the cocoon (but of course, it wasn’t). I’m not magically a worry-free butterfly and the cycle did not effortlessly cease. However, I have definitely developed a lot more means of coping with those shaky hands and endless thoughts. I think the message of my personal story is that the longevity of your disease does not define you. Also, don’t be ashamed to reach out to friends and family and let them know when you need them. It’s likely that a friend in medicine will empathise and be there for you. Most importantly, seek help – counselling and prescription drugs do not weaken you when applied properly. I like to believe I am a testament to that.