Studying medicine is tough, I think we all agree with that. There are plenty of stats on the prevalence of mental illness etc in students and doctors. But when you are struggling it can be really lonely, you’re surround by people who seem to have their lives together, so why would they understand?
Life outside medicine hasn’t been easy, during my undergrad degree I struggled with severe anxiety and depression requiring extensive professional support and even a brief hospitalisation. Moving out of home for first year medicine was the break I needed and it was the first time I truly felt happy and relaxed in a long time.
Unfortunately second year meant moving back home (away from my previous supports as we’d moved about 3 hrs away) to what can only be described as hell. During second and third year I never knew what I was coming home to. I would have constant panic attacks on the train/in the car knowing I was going home to arguments, not knowing if the police were going to be called that night. I was required to go to court more than once for intervention orders. I definitely found rock bottom last year. People might ask why I didn’t just move out, but it’s never that simple.
The majority of last year I was convinced I was never going to be able to pass as I couldn’t study, and when I could it was impossible to focus. To this day I am still surprised I passed. Part of it is due to my stubbornness and unwillingness to give up, but most of it was due to the amazing support I received from friends, faculty and medical professionals.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow students, they will understand more than you realise. They may not have the answers, but they will listen and even just knowing someone has your back makes a huge difference. It also means they will understand why you appear to be on a different planet when studying as a group and will help you find your way back.
University admin may seem like faceless people, but they do actually care about you, I personally found discipline coordinators were more approachable than year level coordinators. Don’t be afraid to tell them what’s going on, make an effort to appear committed and they will go out of their way to help you. They are human remember!
Also never underestimate the power of speaking to your GP and getting a referral to supports such as a psychologist. It may be terrifying to make that appointment, rock up and actually spill your guts (even with previous experience it took me 18months to ask), but they will listen. My GP has become a mentor to me and reinforces that you can always look things up, but it’s your experiences will make you a better doctor.
Also remember to take it easy on yourself, many of us in medicine are perfectionists, and sometimes when the proverbial hits the fan you have to congratulate yourself for doing the best you can in your circumstances. Beating yourself up makes things worse, not better. Even if what you’re capable of is a 10th of what everyone else is doing, it’s your best and that’s what matters.
Fortunately I’ve been able to move out this year and with on going support life seems to slowly be getting back on track. I just wanted to get the message out that not everything has perfect lives, that things may hit complete rock bottom, but that there are so many people out there who will help you out. You are stronger than you realise and as scary as it is to do, ask for help and you can make it through.