Depression is a sneaky bugger, and over the past couple of years I have felt myself being overcome by the dark side of the force. I like to think I’m a bit of a jokester, it’s how I connect with people as we go about the highs and lows of life. But as my energy, motivation and sense of self-worth declined, I spent a lot of time grieving for the person I was before the illness or the person I would be without the illness. I imagined a confident, funny and thriving doctor/friend/meme queen and would think about everything I wasn’t.
I had a difficult time within my clinical school as I was being passed between coordinators for “serious chats” about my poor attendance on the wards, my participation (or lack thereof) in class or why I kept falling asleep in tutorials. Someone even said to me, after I admitted I was feeling depressed, that they “didn’t see the depression”. This was a major setback in me coming to accept the legitimacy of my symptoms, even though I knew that depression was, more often than not, insidious and invisible.
I guess that’s what has made this long battle so hard, essentially being controlled by two Chloes. On one hand, there’s the “intellect” who’s educated about mental health, who works with patients with mental health problems and who will drive home the importance of recognising symptoms early and speaking freely about them. And then there’s the Chloe that experiences the dark, lonely, scary and toxic places depression and anxiety can take someone and I felt guilty that I couldn’t will myself out of it.
I ignored advice from mentors suggesting I take intermission, believing I could just pull my socks up for the rest of the year and essentially turn a blind eye to how debilitating my depression was. As a result, I failed that year and again, didn’t listen to myself screaming for help when I came back to study this year in the exact same position as last. However, in great news, I’ve put my well-being first and recently taken time away from my studies which has been incredible.
It wasn’t until I was referred to the Victorian Doctor’s Health Program (VDHP) – which runs for doctors and medical students with health concerns – that the daunting task of seeking help was alleviated immediately. They set me up with an amazing psychiatrist who I see regularly, in addition to medications, and I am so grateful for the guidance and support they offered.
What I have established is that self-care has to be a priority for everyone, we must make it a personal goal and we must actively listen to and support others’ needs moving forwards. Learning to support our peers and friends overtime is important, but supporting each other in the short term is vital. If someone can openly say that they’re having difficulty completing a task (no matter how small) in the moment because of negative thoughts, anxiety or questions of self-worth, and receive immediate support and guidance then a positive outcome is more than likely.
With help and support, I’m regaining confidence in my abilities and in who I am as a person living with a mental illness, and am living by the mantra: “I am worth it”. What’s next for me, aside from getting better and continuing to speak freely about mental health, is making sure I have a prime cinema seat for Episode 8 come December.
Chloe Chappel, Monash University, MBBS Year 3 (2017)