I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. I have vivid memories of anxiety in my childhood, when I would worry about tiny things for days or weeks. It wasn’t until I got to uni that things really began to get difficult. Moving away from home to study in Hobart was a big life change, as was starting medicine. Over the next few years, a combination of learning too much about rare diseases, and general life stress made my anxiety worse.
Any time I left the house for more than 24 hours I’d convince myself that I’d forgot to lock the door, or that I’d left the hotplate on, even if I hadn’t used it in days, resulting in me vividly imagining what I’d do if the apartment burnt down and how I’d replace all my belongings. I would convince myself that the 1.5cm lymph node in my neck was metastatic cancer and I’d start contemplating how I’d tell my family I was dying. I believed the itchy freckle on my arm was most definitely a melanoma, and that maybe the muscle fasciculations I would get after a long day at uni in combination with slightly brisk reflexes meant I certainly had ALS. Every night before bed I’d check that all of the heaters were turned off, even in the middle of summer when I hadn’t used them in months. On one trip overseas, I could barely think about going back to uni when I returned, because I’d convinced myself the plane would crash or that I’d die in a horrible terrorist attack.
These intrusive thoughts took up constant space in my mind, leaving no room for study, meaningful relationships, or self care. Over time, my anxiety also manifested itself in the form of guilt, which was often associated with depression.
With the help of a number of specialists, I’m learning to deal with my anxiety. Sitting down with my GP to make a mental health care plan several years ago was almost as bad as doing an OSCE, but it’s allowed me to find some balance and contentment, and now I enjoy my life a lot more, both at uni and recreationally.
Recently I’ve realised more than ever how important it is for medical students to share their stories around mental health and wellbeing. Talking openly about your mental health, whether publicly or just to your friends, is an important step in helping to reduce the stigma that surrounds it.
Emily Mackrill, University of Tasmania, MBBS, Year 4 (2017)