I’m Jess – I’m loud, I’m bad at talking about feelings, I struggle saying no when people ask for favours and I hate going to the doctors.
By the time I was 12, I had changed schools 6 times. No sinister reasons – we just moved around a lot – but it definitely made me grow up perhaps a little stranger than usual. I got used to loud introductions and superficial friendships that would end as abruptly as they had started. I often felt left out before I could even start any real connection, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever really moved past that.
When I finally did settle down, I was at a school that, despite giving me the opportunities for which I am very grateful today, fostered a very destructive behaviour in me. Burnout was common, but rarely recognised – I watched my friends cry as they came out of exams. People were personally asked to drop subjects in which they weren’t performing well so it wouldn’t affect the school’s scaling. I saw one of my best friends being told he would be punished if he accepted a holiday internship because it would interfere with his studies, and therefore, negatively affect the school’s academic image. I watched and attempted to take care of a couple of my friends who crumbled under the pressure and weren’t really encouraged to go to anyone about it. I adopted this obsession with self-image and endless cycle of burnout, bottle it up, repeat.
Three years ago, I had a nervous breakdown. I had starting trying caffeine pills to see if that would help me study (I can’t even drink coffee without getting palpitations, so it wasn’t a good idea) or keep me focused. I don’t really remember what led up to it, but I remember going downstairs after class, hyperventilating and crying hysterically for no real reason. When my friends found me, some thought I was just being stupid and tried to brush it off. They laughed and made fun of the whole situation for months to come, mimicking the way I cried at any opportunity they could bring it up.
I don’t hold it against them – after all, at my school, mental health was something that was tokenistically brought up to seem socially aware, and then swept under the rug when actual issues arose. They made it a joke because that was the only way they understood it. And I facilitated that. I never spoke up – I shut up about the stress that had caused the whole episode to happen. I would laugh awkwardly when they joked about it and to this day, I still don’t think they realise how it affected me.
Despite what it seems, good things have come out of all of this. I’ve learnt to really make an effort to get to know somebody, even if I’m only going to see them for one day. I’ve learnt to take care of my friends when they don’t recognise their burnout and I surround myself with people who will help me see my own burnout. I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m not planning on changing med schools any time soon, so hopefully I’ll be around long enough for people to get used to me.