Ever since I was a little kid, I had always wanted to be a doctor. After missing out on medicine entry after school, doing a year of biomedical science, and then finally transferring over into medicine, I thought the hardest part was over. Soon enough, I came to realise that medicine was not all Greys Anatomy and saving the world.
I started to really struggle in my second year. Being around such talented people, I felt constantly behind the ball with learning and study. Everyone around me seemed to pick up concepts so much faster than I ever could, and I began wondering if I was even cut out for a career as a doctor. The road ahead seemed so impossibly long, and I was only at the beginning, where I imagined things should have been easy. I couldn’t help but think, maybe being unsuccessful the first time I applied, was a true reflection of my suitability to this course.
I started to lose sleep and focus, and quickly forgot why I ever wanted to be a doctor in the first place. Each day I would roll out of bed and just go through the motions- get up and ready, go to uni, go to gym, more study, sleep. I constantly had to breathe deeply to alleviate the elephant sitting on my chest. My smart watch was almost always alerting me to an increased heart rate. Some days my stomach churned so hard that eating was impossible. I lived off anxious energy, with no drive or passion. This went on for months.
When I first started to recognise symptoms of mental illness in myself, I didnt want to talk to my friends about it. I knew they would care, and really that was the problem. I thought it was selfish to put my stuff onto them- just one more thing to worry about when I knew they were already stressed. When people say ‘ask for help’, they seem to forget that there are many challenges that are associated with that. Luckily, I loved my GP, and while it wasn’t easy, I was able to see her and talk about what I was experiencing. From there, I got a referral to a psychologist, and I’ve never looked back. You don’t need to tell your friends or your family. As long as you’re telling someone, and getting the help that you need, then its okay.
They talk about mental illness being a common problem among medical students. And while I think it’s great that we’re talking about this issue, I also think we need to discuss recovery. I got to a point where I just felt like there was no point trying to get help. I came to the conclusion that mental illness was just a part of medicine, and the crossroad I was at was whether I was willing to suffer with it, or change career. When I look back now, I realise how wrong I was, but I wish someone had slapped some sense into me then. While mental illness is common, it is not something we just need to accept. There is help and there is recovery. Talk to your friends, or your GP, or headspace, or whoever it is- keep talking and get help. You’ve got this.
Philippa Thomas, James Cook University, MBBS, Year 3 (2017)