I’m very excited to be about to finish medical school and start the next phase of my journey. The last five years haven’t been without their bumps but I’ve got there and I’m incredibly proud of that. I’ve had a huge amount of support from my family, my friends, an amazing treating team and some fantastic supportive staff at my medical school. Without doubt, I would not be where I am without them today.
While my time at medical school started well, I became very unwell towards the end of the first year. I saw a GP, psychologist and then later psychiatrist who really had no grasp of what was going on. The GP was very nice but pushed me to someone else as soon as things got over his head, the psychiatrist got the diagnosis completely wrong and we just sat in a dark and dingy office talking about the weather at great expense to my parents and the highly recommended psychologist was convinced I wasn’t thinking hard enough-“It’s impossible to have your illness if your father didn’t abuse you”, once again with a rather hefty hourly fee. They were all well-meaning people but the sad fact of the mental health profession is that it is vast and varied. While multiple sources had told me these people were fantastic they were possibly not what I needed at that point in time. Unfortunately all I could see was that I was failing and blamed myself for not trying hard enough.
To cut a long story short things got worse and worse. I battled through another year of uni and somehow managed to maintain quite good grades despite missing huge amounts of time including admitting myself to a private hospital. It culminated in a year off at home with my parents.
We live in a rural area so accessing treatment there has its own challenges. I didn’t get much medical treatment while at home but I went to a fantastic psychologist. I’ve always been a big fan of CBT and ACT but most of all she helped to restore my self-esteem. I now don’t blame myself for my illness, don’t feel any lesser for it and demand world class care-I would if I had a haematological malignancy and many of the young people my age with such conditions actually have a better prognosis thanks to the fantastic treatment they now receive!
After much searching I have been incredibly fortunate to find a psychiatrist closer to my university who is amazing and works together with an equally brilliant allied health team each of whom play an important part in keeping me well. Her finger is very much on the pulse in terms of me and the current research. They have put together a very complicated medication and treatment regime. Even though I believe in quite a biological model of major mental illnesses I think psychological treatment is incredibly important and get so much out of this. No amount of medication would cure me without allied health involvement.
I’ve also put in the individual work to get myself well and run a fairly tight ship. I’ve read every book my uni has on my condition, purchased many more, read hundreds if not thousands of research papers and work incredibly hard to put what I’ve learnt into action. This limits my life somewhat. I can’t have boozy late nights out drinking, my life seems to revolve around multiple daily medication dosing’s and I have pages and pages of charts recording what has happened every day. I have a very complicated case of my illness, we’re using new combinations of medications and learning from the past allows us to predict future trends and improve the future.
Starting the right medication was like flicking a light switch, these days things are probably 80% better. At the end of the day I’ve got a chronic illness and my psychiatrist tells me that given my level of symptoms I do well to do what I do. It’s not realistic to expect that the 20% will go and I think that expectation management is a large part of determining my happiness-when I accepted that things got a lot better. Despite this I am happy and can look around with a sense of satisfaction. That 80% means I can participate in life. I get up in the morning (ok, that’s hard with medication/sedation but I get there….) and go to uni, I do things with my family and friends and basically live a normal life. For that I’m incredibly grateful. Not that long ago I had relatives who lived their lives in institutions. That could have been me.
It made so sad when a friend said that until she met me (over half way through my course and after a mental health rotation) she didn’t know that people with my condition could have insight and function. While good treatment is incredibly hard to find with it mental illness doesn’t have to be a life sentence and life can go on but so few get this. I try to do my little bit to let people around me see what life is really like-too often we hide mental illness away and I think this makes it harder for those who might be struggling to reach out into a very confusing web of services
While the next stages of life are bound to bring new challenges, ups and downs, I’m excited too. I know I’ll go through tough periods but I feel like I’ve got the right support now and I can’t wait to see where the future takes me.