There are a lot of things I’ve sacrificed for you. I’ve given up sleep in favour of seven-thirty ward rounds and the excitement of having fifteen doctors ignore me every morning. I’ve said goodbye to normal relationships, finally acknowledging that not only do these need time, but most intelligent people recoil at tales of surgery gone wrong and how you scored your first PR exam. I’ve learnt to eat irregularly and infrequently, scheduling surgary snacks between studies and surgeons. I’ve discovered that caffeine is a food group and that one can survive for days on nothing but black coffee.
But I’ve also watched myself and my colleagues fall into your trap and be consumed by you. Sucked into your vortex so strongly that help seeking becomes an impossibility. Found my reason to wake up and take notes on ward rounds slipping from me, a descent matched only by my grades. I’ve been alone at night, numb and exhausted. Meetings with the faculty in failed attempts to make everything okay.
Dear med school, remember this: I will not give up. I will become a doctor, and I will become a good doctor. I will change this world, despite the obstacles you challenge me with. I will grow up and grow strong and dedicate my life to make sure that no one has to feel this low.
Once upon a time, med school was thought to sort the weak from the strong—I don’t believe this for a minute. Med school isn’t designed to set us up for failure, and nor should it. Call me naive for thinking I can change the system, but I will never stop believing.
I recently became involved in a young people and technology research project, and we had a workshop where one of the tasks was to reflect upon how and why we became involved with the organisation.
So, this is my journey.
It’s hard to pick a point where my story really begins. The defined point would be the first time I cut, but I know that wasn’t the first time. It was the insomnia in prep, the diet plans in year three, the breakdowns in year five. The need to be everything. The need to be perfect. Skipped meals because I was in control and bingeing because I wasn’t. The feeling of not being sick because I never tried to take my own life, I just wanted to.
I was in therapy for the first time seven years ago. One-third of my twenty-one years. Seven years of remitting and relapsing, seven years of making myself okay for someone else. Replacing blades with scratching and calorie control because it wasn’t self-harm if it didn’t bleed. Seven years of being afraid to ask for help because I knew they’d think I was making it up, because they’d know how weak I was. Seven years of convincing professionals I was safe and doubting I’d make it through the day. Seven years before someone realised that it wasn’t just anxiety, it wasn’t just stress, and that maybe I needed more than just help.
That’s the hardest part. Coming to terms with the fact that I may have this for the rest of my life. Admitting that there’s no recovery, just recovering, and wondering if I have the strength to do it. The self-defeating attitude: you can’t see my scars, so my problem was never serious. I only had thoughts, never the attempts. Disordered eating but never the eating disorder—there was nothing wrong with me, there were no mental health issues, no depression, no anxiety, nothing.
I hope this is where the research comes in. A way of saying that this isn’t okay, this isn’t pathetic, you’re not making it up, you can deal with this, and you don’t have to do it alone. That you don’t need to be on the cusp of collapse to deserve help. That there are avenues for young people to seek help without the fear of being branded crazy.
Seven years on, I may still be in limbo and maybe I’m not yet okay, but maybe when eight years rolls around, I’ll be a little closer to alright.
That’s my story. That’s why I care about young people and mental health. That’s why I’m doing medicine.