Medical school can be overwhelming in terms of being in a whole new learning, socialising and generally busy hospital environment. Sometimes we students can feel isolated inside the medical school bubble and are unsure where to turn during difficult times. Recognising any emotional or physical problem and looking for help can be very daunting. You may not know where to turn and feel that by seeking help you are only being a burden, that your problems aren’t as great as someone else’s. Or that everyone else seems to be coping with all the studies, socialising and exam pressure great, so you should be able to do so too. Both myths. It doesn’t matter how seemingly big or small a problem is, but how much it impacts on you individually. Also, many of us are going through difficulties but wear such brilliant disguises that we are afraid to reveal to the world our real feelings. Comparing ourselves to others is very common in medicine; it is partly in our nature which helps us strive to perform our best. However, it can also be potentially detrimental as we can end up setting goalposts for ourselves which are inhumanely impossible to achieve thus become disappointed when we do not achieve these colossal standards. We are all individuals with unique strengths and weaknesses. In reality it is impossible to compare ourselves to others, even amongst the harem of medical students. Our greatest opponents are most often ourselves.
Personally, I buried my anorexia under the carpet for way too long, believing I could strive through it. Eventually my condition became so severe that when I recognised I needed help, I was so ill that I was required to take time out of studies. Suffering an eating disorder through medical school can be difficult, especially as so much energy is needed just to navigate around the wards, never mind studying on top of that. It got to the point where I literally spent all my energy just to attend uni, counting down the minutes so I could get out and go back to sleep. I didn’t even have any mental energy left to take anything in; I was isolated inside my own tiny, restricted world.
Although I feared that taking a whole year out was going to be a waste of time, this was definitely worthwhile in the long run. In the grand scheme of things, one year is nothing compared to an entire life! What I gained from my year out was knowledge and self- awareness beyond anything I may have gained if I had carried on at medical school, teetering on a tightrope. It allowed me to take a sidestep off what often feels like the hamster wheel of constant studying, exams and stresses during medical school and focus my priorities, health and needs more clearly. I feel I now have both the physical and mental strength to tackle the demands of medical school and am enjoying it so much more. Although things are not always 100%, I recognise we all have our good and bad days and acceptance of this really helps pull me through.
I know all the reflection stuff which is drilled into us can seem rather contrived, but when I reflect back on my time away and how far I have come since then, I realise that recognising and dealing with problems is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. I recognise the need to at times pause and take stock of my situation, deal with problems as they arise and not to be harsh on myself when they do. This is an essential skill to develop now since, as doctors, our problems can potentially impact on patients’ lives and not only our own. We have a responsibility to ourselves and others to ‘heal thyself’ as part of our lifelong learning process. Adversities in life are inevitable, but how we deal with them is completely down to our own control. Life really is like a rollercoaster; although there are many highs and lows, the secret isn’t to let the ride overwhelm you, but to embrace every moment.