Medical school, Mental Health, Pressure, Relationships

When No One Understands

It can be the loneliest feeling when no one understands you, how you’re feeling and what you really want. You can be surrounded by all the people in the world, but when no one understands you, you feel as if you are indeed alone.

This is something that I have difficulty coping with most days. When I am feeling low and I come back home after a long day, I don’t have the energy to converse with my family or give them the ‘quality time’ that they want. It means I’m quieter than usual but often my family members mistake that for me being reclusive and I am suspected of ‘hiding’ something from them. When they ask me “What’s wrong?” and I respond saying that nothing is wrong but I am just tired, they often don’t believe me. And not having someone believe me is the most frustrating thing.

Recently, I have been making an effort to attend all my scheduled teaching at placements and also to participate in extra teaching from older years in preparation for my upcoming OSCEs (a viva exam for medical students). I am also taking part in some extra-curricular activities this term to keep my spirits up, which means that I am home for very little time. My parents misunderstand this for me trying to avoid them, but I really do all of this to make myself feel productive and keep myself distracted from my low moods. It has been helping, and even if I feel unwell, I force myself to go because once I break the pattern, it can become so easy to give up and not go in the next week, and the next, etc. Unfortunately, my parents don’t seem to understand this and rather than encouraging me, I receive a lot of discouragement, especially for non-academically related events, which they don’t see the point of.

So what can I do in this situation? It really upsets me when the people closest to me fail to understand me, but at the same time no one can fully understand you, except for yourself. So I think acceptance of this fact is key. I try to accept that I can’t expect to be understood all the time, so sometimes I just have to deal with it and go on as I must. When I used to receive counselling, my counsellor really helped to put things into perspective for me, which was certainly liberating and empowering. However, now that my sessions with her have ended, I try to envisage what she would have said to me, and I try to assess my situation with as objective a view as possible. It is extremely difficult for me to do, but it is doable.

Other things I have tried in the past include keeping a diary of my thoughts, especially at times when I felt the loneliest. Of course there was no response from the diary, but it felt good to get my feelings out and it gave me the impression that I was talking to someone who was listening. And that was enough to make a difference.

We all feel the need to be heard sometimes. It is simply human nature. Talking to the people around us can help of course, especially if they are willing to listen and understand, but in the instances they are not, there are other ways to cope.

Mental Health, Pressure, Reality, Stigma

The Importance of Speaking Up

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter” ~ Martin Luther King Junior

A lot of people become astounded by the courage I show in day-to-day situations, for example speaking up in front of a crowd, challenging a senior or asking the questions that everyone is too afraid to ask. There is of course always the right time to say or do things and too much courage may be overstepping into sheer foolishness, but more often than not, speaking your mind has countless positive effects.

Since being the bullied child at primary school, I have grown to appreciate the importance of speaking up against what I feel is wrong. Whether this means I am confronting my peers, friends, family or seniors, it makes no difference to me. It is imperative that we all stand for what we believe in and being too afraid to speak up for ourselves, or the people around us only makes us just as bad as the perpetrators for standing by and doing nothing to stop it. Of course, direct confrontation is not always the wisest way to approach situations, but something like writing a strong letter, taking part in protests or addressing petitions to the right people can make a big difference. People who prefer to suffer and are afraid to speak up often say that they would much rather ‘avoid conflict’ and cope with the situation. However, adapting to injustice never really solves the problem. Be it an issue in the workplace or challenges in personal relationships, having open conversations and asserting your viewpoint only increases one’s self-respect and demonstrates to others that they cannot get away with maltreating you.

Initially, the consequences of speaking up may well be negative and result in unfavourable situations in the meantime, but in the long-term, the results are completely  worth it. Dissonance, antagonisation, intimidation are some examples of the negative reactions to speaking up. It is important to plough through these temporary difficulties, keeping the main objective in mind, and before you know it, the positive changes will arrive.

Aside from the workplace, I also find it beneficial to be very upfront about my concerns in my personal relationships. Rather than spend long periods of time wondering what other people are thinking, I save myself the torture and pluck up the courage to just ask. Sure, the answer is not always what I like to hear, but on reflection, it really does help me to work forwards and solve any conflicts or misunderstandings.

What is more challenging however, is being assertive around the people closest to you. This is something that I had been struggling with for a while, especially with my own family members. I found it relatively easy to deal with people I was not so much emotionally attached to, but when it came to my parents, or my siblings, I found it difficult to voice my opinions and usually resorted to bending to their wishes. In the long-term it had an extremely negative effect on my well-being and satisfaction in life. Through counselling sessions, I was able to learn that there was a difference between being assertive and being confrontational and I was able to voice my opinions in such a way that I was simultaneously sensitive to the feelings of the people around me. It is a difficult skill to master but it has worked wonders for me.

I feel a lot more free being able to do the things I want whilst also not hurting the people around me. I feel as if I have greater control over my life, and you know what? I feel so much happier.

So speak up, and get your voices heard. You’ll be one step closer to changing things for the better.

Anxiety, Mental Health, Pressure, Reality, Stigma, Stress

The Epitome of Self-Deprecation

It’s difficult when the person you despise most is yourself. I find myself to be someone who always sees the good in everyone around me, but I fail to do so when I reflect on myself. People often compliment me, but the voice in my head tells me, “It’s not true, they’re just being nice”. There was a time in my life where I used to outwardly reject compliments thrown my way, but I soon realised that people often misunderstood me for being rude when that was not my intention at all. So now, out of politeness and to meet others’ expectations, I smile and say “Thank you” in response to any compliment I get, even though I don’t believe it.

I’ve pretty much always had a very low self-esteem. It’s because I’m a perfectionist and achieving my incredibly unrealistic goals is the only thing that gives me a sense of accomplishment. I always find faults in myself and always find targets to work towards. I subconsciously compare myself to others and convince myself that I am not good enough. The worst thing is, however, I also tend to criticise things about myself that I can’t modify. And that is even more demoralising for me.

I never really questioned my perfectionism until a few years ago when I started medical school and it became almost impossible for me to be the best at everything. All of a sudden, I was not achieving the goals I was setting for myself and I started believing that I was hopelessly not good enough. Despite the fact that I was studying at one of the best medical schools in the world, I was not good enough. I was not smart enough. And I felt increasingly worthless.

Aside from academics, I have always had issues with my image, from my looks to my weight. And especially at a stage when I thought I was failing academically, these insecurities became even more pronounced in myself. I was scared of looking at my reflection in the mirror. I started using a lot of make-up to cover up my ‘imperfections’. I tried to lose weight, but that’s something that has been and is still a challenge for me. With my depression, my appetite is all over the place. When things get really bad to suicidal point, I neglect food completely. When my mood picks up a little again and to cheer myself up, I tend to binge eat. And that’s why my weight doesn’t budge despite my gym efforts and diet plans. To make things more complicated, I have a very common condition called PCOS which makes it difficult for me to lose weight, and a few of the tablets I take for some other health problems also make it harder for me to lose weight. Being depressed also means that my motivation is at its lowest and without seeing any results after putting in the effort, I feel more demotivated and give up.

I realise however that it’s not really these materialistic things that matter. I can’t help how I look, and perfectionism is a bit of a tall order. But I feel as if I have believed in it for so long, I’ve wired it into my brain that I am just not good enough, or worthy. Some days, I wake up and I encourage myself to feel confident in my own body. It works, but it wears off very quickly. It’s a work in progress and maybe one day, I’ll really be confident. I love everybody else, but I have trouble loving myself.

I know that there are a lot of people who feel the same as I do. There are a lot of factors that contribute towards this, namely environmental influences, parenting and societal pressures. But I do believe that we are not stuck in this way of thinking about ourselves. We are each of us unique and beautiful, albeit not in the ways modelled by society per se, and we have every right to love ourselves for who we are. It’s time we took a step back and cut ourselves some slack, because we most definitely deserve it.

 

Pressure, Reality

You Can’t Make Everyone Happy

Following the end of my counselling sessions this year, I thought I would discuss one of the main lessons I walked away with. At the end of my first counselling session, I was told, “You can’t make everyone happy. And trying to make everyone happy is what’s making you unhappy.” And it reminded me, funnily enough, of a quote by Robin Williams:

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”

~ Robin Williams

Making others happy is a natural human tendency. For as long as I remember, I’ve always been the one in my family to keep everyone together, solve all our problems, and make everyone happy. I never saw any fault in that. In fact, seeing my family happy gave me a false sense of fulfilment. In some way, I’ve felt that my purpose had been to use all my efforts to stop the people around me from breaking down. But what I hadn’t realised is the toll it had been taking on me.

The main obstacle to thinking that I have to ‘fix everything’ or ‘please everyone else’ is that a lot of things are beyond my control. No matter how hard I try, I may not be able to do anything personally to resolve the situation. And by relying on others’ happiness for my sense of fulfilment was therefore highly impractical. My counselling sessions made me realise that.

I was also brought up by my parents to be anything but selfish. Hence, selfishness has to be the trait I most deeply detest, and in my efforts to make everybody else happy, I felt I was succeeding at not being selfish. But there should always be a limit to our selflessness. When we become so selfless and start living for the people around us, we can often lose or suppress our personal desires which hinder the formation of our identity and our growth towards independence. This is essentially what had happened to me. I have always done as my parents have told me to, because I thought it would make them happy. But I slowly realised that doing what others want me to do has never really made me happy. I lost sight of what I really wanted to do, and I ended up suppressing any desire I had which would object with my parents’ wishes, because I didn’t want to disappoint them for my ‘selfish’ causes.

My counsellor taught me that it’s ok to say no. It’s ok to be assertive. It’s ok for me to think about myself. It’s even ok for me to put myself first. I’m still working on getting that right, but I feel that I have made progress.

And you know what? I do feel happier doing the things I want. I finally feel as if I’m leaving my nest and discovering what kind of person I am, albeit at the age of 20.

It’s a start, but focusing on myself might just help me on my road to find happiness.

Consultants, Intimidation, Medical school, Medicine, Mental Health, Pressure, Stress

Consultant-induced Consternation

Before starting my clinical placements for my third year at medical school, I’d heard horror stories of terrible consultants, but I never expected to feel intimidated by my own. Although the vast majority of consultants at my hospital are incredibly helpful and  supportive, I have been made to feel like rubbish by a particular consultant unfortunately. Thankfully for me, the situations were not nearly as traumatic as some of the things I’ve heard, but it did nonetheless damage my self-esteem a good deal.

As outlined previously, I have been suffering from severe depression and anxiety this past year, and I have been finding it difficult to cope with the stress of my hospital placement which is a 2-hour journey from home. Most days, by the time I reach the hospital, I am in a mess, having had a 2-hour journey to feed, nurture and breed my anxiety levels, so getting on with the rest of the day (approximately 8 hours) is a real struggle. Because of my severe low moods, when I get home from placements, I have no energy or motivation to read up on conditions and cases so I look like an absolute idiot when I’m questioned by the consultant the following day.

Therefore, it is understandable for my consultant to feel quite frustrated at me for not meeting up to his expectations. However, he had been informed of my situation beforehand, so if anything, I would have appreciated it if he could be mildly sensitive towards me.  One Monday afternoon, he was particularly annoyed at me for not being able to answer all his questions correctly, and he remarked – “If you don’t remember everything I’ve just told you the next time I see you, I will personally speak to your college and bar you from studying medicine again.” Ouch. Other comments included things like, “you don’t deserve to be a medical student” and “I have no idea how you got into medical school”. 

I do appreciate that my consultant may have had a waning patience because of his tiredness from excruciatingly long shifts, but if the professionals for whom sensitivity is in the ‘required’ section of the job description start doing the exact opposite, it is quite surprising to say the least. Most medical students have very little self-esteem, if any, and to receive demotivating remarks from consultants really makes us question whether we’re good enough. I am not alone in this – many of my friends at med school have shared very similar stories of being felt bullied by the consultant.

Personally, I had great difficulty in coping with the aftermath of these remarks, and felt completely useless and inadequate. I contemplated giving up on medicine because ‘what’s the point if I’m not good enough’. It was because of my family and friends that I didn’t give up and tried my best to keep going. But I still feel so anxious when I am around this consultant, because of his naturally patronising disposition.

At one point, I felt that I needed to talk to my consultant about how I felt, so I took the initiative of writing up an email requesting him to be patient with me because I was trying my best, even though my best wasn’t the same as my best from a few years ago. Fortunately, his response to my email was supportive and the next time I saw him, I could tell he was really trying hard to be sensitive (though it was very obviously forced), but that was enough for me to keep on going. It hasn’t stopped me from fearing his intimidation, but at least I have made him aware of my perspective, which will hopefully make things improve in the long run. Of course, if it doesn’t, I know who I can take it up with, but I hope it never comes to that!