Medical school, Medicine, Mental Health, Relationships

Why I Stopped Writing

For the few followers of my blog, all of whom I am incredibly grateful for – you may have noticed that I stopped writing for almost 3 months. You may also be wondering why. When I started this blog, I aimed to write something at least every week, and I think I did pretty well (apart from the time I was severely unwell and overdosed). Writing has always been a great way for me to de-clutter my thoughts, rationalise my ideas and to release some emotion whilst attempting to help somebody out there. Before my blog, I wrote in my diary almost religiously from the age of about 10, and it did wonders to help me deal with a lot of things I was experiencing. But from time to time, I lose momentum and stop writing for months at a time.

The main reason I usually do that is because I want to do all I can to run away from my thoughts and feelings, rather than try to understand them. We’ve all probably experienced it – it’s when you have so much on your plate that even thinking about a problem, or facing an issue becomes too emotionally draining. Rather than feeling relieved, I start to feel extremely upset. So that turns me away from writing and I go into my “pretend-everything-is-fine” mode. There are pros and cons of this of course. On the one hand, I am able to give myself a false sense of security that everything is fine when it is in fact very far from fine. But on the other hand, pushing things to the back of your mind also causes it to build up slowly over time, until you eventually burst. That part isn’t really too fun.

Also, for the past few months, life happened – I had all my exams to do but with zero concentration and hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) as side effects of my medication; family troubles; financial struggles; friendship struggles; rejections from job interviews; yet another rejection from a romantic interest (I might tell you about these one day, should you be interested); my rejections of romantic interests in me (life is funny) – you name it. Everything happened at once. And obviously that meant my mental health was at an all time low again with my anxiety levels sky high and the return of suicidal thoughts. Wa-hey.

However, I can happily say that some of those things mentioned above have improved since. For example, I somehow managed to pass third year and am going into my fourth year of medical school in a few months’ time (yay!). Also, amongst the thousands of rejections, I did manage to find a short part-time job to give me a financial boost. And my anxiety levels are generally lower, though I’m still struggling with them immensely even now that most of the external factors are gone.

It has literally taken me 3 weeks to convert my thought of wanting to write again, to actually writing again, despite having plenty of time to do so. So you can imagine to what extent my motivation is lacking. I’ve also become very bad at remembering to take my medication which really messes me up because I keep switching from insomnia to hypersomnia and also gives me nightmares. My moods are also all over the place. It’s all a bit dishevelled really but I’m hoping that this will all change with a bit of positive thinking.

Here’s to mental health and writing.

 

Anxiety, Medical school, Mental Health, Relationships, Sexual abuse

Am I Overreacting?

Suffering from anxiety, I often have to take a step back and assess whether I am overreacting to a situation or if my worries are justified. And taking that step back is difficult because I usually don’t know if I am simply ‘reacting’ to a situation or if it would be classified as potentially overreacting. It’s a thin line, and not an easy one to distinguish. What makes it all the more difficult is that the act of overreacting is very subjective. What’s normal for one person, may not be so normal for another person. For me, I hate to be perceived as having overreacted to something, so I usually have to check in with the people around me.

It was a lot easier when I had the opportunity to discuss issues on a regular basis with my counsellor. She usually put things into perspective for me from a more objective viewpoint and that made it easier for me to know if I was overreacting or not.

Since having finished my counselling sessions, things are a lot more difficult as there isn’t just the one person I can check in with. Now, I usually have to ask my family and friends about their opinions on the situation, and I usually gather a range of different viewpoints and make my assessment. If the majority says that I am justified to react in a certain way, then I usually go with the majority and vice versa.

However, my fear of overreacting has led to situations where I possibly haven’t reacted enough. These situations normally involve reacting to behaviour that makes me uncomfortable. As you can read on a previous post, I had trouble dealing with sexual abuse as a child and my fear of falsely raising an alarm overrode my instinct to seek help. Similarly now, I have come across a few individuals over my time at medical school who have made me feel uncomfortable but I wasn’t sure if it was significant enough to raise an alarm. The last thing I want to be is ‘the boy who cried wolf’.

One of these individuals was an older medical student who made me feel uncomfortable within minutes of meeting him by displaying quite controlling and intense behaviour towards me. I felt uncomfortable as he summoned me with a beckoning gesture, after which he expressed his desire to marry soon; a desperate bachelor. The closeness with which he was standing next to me also made me very anxious, almost as if I was trapped. In my head, alarm bells were ringing but when I mentioned this individual with a few friends, some told me that there was no reason for me to be scared of him, whilst others asked me, “Why didn’t you just slap him around the face?” It’s in situations like these when I still struggle.

Another similar situation which occurred more recently involved somebody from my year who I met on my medical placement at hospital. He showed an interest in me, and we started joking with each other within a few hours of knowing each other. He ended up asking for my Facebook details, and after we parted that day, he immediately started messaging me on Facebook. A few messages in, he asked for my Snapchat, which I gave, but I got the feeling that he was moving a little fast, considering I had only met him that day. The messages then continued on Snapchat all the way until a good night message. The next time I met him, he ended up divulging very private details about himself and his family, which I would personally only divulge to someone when I trusted them implicitly, e.g. a very close friend. He started to make jokes that made me uncomfortable like saying he’d steal my duvet from my room when he felt cold at night, and so on. The messages continued and I felt quite overwhelmed at this point. I received a phone call from a relative and he was still messaging me but I didn’t reply. After I finished the phone call, I saw that he’d already started apologising to me for unintentionally doing something wrong as I hadn’t been replying. I was a bit surprised, but still unsure whether this was all normal. I talked about this to a few friends. Some of my friends joked about it, saying he was clearly seeking more than friendship, but my best friend got worried and told me to be careful in case he was a stalker. This definitely made me anxious. I contacted another friend, telling him about the situation and that I was starting to feel creeped out, and when I told him who it was, my friend laughed it off and said I didn’t need to worry as he was pretty sure the boy was gay. I felt a bit stupid at that point for making such a big fuss, but I don’t feel as if it was completely unjustified for me to have felt overwhelmed and scared.

So what have I learnt from all of this? It is definitely worth taking a step back to assess if you’re overreacting but at the same time, there’s nothing more reliable than our instincts. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so the best thing to do is to react when your alarm bells are ringing. If you overreact, then you look stupid of course. But if you don’t overreact and things are as bad as they seem, the consequences may be even more grave unfortunately.

 

Anxiety, Mental Health, Reality, Relationships, Stress

Paranoia or Reality?

Most of these days, I am struggling to understand whether I am just feeling paranoid or if my suspicions are justified. It may be closely linked with my anxiety, and my constant fear of losing people around me but my question is, how do I know for sure if I’m right?

My paranoia has affected my friendships before, and on reflection, I feel I misinterpreted their preoccupation with their work for indifference towards me and I ended up confronting them accusingly which brought about a great deal of friction between us. When I discussed situations like these with my counsellor last year, she had advised me that if I feel suspicious, the best thing to do is to ask openly without letting the suspicion brew in my mind. So, for example, if my friend hasn’t answered my text in a while and I feel she is ignoring me, it might be worthwhile dropping her a message to say, “Hey, I haven’t heard back from you in a while, is everything ok?” Or even if that doesn’t solve it then something as direct as, “Hey, I’ve kind of got the feeling that you’ve been ignoring me – have I upset you somehow?” And in fact, doing this has helped to sort out my suspicions and worries. What’s helped more is being open with my friends about my paranoia and letting them know that I might have to ask them directly if we’re still ok, and they’ve all been extremely understanding about it.

However, my more recent difficulties have been with my parents. Sometimes I feel as if they are upset or angry with me and when I ask them directly, they pass it off as being busy or tired. Having always been especially close to my Mum, I often feel that she becomes a little cold with me. It could obviously be because she is stressed out, but I really just don’t know. I then feel as if she’s lying to me when I ask her directly about it, just to avoid confrontation.

Another constant suspicion I have is that my parents are talking about me behind my back. I’ve tried eavesdropping but I’ve never heard anything of that sort, but whenever I see them talking quietly to each other, I feel as if they’re saying things about me. It could be completely unfounded of course, but I can’t help but feel paranoid.

When I think about where these paranoias stem from psychologically, I feel as if they are strongly related to my low self-esteem and my desire to always please people around me, which makes it difficult for me to face criticism. Maybe, if I can work on these aspects a little more, the paranoia may weaken because it would simply not matter to me what people are thinking or saying about me. I’m not sure at this moment as to how I’m going to go about doing that, but it’s worth thinking about.

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.

#relationships, Medical school, Mental Health, Reality, Stress

Letting People Go

Letting people go is no easy feat. The closer you are to the person, the more difficult it becomes to move on. Whether it’s the end of a relationship, or dealing with a loved one moving away, it can leave us with immense feelings of loss. But letting people go can leave us feeling emancipated. The more we dote on lost causes, the more unhappy we become in life. Letting go and moving on is the only way we can escape the negativity and make our lives better.

One of the challenges in being able to “get over” someone is that often even after the end of the relationship, we may still encounter the person over and over again. And surrounding ourselves with reminders of the person often reignites our feelings and draws us back to the relationship. Possibly the most difficult part of overcoming the end of a relationship is withdrawing from the strong emotional dependence we have on the other person. Whether the relationship is romantic or non-romantic, we often rely on the other person on an emotional (and possibly physical level). And when things end, we lose our source of emotional strength. If I medicalised this, I would be calling this period the ‘withdrawal’ period – likened to the tortuous symptoms of weaning from an addictive drug. Medical weaning however takes place in stages, decreasing the dosage in increments until complete weaning occurs. However, the end of a relationship is often sudden. And to let go of the other person becomes extremely challenging.

It is possible however, just like everything else. In the earlier stages, to prevent “relapse”, it is often better to, as much as possible, isolate yourself from all things that may bring back memories and reignite feelings. This may involve removing or hiding away triggering objects and possessions, unfriending them on social media and avoiding messaging them altogether. It may seem a harsh step to take, but doing so usually helps during the difficult initial phase, and coming to accept the situation.

Distractions and spending time with other friends and family can be extremely rewarding. Engaging in new activities can help at this stage too. However it is important to make sure that you keep a good balance between social/leisure activities and being able to get on with work and necessary chores, as difficult as it may be.

With ample time, it becomes a lot easier and tolerable to think about the other person without triggering strong emotions. This may take a lot of time, possibly years, but you will get there through perseverance.

The saying that ‘people come and go’ could not be closer to the truth. Nothing is ever permanent. Although we may not realise it, we often end up in very toxic relationships which do us more harm than good. We don’t see it because our emotions for this person clouds our objective judgement. But if being around this person makes you ‘feel like crap’, it’s a pretty good sign that the person is toxic and you are better off letting them go. Of course it may not be as clear cut, but it’s worth thinking about and re-analysing your relationships.

I recently decided to let go of a close friend who I’ve known for 3 years. It was a difficult decision, but I realised that the relationship was very one-sided and I often ended up feeling more negative about myself following a conversation with this friend than I did before. The dynamic of the friendship had definitely changed over the course of the 3 years and after much deliberation, I decided that the disagreements between us were too great to recover from. And you know what? I feel so much better. I feel more confident and I feel free. Sometimes it’s just better to trust your instincts because no one knows you better than yourself.

So do it. Let them go.

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.

Anxiety, Mental Health, Reality

To trust or not to trust? 

For the past few years of my life, I have struggled greatly when determining who I can trust and who I cannot. From a young age I was taught the basic, “don’t trust strangers”, and yet I’ve found myself to be most able to communicate with my counsellor, who is essentially a stranger to me. I still don’t know a single thing about her, but she knows my deepest darkest secrets. I value her advice more than the advice of pretty much anyone else. And I definitely trust her. 

Earlier today, a middle aged woman approached me outside Subway and begged me to buy her a sandwich saying she was starving. I had no change on me and I really felt sorry for her so I agreed. I told her to select her subway sandwich whilst I waited away from the queue. She chose her sandwich fillings and once it was time to pay, she turned around and asked me to make the payment, and I did, whilst she thanked me and hurried away with her food. I wonder now – what if I’d walked away just before the payment? How did she trust me to keep my word? How did I know whether she was lying about not having any money for food? We were complete strangers to each other. But there was definitely an ounce of trust between us. 

A similar situation occurred with me a couple of days ago. I left for the gym with my car and parked inside a shopping mall car park. I thought I had my purse with me, but when I felt in my pocket for my purse, it was empty. I started to panic because without any money, I wouldn’t be able to pay for my parking ticket and I wouldn’t be able to leave the shopping mall. I called home and nobody could find my purse. I thought I’d lost it somehow and I was distraught. I was at the payment meter and there was an elderly couple who were paying for their parking ticket. I turned to them and told them how I had lost my purse and couldn’t pay for my parking. They nodded their heads and took one look at me then asked how much money it was that I’d needed. They gave me the £1.50 I asked for and left. I was incredibly grateful at the time, but I do wonder now how they knew they could believe me. It really fascinates me.

On the other hand, I’ve had some very negative experiences with trusting friends and family. In the past, I made the mistake of trusting a couple of friends with some personal information that I did not wish to be divulged. I thought they could be trusted because they had also supposedly told me some of their secrets. However, the moment that our friendship had turned sour as a result of a disagreement, it didn’t take them a second to divulge my secrets to other people, which I had told them in confidence. Similarly, I’ve experienced a betrayal of trust when a close family member of mine made a fool of me by making me think they were telling me the truth, when in actual fact they had been lying to me for a few years. So is it always true that we can’t trust strangers? Sometimes the most deceptive people are those closest to us – similar to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. 

I spoke to my counsellor recently with regards to my challenge in knowing if I can trust my friends. A useful piece of advice she gave me was that it’s a good idea to test a friendship by telling them a very non-serious/false secret and over time observing whether they end up breaking their word to you. If they don’t, it’s a good indication that they can be trusted. 

Remember however, everybody lies. As cynical as it may seem, there is probably no one you can completely trust, but we must bear that risk of betrayal in all our relationships whilst trying to minimise the possibility. It’s easy to break someone’s trust, but it’s a hell of a difficult job to rebuild it.