Name 5 things you have managed to pursue inspite of your illness and 5 things you haven’t managed to pursue.
When I think about my successes and failures throughout depression, my failures seem far more predominant to me and if I had to summarise myself over the past 10 years I would say I just barely but crawled and I fell far too many times. So much that falling and having loss felt like it was all I’ve become. But when I think back now about how much I survived I am somewhat dumbfounded that I even did survive it. It was just so many things, one after the other, that went terribly wrong. My mom and a great friend died, my brother made it impossible to live at home with because of his addiction problems and so I lived with a friend until I could find my own flat, then there was incredibly stressful studies I battled through while feeling constantly anxious and not having my heart in it one bit and my father and I just had our relationship – if there ever was one – go downhill and I started withdrawing from him entirely to protect myself emotionally as his words were always like knives drenched in vinegar stabbed through me. I felt very alone and unloved and I missed my mom terribly. So all I did was try to survive and there were 4 severe depressive relapses throughout the ten years. That was all my life consisted of. That and 3 failed relationships which currently put my heart in the state of a barren desert. So what are 5 things I accomplished despite my illness? Survive, survive, survive, survive, survive?? I guess surviving sums it up. But if I have to really think about what this survival entailed, it includes actually getting myself through to the point of final year medicine even though my life got interrupted and halted. It includes working hard to finally have proper treatment for my mental illness. It includes creating new friendships that bring me joy. It includes a massive change in my character; becoming more open and not afraid to speak my mind and love too much or care too much. It includes rising each time I fell. I think those things I am proud of and at the end of the day, no matter how much I was held down and my life halted, those things are pretty great things.
Things I feel I haven’t managed to achieve yet is building enough self-confidence and overcoming daily anxiety. Currently, our exams in Medicine are all OSCEs which means they’re clinical oral exams. You examine patients, try to diagnose patients while an examiner is breathing down your neck and then you get peppered with questions. Multiplied by 3. I don’t know why they love always giving us 3 sessions. But I have basically had the same incident happen over and over. During my surgical exams 2 months ago I had severe anxiety during my exams and what happens is I implode in on myself and I get so nervous that I cannot speak and when I do I’m incredibly fidgity and speak in this subdued voice that just sounds doubtful of herself. On all three of my surgical exams the professors wrote “NERVOUS!” underlined and in caps on my grading. Afterwards, the professor told me my problem is I am too reserved and anxious all the time and that I doubt myself and I may know more theory than others, but because of their ability to speak so confidently, they do better. Then it happened again recently. We are currently rotating in Paediatrics and it’s all just ward rounds and Doctors peppering you with questions while you are surrounded by 17 other students. I had a sort of panic attack and refused to speak when I was questioned. I just froze and stared at the floor and he kept hammering me. Later on when I could present a patient to him alone I was okay and he said I need to stop doubting myself. Then strike 3 happened. This week, we were doing a teaching round in Paediatric Neurology and the Doctor in charge of it randomly selected students to hammer into with questions. Throughout the round I didn’t say much, like the majority of us, and everyone is incredibly intimidated and nervous around him. For some reason, he again noticed my absolute introversion and at the last patient he pulled me into the spotlight – literally grabbing my arm – and our conversation went as such;
Dr Lamb: What’s your name?
Dr Lamb: Veronike, you are going to lose 15 – 20% in your exams just because of your character and identity. You’re an introvert, like me. I will take a bullet for you, but promise me you won’t ever let that happen again and you won’t doubt yourself.
*Dr Lamb makes me put my hands on his face* Yes, his face.
Dr Lamb: Say you promise!
Me: I promise.
Dr Lamb: Say it louder!
Me: I promise.
Enough said… It was quite the interaction and how he deduced all of that from my personality without me even being questioned by him during the rounds goes beyond me. The point is, they are all right and right now life is demanding a different version of me which is going to require much work from my part. Other than the anxiety and incredibly crappy self-esteem, things I haven’t mastered yet are things like putting myself out there to meet new people because I just feel I don’t mentally have energy for it. Also, I am just starting to learn how to live again and not just survive so it is quite still a climb.
What are you grateful for?
This is a question I know we all frequently get super annoyed by. “Why are you so depressed? Just be grateful! You have so much to live for.” That’s usually the point where nothing changes except our anger and blood pressure levels. But realistically, we all have come so far in surviving that we can’t not be grateful for at least some things. Recently has been the first time in years that I truly started looking at the world around me completely beyond myself and loving life a little again. I realised how I could’ve so easily been dead right now and how I thought that I am nothing but rubble and ruins and all I will ever gain is loss. But here I am no longer depressed and because I am in remission, my perspective is entirely different from depression’s perspective. I see now that I still experience love for things, like my dogs make my heart expand with love and I see the good in people like when I am around patients in hospital I feel so much empathy for them and admire how much they love the people close to them. I see traits in people that make them great and that gives me hope in believing in the world again. I am grateful also for my health. So, so, so grateful. When I got stomach flu a week ago and I had to lie in bed for 4 days feeling so sick and weak, I realised how much I love and miss exercise and being able to go out and explore. I realised how bored out of my skull I was and I was suddenly thankful for studying medicine. I realised that I just wanted to get out of that bed because I am no longer depressed and I have a life I’d love to get back to and live again. I am thankful that I get to feel like this again because I could receive proper treatment.