2016. What a year. I know that Christmas is over now but I’m sitting in my room listening to Last Christmas. George Michael wasn’t the only celebrity that passed away this year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Prince, Muhammad Ali…and sadly a lot more. For many, it hasn’t been a good year at all and indeed, just looking at my Twitter feed seems to confirm this. Lots of people seem to be excited for the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017.
From a personal perspective too, 2016 hasn’t been the best of years. The best way I can use to describe it – perhaps because I’m listening to the song (or at least, I was – it’s finished now) – is: “a man undercover but you tore me apart.” Perhaps that’s a bit of a harsh way to describe it though, for it doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t go on to say, for example, that I’m slowly beginning to get myself back again.
Here are my memories and reflection of 2016.
2016 came. I got back to start my second term of first year at medical school. I was bloody excited. I felt great. First term had gone brilliantly and now, things were going to get even better as far as I was concerned. Lectures started off well too. We had finished all the cellular biology stuff in first term which, admittedly, I found rather boring and were now starting endocrinology. An absolutely beautiful topic. Not only was I enjoying the ‘play’ bit of medical school but I was now beginning to enjoy the ‘work’ bit.
If I told myself at this time that in just four months time I would find myself admit in a psychiatric unit, I would have laughed. None of us like to think of bad things happening to us, especially not at a time when things seem to be going so well.
The Dramatic Fall
Not even two months into 2016, I suddenly started to feel odd. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to feel miserable and isolated. Many people around me at medical school told me that ‘everyone get’s stressed about the work and exams’ when I tried to talk about it. In fairness to them, it wasn’t anyone trying to dismiss me – rather, it was a case of both them and me not understanding my feelings. It wasn’t the work that was making me upset. But how could I convey that to others?
That was my first experience of seeing how little people around us understand mental health issues. It was a frustration like no other. Any illness is frustrating to go through, for it is impossible for others to fully appreciate what you are going through. With mental illness, however, all the ‘signs’ are hidden which makes it even harder for people to understand. It was one of our medical tutors who told us about this. I didn’t appreciate this at the time but I do now, for it’s clear she was trying to help tackle the stigma associated.
The cycle was vicious. Depression, confusion, putting myself at risk, a suicide attempt or two or more, several trips to A&E in a week, being taken in an ambulance in blue lights and eventually ending up in a psychiatric unit just two weeks before my end of year one exams. Wow. What was happening to me, I remember thinking at the time. Surely I was beginning to lose myself.
Many people assume that coming out of a psychiatric hospital magically cures you of any mental illness. As I have made clear plenty of times, however, this is hardly the case. The next hurdle is actually going back to the ‘real’ world and facing things such as the stigma single handedly. I don’t use the term single handedly lightly either – being depressed and down led to literally everybody leaving me to my own devices. The vicious spiral continued.
Eventually, I had a bad psychotic breakdown in the middle of Stratford in Westfield in front of a group of friends. I went out to try to prove to everyone that I was fine. The exact opposite ended up happening. I charged out alone, was clearly unsafe and was once again considering ending it. Had it not been for two other of my friends who I’d managed to phone for help with one of them travelling for over an hour from one side of London to another to find me and keep me safe, I don’t know what would have happened.
These friends remain my closest today.
The Birth of this Blog and the Slow Rise
After my psychotic breakdown, I was left feeling absolutely miserable. I’m finished, I thought. I’m done. I may as well drop out of medical school. Not one person seems to be standing by my side.
I wasn’t going to let this illness define me. Sure, others may have used that to mark me but I wasn’t going to let that happen. Let’s try to make some good come out of this, I decided to myself.
In a state of mental illness, I was admittedly a little reckless with my finances. Perhaps this was a good thing at the time (well, it wasn’t at all) for it led to me buying a domain name. Thedepressedmedstudent. That’s what I was going to call it. I was still alive despite all the rubbish that had happened. And now I could share my experiences with others who may have felt as isolated as I did both to help them and me. If I get even 10 followers on Twitter, I decided, I would be absolutely stunned. If I could help even one person, it would be worth it.
The response was far bigger than I imagined.
I am approaching 900 followers on Twitter, have got countless messages from people all over the world of support, messages of thanks from people who say I have helped and have given a talk about my experiences. There, I was privileged to meet the likes of Jodie (@ from Girl, Interrupted), Sam (@) who organised the event, Abbie (@ from sunflowerandme) and now MBE awarded Jonny Benjamin (@ from The Stranger on the Bridge). I was humbled to have been one of the medical students interviewed by the Student BMJ.
In many ways, this has led to me once again rising. For the first time in a long time, I feel my self esteem beginning to creep up again. I remember my first hospital placement a few weeks ago where I was once again able to make people laugh again. I had not been able to do that for months since I had lost the person who I was. It is slowly coming back.
Here’s to hoping for this rise to continue into 2017.
Although 2016 has, admittedly, been a net negative for me, it has taught me a lot about myself. Stuff which I wish there were easier ways to learn but hey ho. I would also like to thank all of following my blog and Twitter for the countless support. It is the support that has kept me going, and allowed me to once again feel like I could continue with medical school.
Have a very happy new year.