The Return to Medical Student from Psychiatric Inpatient – One Year On
The date was the 2nd October 2016 and I was nervous. Perhaps more nervous than I had been in my whole life, which was saying something. After all, I had gone through things like medical school interviews, entry tests, A-Level exams – you name it. But this was different. Very different.
What was about to happen? My Tweet on the day explains:
— DepressedMedStudent (@usycool1) 2 October 2016
I have now successfully completed that year of Medical School. Here’s the story.
Why the immense nervousness?
Coming back to work after you were in hospital is never easy. What was scaring me the most was the ‘where on earth have you been?” questions. Unfortunately, we as a society tend to make judgements before we’ve heard the full side of the story. Even after hearing the full story, some people think that you are making excuses. The unique difference of a psychiatric unit, however, is the stigma attached.
Even as medical students, we are afraid to tell one another where we have been. My mental state had gotten so bad before my admission that I ended up doing things that were, in the eyes of others, extremely odd. How would I be able to look those people in the eyes again? Rumours would have undoubtedly spread too about my behaviour. How would I overcome those?
Not only this, but I had seriously considered dropping out of medical school after what happened. Medical school had always been my dream, but was I fit enough to continue? What if my mental state deteriorated even more on my return, and I lost my place or worse?
I think it’s fair to say that my mind was in a very confused and panicked state before returning.
The initial difficulty
The return, whilst not disastrous, was hardly easy.
I had decided on the very first day that I would either sit at the back of the lecture theatre or in a separate room. I didn’t want to end up having some sort of psychotic breakdown in front of a room of 300 people but if something did happen, I wanted a quick way to escape. It was very isolating, however – most of my time was spent alone. We tend to underestimate the true brutal nature of loneliness and only by actually experiencing it ourselves do we truly fear it.
My first term also had several A&E visits with mental health related concerns. A psychotic episode in lectures, suicidal tendencies, you name it. All the while, my mental health care had not been transferred on to anyone. This was not the fault of anyone as such, but more due to cracks in the system. Experiencing these cracks first hand was an eye-opening experience as a medical student.
The slow recovery
Gradually, I began to force myself to go to lectures and teaching, no matter how difficult I found it. The term before this, where my mental health was becoming poor, my attendance was less than half. This time around, I attended all of my small group teaching sessions, human dissection sessions and tutorials. It wasn’t easy at first, but it helped keep my mind off things.
Revision wasn’t easy either. As medical students, revision happens almost everyday. Or at least, it should happen – I struggled to sit down and concentrate. Too often, my mind would drift off, and I would end up feeling miserable again. That in turn made it even harder to revise, which worsened my mood. It was such a vicious cycle! Again, I would just have to force myself to sit down and get on with it. It sounds easy but it was anything but.
The faster recovery
It’s funny – medical schools really have the power to help students facing such difficulties, but many people who have contacted me say that their medical school has hindered rather than helped. It was the email of the head of my medical school that further helped my recovery. I won’t be posting the full email here but he emailed every single medical student, telling them the importance of looking after those medical students who were suffering from mental illness.
The effect was rather dramatic. Lots of people had started to check up on me to make sure I was OK. I also emailed the head to tell him about my experiences, and he invited me for lunch. There, he was extremely encouraging of me, and made it clear that the medical school was there to help me. It was very unlikely that I would be kicked out, and he was fully there for me.
This meeting gave me the courage to email my head of year to explain to her about my issues. I told her – and her response was outstanding. She made it clear that if I needed to, I could miss teaching (to a point – but even then, the worst that would happen would be for me to take a break and return the following year) and my senior tutor made contact to support me. Throughout the year, he would email me to check on my progress. This is a man, might I add, who is a consultant at the all-busy Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. Despite that, he always found time for me.
The (almost) turnaround
Summer term came, and things were much different compared to the year before.
Once again, I was beginning to find my old attitude back. That was, my rather sarcastic, uncaring attitude where I was unafraid to try to make people laugh, no matter how crap my jokes were. I had lost that attitude in the months before and had become scared and anxious around other people. I had started to avoid people and become quiet. Whilst I’m still rather uncomfortable around large groups of people, I was becoming less scared. And I was happy to have banter with people again.
I had also managed to – somehow – get selected for the 1st XI cricket team of my university. The year before that, I had missed a lot of practice sessions due to my illness and didn’t make it into any team. Now, this had happened. I was shocked to see my name on the team list. Not only that, but I was once again able to slowly go out and actually enjoy things. We don’t tend to realise the beauty of being able to enjoy things, unless we lose that ability.
I had travelled up and down the country watching the Cricket Champions Trophy matches. I had managed to write a lab report at the same time, as well as revise for my last exam. Finally, it seemed like my life was coming back.
The current status
Yesterday, I had my last exam of second year. It wasn’t the fact that my examinations were over that gave me happiness. Oh, no – it was the fact that I had managed to get through another year, despite thinking I would have to drop out, thinking I couldn’t make it, having potential rumours being spread but managing to overcome that which gave me tremendous joy. Have I passed my exams? I have no idea. But small steps.
Of course, it would be rash to suggest that I am completely better now. Psychosis still happens from time to time, and I will be on my medications for a while now. However, things are improving.
None of this would have been possible without several things. I owe this to a lot of other people:
- My medical school for supporting me throughout the year. That includes my tutors, head of year and head of medical school.
- My friends for sticking by my side no matter what happened. Many of them were shocked at how much I had changed with my mental health, but they all stuck by my side despite that.
- My family for constantly being a source of support, no matter how difficult they found it.
- And, of course, everyone who has been following me on Twitter, Facebook or this blog. The amount of positive support people have given me is genuinely touching, and it always makes me smile when someone messages me to say this blog has helped them. I started this blog for the purpose of helping people. Of course, it’s not for me to say if it’s been helpful or not, but I’m glad people think it is.