My older brother called me around 9pm last Thursday evening.
I was studying in my bed (I know, I know, but I always study on the side of my bed I don’t sleep on, and somehow that makes it feel okay to me) and I put the phone on my chest, pressed speaker, and put forth “hello” that was disheartening enough to immediately warrant a, “What’s wrong?”
I told him that nothing was wrong, I was just in the middle of studying anatomy, as I had been for the last five hours.
And here’s the kicker.
He says, “You put too much stress on yourself.”
HA. HA HA HA.
I am one of the least stressed people in my medical school class. I haven’t surveyed all 181 of us, but there are lots of people that spend way more time in the library and put a lot more of their self-worth into how they do on tests than I do.
(It’s worth noting that anatomy is a soul-sucking, super fascinating but entirely all-encompassing 7 week void. Tests on Mondays. Impossible amount of information to memorize. Losing any sense of time after hours in a cadaver lab. Eat, sleep and breath random body parts and their innervations. Survival mode. So yeah, maybe I’m slightly stressed.)
(Cute dissecting scrubs, eh?)
I have generalized anxiety disorder. I was diagnosed 9 years ago and take medication (currently citalopram, generic Celexa) to manage it. And the medication helps a lot.
Finally being at a healthy weight, having released my food fears and (most of) my body image issues helps a lot too. Your brain works better when it’s fed properly.
We took a depression and anxiety screening survey at the beginning of medical school. We answered questions about how we feel, how we handle certain situations, etc and it is used not only to compile data on the mental health of medical students, but also to help anyone out that might be struggling.
I was shocked and so so thrilled with how I could answer. Give me that quiz a few years ago and I would have answered terribly. I could see now how much my mental health had improved – how much better I react to stressors – due to some changes in lifestyle and medication, and I had never been so glad that I got help and got better.
But then there are the times that I’m not the most happy about it. Sometimes I wish I stressed a little more! I would do so much better in school. I wouldn’t slack off as much. I’d study even more (and this is coming from a typical type-A medical student that is slightly anxious to even be writing this post at 8am on a Sunday morning instead of getting started on another Anatomy lecture right away.)
I know how I used to be…such a perfectionist, so distressed….not letting myself slow down, live life, have fun until everything else was complete. And while my heart knows that I am in such a better place now, it’s not really conducive to a competitive medical school career. Sure, everyone tells us we need to take care of our minds and bodies, but that doesn’t help my resume. I don’t think my residency interviews will care that I got a little extra sleep a few nights or that I made yoga an priority so I’d stay sane.
(Currently. via The Awkward Yeti)
I know part of my lower-stress attitude on medical school has to do with my being older than most of my class, also. I just have a few more years of real life experience and I know that a test isn’t the most important thing in the world. That being perfect doesn’t always make you happy and successful. That things can change quickly and the standard route isn’t always the best one for you (hello quarter-life-crisis that led me to medical school in the first place.)
So what’s it like to have an anxiety disorder in medical school? Well, first off, I’m glad I know I have it. There are far too many people that may deal with anxiety and think it’s normal or just don’t want to get help. At least I can see when there are situations that I need to remove myself from, not let get to me, or counteract with a good dose of yoga and my bed.
It means that I have to make choices that aren’t always with the norm. Sure I go out plenty and get drinks with friends, but I know that too many big parties and sleepless nights will kick my anxiety up a few notches and make me very, very uneasy. I know that I have to try to eat well (sort of a joke, my diet has been awful lately) and keep as much of a consistent routine as possible. It means making time for exercise, even when it seems like studying is more important, because endorphins are a real, wonderful thing. It means I have to take time alone — I have to say no to things.
But I’m also on medication that makes me perhaps not quite as studious as I once would have been. It means that I’ll definitely pass my tests, but I may not get as high of a grade as I could have. It also means I won’t care as much that I’m not the top of my class… It’s this strange brain game, where I know I should maybe care and that before I would have cared a ton, but now it’s just not that important. I’d rather not do as well than be an anxious mess all the time.
If this post seems like a big round-about mess, that’s because that’s how my brain is. That’s kind of how having an anxiety disorder in medical school is for me.
Now, onto that studying I was worried about. I have a quiz tomorrow!