I have had “becoming a great physician” at the top of my life goals for about 4 years now. I have also been struggling with finding myself to be ‘mentally interesting.’ These mental quirks as they were have, however, really tried throttle my medical school ambitions. I am terrified of talking to a physician about my problems.
Dear commentor: I’ve been there. I felt incredibly alone. The feeling of “oh god, but I’m a future physician – I’m not allowed to have a psych problem” was worse than my panic disorder itself, because I had no role models – no physicians, no med students who knew how I felt. I had nobody to look to for help.
So as much as I dread the idea of airing what was a pretty dark time in my life in a public forum, I have to write this. I may not be the best med-student-with-a-psych-history in the world, but I’m one of the few with a blog. So, hell – here I am.
“I have “toughed it out” as it were for years now, mostly since I started college. I am afraid I can’t do it any longer. I feel like a failure for even thinking about getting “help.” You managed to get into medical school before finding what worked for you. Does this mean I am just not up for it?”
First, I’ve given you the wrong impression by not talking about this. I absolutely should have gotten help in undergrad. In fact, I tried – I actually called my University’s mental health service after a horrible panic attack. And I made an appointment.
But I never showed up. I never showed up, because I was having a panic attack about seeking treatment for my panic attacks.
… So, no, I wasn’t the best at logic. But hey, I was the best at organic chemistry! And physics! And studying alone for hours!
But I was also the best at denial. The fact that I rarely wanted to hang out with friends? That just means I’m introverted. It’s totally normal for introverts to be too nervous to go out. And the fact that I’d break down crying at the worst moments, over the smallest perceived slight? Genetic. I’m just a crier. Sucks, but it’s how I am.
Neither of those rationalizations was true. And I had absolutely no idea. I knew I had panic attacks, but I had no idea that there was anything else wrong. No idea until a psychiatrist asked me to examine my life, no idea until 10mg of Lexapro lifted 100 lbs of unhappiness off my back.
“I really want to go to medical school, but my thoughts are “How can you possibly survive medical school when you have these anxiety problems NOW?”
Here’s the thing: No matter who you are, med school forces you to confront your anxiety.
I know an extremely competent, high-achieving med student who has been in 4-times-a-week psychotherapy for the past 12 years. You’d never guess it. Some of the most socially outgoing and fun people at my school see psychiatrists. And a couple of the most outrageously anxious people I know have never set foot in a therapist’s office.
But you don’t have to wait until you’re overwhelmed. Sure, I waited until med school – but I also wasted a lot of time in undergrad locked in my room or crying in a corner. You can survive by seeking help, doing the work, confronting your anxiety now. I promise, you wouldn’t be alone.
So there’s no rule, no pattern to “who can handle it and who can’t”. In the end, the only important thing is this: are you willing to learn how to handle the anxiety? Therapy can teach you. It won’t happen overnight, and it’ll take work. But it can happen.
Just know this: There’s no First Place Award for “toughing it out”. There’s no medal, no praise, nothing you get to add to your CV for being 100%-certified Therapy-Free.
And that’s why you should seek help. Life can be so much easier. When you’re anxious or depressed, you don’t even know how hard life is for you – and it doesn’t have to be that way.