I didn’t expect such an amazing response on that last entry. I certainly didn’t expect so much support, which is funny – since my whole point was that the commenter wasn’t alone.
Looks like I’m not alone either.
Please, please read the comments if you haven’t yet – they’re enlightening and honest. And I’m also asking you to pass this link on to any pre-med or med students you know who have similar concerns – you all said it better in the comments than I ever could.
(Feel free to add more thoughts as well. I’ve noticed a surprising number of google hits for “med student with mental illness”, so I suspect anything you write could be useful to someone out there.)
Meanwhile, I’m going to get back to this “neuroanatomy” thing. After Thursday’s final, we’re moving onto something called a “liver”. (Apparently it does more than just hang out near the right lung, periodically turning people yellow. Science! It’s a marvelous thing.)
Thank you for posting about this. I’ve got a lot to say, so I’ll break it up into a two-part comment.
I’m in a somewhat unusual position–I did a master’s in experimental psychology before deciding to try for med school after all (well, I decided halfway through my master’s, but I didn’t start doing much about med school until after). And I’m going to tell you, straight-up, that I kicked butt at Psych. I spent seven years (five in undergrad, accumulating six years’ worth of credits with a pretty high GPA–not slacking) learning all about people. Brains, behaviors, beliefs. The human mind is an amazing amalgam of things, conscious and unconscious. It’s tremendously frightening to realize how much of what we think we are is neurons. And tremendously comforting, at the same time, to realize how ultimately predictable we are. I don’t mean to use “predictable” pejoratively. The whole point of Experimental Psych is to learn to predict how we’ll react, how we think and behave, and how to make the very best of that. How to make us better. Not mindless, but better at thinking and better at being happy.
So it’s kind of hysterical that the reason I went into Psych in the first place is the classic reason. I’m nuts.
People often–not always, but often–go into Psych looking for answers. I was. And it still took me until my fourth year of undergrad, in the grip of what I can now recognize as the worst episode of OCD of my life, to hear a therapist say, “You’re in Psych. Do you have any obsessive-compulsive symptoms?” and it was like a light switch came on: yes. Intrusive, unwanted, repetitive thoughts that produce anxiety? Yes, I have them. Plus some other fun things.
So I’m depressed, anxious, and OCD. I’ve been to three therapists in my life, two of them regularly. And yet I don’t doubt that I’m going to get into med school and be a pretty great doctor. My mental illness isn’t all of me; it doesn’t define me. Sometimes it trips me up, but if I watch out for it and take care of it, I do a lot better than I did when I tried to ignore or deny it. Some days, or weeks, or months, are worse than others. And because I’ve been there, when I have patients, seven or eight years from now, who come in and tell me, “I’ve been having these thoughts…” I’m not going to do what so many well-meaning but under-trained GPs do and minimize, or go straight to medication without adequate understanding. Now, would I be a psychiatrist? No. Because I know me, and there’s a reason I didn’t go into clinical psych. But I’ll be in a much better position to have these conversations with patients and refer them compassionately and effectively than someone who’s never been mentally ill or, worse, still is and is still in denial.
Psych gave me the incredible gift of understanding that everyone is fallible, everyone has issues. Perfection is a damaging myth. I may not want to spend the rest of my life in Psych research, but I will always, always be grateful that I learned that. It breeds forgiveness–forgiveness of myself and of others. Pragmatism is not weakness, and pragmatism, above all else, is what Psych teaches. Do what works. If it doesn’t work, stop doing it. So I stopped trying to do it by myself, got a therapist, and hell if I’m not a lot better off these days. I have my bad days. But I have my good days, too. There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have believed that I would ever have days this good.