The past year has been a big change for many of us, and an incredibly stressful time! With that in mind, I thought it fitting to share a little bit of my life with you. Whilst I am just your average medical student, working to the best of my ability, I feel like I have been through my fair share of struggles in 22 years. In the hope this may resonate with some of you and inspire you to keep going, I am going to tell you my story of how the work you do, or are training to do, shapes lives. Additionally, how I have developed, and am still developing a resilient and positive mindset.
Around 16 years ago I was attacked by a dog. Afterwards, I sat in hospital confused as to why my parents kept crying; nauseous from the mixture of analgesics; inquisitive about the 152 sutures in my face but, mostly, rapt in awe. All I remember is being covered in blood, asking if I was dying, and then suddenly I was ‘fixed’ and surrounded by many people who cared about me. This was my first real contact with healthcare, and I loved it! I recall immediately wanting to get better so that I could reach the stage where I was on the care giving side. I revelled in and continue to relish the hard work that followed to get me to where I am today: the hard work you are all acutely aware of!
Hospital can be a daunting and scary place and an experience with it will be a memorable life event for a child. The long-lasting impacts of that experience are largely dictated by your interactions, as medical professionals, with the child. The way you speak to a child and make them feel can really alter their perpetual perception both positively and negatively. They may be just another patient to you, but each child you meet, whilst they might not remember or understand what you did for them medically, they will remember how you made them feel, so make it count! Whilst I may be left with a physical scar, I do not have an emotional scar; only a feeling of empowerment and passion to become a doctor.
From this, grew a mindset of always learning and growing from adversity; trying not to allow a victim mentality to encompass me for too long. No matter what life throws at you, be it a global pandemic, or a traumatic event, we need only focus on the things within our control. Anything that falls outside of this should simply be acknowledged, accepted, and let go. It no longer serves us.
Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it
Despite being a well-cared for and loved child, fortunate enough to be surrounded with opportunities and having a strong drive to succeed, I was actually a very sad teenager. I struggled with lack of self-worth and identity, questions of mortality and purpose, and excessive worry, all of which unfortunately led to times of suicidal thoughts. I was constantly told ‘it is just your age and hormones’, however, upon reaching 20 and still feeling very much the same I decided to seek medical help. I am now much better and, whilst not always feeling 100%, the times of despair I once experienced are now infrequent to non-existent. I will never be ashamed to talk about my mental health, as being open, honest, and exploring those dark places that we tend to avoid has been the biggest healer for me. This, alongside taking a daily SSRI. Again, I am not ashamed of the fact my brain needs a little extra 5-HT boost! These experiences have made me a more empathic person with a keen interest in CAMHS, a service which, in my opinion, needs more backing and improvements across the UK.
Firstly, listen to your body and use rest as a right not a reward and, secondly: simply start by doing the next right thing
At times, it might seem near impossible to just ‘keep going’. My advice here would be to: firstly, listen to your body and use rest as a right not a reward and, secondly: simply start by doing the next right thing. My favourite quote is ‘one step at a time’. In Summer 2018, I climbed Kilimanjaro as part of some charity work that I was undertaking. There were times when I really did not think I could go on. However, quite literally, just by putting one foot in front of the other and taking one small step at a time, I reached the top of the highest mountain in Africa.
Little by little, one travels far
I now take this analogy and apply it to anything I may be struggling with. Be that workload, my mood, or any other sources of stress or anxiety. It resonates far beyond its literal meaning.
One thing I discovered during the pandemic is running! I have found running or jogging to be exceedingly helpful in stabilising my mood and increasing productivity. I never used to think I could run far, let alone enjoy running! Now, even when I find excuses not to go, I will just pop on my trainers and leave the house. I chase the high feeling after a lovely run: it clears my airways, my mind and makes me feel physically and mentally strong!
Throughout all that the past year as thrown at us, and despite some challenging personal experiences, I am still very happy and fulfilled. I implore and encourage everyone in any sort of rough patch to keep going. Keep talking. Keep moving. Keep taking those steps. Everything will be OK in the end; if it is not OK, then it is not the end.