I’m in a pretty okay place right now (but I’m unpredictable)

Medical school can be fraught with anxiety, loneliness, and debilitating self-doubt, writes Isobel Walker

Location: UK
Published: Monday 10 May 2021

Currently, I'm finding it pretty hard to know where to start this blog, because, truth is, I'm in a pretty okay place right now. Exams are around the corner, I have no idea what my plans are for next year, my sleep cycle is missing in action, I have no idea how to revise, and I'm developing an inexplicable fear of the red lockers at the medical school. So yes, pretty okay. For me, anyway.

I realise that might be confusing. Let me explain. See, I could have started this blog with: ‘exams are around the corner, I don't know if I'll make it through to my final year in medicine, sleep is non-existent, I’m not even thinking about revision because it terrifies me so much and I’m refusing to set foot inside the medical school’. Incidentally, all of which I have thought at some point over the last year. Some over the last month.

I’m a pretty unpredictable person. That's a given. For people who don't know me well, they may see that in the fact I can be quite eccentric, bubbly, overenthusiastic – all personas I tend to put on to mask how I can actually feel, which can be extremely anxious, or low, or both. Or just numb and existing. I’ve learnt the art of self-deprecating humour, to reassure people that, yes, look, I'm fine – I can crack a joke! I have learnt how to be witty, quick thinking, sarcastic, feisty – all things that you may think require brain power, but for me, sort of don’t. It’s just there, easy to come by, in a repertoire of things I can say or do to cover up the true ‘me’ underneath the mask. Where my unpredictability truly lies is how I cope with how I see that ‘me’.

Sometimes I want to separate myself from that person. That’s when I will try and put on the ‘it’s all okay’ mask; be cheery, be bright, be the definition of rainbows and unicorns. It’s totally exhausting, but you can fool yourself sometimes. I’ve found myself genuinely laughing, genuinely enjoying my day, genuinely forgetting what it was I was worried about. Sometimes I want to resonate with her. I can seem quiet and withdrawn to my peers, occasionally getting a few raised eyebrows my way, asking if I’m okay, but that’s just not me. I can’t keep it up for long – it’s somehow more exhausting feeling so low both inside AND outside than pretending to be someone you’re not. In my case anyway. Someone will ask me a question, I’ll get carried away, and the bubbly side of me is back.

But there are those days, which are the horrendous ones, where it’s too much to even get out of bed. The thought of going to the medical school, onto wards, seeing other people, can induce tears of stress and worry, even anger at myself for being so ‘hopeless’ or ‘pathetic’, and I can regress from bubbly into my own bubble – not letting anyone in.

Throw in a pandemic to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a mental health deterioration on your hands.

Those are the days it’s hardest. Those are the days that make you think, ‘am I cut out for this?’ Honestly, I do sometimes think, ‘no’. I think everyone at one point in their medical school career, whether first or final year, has had that thought. But when it comes again and again, day after day, hour after hour, it can become all consuming, and you can get carried into a downward spiral – more like a whirlpool – where it feels like you are literally drowning in work. Throw in a pandemic to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a mental health deterioration on your hands. Lasting many, many months.

I felt no-one was listening to me, that no-one understood me, that no-one was experiencing things from my perspective, so how could they possibly help? I began to self-sabotage – pushing people away – and isolated myself further than I already was, before I reached breaking point from the loneliness. It’s amazing how you can truly feel so alone when surrounded by so many people. I never understood it until going back to placement in September and feeling so inadequate compared to everyone else. I’m ashamed to say, it took me until April to actually sit down with other people on my course and reminisce about what a tough year we had had as a cohort, and how we had all been in it together, but failed to actually realise that. We all felt so alone. But really, I don't think we truly were, or are for that matter.

The people on my course may not have the exact same experiences as me, and honestly I truly hope they didn’t, because it’s not something I would ever wish upon anyone to go through, but having that ability to talk to others and realise that there is comfort in shared experiences can, in itself, be a comfort. It means I can be in the okay place I am currently in, red lockers or otherwise.