Mental health in general is a topic the majority will try to avoid, mostly due to the stigma that you’ll somehow be seen as crazy or incompetent if you admit you’re struggling; therefore, it’s socially more acceptable to struggle in private and less constructively. The mental health of healthcare workers, however, is even more stigmatized as people tend to view doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers as robots or superhumans, i.e., invincible and nothing can ever hurt them, nor do they battle any of their own battles.
When I first started studying medicine, I didn’t give much thought as to how this experience would influence me or how I would manage under such pressure. I knew this was what I wanted and what I’d worked so hard for. I never thought about how I’d deal with heartbreaking stories, thinking it was something I’d get used to and wouldn’t be affected by. I never thought studying would consume me so much that I would forget who I am and who I want to become.
We’ve only had clinical rotations for two years now, and we’ve heard so many heartbreaking stories, life-changing news, and terminal diagnoses. And you may never realize it, but every story leaves a mark. And as heartbreaking as it is, this post won’t be about how you should try to distance yourself from the cases, even though it’s sometimes impossible to do so, or how psychological support should always be available to healthcare workers. This is a discussion for another time.
I want to talk about how fast you can lose yourself and how hard it can be to rediscover who you are. You’re accepted into medical school around the age of 20, thinking you have your life figured out. You’re on the right track, and nothing besides getting the best grades possible and graduating as fast as possible matters. But it shouldn’t be like that. Yes, medical school is hard, and it should be high on your priority list, but your first priority must always be you. Otherwise, you risk losing yourself in the process.
This year has been tough for me because I feel like I’ve had to redefine a lot in my life and face the fact that maybe I don’t have everything figured out. I’m still sure that studying medicine was the right decision for me and that this is something I love practicing; however, I did lose motivation for a while now and felt guilty about it. I didn’t feel the passion for it like I used to, and this made me question my decision. The passion is returning, but I figured I still have to work on myself a lot and not let medicine and my future job define me and be everything that I am.
I love medicine, but I don’t want it to consume me. It’s definitely one of my life’s purposes, and I feel like I was made for this, but it’s not everything. I want to be myself, enjoy life, and do what I love, but I also want to have a family, travel, and explore the world. And I know that this is possible; sometimes it’s just hard to find the perfect balance. But we can do it.
I’ve also been thinking about why I’ve had such a “midlife crisis” this year. One of the reasons is probably that the reality of the healthcare system hit us hard this year and that we’ve been romanticizing medicine and the work of a doctor (at least in our country) a bit too much. People don’t respect doctors as much as they used to, the money isn’t that great here either, and the working hours are crazier than ever. So, I think the answer for me is to do my residency abroad and then figure it out from there. I want to be a good doctor—someone people can rely on and trust. I don’t want to make mistakes because I haven’t slept in over 24 hours and can’t make the best decisions for my patients due to exhaustion.
Another reason is probably my personal life. This post is starting to look like a therapy session for myself, but writing it made me feel better, and maybe someone else in a similar situation will feel better after reading it, knowing that he or she is not alone. I have a boyfriend of almost 5 years, and we’ve been having some problems lately. No relationship is perfect, right? It made me realize that no matter what, we are perfect for each other, and he truly is my soulmate. I’ve been taking him for granted lately and didn’t give him enough credit for being such a kind-hearted and loving boyfriend. M, if you’re reading this, know that my love for you is unconditional and that I believe we can work through everything. You are my favorite person in the universe, and I can’t imagine going through life without you by my side, sharing and enjoying every step of this wonderful adventure.