Getting to know me, Real Medicine, Studying Medicine

The Best Gift I Ever Gave Myself

I don’t really know how to start this post, because it’s been so long since I wrote anything more than a point-by-point replay of my day and my patients, or maybe a little book review. Partially it’s because my apartment was robbed in February, and my laptop with it, and I’ve yet to replace it.

Partially it’s because I haven’t known what to write. Blogging and writing have been some of my greatest coping mechanisms, but when things get really bad, I tend to draw a blank and avoid writing at all.

So I guess that’s how I’ll start: things have been really bad.

I love my new(ish) job at the children’s hospital. I love working with children, and I can’t imagine going back to treating adults after this year (sorry). I am even enjoying the surgery, even though longstanding readers of this blog will know that I used to hate surgery. I’m not saying I’ll become a paediatric surgeon… I’m just saying that I’m not opposed to the idea anymore.

But oftentimes, work has been the best part of my day. And that’s hardly living.

My mental health has taken a steep dive. I’ve alluded to it before but in an effort to withstand the stigma of mental illness – especially in doctors – I’ll spell it out: I’ve got major depression. I’ve probably had it for at least half of my life, and it has been untreated for most of that time.

There is a lot written about so-called “high-functioning depressives”, but I’m not delving into that now. Suffice to say that I’ve remained functional in my work and that it’s probably to blame for me coping so well without any interventions.

Yes, adjusting to Cape Town has been hard. Yes, Capetonians aren’t as welcoming as where I come from. Yes, I miss my family. Yes, I work long hours and exceed my overtime cap. Yes, my cat likes to wake me up at night and nibble my toes. Yes, cooking my own dinner is a constant exercise in disaster-avoidance.

But it’s really the depression that makes it all so damn hard.

The best gift I gave myself this year has been to get myself a therapist. Therapy is HARD. I don’t know the answers. I have no training in psychology (as opposed to psychiatry), and I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. So I have to trust this person to lead me. There are probably better metaphors for this, but this is what I’ve got.

And having to trust a professional with something I don’t understand has been the most freeing thing, actually. I researched therapists like crazy before I chose one, because I knew that I’d tell this person things that would leave me vulnerable.

I don’t have much free time, but taking an hour each week for therapy has been the best decision I could have made. (Even though it drastically reduces the amount I can spend on buying books.)

I wish I had started therapy earlier, and I wish that more doctors would go for therapy. Moreover, I wish every medical student had access to therapy. A lot of medical students simply don’t have the funds for it, and providing it to them would actually be an investment. I have lot of strong feelings about that particular discussion. But I’ll write more on that some other time. Hopefully before Christmas!

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17 thoughts on “The Best Gift I Ever Gave Myself”

  1. Great post. It is so important that we as physicians talk about mental illness and our challenges (from someone who has major anxiety with at least a sprinkling of depression). I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling, and I hope the counseling will continue to be positive for you. I’ve done some counseling in the past year, and I’ve found it to be quite helpful.

    1. Heeey! Long time! Thanks for popping by. Yeah. I definitely think there have been some improvements in terms of talking about mental illness. But we need more for sure. Therapy is hard! But really worthwhile too. Glad you’ve found it too 🙂

  2. I’m new to your blog, but I wanted to thank you for your post because I think this topic is super important. Hope you feel better soon! And good for you for speaking out about it. I’m sure this will help so many people.

    1. Welcome to my little spot, Amanda, and thanks for your comment. If it helps just one person… then it will have been worth it. Best of luck to you with your med school start!

  3. This is SO important. I can’t advocate therapy enough. Our jobs are some of the most stressful in the world – we make life and death decisions every day – yet no one asks how we’re coping. A lot of us don’t cope. I was lucky enough to start therapy for my anxiety in medical school, and I recently restarted in my home town. It helps a ton. Hugs to you, my dear. Stay strong.

    1. Thanks Robyn, and hugs to you too. I think maybe if we all took time to ask our colleagues how they’re doing – and then ask how they’re REALLY doing – it might be a step in the right direction. But really, I just think everyone needs therapy because we have so much shit to debrief about!

  4. Awesome post M. Really the stigma surrounding mental health is the greatest obstacle to people seeking help or talking openly about their being unwell. So glad you’ve made the decision to seek professional help, there is no shame in saying you are not okay and getting the help you need. You have no idea how many people you have already helped by just dating your truth. Maybe they needed that little push…keep doing what you do kid. Keeping you in my thoughts❤️❤️

  5. This is a great post I can definitely relate to. I got diagnosed with major depression in my 3rd year of med school, and it was hard getting over the stigma at first, but I underwent CBT and also took meds. Its a major milestone of personal development, so I don’t regret taking time off (a year!) and using that time to really get to know myself and my faith better. Since then I’m all about speaking out about mental health, even amongst healthcare professionals. Okay, I havent got to really proclaiming it yet, but its a small step forward to let others know its okay to ask for help.
    I dont know if I will fall into depression again with the challenges of being a doctor- but I’m forever grateful and thankful I went through that healing journey, it truly makes a person stronger.
    Sending you love and I hope you get the support you deserve!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I think taking a year off is often a literal life-saver, and sometimes I wish I had done that! My personal recommendation would be to keep seeing a therapist, even if your mood is good,because I feel like our depressed minds will always remain sensitised. Best of luck to you!

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