First, Take Care of Yourself: Living with Depression and Anxiety
I once heard the combination of depression and anxiety described as feeling the need to do everything but having the energy to do nothing. I have honestly never heard something more accurate in my life.
For years, I had spun myself in circles trying to figure out what was wrong with me.
Why did I get so tired after the first hour of our night out? Why couldn’t I just go home? Why wasn’t I capable of saying no to my friends? Why did I feel like I needed to study an inordinate amount of time, only to realize I was too exhausted to do even a quarter of it? Why do I keep restarting and rewording this blog post? Why do I feel like a failure every time?
With every question, the same two words came back: depression and anxiety.
But I knew I didn’t want it to define me, even though it felt like it did, so I did the one thing I was encouraged to do at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences: I went to a counselor.
Mental health was always a rough subject for me. Growing up in an Indian family, my parents always showed their best face, but we all knew the issues we had broiling under the skin. In high school, I felt my first reality check of what mental health was and what it meant in a class on the Theory of Knowledge.
Knowing that I wanted to go into medicine, I decided to major in Psychology so that I could learn about mental health and, honestly, hopefully figure out my own issues. That didn’t quite work out, but there was a bright side: I got to learn about counseling and what counselors can do.
It seemed like my problems were solved… until I met my first counselor.
It turns out that counselors are a lot like cars. You needed the right style for the particular terrain you’re traveling across.
This first one wasn’t my type. Neither was the second. Or the third, fourth, or fifth.
I met my sixth and seventh when I moved to PNWU, and was delighted to discover that seven was apparently the charm. I’d found the one!
We talked about my issues and worked on strategies that I could implement in my everyday life.
You mean meditation, yoga, and journaling — AKA the stuff that never works for me?
Yes and no.
Strategies like that require a person to be more in control of themselves than I was. Instead, we started simple: we built a routine. A routine that pitted my anxiety against my depression because it included external motivation. A wake-up call in the morning, a gym buddy, meal prepping, and a night routine. All of it was centered around one thing; how I would survive medical school. It may come as no surprise that, at some point, things still felt unstable. So, we worked through it.
Along with my therapist and my families — my PNWU family, my biological family, and my family of friends — I accepted the reality that there isn’t just one way; there is not one perfect solution. After all, if if it were that easy I would have done it years ago.
The experience taught me three inevitable truths about myself.
I am not my mental health, but I can’t always be what I want.
I may never be completely okay and that’s okay.
If I don’t ask for help — because I am afraid of someone saying no or judging me — I will never be okay with not judging myself.
I am still on my journey to feel like me again, but I’m learning that it’s okay to put myself first; to ask for help and take it one day at a time.
It’s not easy and it’s not fair, but hey, who said life was either?
Osteopathic Medical Student - 1st Year (OMS I)
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences