I was an overachieving, well-rounded and sagacious undergraduate student. I majored in psychology, minored in biology and was an active member of the Psi Chi honor society. I was drawn to the study of psychology, and fascinated by the complexities of mental illness. I became certified as a research assistant and spent many hours with severely depressed individuals, who had become crippled by their illness. I was intensely intrigued by their unique histories, their trials, and tribulations. I felt an intense desire to help and to become a positive part of their struggle back to mental health. Thus, with a solid focus and positive attitude, I entered medical school with the full intent to pursue psychiatry. Unfortunately, however, along that very well routed path, I lost my way.
I had allowed myself to become trapped in a violent cycle. I spent nights anxious and the days attempting to carry out the duties of a medical resident. In an irrational, misguided and futile attempt to gain some semblance of control, I took prescription stimulants to get me through the workday. This heedless decision only served to further accelerate the chaos and turmoil that now defined my once organized and peaceful life. My behavior resulted in the collapse of my sanity and continued disciplinary actions at work. The overwhelming sense of shame, guilt, and repeated humiliation only furthered my need to isolate. I lost my sense of self, my self-worth and continued to fall apart. Eventually, life had become an unbearable toxic milieu of drugs, lies, secrets, and pain. I was unrecognizable, I was an addict, repeatedly hurt and in need of help.
That was almost three years ago. I sit here today, no longer that naive girl entering medical school. I know more, I feel more and have more compassion than I believed was possible. I have volunteered at domestic violence shelters, spend time with the elderly at nursing homes, answered calls on suicide lines and commiserated with young women with debilitating eating disorders. Abuse and addiction are different forms of pervasive, unrelenting and consistent mental torment. The perpetual angst of desperation strips away your foundation. Initially, the self-destructive behavior is gradual, but then, in an instant, nothing is left of your former self, not even a pretense to hide behind. It is in this dark, wretched, vulnerable and reclusive place that I was able to heal; to again learn and grow. I spent this time expanding my horizons with travel, literature, and volunteer work. I experienced tranquility in yoga and the intense peace of meditation.
Each of us has an extraordinary ability to overcome adversity, to rise above our failures and achieve. I have come to realize the type of life I want to live. Now, with an intense resolve and impassioned determination, I am pursuing my second doctorate, this time in clinical psychology. I no longer lack the conviction or the self-confidence to step forth and create change. My struggle has resulted in a stronger, wiser, patient and far more humble person. I have crawled out from under the realm of fear to manifest a positive, productive and inspired life.
I have no inhibitions speaking about my mistakes or the steps I have taken to overcome my shame and fear. I was surrounded by professionals, silently screaming for help with my reckless and destructive behavior, yet my intervention came from the outside. I actively speak with other professionals that may steer off their own path, educating others to recognize the signs and take action to prevent such travesties.
The author is an anonymous physician.
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