For the first couple of years of medical school, the constant stream of exams and the anxiety that came along with each one seemed never-ending. I told myself that it was worth sacrificing my personal health to better the lives of others.
I put off addressing my own mental health needs to keep advancing to the next level of education. I let stress manifest itself in new ways that my body wasn’t used to. I compulsively ate away my feelings with total disregard to both my physical and mental health. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and became pre-diabetic by the end of my first year. I thought to myself “everyone goes through things like this during medical training. I’ll lose the weight next year”.
Another year went by and along with it came a new diagnosis. I started having terrible headaches that were different from the migraines I had become used to. I became preoccupied with my headaches. If I wasn’t in overwhelming pain, I was having anxiety about when my next headache would occur. After going through months of diagnostic imaging studies and to various physicians, I finally found a cause to my pain. By the end of my second year, I developed a medical condition known as idiopathic intracranial hypertension or pseudotumor cerebri.
My neurologist said that if my headaches weren’t well controlled, I could lose my vision. The pressure in my head could even get so bad that it could cause my brain to herniate if severe enough. It was a huge wake-up call. It’s hard to say how much medical school played a role in the development of my condition, but my headaches and instances of increased intracranial pressure have correlated highly with my stress level.
Making steps towards leading a healthier life by implementing exercise into my daily routine and identifying stressors has improved my symptoms greatly. The process of being a patient has taught me empathy for the patients that so often feel dismissed in our health care system.
A physician recently took the time to research the effects of the anti-inflammatory diet to augment the medications for my condition. The fact that he went above and beyond to provide me with an alternative to the medications that have been failing me for the past few months made me feel cared for. I invite health care professionals to take the extra 5 minutes to examine the current research and alternative modalities to medicine being used to treat your patient’s condition. It can make a huge difference in their quality of life.
My call to action to other graduate students struggling with chronic diseases and mental illnesses during their training processes is this: take care of yourself. You can’t take care of anyone if you’re dead. Your health is worth saving. Ask for help when you need to and advocate for what you believe in.
The author is an anonymous medical student who blogs at Naked Medicine.
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