Had an awesome appointment with G today. But I won’t post about that, because ironically, the subject matter was difficult to deal with.
What I will post about is something I feel quite passionate about at this very moment. It’s something I’ve been meaning to post about for a long time now and it was brought to my attention by a commenter a while ago. However, I hadn’t addressed it yet because, well, I’ve been feeling shitty lately, and when I feel shitty I don’t feel particularly good about myself in any sense, so the post would have come off as completely dishonest.
If you’ve been following my blog, or if you’ve simply read my About page, you’ll know that I want to be a psychiatrist.
You’ll also know that I have recurrent severe Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety issues, anorexia (apparently), and have only recently shaken off the BPD diagnosis and only have traits, according to both my psychiatrist and psychologist. That was a long-ass sentence, I know.
Ok, so, why do I want to be a psychiatrist? I’ll try not to get sappy here, but in summary, I’ve always been fascinated by the human brain and behavior. Initially I wanted to be a neurologist, but that quickly died off once I had to memorize spinal tracts and realized neurology was more about the physical stuff than behavior (and, really, spinal tracts are pretty cool and fascinating -geek talking here- but….it’s just not me). Ironically, I didn’t realize all of this even while doing psychiatry research in undergrad…I only realized it when I got to medical school. And since then I haven’t looked back. Psychiatry to me is different, it’s exciting, and I find the part about it being at times so abstract and unknown absolutely beautiful. But…most of all…and this is the part that I love the most…I truly and genuinely care about the people (the patients).
And of course, I’m not going to deny my own mental health issues were a huge influence in my deciding to go into psychiatry. That’s one of the positives I’ve gotten out of all of this: being able to see the world differently.
However, with all that in mind, the inevitable question arises: Don’t I think having my own mental health issues renders me incapable of working in the field?
The short answer is: No. But of course, I’m not here to give a short answer…
I really don’t see anything wrong with having mental illness and being a mental health professional. Actually, I see it as a positive, because it allows you to empathize with patients more and there’s a higher level of understanding than what you achieve without having gone through similar experiences. For example, would I think a person with a chronic illness with so many biological, social, and emotional implications such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease render that person incapable of working as a gastroenterologist? No. It sounds ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. Well, same thing happens with mental illness.
But let’s modify the question a bit. What if instead you ask: Don’t you think having an exacerbation in your mental health issues renders you incapable of working in the field? In other words: Do you really think you can work being in such a state?
And my answer is still a definitive No. I’ve had some pretty dark times in my past, and I still have more to come in the present and future. However, I’ve been able to work my way through it all and just keep swimming. With the help of support, rigorous therapy and dedication to my treatment, I’ve been able to get where I am today in spite of the highs and many -very low- lows. Just like any other type of illness, mental illness is not a constant entity, it changes as the days progress. I can feel absolutely miserable one day and feel slightly better the next, only to feel like a zombie after that. It changes with the tides. I mean, we all experience this to some degree. Some days you feel crappy, other days you feel sleepy, still others you’re in a good mood…but you went to work every day, didn’t you? Feeling bad didn’t stop you from going to work and performing your duties, right? Same goes for mental illness.
Ok ok, but let’s get to the real question, the one you’re dying to see how I answer: How do you expect to be a psychiatrist if you’ve got so many issues with suicidal thoughts, cognitive distortions, various unexpected triggers, etc etc?
Again, why not? The key here is to know yourself, and I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well over the years and keep learning more and more about myself as the days go by. Because I know myself, and my reactions, my emotions, etc, I can tell when I’m too sick and I need a break, or when I’m relatively ok and can keep going. It’s the reason I took a leave of absence in the first place. R told me recently, that she doesn’t see any problem whatsoever with my being a psychiatrist, that the key is to know yourself. She told me about a colleague who lived with alcoholic parents and thus has decided that she cannot work with alcoholic patients, because it’s too much for her emotionally. Likewise, if I’m ever feeling too depressed, too suicidal, too sick, I’ll know that it’s time to take a break.
In addition to this, knowing your limits is also incredibly important. For example, I’m fully aware of the fact that due to my illnesses I probably won’t be able to take on an incredibly high patient volume in the future, might not make as much money as my peers, might have to work with a more flexible schedule or whatever….but does that stop me from being a good psychiatrist to the patients I will get to work with? No.
There’s doctors and medical students with depression, bipolar, cancer, ulcerative colitis, asthma, Crohn’s, diabetes, dwarfism, anxiety, and many more….it doesn’t stop them from being doctors.
Why should it stop me?