In which the full-time patient explains why she wants to be a part-time doctor

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?

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10 comments
  1. I’m not aiming for psychiatrist, but do want to work in the mental health field. I feel really weird and uncomfortable every time I have to tell my therapist or my employment specialist that I found a job to apply for at the very organization they work for. They’ve been supportive, but I still feel like they must be internally laughing at the idea of me helping others.

    Out of the two jobs I have recently applied for, one is in accounting (managing disability payments and bills for people who can’t handle their own money) and the other is in the inpatient unit I stayed in a total of 4 times last year.

    I suspect they think I especially shouldn’t be working in the inpatient unit, as that pretty much eliminates the possibility of me ever being admitted there again. I think it would be a great place for me to work, both because I know what it’s like to be there and can empathize with the patients, and because it would encourage me to keep my own act together and not have any need to be admitted.

    Plus it’s a safe environment. My last job was in a warehouse where carrying a box cutter was a job necessity. This tended to lead to self-harm on occasion. My therapist did repeatedly say she wished I worked in a place without box cutters…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hey there,

      I know that feeling all too well. But do remember you don’t know exactly what they are thinking. Your thinking that they must be internally laughing is just your perception, influenced by your own ideas. Have you considered maybe they’re actually rooting for you and proud of you? 😉

      I think you’re really brave and you know yourself very well, which is essential for your knowing whether you can work in mental health or not. And if you feel it is a safe environment then it is definitely something you can consider. You know yourself better than anyone else, and if you feel this is something you want and can do, then go for it. There’s lots of us rooting for you 😉

      Like

  2. J said:

    Because mental health patients deserve consistent, strong, continuous care. Based on your blog, you are not able to provide that, in part because you do not recognize when you are no longer able to behave professionally and competently. I suppose you could specialize in the “worried well,” and therefore not worry too much about life and death situations being caused by your own illness, but frequent disruptions to the treatment based on your level of mental health on any given day is not fair and should not be a part of a therapeutic relationship.

    Like

    • Hey there J,

      If you know me in person, then disregard this reply and send me an email, as I would love to discuss this over a few cups of coffee if you feel up for it. If you don’t know me “in real life”, then read on.

      Assuming we don’t know each other, I would advise you to be careful about passing judgement on random people on the internet. As far as readers are concerned, I could just be some random 70 year-old lady who decided to pose as a medical student with mental illness. The fact remains as such: you don’t know me, you don’t know my story, my environment, where I’m coming from, or what I’m like with my patients. All my readers are provided with are the few anecdotes and thoughts I post here, which are only an extremely small part of my life. Plus, this is my personal blog on which I like to vent (a lot!), and as such, unfortunately, I might come across as harsh, irrational, and always unbalanced.

      As for my behaving professionally and competently, as far as I’m concerned I have never had a professionalism red flag raised by my attendings/residents. Actually, quite the contrary, I’ve been applauded by my mentors for being very dedicated to my patients and involved in their care. If you are assuming this based on the recent post I wrote (Dear Dr. Big Gun), then I will tell you that I only posted part of the story and the attending after all, offered to write me a letter of recommendation for residency without my asking.

      I’m not sure if you understood my post, although that might be a mistake on my part for not being as eloquent as other bloggers (in which case, sorry about that!). What I meant to say was that in spite of my ups and downs I am still very much able to take care of patients, and if ever things in my personal life get out of hand then I will have the insight to know that I am not capable of performing my duties. But I meant this as an exceptional situation, not as an “oh I feel bad today let’s just cancel all appointments I had with my patients” kind of way. I take this very seriously, even if it might not come across on this blog.

      Trust me, if there’s a person truly dedicated to her patients, you’re reading her blog right now, and their safety is my priority. If ever I feel I cannot fulfill these duties then I will admit it (like I did when I took a leave of absence) and you’ll probably be reading about it in this blog. I don’t know where you’re coming from, what your story is, but you seem to care a lot about people with mental health issues. I do too 😉

      Take care, and like I said, if you know me then by all means let me know!

      PS: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking care of the “worried well”. Everyone deserves to be listened to and have support in this life, no matter the severity of their issues.

      Like

  3. “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?”

    From my point of view, that would make you more qualified to be a psychiatrist than someone without those issues. Part of talking to people isn’t only listening to what they have to say, but knowing and understanding how they feel and why they feel it. That gives you a leg-up in helping people to face their issues and overcome their challenges. A person who doesn’t go through depression, for example, doesn’t know how to help someone deal with their depression. Yes, they can be schooled and trained in psychiatry, but they’ll never truly be able to empathize and understand their patients. They’ll always be sitting on the outside of what’s going on. For me, I prefer to be helped by someone who understands what I’m going through rather than someone who has a fancy degree on their wall (I hope that didn’t sound harsh, by the way).

    Not to diminish the importance of the psychological field, but when helping people, I think it’s more important to be able to truly connect with them than to say that you think you know what they’re going through based on what your studies have told you. Of course, studying psychology is still a good idea. Like I said, I don’t want to diminish the importance of it. But knowledge without understanding can be off-putting; to me, anyway.

    Good luck! I wish you well. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there,

      Speaking as a patient, I totally agree with you. I prefer someone who has at least *some* experience with mental health issues. I always feel there’s a higher risk of falling prey to stigma if the people who are supposed to help you have no way of understanding you.

      Speaking as a medical student, I do think I have a leg-up like you say. A lot of times I find myself explaining things to my non-mental-health-interested friends and family who pass judgement on what they call “crazy people”. Nevermind the fact that I’m a “crazy person” according to their books, apparently that fact escapes them. Strangely enough, I think it’s a gift. I’m not saying I’ve liked having depression and company, just that I’ve learned to find the positives in the whole ordeal.

      And no, you didn’t sound harsh at all! Actually, my psychologist doesn’t have any of her degrees on display in her office. She says it intimidates patients. I think I’d put mine on display, because it was hard earned work, but I’ll be inconspicuous about it haha!

      Take care, wish you well too

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I actually agree with you! I’m studying psichology even if I have a lot of psichological issues. .. I think we Can help patients in a better Way, because we know what They feel…
    I love your blog,you are actually helping me! 😊

    Like

    • Hi there! You go girl! 🙂 Having gone through all that mental illness encompasses helps us have way more empathy for others. I’m glad you like my blog and think it is helping you. Thank you for letting me know. I’ve translated bits of your blog and think you’re very insightful and bright. Hope to hear more of you 😉

      Sending you lots of strength. Take care!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! I’m glad you ‘ ve translated bits of my blog…when I’ll be more good in speaking English I will try to write in English so that more people can read it! 😊

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you! I’m glad you ‘ ve translated bits of my blog. . When I’ll be more good in speaking English I will try to write in English so that more people can read it! 😊

        Like

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