“I lost both men I dated in med school to suicide. Not during medical school, but later. And here they are. And so this is like a really big problem and that’s why I’m obsessed and I can’t get off this topic until we address it in a serious way because it does deserve serious attention.“
I lost both men I dated in med school to suicide. Not during medical school, but later. And here they are. And so this is like a really big problem and that’s why I’m obsessed and I can’t get off this topic until we address it in a serious way because it does deserve serious attention. And I really wish I could interview these people who just died, but of course I can’t. I would just love to know what their chief complaint is. You know. Since they’re dead, I sort of feel compelled to do an autopsy on myself—a psychological autopsy on the mind of a medical student. So this is not that easy to do, but I did dig up my diary that I kept during medical school 25 or so years ago, my yearbook, my assignments here, I have letters. I had to read through all this. And I put it off for a long time because I didn’t want to read it because it was really painful to be there so I really didn’t want to dig through it, but since I want to know what’s happening with these people who are dying I just decided to dive into some pretty heavy material and what I discovered was pretty horrifying some of the things I read, but there was some interesting surprises. You know 20-25 years into the future to look at this with the wisdom I have now.
And it didn’t come naturally at first, two months into my first year of medical school, I got extremely depressed which continued for the next two years and it was horrible. I was crying every night. I did tell my parents because I thought they could help me because they’re physicians so obviously they went through this before, but they were really useless. Honestly, there was nothing they could do to help me. My mom did send me some antidepressants and sleeping pills which didn’t help. And so I was just kind of alone in my apartment crying with my dog feeling miserable and I just felt like my soul was dying. It was the worst feeling ever. And it wasn’t because of academics. It was because of the culture of medicine—it just absolutely made me sick. And it was just really strange because I was so alone and I had to figure out what to do all by myself. Nobody else in my class seemed to be so depressed.
Between episodes of crying, I did start to develop this extreme perfectionism about my personal life which was new for me. Like even though nobody in my town was recycling that I knew of, I started recycling everything. I had everything completely organized even though I had nowhere to take it and I didn’t own a car. I was recycling everything. I didn’t want anything to go in the trash. I became a strict vegan. I was taking in stray animals. Today it dawned on me why I did this. I think it’s because I saw so much unethical behavior in my medical school that was so hypocritical that I just on the other end went extremely ethical, perfectionist. Like to somehow counteract what I was seeing which I thought was undermining the human spirit and I did not want my soul to die so I was on top of it every day doing everything I could and then I even wrote in my diary: “I will not consent directly or indirectly to participation in any abusive system. In order to achieve my vision I must be strong. I must adhere to what is GOOD—walk away from what is WRONG.” I just had to constantly (between crying episodes) like to keep reminding myself of what I was trying to do in my life because I felt like everything was trying to crush me.
So in my medical school situation, there were a lot of ups and downs. I wanted to share with you my trajectory because even though I can’t interview the people who are not here, I somehow think all of us have had a similar trajectory—being really happy and then maybe getting depressed and then bouncing back. I do know that when students are with patients they have said their own problems melt away and that’s the only time they feel joy so I’m just sharing this with you because I think it is possibly what you can expect (except hopefully better).
My advice to my colleagues around the world: BE LOVING & KIND ~ YOU are each other’s family and support in medical school,in hospitals. Give classmates cards and flowers just for fun. Practice random acts of senseless joy with each other. It’s just gonna make it so much better for everyone. Right? Honestly, I really have a commitment here that you all will prevent anyone’s parents from getting a phone call from the police during the next 4 years saying that something happened to their child that was your classmate that you didn’t know. And you wished you would have met before they jumped or before they overdosed. That’s the call to action that I really have. I don’t want parents to be getting these phone calls anymore about people who are super smart and loving and all they ever wanted to do is help people. How can we let them end up in this situation? So do something that you can easily do to the next healthcare professional you meet, be kind.