Learning to ask for help…is hard to do

So, my school is always talking to us about ‘wellness,’ and that because of how stressful and high impact med school is, we have to try and maintain our ‘wellness.’  And I kind of thought that was a bit…maybe fatalistic, shall we say.  As med students, we sort of have this attitude that if we are here, it’s because we can handle it.  And furthermore, on the flip side, if we can’t handle it, maybe we don’t deserve to be here.  We feel like we should be able to just maintain this perfect balance and push through without help, because that’s what type A perfect med students do, right, and that admitting that we maybe need a little help to do that makes us less or unworthy.

…I came to the realization this week that I need a little help with my ‘wellness.’

I’ve got IBS, and IBS is at least affected by stress if not caused by it.  I don’t sleep well, or probably enough, because sometimes I’ll wake up with gut pain early in the morning.  Some foods trigger incredible gut pain, and sometimes it seems like they change from week to week, so mapping out a list to avoid becomes hard (I miss dairy).  Around December and Christmas I started having pains that would lead to vomiting in the morning, even when I hadn’t eaten anything, leading to rushing out of clinical skills once to puke, and throwing up in a snow drift at the bus stop and then just getting on the bus, because I had class.

But honestly, I thought I was ok.  I figured that was just physical, and I just hadn’t figured out my IBS yet, and that I wasn’t stressed.  My head felt fine, I didn’t feel ‘burnt out’ so I was fine.

Then I went on my Europe trip.  9 days of running around, eating all kinds of food I shouldn’t, aching feet and so much fun.  But my gut was fine.  I ate dairy a couple times (a usual sure fire trigger) and garlic and was totally fine. I slept better than I usually do and for all that it was exhausting, I felt more awake and aware then I have in a long time.

I’d been back for maybe a day before the gut pain started up again.  And yeah, I’m no professional yet, but that sounds at least a little bit situational to me.  And that got me looking back at my life recently, and what I found wasn’t a model of ‘wellness.’ I’ve always been a sufferer of exam anxiety, but that last exam was a real low point in focus, both within the exam and studying for it.  I often find myself exhausted mentally by 4pm, and that and my gut pain keeps me away from the gym, which used to be a great stress reliever for me.  I hadn’t gone to a movie in months, or had a video game night with a friend.  I would just go to school, study if there was an exam, but if not, lay in my bed and feel tired.  Most of my classmates have their families here, or a better social network, but I’ve got my med friends and that’s it.  I’d basically stopped doing almost all of the things that brought me happiness, and hadn’t even noticed it.

So I went to my school’s wellness office and asked for help…and they helped me.  They got me into see a counsellor for my stress, hooked me up with a GP for my IBS really, really fast.  And no one made me feel weak, or unworthy of being in medical school for needing a little help.  I’m not going to mention this anymore on the blog – it’s a little too personal for this forum – but I wanted to mention it here, because I feel like in hiding it, I’d being doing myself harm, and that perhaps in being a little more open, I can help people who are in the same situation and just not aware of it like I was.  Asking for help when you’re a med student – type A, valuing competence and believing you’ve got it all under control – is so hard.  Sitting in the waiting room of the counsellor’s office gave me anxiety.  Worrying my classmates will think I’m weak for needing a little extra support gives me anxiety.

But honestly, even just admitting I needed a little help also made me feel a bit better.  Now at least I’m aware there was a problem, and I’m trying to fix it.  I’m making an effort to go to movies again, have a friend over.  Take a walk each day, or even just spend less time in my room (I have a living room, who knew? 😉 ).  It won’t be immediate, it’s not a quick fix, but I like feeling like I have a plan.  So I guess my reason for sharing this is this; I get that admitting that you aren’t as ‘well’ as you think you are is hard.  Doubly so when you’ve always been able to handle it before, and when you have the med student mindset of believing you should be able to handle it all by yourself.  But these resources exist for a reason, so if you need them, you might as well use them.

I feel like maybe asking for a little help when you need it isn’t a weakness.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually a part of being able to ‘handle it.’

6 thoughts on “Learning to ask for help…is hard to do

    • Thank you for your kind words 🙂 I think stress and anxiety are critically under talked about in med school, and still stigmatized a bit, so it was important for me to at least try to be open about it. Thanks again!

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this!! Mental health is certainly under-managed in the med student population, even as much as we all focus on “wellness” and having it all together. I am really glad you decided to talk about it! 🙂

  2. It is very easy to loose perspective and be only focused on med-school right now, but try to enjoy the journey. Residency will be here before you know it and it can be quite challenging, I am learning to live a balanced and healthy life and enjoy the journey despite being a surgical resident. And never be ashamed to ask for help it will only make you a better physician!

    • Thank you for your wise words and advice, that is certainly what I am aiming to do! It’s slow progress sometimes, but progress none the less 🙂 Thanks again for taking the time to comment 🙂

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