Taking a break from medicine

When medfac emailed me saying they wanted to check in with me because they were concerned about my portfolio, I thought it was because I failed it. It turned out to be because they were concerned about some of the contents I’d written up and how I was “dealing with it all, because one portfolio marker got worried and wanted us to look in on you.”

And the truth is, I have no idea myself I’ve been dealing with it. I think it would be fairer to say I haven’t been dealing with it as much pushing it aside and pretending it doesn’t exist because there were lectures to go to and assignments to cram.

Which brings me to a topic I’ve been wanting to offload for ages – surviving med school. For the past two years, I’ve had a four hour commute to uni (oh the joys of taking a bus then a train then another bus in peak hour traffic). This means leaving home at 6:30 in the morning and getting home at 7 on the very best day – realistically it was more like getting home after 10, because I’d decided to loiter around uni for one reason or other or because I had work. I was always exhausted and falling asleep in class and had people asking on a regular basis if I was dying. They were joking I suppose, but the truth is that I was slowly withering away until I wasn’t so sure if I weren’t dead on the inside anymore. I was exhausted because of the huge commute, but also because I was constantly extremely stressed out and panicking over my ever increasing list of things that needed doing, and feeling helpless and even angry at the tedium of everyday life and the fact that I was veritably drowning while everyone else seemed to be floating by effortlessly. I thought this vocational degree was the right thing to do instead of the English degree I always dreamed about, and I tried to hold onto that line of thought, but it wasn’t working.

If you’ve seen me around uni, especially in the second half of 2016, you may have noticed that I stopped caring about things I should’ve cared about. I was missing deadlines and lectures and classes in general, and I started saying “nope I don’t care” to people who told me I should be studying three days before an exam. And I really truly didn’t care at all anymore. Passing and failing and doing well and learning just didn’t matter anymore. “I only studied for three days and got a distinction” became an armour, an excuse, a lifeline that helped me believe that I was bright enough for med even though it was killing me – a way of justifying to myself that because I was doing well regardless of how little shits I had left to give, I should keep going, because “doesn’t it make sense to graduate as fast as you can so that you’re done with uni asap???” It didn’t matter that I wasn’t retaining anything after an exam, and I was staring at the wall for two hours instead of pipetting or doing spot tests or whatever, because I thought hating every moment of waking life was normal.

Obviously, it isn’t normal. I didn’t give a shit about anything anymore, and this apathy became my new normal until it didn’t make sense why friends were walking up to me and telling me that they were worried about me. So I was a whiny little shit who was getting what she deserved for not trying, for starting a degree I knew I’d hate. Why did it matter if I was drowning? Didn’t I know what I’d signed up for? After all, after the endless rounds of incredulous exclamations from old friends that went something along the lines of “YOU? You’re doing med? I thought you’d do law or arts”, wasn’t it clear enough that I’d dug my own grave, so I should lie in it?

It’s funny, because when I started med, I thought I did want to be a doctor. I still want to be one, I think, but not if the journey is going to kill me.

I decided that I needed a break before I got kicked out of uni or spiralled into severe depression again – I’m taking 2017 off, away from medicine. I decided to transfer into arts/medicine and do an English major, which was always the goal back in high school before med came into the equation. The quality of my life has gone up exponentially since I’m no longer stressing out over things I have no control over and my contact hours are low enough to let me take violin and art lessons and get enough sleep to not look like I’m about to keel over. Slowly but surely, I’m getting better and undoing the damage wrought by two years of what I now affectionately dub as “hell”.

Friends have asked me when I’ll be back. The truth is, I’m not sure myself. I want to say next year, but it might be the year after. I guess what I’m saying is, I’ll be back when I want to be a doctor again. Because right now, I don’t really want to be one. I want to sleep in and write essays and do some volunteering. I want to have lots of free time and loiter on reddit without feeling guilty. I finally have a semblance of a healthy life and I don’t want to give it up anytime soon.

My doctor has been suggesting taking time off for the last two years, and I’m finally seeing that his suggestion had merit. I’m not sure where to go from here – I have my eyes on going on exchange to Canada next year, so that could be an option. I’m also considering trekking across Europe for three months and take the Siberian railway tracks, if I can save up enough in time. Or maybe I’ll tack on that history major I’ve been eyeing and do a double English/history major. Who knows? I guess I’ll find out, cliche as that sounds. My only concern is convincing medfac to let me delay my degree progression indefinitely.

It feels good to have a life again.

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