November 14, 2018, by Ryan Neal

Let me introduce myself

Guest post by second year medical student, Issy.

I’m Issy. I’m a second year medical student here in Nottingham. I love my sports – rowing and sailing especially – and live with five of my best friends in Dunkirk. I have the cutest dog you may ever meet (biased opinion). She’s a King Charles Spaniel and her name is Willow. I can usually be found in my room watching rubbish on Netflix, or making some questionable concoction of food in the kitchen. I love boats of all sorts – I’ve grown up by the sea and the river. I was donated a sailing Laser called Fizz (actually 6 years older than me!) and also a single rowing scull called Relentless, my pride and joy, and named not only after one of my favourite songs but also after an attribute that I find to be one of the most important in life.

I’m a pretty normal university student; up for a good time, usually complaining about 9am lectures (of which I have many) and beginning to see Nottingham feel more and more like home to me. It’s pretty great. However, I also have several mental health diagnoses.

And with that last sentence, I can pretty much read your mind: “But, you’re a medical student? Isn’t that a really stressful course?” Yep, it is. But we are all human and, just like everyone else, are susceptible to suffering from the pressures of modern life. It’s completely okay. But, then normally comes the punchline “is it even safe for your patients for you to be practising medicine?”

This hurts. I know my limits. I know when I need extra help, and I know that’s okay. I was very aware of the demands of the profession I was entering into and I would never, ever, put someone else’s safety at risk. In a way, I’d say my experiences with mental health have made me a better medical student – I can empathise as second nature, and I am ultra aware of how people may feel at any given moment, adjusting my approach accordingly. In short, I treat others how I would want to be treated.

I know what it’s like to be treated as if you’re less of a person because of your mental health. This is discrimination, and I firmly believe that the stigma and taboo surrounding mental health should be thwarted. If one in four of us will suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition in our life time, surely that shows it is completely normal, and can hit anyone when they least expect it.

I can pinpoint the exact moment this urge to stand up for myself and others who suffer like me started, when I overheard an old friend saying to a boy I was coaching, “She’s psycho. Just appease her and you’ll survive the session”.

The boy looked shocked and uncomfortable on hearing this, and naturally I was upset and fuming. If an 11 year old child could work out that this was wrong to say, then why can’t others? However, I was too scared to do anything about it, and just let it slide.

But now I’m speaking out. No one should suffer in silence. I’m 20,000ish words into writing a book on mental health and using statistics and experiences to shut down the stigma surrounding it (shameless self promotion – watch this space!). Writing it is making me feel even more strongly about the subject, and doing research into how awfully people are treated and shunned for something they cannot help is just spurring me on to brave the backlash I might get and do something about the taboo.

It’s okay to feel rubbish sometimes. As long as you know there are people there for you when you are ready to talk. I can tell you that right now, writing this, I feel pretty rubbish myself. But, I know that if I want to I can reach out and people will be there for me, whether just to listen or signpost me to the best place. What’s not okay is to not feel like you can get help for fear of being judged or stigmatised. I’ve seen this happen, and end about as badly as it possibly could, and I would not wish that on anyone.

Please, talk about how you feel. Normalise it. The only way change will happen is if we are brave enough to talk and share our own experiences. Be like my boat – Relentless in speaking up for what you believe in. Sure, some things are so personal you keep them to yourself, I certainly do, but even just standing up and saying ‘I’ll be there for you when you need it’ is all someone needs to help them through a rough patch.

Trust me, I’ve been there, and even if we’ve never met, I will be there for you. Always.

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