March 3, 2021, by Issy

My COVID illness

Hi. I should probably reintroduce myself. I’m Issy. I’m a 4th year medical student – I haven’t blogged on this site in a really, really long time.

That’s for a variety of reasons – first, I’ve been really busy with my course – placement without a pandemic is hard enough; placement with that extra stressor really takes its toll. Second, COVID made me pretty unwell last year. Luckily, not physically, and I’m so fortunate for that, especially working in a hospital environment, but instead, emotionally. I think it started around October when we realised that a second wave was approaching – we weren’t out of the woods – and that hit me hard.

I’m the sort of person who thrives off a routine: fixed and predictable plans which I can make in advance. Already we have issues there: COVID has meant that routines are pretty much out the window, plans are up in the air, unpredictable and can’t really be made more than a week or so in advance. My sort of routine would involve sport as a staple – rowing and sailing are my two sports – neither of which have been particularly possible during this lockdown period, and within this, meeting my friends who also do those sports – again, I can’t see those people who are so important to me. Not only did I lose a sense of routine, but also have therefore developed a loneliness about myself – isolation is something I never thought I would possibly experience as a 22 year old at university, but, I am. Its funny, you genuinely can be surrounded by people and still feel lonely. For example, on placement – the hospital is a busy place, and I do see coursemates, some of which are good friends, but its not quite the same.

Sometimes I feel like I really shouldn’t be complaining. At least I’m allowed to actually do my course in person and not have to sit at my desk for days on end doing online learning. And this is true, so true. I’m genuinely privileged to be able to do what I do – and I love my course: I have met some truly inspirational people, both doctors and patients alike, who I hold in high regard and will not forget as I go through my career, I can tell you that now for certain. But, I do have to remind myself, that everyone’s circumstances are different, mine included, and that this can reflect on how they perceive a situation.

If you read back through my blog archives, you’ll pick up that I talk about mental health a lot: it’s something I feel really strongly about, having had significant personal experience with it. Also being a medical student, I see daily how people’s overall physical and social wellbeing can so easily be affected by their psychological state – we call this the ‘biopsychosocial model’. (I would highly recommend looking it up – its one of my favourite things about medical theory). What this reminds me of when I’m berating myself for feeling low or anxious about the world we live in when ‘I shouldn’t complain’ or ‘others have it worse’ or ‘I have it all going for me’, is that actually, my mental health already being a little bit more compromised before the pandemic means that my threshold for stressors was maybe a little bit lower than the population who didn’t have mental health conditions before the pandemic. It takes less for me to reach a breaking point than it would otherwise. I’ve tried to draw it out below.

So, when I’ve been lying in bed, criticising myself for being useless because I can’t face the day ahead, or deliberating phoning the GP for a helping hand because I thought maybe I was ‘too insignificant for them’ or even having a pretty good day, but then feeling like maybe I don’t deserve to be having a good day, because there are others out there suffering so much – I need to remember this. That we are all going through the same completely unpredictable and quite frankly, weirdest, time in all our lives. We are entitled to have feelings, and we are entitled to react in the way we do – no-one will judge you, because there are no rules or societal norms for how to react – no-one has done this before. Who else can say they did part of their university degree in a pandemic? It won’t be many people, that’s for sure, and people will look up to you for doing that, many years into the future. That’s my vision anyway. Even if it’s just me being proud of myself, thats more than enough to get me through this tough part.

Posted in Issy