Hopefully by now you have learned not to expect much in the way of blog posts during the school year. It’s a rough time and nearly all relationships, hobbies, and other activities suffer in the thick of it.
I used to worry a lot about where the time went and fret over how little I had done in 3 hours or whatever. Now, I don’t have time for that. Anything that isn’t directly related to studying for my systems course- which right now is hematology- is immediately considered free time and I have promised myself to never regret how I spend my free time. If its free time and I want to sleep, I sleep. If I want to hold one of my babes, I try my hardest to get my sisters to let me hold them. Unfortunately sometimes OMM and DTP eat up my free time with their class requirement, and that is a quick way to get me really cranky.
“Hell Week 2.0” I think is now over. I remember one distinct week in first year that just raked me over the coals. We had back-to-back tests, Anatomy and something else awful like Embryology or something. On top of that, I was sick. I’m sure there was more to it than that, but I have PTSD and can’t remember.
This year’s worst week ever- just happened. I just had a lot going on; there were two tests and I had to do my first full history and physical on a standardized patient. This was all within 6 days but it didn’t fall on an exact calendar week so I had a weekend to study. That made it somewhat less traumatic than last year. Anyway its over and I survived. Somehow I always survive.
This “Hell Week” my sickness came after. A lot of my class and I are still fighting something viral. My nightstand is still cluttered with cough medicines and tissues but I am feeling much better. Sickness always comes with stress for me.
I think it is a part of the remnants left over from when I *cough* didn’t have it all together like I do now. Cough cough. I think all medical students are generally highly motivated, Type A’s who like organized outlines, but I take it to the extreme, and I always have. If I had time to write all my notes in perfect penmanship and white-out all errors, I swear I would.
When I was twelve I had a pack of 64 gel pens and I kid you not, they had to be put back in the box in rainbow order or I would lose it. 64 PENS. Some of us med students are more lax and some of us are more like me. I was WAYYY worse in college when the workload kept piling up and didn’t give me time to hole-punch all my papers into a color-coded, divider-laden binder and neatly outline each chapter of the assigned readings. Seriously. I really do have a problem.
Its called Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I’ve written a version of this post several times; how I would tell cyberspace that I actually do have really bad anxiety; I could talk about how terrible mental illness is or how I think mental illness rates might be highest among medical students, but the truth is, I know very little about either of those things. All I know is what I’ve experienced.
And what I know from my experience is that I’m not really a victim of mental illness. I live a normal life. Anxiety doesn’t have its grasp on me and pull me under until I can’t breathe. There was a time when I might have said that it did, but honestly, I have a very blessed life, and always have. There were always people around me that knew me and supported me and didn’t let me get too far away before I was shown some perspective. I worried all my life. When I was little, I remember worrying a lot about my family dying, awkward moments, and getting sick when I was away from my mom. Now, pretty much all I worry about comes down to one thing: “Am I good enough?” Am I good enough at school, a good enough friend, am I going to be a good enough doctor, am I a good enough aunt, am I good enough to pass boards.
For the most part, though, its under control. I have functional anxiety. Enough anxiety to keep me working hard and not enough to keep me in bed, too scared of failing to do anything. I have had those days- though not in a long, long time. I call it functional anxiety and it’s livable. My “anxiety” habits are things that happen to me involuntarily that I didn’t know were pathologic until college. I thought they were normal. I bet a lot of my classmates do the same things because stress does some crazy things.
Functional anxiety means my lower lip will always need chapstick. I bite and peel the skin off of that lip until it bleeds. It means I peel hangnails back, not out of boredom, but because I’m so twitchy. It means I can’t get through a single exam without wiping the sweat off my forehead. It means I have to pee right before a test and then I sit down to take the test and I have to pee again. It means I get really hot and sweaty when I am uncomfortable. It means I have to walk and take deep breaths when I’m really mad. It means I cannot keep my fingernails painted because I pick the polish off as soon as I’m alone with my thoughts.
These things are concealable. Most people wouldn’t know, and don’t know, that I am physically not able to listen as they quiz each other right before the exam because I am in my own head, taking deep breaths. It’s not something that they have to be conscious and courteous of, to spare me the agony of triggering my mental illness. I like that I have to deal with it. We all have our own adversity. It just so happens that mine is diagnosable- and also manageable. It’s my functional anxiety, and I’ll survive it. Just like I always do.