Its 2 A.M. on a Sunday night, and I cant sleep.
Is this it? Am I dying?
Im too aware of my heart beating. Each breath feels like trying to force that first puff of air into an unstretched balloon. The tightness in my chest makes it feel like Im not getting air in.
Im too young to be having a heart attack, right? I try to take deep breaths. Deep down I knew I wasnt having a heart attack. Yet, I feared naming the actual cause. It was a label that I felt would define me.
Less than one week into medical school, I was a wreck. I was far away from home and dealing with roommate issues. On top of that, I had a toxic fear of failure, and my boyfriend and I were struggling with long distance. In all, I was overcome with negative emotions I had never truly learned to address. I met with our schools psychologist who ended up calling my first few months of medical school The Perfect Storm. From August to January, everything that went wrong was toeing the line of my breaking point.
A dark cloud overshadowed my life: anxiety.
Anxiety drove frustration with my housing situation, which further increased my stress and decreased my ability to cope. Anxiety led me into a spiral that almost blew up my relationship, the strain of which fueled my fears and fed my lack of confidence. Anxiety made me angry and distant, constantly questioning how I could study let alone practice medicine one day. Each encounter with anxiety propelled me into a never-ending free fall, an infinite hole of stress and fear.
I studied half of my biochemistry notes through a haze of inexplicable tears perhaps that was just because it was biochemistry. At least once a week, if not more, I had a stupid fight with my boyfriend over my complaints about some minor inconvenience a roommate had caused me. The web of negativity often ended with me crying at night as I tried to study Anki flashcards, panicked I would fail the block. This became the recurring cycle of the storm. Every time I felt I had balanced one aspect of my life, another issue set the whole thing off-kilter. The spiral would be born anew.
I had never felt more alone than I did in those first five months. To top it all off, my anxiety was exacerbated by the fear of others judgment. My classmates scared me. Not because they were inherently scary but because I was struggling so much I was afraid I would seem pathetic. I generally felt I wouldnt fit in. While I already had social anxieties before medical school, in those five months, the anxiety became intense and overpowering: I had to give myself pep talks before attending any non-obligatory event. Those few people I had started to become friends with suddenly seemed to vanish. I spent so many months practically isolated from everyone.
Anxiety held me back from letting my peers in on my struggle, so I pulled away instead.
I would often look around at all my peers and see how easily and confidently they all seemed to cruise through medical school. In the shadows of my own doubt, I questioned if I truly belonged. Each new course and assignment left me feeling like more of a failure even though I was continuing to succeed. Once I looked out from the hurricane inside my mind, I found others who were fighting just as hard. One image easily summarizes this phenomenon: the duckling. On the surface, a duckling glides smoothly on the water, barely making a ripple. Underneath, those little feet are paddling like crazy to keep afloat and move forward. As a group of predominantly Type-A perfectionists, medical students fear being perceived as too weak or as unable to succeed.
For months I wondered how nobody else saw how much I was struggling. Though I cant have an out-of-body experience to confirm, I imagine on the surface I appeared as confident and successful to them as they seemed to me.
I picked Georgetown to study medicine because in many ways I felt they advocated student wellbeing through their commitment to Jesuit ideals, such as cura personalis, and in the creation of courses like Mind-Body Medicine. The school encouraged seeking help and discussing burnout. Despite that, I still found myself falling victim to the fear of the stigma. How would the medical community, my peers, my family and my friends view me if I admitted that anxiety controlled more of my life than I let on?
After months of fighting that fear, I finally decided I couldnt live with this constant storm of negative emotion. Struggling to maintain composure and my grades was difficult during those first few months; still, the hardest thing was accepting that I wasnt going to feel happy if I constantly had to spend half of my energy battling back a wave of impending doom. Counseling and mindfulness helped, but I needed to talk to a psychiatrist as well. Within one meeting with her, she told me I likely had generalized anxiety disorder and, based on what I had shared, I probably had it most of my life.
That anxiety actually allowed me to flourish in high school and college. Part of me was afraid that losing that would make me lose a part of myself: I worried I would lose my drive or my intelligence. For years that anxiety was a part of me. However, I worried that admitting it was really there would allow it to define me. I was wrong.
Anxiety defined me more when I denied its existence than it does now that Ive faced it head-on. Maybe the anxiety helped me get to where I was, but it was a burden I didnt have to bear especially not alone. Even knowing how important mental health is as a future physician, it embarrassed me to admit that I might need a prescription to help me cope with my fears and anxieties. Im interested in psychiatry, and one day I myself could be prescribing medications to patients. If I wasnt willing to admit to myself the need and usefulness of the medication, how could I ever expect to tell my patient there is no shame in taking a medication?
In seeking the help that allowed that anxiety to fade, I found that I was able to improve in ways that I had always wanted. No longer was I snapping at loved ones, panicking, being shy in public, and letting strong emotions get the best of me. I still worry about passing my classes; I still get annoyed by things; I still feel afraid; but those feelings no longer take root and control my thoughts, actions, and behaviors.
Ive thought about writing on this experience many times. And every time, I hesitated. The more I reflected on that hesitation, the more I realized that it is the very reason I should share my story: if I had admitted my anxiety fully to myself and others sooner, I may have been able to avoid the worst of it. Instead, burdened by a fear of social stigma and a toxic need to be strong or grin and bear it, I lied to myself that true strength came from pushing through it all.
I now know that this battle isnt strong versus weak, it is what it is: anxiety. In accepting that, I finally freed myself from unnecessary weight.
Georgetown University School of Medicine
Sara Wierbowski is a second-year medical student at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C. class of 2023. In 2019, she graduated from The University of Scranton with a Bachelor of Science in neuroscience and Bachelor of Arts in philosophy. She is currently a member of the Literature and Medicine Scholarly Track, which allows her to continue to enjoy the humanities while in medical school. After graduating medical school, Sara is interested in pursuing Child Psychiatry or Child Neurology.
The rest is here:
- UMass Medical School CIO Greg Wolf receives CIO of the Year award - UMass Medical School - July 1st, 2021
- Life changing moments during Match Week at the University of Massachusetts Medical School - WCVB Boston - July 1st, 2021
- Birding Their Way to the Clinic | Harvard Medical School - Harvard Medical School - July 1st, 2021
- TCU and UNTHSC School of Medicine Reaches Another Milestone by Receiving Provisional Accreditation - TCU - July 1st, 2021
- AIIMS races ahead of Oxford, Cambridge in rankings for best medical schools in the world - India TV News - July 1st, 2021
- Summer School Is Here - The New York Times - July 1st, 2021
- How future physicians can make their medical research stand out - American Medical Association - July 1st, 2021
- 'I no longer think there's any chance he's alive': UC alum missing after Florida condo collapse - WCPO - July 1st, 2021
- Reflecting on LGBTQ mental health discrimination in NC - North Carolina Health News - July 1st, 2021
- Radiology ranks tops among specialties with physicians worth more than $5M - Health Imaging - July 1st, 2021
- Baxter Announces $1.2 Million in New Scholarships and Grant Funding to Support Students Pursuing Health and Sciences at Historically Black Colleges... - July 1st, 2021
- Medical Education Market Giants Spending Is Going To Boom | Harvard Medical School, Zimmer Biomet Institute, Medical Training College The Manomet... - July 1st, 2021
- David Cochran receives grant from Eagles Foundation to study biomarker-driven drug treatment for autism - UMass Medical School - July 1st, 2021
- Tokyo medical school won't pay staff over virus leave caused by 'inappropriate behavior' - The Mainichi - The Mainichi - February 10th, 2021
- ASU ranks 6th in research among US universities without a medical school - The State Press - February 10th, 2021
- U Of M Medical School Sees Increase In Student Applications - FOX 21 Online - February 10th, 2021
- Accreditation process of medical school in Tyler moves forward; first class likely set for 2023 - Tyler Morning Telegraph - February 10th, 2021
- Women now outnumber men in med school. And studies show thats good for patients. - Houston Chronicle - February 10th, 2021
- Medical school suspends study that would have tortured transgender people for science - LGBTQ Nation - February 10th, 2021
- Surge in African American medical school applicants drive to action by Covid - Yahoo News - February 10th, 2021
- [Full text] Is Asking Questions on Rounds a Teachable Skill?[Response to Letter] | AMEP - Dove Medical Press - February 10th, 2021
- Black doctors in white coats on a mission to cure racism and discrimination in the workplace - WCNC.com - February 10th, 2021
- UKZN sets the record straight on 'Operation Clever' probe into fraud at medical school - IOL - February 10th, 2021
- Giving health care heroes a voice on social media - American Medical Association - February 10th, 2021
- Study Reveals Anticoagulation Therapy in Intubated Covid-19 Patients Reduces Mortality | | SBU News - Stony Brook News - February 10th, 2021
- Half of Ontario's medical schools are now named after wealthy donors - The Conversation CA - December 17th, 2020
- Yes, It's Possible To Have a Baby In Medical School Here's How - Pager Publications, Inc. - December 17th, 2020
- California's medical school diversity "nowhere near where it needs to be" - State of Reform - State of Reform - December 17th, 2020
- Medical School Keeps Students on Track By Switching to Virtual and Back - The Roanoke Star - December 17th, 2020
- UT Health Austin and Dell Medical School among first facilities in Texas to receive COVID-19 vaccine - Community Impact Newspaper - December 17th, 2020
- Medical schools see spike in students inspired to apply by the pandemic - KBJR 6 - December 17th, 2020
- How to make the most of holiday time off as a medical student - American Medical Association - December 17th, 2020
- UT Austin's Dell Medical School Is The First Institution In Central Texas Receiving Shipment Of COVID-19 Vaccine - KUT - December 17th, 2020
- Degrees of Protection | Harvard Medical School - Harvard Medical School - December 17th, 2020
- The Pandemic Thrusts Telepsychiatry to the Fore | NYU Langone News - NYU Langone Health - December 17th, 2020
- Two-phase Infection | Harvard Medical School - Harvard Medical School - December 17th, 2020
- Texas A&M To Grow Medical Education In Round Rock, Surrounding Area - Texas A&M University Today - December 17th, 2020
- Pitt cardiologist sues school after backlash to his article on affirmative action - TribLIVE - December 17th, 2020
- At a Crossroads: Medicine and the Movement - Columbia University Irving Medical Center - December 17th, 2020
- Jameson's term extended as head of Penn Health System and Perelman School of Medicine - Penn Today - December 17th, 2020
- Touro University Nevada's College of Osteopathic Medicine Class of 2021 Achieves the Highest COMLEX Exam Pass Rate in the Country - PRNewswire - December 17th, 2020
- Hear what the experts from Houston Fights COVID have to say about a new vaccine - KTRK-TV - November 30th, 2020
- Medical Education Research and Innovation Conference set for Dec. 8 - The South End - November 30th, 2020
- 2 Corning-area natives experience COVID-19 pandemic battle on the frontlines - Star-Gazette - November 30th, 2020
- Three Yalies honored for their impact on and beyond Yale with 2020 Yale-Jefferson Awards | Yale Alumni - Yale News - November 30th, 2020
- Medical Education Market Will Hit Big Revenues In Future | Zimmer Biomet Institute, Medical Training College, Harvard Medical School - Murphy's Hockey... - November 30th, 2020
- Immelman, Griebie have mutual admiration for each other - CSB/SJU - November 30th, 2020
- Lobe Sciences Announces Launch of Preclinical Study in Collaboration with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine - Investing News Network - November 30th, 2020
- Physicians' Role in Addressing Racism in-Training, the online peer-reviewed publication for medical students - Pager Publications, Inc. - November 30th, 2020
- So You Traveled Over Thanksgiving. Now What? : Coronavirus Updates - NPR - November 30th, 2020
- Safely celebrating the holidays during a pandemic - KHOU.com - November 30th, 2020
- 2020 AAAS Fellows approved by the AAAS Council - Science Magazine - November 30th, 2020
- 5 ways the pandemic may transform medical education - American Medical Association - October 8th, 2020
- Trump doctor Conley degree from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine: What it means - On top of Philly news - Billy Penn - October 8th, 2020
- Students Share Medical School Details You Won't Find Anywhere Else | University of Michigan - Michigan Medicine - October 8th, 2020
- In a First, New England Journal of Medicine Joins Never-Trumpers - The New York Times - October 8th, 2020
- Brown University Medical School Dean to Lead Second Session of Five-Part Virtual Future of Medicine Summit : SF STAT! - South Florida Hospital News - October 8th, 2020
- Human brain dissected live in front of medical school students - The Argus - October 8th, 2020
- After 40 years in medicine, here's what a Maine addiction expert has learned about alcohol, opioids and public health - Bangor Daily News - October 8th, 2020
- Trumps Lying Personal Physician And Dr. Umar Johnson Went To The Same Med School - News One - October 8th, 2020
- Study Finds Older Adults Using Cannabis to Treat Common Health Conditions - UC San Diego Health - October 8th, 2020
- U of M Medical School Researchers Found Traces Of COVID-19 On Beaches - FOX 21 Online - October 8th, 2020
- My Body, Whose Choice? - The Regulatory Review - October 8th, 2020
- American Sign Language and the Power of Communication - Pager Publications, Inc. - October 8th, 2020
- Experimental COVID-19 Treatment Given To President Trump Part of Study At U of M Medical School - FOX 21 Online - October 8th, 2020
- Trump Returns Home After Downplaying Disease, but Doctor Says He Isnt Out of the Woods - The New York Times - October 8th, 2020
- Texas doctor, 28, dies of Covid: 'She wore the same mask for weeks, if not months' - The Guardian - October 8th, 2020
- Nobel awarded to Charles Rice for hepatitis C discoveries at Washington University School of Medicine Washington University School of Medicine -... - October 8th, 2020
- Warrior M.D. Chat: What to Expect - School of Medicine - Wayne State University - The South End - October 8th, 2020
- Hershey Medical Center: Celebrating 50 years of people helping people - Penn State News - October 8th, 2020
- UMass Medical School-affiliated study finds federal rule will negatively impact immigrant health care - Worcester Business Journal - October 1st, 2020
- Medical school class writes own Hippocratic Oath acknowledging racism, Covid-19 deaths and the killing of Breonna Taylor - CNN - October 1st, 2020
- Just what the doctor ordered - Isaac accepted to med school - Jamaica Gleaner - October 1st, 2020
- These medical students just wrote their own Hippocratic oath. Here's what it says. - The Daily Briefing - October 1st, 2020
- Maryland researchers identify what works to help children avoid obesity - WTOP - October 1st, 2020
- Medical Education market seeking excellent growth | Stanford University School of Medicine, GE Healthcare Institute, Zimmer Biomet Institute, Olympus... - October 1st, 2020
- Political newcomer Cameron Webb looks beyond party in 5th District bid - Fauquier Times - October 1st, 2020
- Irregular periods linked to a greater risk of an early death, study suggests - CNN - October 1st, 2020
- This biologist helped trace SARS to bats. Now, he's working to uncover the origins of COVID-19 - Science Magazine - October 1st, 2020
- How This NYC Bill Would Address Harassment And Discrimination In Healthcare - Forbes - October 1st, 2020