Struggling with mental health does not mean we are broken.
Struggling with a learning disability does not mean we are broken.
Struggling with physical health does not mean we are broken.
Struggling does not mean we are broken.
The stigma surrounding all of these things is what makes us feel broken. We are often too scared to talk about them out of fear of being seen or treated differently. I felt the same way for a long time. While I always felt safe talking about my mental health with my parents, it took me a while to talk to others as openly as I do now.
Dealing with mental health issues is not new to me and it didn’t start in vet school. In some ways, dealing with all of the daily stress of vet school has allowed me to add more tools to my toolbox. What changed is the dialogue. I used to hide my health issues, both physical and mental because they were something I was ashamed of. I felt damaged.
When I originally applied to Ross University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, I had considered writing about this topic in my personal statement—the space they leave where we are meant to address something we struggled with that made us feel even more prepared for this new journey, which we are desperately trying to start. But, I didn’t. I was scared that it would be yet another reason I was turned away. I was scared I would be seen as a burden and not as an asset. I was scared of being judged, so I didn’t write anything.
I didn’t write about how I found the strength to leave an emotionally abusive marriage and finally pursue a dream I always had. I didn’t write about my anxiety or bipolar tendencies. I didn’t write about my ADHD or the brain fog I dealt with daily. And I didn’t write about the acute illness I suffered that has now left me with chronic health issues.
You know what I also didn’t write about?
I didn’t write about how I suffered PTSD from my relationship and how I battled it daily while going back to school and working as an overnight technician full-time. I didn’t write about how I would still go to school, even when everything in my body told me not to. I didn’t write about how I would be in the hospital one night and in class the next. I didn’t write about my anxiety and the steps I took to manage it. I didn’t write about how the medication I had to take to treat my chronic GI issues is what triggered my bipolar tendencies and my brain fog, making anything school related that much harder. I didn’t write about how I was good at my job as an overnight emergency technician, even with everything else going on. I didn’t write about how hard I worked every day to make sure that this dream was going to happen.
I decided to change the narrative. Throughout my life I have watched many of my friends and family struggle with mental health. In general, I find that so many people are scared to talk about their struggles fearing they will be viewed as weak or that something is wrong with them. The stigma surrounding mental health has left people embarrassed or ashamed of what they are going through. If someone isn’t willing or doesn’t feel safe to talk about their struggles, they won’t be able to get the help they need. They won’t be able to heal. I have never felt embarrassed of my learning disabilities, mental health, or physical health issues. However, I wasn’t as public about them as I am now. I was tired of people I cared about being ashamed of who they are. I want people to know that there is nothing to be ashamed about. We all struggle, we all work through our issues, and we will all succeed.
I decided to tell people about it, probably more openly than they would like. I consider myself kind of an “over-sharer,” if you will. I hope that by making myself just a little bit uncomfortable, it can open up a safe place for others to share their struggles with me or at least give them the strength to seek help for themselves.
In doing this, I have met some of the most amazing people who deal with the same things I do or similar things in their own way. I have met veterinarians, professors, technicians, and fellow students who all have their personal struggles that they face. We talk and it is bittersweet, but it feels good to know that someone else in the same situation deals with these things too. But I would give anything to make it so they didn’t have to. With so many straight A students, who seem to have their life completely in order, it helps to have someone who understands. It helps to know that I’m not the only one who struggled.
Mental and physical health is something I deal with daily. My health issues are under control, most of the time. I still deal with symptoms often and I still have nights where I need to just lay in bed. Even though I have changed my narrative, and no longer stay quiet about my mental health, it doesn’t mean that it all goes away. It is still something that is very present in my life. The difference now is that I know how to live and to coexist with everything that my mind and body has decided to throw at me.
There is nothing wrong with asking for or getting help. There is nothing wrong with needing help from medication or doctors. And, there is nothing wrong with living with physical or mental health challenges. It just means we have to work a bit harder and figure out things that work for us— both in life and in school.
Reach out to counselors at your school (or ask your physician for a referral).
Find someone you can talk to that understands. It helps.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself and be able to say no.
Meditate. I know it can feel silly but trust me, it helps.
Take time for yourself. If you need to spend a night in, do it.
But don’t isolate yourself. There is a difference between recharging your battery and isolation.
Stay active. Everyone says it because it helps.
Keep a journal. It doesn’t work for everyone, but why not give it a try?
Be honest with yourself and others. If you can’t handle something, don’t force yourself to do it.
Today, I don’t like to say I am struggling with mental or physical health, because I am not struggling. I am living.