Welcome to There, I Said It- a column where we give you, the reader, a chance to get something off your chest in an anonymous fashion. Be it embarrassing, frustrating, or just something you don’t want to admit out loud, it still might make someone else having a bad day feel just a bit better. If you have a story of your own, unburden yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I sat on my living room couch, phone in hand, staring at the number I had queued up. My thumb just a half inch from the dial symbol, but I was frozen there. I couldn’t seem to make my thumb press the button. The number on the screen was that of my university’s student counseling services. I was two weeks from the end of my second year of vet school. I was navigating the curriculum well enough, but my nose was barely above water. I was stressed, anxious, and feared I had a mental illness. I needed help, but I was terrified to ask for it.
All I had to do was hit that call button, make an appointment, and show up. I could have help with confidentiality, and the service was free of charge. However, my mind was flooding with a hundred different thoughts of why I should put down the phone, ignore the problem, and just keep treading water. What if my family found out I had a problem? What if people in my class found out? What if clinicians or professors found out? Would that hold me back in my profession? Did I really even have a problem, or was I just too weak to handle vet school? Maybe I am not as strong as I thought; maybe I am not cut out to be a veterinarian.
I spent the next hour alternating between sitting on the couch staring at my phone screen and pacing the living room, trying to dig deep enough to find the courage to make that call. “Just make the call, you can do this,” I told myself. “No, this is silly, you don’t need help.” Eventually I made the call; I scheduled an appointment. Against all of my fear, anxiousness, and trembling hands, I went to that first appointment, and I kept going back nearly every week. Showing up to each session got a little bit easier. I was slightly less nervous and embarrassed about having a problem and needing help.
There is still a long battle ahead, but I am fighting, and I will be a veterinarian.
I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I am not overly neat or organized, and I do not wash my hands every thirty seconds. I am fixated on patterns. Whether it be a physical or mental motion, I repeat the same acts over and over and over, then usually over again like a broken record. I have done this for almost as long as I can remember. When I was younger it was just an annoyance, something I felt I had to do, but I still led a relatively normal life. Once I entered college and began the treacherous pre-vet curriculum, the struggle became more obvious. Now it wasn’t just an annoyance, it was a malicious distraction that demanded the majority of my time and attention. I dredged my way through undergrad, but in vet school the obsessions and compulsions were further amplified as the stress accumulated.
I spent a large portion of my life not knowing that these obsessions and compulsions were symptoms of a mental illness. As a child I didn’t realize just how abnormal they were, and in college I assumed everyone struggled this much. During my first year of vet school, I heard a radio interview piece on NPR; the interviewee suffered from OCD. As he described his symptoms I began to have a realization: there is someone else out there who understands this! I might not be alone! There could be an explanation for the turmoil that has afflicted my mind for so many years.
I am fortunate enough to attend a college of veterinary medicine that values mental health. We have a representative from student counseling services that dedicates a portion of their schedule to service the vet school exclusively. If this opportunity were not so readily available, I may have never sought help. I would still be fighting a battle alone, silently, without the confidence that I could persevere.
I am a male third year veterinary student, less than twenty one months from entering practice. One of my main goals as a practicing veterinarian will be to change the stigma surrounding mental health of the veterinary profession. In an occupation where we are so dedicated to caring for and saving the lives of others, we often forget the importance of caring for ourselves. We may perform superhero like acts, but we are not superheroes. We are human beings, we are imperfect, we may struggle with mental illness, and sometimes the bravest thing we can do is to admit that. It is the responsibility of our profession to make sure that when one of our members makes that admission there is a compassionate community to turn to for the service and support they desperately need.
The views and opinions featured on There, I Said It are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.