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Owning My Story

This piece is part of in-Training Mental Health Week.

Dear all,

If you remember, about one year ago I had published a story about coming to terms with my mental illness on in-Training. Soon thereafter, I asked for the publication to be removed. I would like to re-publish my story with a very important addition that reflects on my decision to remove the original piece. I think you will find it powerful. Thank you.

It has been one year since writing about the reality of my depression. After first sharing my words with family and friends via social media, I felt an enormous sense of relief. It is liberating to expose a part of yourself to your loved ones that you have kept hidden for so very long. However, my courage to share my story was soon overwhelmed by the fear that my depression may have a negative impact on how I am viewed by residency programs, interviewers and others. The fear escalated quickly into a panic, and I subsequently removed my shared story from my social media sites. As I did so, I felt sad, discouraged and ashamed. It felt wrong. The publication of my story on social media outlets was symbolic for me, and the removal of my story was just as symbolic. It was a symbol of my acceptance and my willingness to move forward with a brave new ending. I was ready to accept my story and continue to love myself through that process. And I found the courage and vulnerability to share my experiences because no one should go through this process alone. After removing the publication of my story, it was heartbreaking to feel as though I had to hide a part of myself that has been so crucial in shaping me into the loving, resilient and courageous woman I am today.

In the days and weeks that followed, I came to realize that my past fear is shared by many who worry that exposure of their mental illness “label” will result in negative professional repercussions. This deeply saddened me. My depression is not an indication that I will be mentally and emotionally unfit to practice medicine. It is important for me to emphasize that I can say this with confidence because I am currently undergoing treatment. I see a clinical psychologist once a week, take medication and consult often with my psychiatrist. Unfortunately, it is likely that many do not seek treatment due to fears of stigma and negative professional consequences. This is distressing given that an exhaustive new review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that about 30% of young doctors have depression or symptoms of it.

Today, I am fear-free. I share my story with pride and dignity. I have clinical depression, and, yes, I am one day going to become a compassionate, thorough and confident physician.

The initial story:

I have always toyed with the idea that I may have depression. Numerous times in my life, I have looked over the various depression diagnoses and their criteria. But each time, I settle on the idea that my thoughts and emotions and individual struggle are not severe enough. Everyone experiences sadness. Everyone experiences grief.

When do you draw the line between the normal sadness of the human experience and the gripping sadness of depression? I’ve felt like I have straddled this line for many years.

It is not until this past week that I have finally accepted my depression. I am depressed. What do I mean by my acceptance? I mean that I finally believe that I have depression. Depression is so much more than a list of symptoms or a checklist. Depression can exist underneath the smile and love and care that I bring to the world each day.

I’ve never known if my sadness was enough to take that step over the line into clinical depression. But here I am. And it’s okay to admit it. I am depressed. I want to say it over and over again because it is a relief to finally let myself be who I am in this moment. I am depressed and it is okay. I can now take full ownership over my story and my life.

People may doubt me. People see how high functioning I am. I am a medical student. I have friends. I get out of beds most days. I smile and laugh and I am friendly and outgoing.

But they do not know that the depression is suffocating. My heart is heavy. I feel so sad that it is hard to breathe. There is a voice inside telling me day and night that I am worthless and unlovable. Worthless and unlovable. Day and night.

It is okay that they do not know this. Because I know this. It is my story, and I own it. I am finally ready to own it.

Charlotte Collins (1 Posts)

Contributing Writer

University of Texas Health Science Center School of Medicine

“Oh soul, you worry too much. You have seen your own strength. You have seen your own beauty. You have seen your golden wings. Why do you worry?” – Rumi