Content warning: Sexual assault. Some readers may find aspects of this article distressing.
This first-year feels like the “looks can be deceiving” and the “don’t judge a book by its cover” adages have been used extensively in recent times. Probably because they are accurate and important for exposing individuals to the truth. On the outside, to their friends, this first-year seems bubbly, sarcastic, and always up for a joke. They’re on top of their university work, holding down a part-time job and maintaining a social life. What could be the problem? Everything seems to be falling right into place!
Behind closed doors, however, this same first-year is struggling. A lot. Not because of the stresses of med school. Not because of the crippling anxiety from society telling us we must “fit in”. Not even because of their financial difficulties at home. This first-year is struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after being sexually assaulted last year.
It happens to so many people; but it shouldn’t.
This first-year experiences flashbacks of that fateful night last year and cries. They cry and cry and cry until there are literally no tears left. They know it isn’t their fault. They know there isn’t much else they could have done to stop it. They know they have an incredible support network that is truly there for them, no matter what. But it doesn’t always help.
Living with such a debilitating condition is tough. There is such stigma surrounding mental health and too often we, as future medical practitioners, strip the condition back, leaving the individual raw, naked and vulnerable. This first-year recalls an ICL/PBL tutor explaining PTSD as “having bad memories”. Not only did this infuriate this first-year, as the tutor had reduced such a complex combination of thoughts and feelings to merely “bad memories”, but it made this first-year feel invalidated; like their experiences could be stripped down to mere words on a page that miraculously manifest themselves in the anatomy, physiology and pathology of a living, breathing, human. This first-year was just another number next to the name of a condition.
We have become so desensitised to the humanity of medicine. So often this first-year hears “give it time and you won’t be so detached” or “in a couple years you’ll be able to make more rational decisions” or, and this is the worst, “don’t be so emotional”.
This first-year is fed up with being told how to feel. Feeling is natural. It is such an ingrained part of the human psyche that to live without feeling is, in this first-year’s opinion, not living at all. Yes, we are influenced by the clean, crisp whites that surround us in hospital wards. Yes, we are warned of becoming too attached to patients and their lives. But it is reaching the point where we, ourselves, are becoming that sterile, clinical whiteness that surrounds us.
Enough is enough.
This first-year is not trying to tell anyone that the way they cope, process, or understand anything is either right or wrong. Not at all! This first-year is trying to open up a dialogue. A dialogue that attempts to break down taboo points of conversation. A dialogue that aims to strive towards equality and awareness in our community. A dialogue that brings these issues to the surface so we can be cognisant of the fact that these feelings are felt by members of this community and so we can ultimately make a goddamn change!
This first-year will probably cry tonight. They will probably cry and cry and cry until there are no tears left. This first-year’s life will not miraculously improve after letting these feelings out onto this page. But, this first-year’s life will not miraculously end now either. This first-year has a long road ahead and is writing this to begin paving a road that will lead to a more positive future. One with independent thought. One with acceptance and tolerance.
One with feeling.
If this piece has brought up any issues that may be affecting you, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault (SECASA) on 9594 2289 or the Sexual Assault Crisis Line (SACL) on 1800 806 292.