Rashid Elhawli

Rashid Elhawli

mental health

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rashid elhawli

My name is Craig (pseudonym). I am writing this to share my experience as a human, who happens to be a medical student. 

This journey began on my birthday, when tired and bleary eyed I rolled over and unlocked my cracked phone screen.

At this point, I’d had rejection emails from every state in Australia, save for Victoria. My hopes were low and I had honestly forgotten that I’d ever even applied to my eventual university home.

As the emails loaded I tiredly closed my eyes, the all too familiar blue circle going around and around and around…

Finally, there was an acceptance email. 

And so my journey began, with me running around an empty house yelling and whooping and scaring the dog stiff. 

For the rest of this piece to make sense I should give a little background on myself. Most importantly for the context of this piece, I have suffered from major depressive disorder, anxiety and borderline personality disorder from the age of 15. 

Fast forward to my move to Melbourne. I felt alive and excited! New places, new people, a new course and independence! I felt like a dog on a beach. So much to do! to do! all the time! all the time!

Alas – the motivation and excitement were not to last.

My life as a medical student has been difficult. Budding relationships, independence, responsibility and the stress’ of a difficult course in conjunction with mental illness has led to 2 and a half of the most difficult years of my life. 

In my first year, after enjoying ‘playing the field’ I found myself in a relationship. This beautiful woman sparked intense passion and excitement, and true to my romantic roots, I quickly fell in love. Our relationship was very fast moving, and before long I found myself contemplating a long term future.

I can remember the night it came crashing down incredibly clearly. You see while I loved her, my own confidence and self esteem were low. In the weeks leading to our break up my mental illness was significantly impacting my functionality. I had entered a constant state of hopelessness, anxiety and depression. DALY’s were effected but more relevantly, my interactions in our relationship were too.

And I understand why she broke it off, it wasn’t fair on her. Being surrounded by constant unhappiness will wear you down and make you unhappy.

In short, I was spiralling, and when the break up occurred, it broke me. 

I swallowed half a bowl (I estimate approximately 150-200) of pills. A concoction of SSRI’s, SNRI’s, MAO inhibitors, serotonin modulator receptors and any other class of antidepressant you can think of.

I ended up in ICU with serotonin syndrome (all the while asking the doctors to explain to me in great detail what was happening like the annoying shit I am). I was intubated, put into an induced coma for 2 days and then kept in ICU for a week. After this I spent a month in a private mental health hospital, which caused me to miss the first month of second year. 

After this experience I am a changed person. While before, I was depressed and had difficulty managing my emotions, I still had passion for some things. I had the motivation to try and do well and made an effort to continue living as normal. Now, I’ve almost given up.

Two days after discharge from the mental health hospital I was thrown back into the world of university. At the same time, I was attending half day ‘strategy groups’ every Tuesday in order to try and pull myself out of the hole I was in. I turned to a multitude of vices in order to cope, distract and forget. Sex, drugs (never on placement), television, sex and drugs were my world. I never allowed my mind to not be stimulated by something, lest it be allowed to reflect on itself. And when I rarely did have this opportunity, I would feel extremely suicidal.

Midway through the year, I readmitted myself to the private hospital. I was very volatile and extremely suicidal. I felt I needed the structure, support and safety the hospital could provide.

On the second night I was caught naked in another patients room who was due for discharge the next day. I was promptly kicked out of the hospital and I resumed wading through my days.

University was a second thought to me. I was merely existing from day to day, not truly living. I attended only 2 lectures in the entirety of the year, only showing up for compulsory tutorials and labs. If I am honest, I only remember the occasional event throughout the year, the rest is lost from memory. I would essentially pass by cramming before exams with the support of a good friend.

At this time I began DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) in place of ‘strategy group’ as an outpatient. This took up an entire Tuesday every week. This was difficult to manage as well as keeping up with university.

The DBT at first seemed pointless. I felt bored, out of place and frustrated. I was by far the youngest and there was only one other male.

But as time went on, I began to realise the value of these sessions. And as I began to participate my recovery was on its way.

I think that possibly the most important thing it gave me though was perspective that my death would not only be effecting me. While I can still rationalise suicide to myself with “it won’t matter, you aren’t there,” I came to realise the effect it would have on my family. They had flown within 24 hours to see me on the night of my attempted suicide (from interstate). The DBT helped me realise the love they do hold for me. I can remember being roused at one point from the coma before I was put back under. I saw mum, dad and my little sister surrounding me looking devastated. 

In August of that year I met a girl, and even though it didn’t feel right, and it felt unhealthy to me, we began a relationship. I believe I was seeking comfort in someone.

Second year continued in this fashion, with me doing DBT, using escapism to manage my emotions and generally scraping by. I passed the end of the year after having to sit supplementary exams, and getting through by the skin of my teeth.

Third year began. Placement excited me and for perhaps 5 days I was able to motivate myself and attentively attend hospital placements. Then began a cycle of missing classes, not showing up and avoiding leaving my room at all costs. The university, more stringent on attendance now, noticed my absences and so I was called in and given a warning.

Now, more than halfway through the year I am still just existing from day to day. After another break up with the girl from August, and the death of a close friend, it seems as if the year will never end. But I have come to the realisation that this is the time that I need to “get it together” or defer the year.

It’s time for me to grit my teeth, grind through the burn-out and make the final push to get through the ever-looming exam block.