When I got my offer to go to Nottingham to study medicine, everything was going pretty well, mental health wise. I'd been on medication for a while that had stabilised my obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) with barely any side effects at all, and I'd just finished a round of cognitive behavioural therapy that had given me a solid and effective foundation of techniques and strategies to deal with flare-ups. I felt confident, and as you can imagine, getting my offer only made me feel that much better.
Then I got an email from the university about my mental health self-declaration; I'd have to be assessed by a psychiatrist before the course started. Suddenly, I was overcome by doubt. I'd never actually seen a psychiatrist before, why did I have to see one now? I was convinced that I'd have my offer withdrawn; of course, I thought, they've realised their mistake in letting me think I had a place there.
Naturally, my immediate concern was that since medicine is such a selective and uniquely challenging subject, they'd think that having OCD meant that I wasn't up to the challenge, or worse, that they'd think I'd represent a danger to patients. As silly as it sounds, I was ashamed of myself. For the first time in a while, that old, horrible feeling had crept up on me; I was embarrassed about my OCD again.
The day approached, and I prepared my defence. I was ready to fight for my place, prove to them that having OCD made me no less capable to tackle the trials of medical training. I answered the Skype call girded for battle.
By the time the call was over, all my doubts and concerns were gone.
The psychiatrist was as supportive as he could be from start to finish, and made it clear that the only reason the university had booked me in to see him was to comprehensively assess my support needs and make plans to put support in place for me should I need it. The university wasn't looking to cast me away – they were looking to welcome me and make sure that if I needed support in reaching my goals that they were ready to provide it.
As it happened, the psychiatrist and I agreed that I didn't have any pressing support needs, and we wrapped up the consultation pretty quickly. I felt miles better. Suddenly, I became markedly less embarrassed of my OCD.
The university wasn't looking to cast me away – they were looking to welcome me and make sure that if I needed support in reaching my goals that they were ready to provide it.
Now, well in to my second year, I can honestly tell you that having OCD really hasn't been that big a deal at all. I wish I had more to write, but it's barely come up. I hope you find it comforting when I say that in the context of OCD and mental health, medical school has been thoroughly uneventful.
I'm much more open and honest about my OCD now. The understanding of all of my colleagues means that I'm unashamed and matter-of-fact about it most of the time, and even patients are more innocently curious than in any way judgemental.
Someone once suggested it might be the basis of a quirky House-style medical show - 'the obsessive compulsive doc'. I saw where they were coming from, but I told them that I didn't think a show where I did my job fairly normally then went home, spent five minutes lining up my phone and TV remote before opening and closing the cutlery drawer a few times would make great TV.
What I'm trying to say is that the vast majority of people have reacted to my OCD either positively and supportively, or neutrally. As yet, I've had no-one suggest that it could negatively affect my ability to practise. If anyone ever did, I'd point out the fact that I've been proving them wrong since day one. It's a hard course, but I'm not just surviving - I'm thriving, and having the time of my life while I do it.
Anyway, if I ever do need support, whether or not it's related to my mental health, Nottingham has the ability to provide it. So long as you ask, you can get the support you need.
So if you're thinking of applying to medicine with a mental health condition, or maybe you're newly diagnosed and already studying medicine, don't delay and let your university know. They only want to provide you with support. I'm living proof that it can be done, and can be done well, if I do say so myself. I think I can safely say that; I feel like I've earned a little self-flattery.
Tom is a medical student at the University of Nottingham - he loves to draw, cook, and cycle, and is considering a career in paediatrics. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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