This post was contributed by VizerTribe author, Holly!
As a student in a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, I am immersed in a world of physical health. I know all about every joint, muscle, tendon, and ligament in the body. I know how referral patterns work, so when a patient complains of pain in the elbow, I can look for weakness or mechanical dysfunction in the wrist flexors. I know to treat an acute inflammatory response with rest and modalities and to attack a chronic inflammatory response with high intensity exercises to stimulate remodeling. What doesn’t get talked about often in our program is the other kind of health. Mental health. It wasn’t something I thought of much (I mean it’s not like I wanted to be a psychologist) until one day I realized that maybe I am having mental health problems of my own.
Since I began this program about 10 months ago, I have been in and out of a vicious cycle of anxiety, stress, fatigue, and self-doubt (I was even worried while typing the first paragraph that I was going to write something wrong and look completely stupid). I’d always been hard on myself with school. I remember my first bad report card (a C in my 5th grade math class)—I cried so hard and was so distraught my mom ended up comforting me instead of disciplining me for my grade. I went on to stay focused and driven through high school; maintaining good grades, playing multiple sports, and joining lots of clubs. In undergrad, I learned that not every grade was going to be an easy A, but I kept on with my work ethic. I gave up many nights downtown to focus on school and worked hard to stay involved and build my resume. When I got the acceptance letter from my top choice PT school I laid down on the ground crying and hugging my phone (which held the email that sealed my fate).
I showed up to my first day of grad school a month after graduation full of excitement, motivation, and an eagerness to learn. I nailed my first anatomy exam and started making friends in my new city. So it seems like things are pretty good for me, right? Well—about 3/4 of the way through that first semester, something changed. Even now looking back, I don’t exactly know what changed, if anything at all. There was a week where I struggled to do much studying which resulted in a few mediocre test grades, and instead of becoming hyper-motivated to overcome them like usual, I just felt overwhelmed and tired. The more school continued on, the less I cared about my grades. I just wanted to pass and that was it.
I started having extreme feelings of doubt—why was I in this program? How did I get in? Did I really belong there? Was it just me or was everyone else way smarter than me? By my third semester these thoughts plagued me every single day. I would wake up full of plans to be productive, work out, and eat really healthy, but by the end of our first half of classes I would be tired, irritated, and feeling lost. By this point in the program I felt that I had let my study habits get so bad that there was just no coming back from it. I just didn’t know enough, didn’t remember enough, and was not going to last in this profession.
There’s no perfect end to this story—I still experience many of these thoughts and feelings. But what has changed is how I approach the situation. I know I’m not alone, and I also know that everyone has different experiences. Something I learned about myself: I. Hate. School. Certainly a difficult thing to face when you’ve just shelled out $80,000 on tuition, right? It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be in school, though. School is just something that I have to work extra hard at and get through to meet my goals.
I discovered I love research and being involved with learning in a hands-on way, so I began incorporating that into my education to help remind me of the things I do love about learning and physical therapy. I also learned that sometimes you just need help. We have psychological services on campus I can reach out to whenever I need to talk. I’m also surrounded by some amazingly talented and smart peers that are always eager to lend a helping hand when school just feels too difficult or daunting.
The Top 5 Things That Help Me Keep It Together:
Find Time for Something that Gives You Peace of Mind
For me, that’s curling up with a good book, often times with a cup of tea or fresh coffee. At first when I started doing this, I felt like I was cheating, like every moment of my free time had to be focused on school, sleep, or exercise. I’ve realized that’s not true and that giving myself breaks for things I enjoy makes the time for work much more productive.
Stop Thinking About Doing Things and Do Them
It got to the point where I was keeping to-do lists in three different places at once—I had a list in my computer notes, in my planner, and on a homework app I had downloaded. I spent so much time sitting at my desk rewriting all the things I needed to do and planning out my days and when to do them that by the time I finished, I was so tired and stressed that I couldn’t even think about actually doing all the schoolwork I had just spent so much time thinking about. Keeping a list is great to keep you organized, but my advice? Write it all down once, then just do the damn thing!
Let It All Out
For me, it helped keeping a notebook by my bed for when too many thoughts were buzzing in my head. I found that if I started writing everything down, I oftentimes had my thoughts sorted out and put into perspective by the time I was finished. For you—this might be something different. It could be talking to someone or going for a long run or doing some meditation. Whatever it is, just take the time for it!
Obviously, I had to stick this in here. It can sometimes feel like mental health issues are stigmatized, but far more people suffer than you know! When I started reaching out to my friends about how I felt, it baffled me how many were having similar problems of their own. It made me feel a lot less like I was going crazy.
Do Things That Make You Feel Good Physically
Well, this is a blog for Vizer, right?! So this had to go on here. But, really, it’s so true. Take the time to treat your body right. Create a nighttime routine that relaxes you. Do yoga, run, lift weights, eat a carrot; I don’t care what it is that makes your body feel good but just do whatever that is for you! Not only will your mental health thank you, but your future self will thank you when you don’t have to go see one of those pesky physical therapists about all your joint pains. While this will never be a black and white issue, I hope this helps those of you who might feel similarly. It may help you to know you’re not alone, or give you an idea of what you can do to feel better. For me, just writing this helped! So for those of you reading, thank you for being a part of my healing process.