It was the end of internship, I had a chronic sore throat, weight loss, no appetite, nausea, and epigastric pain. Multiple negative COVID-19 swabs later I decided to schedule an appointment with my gastroenterologist. I’d been diagnosed with GORD at 20, with a strong family history of it.

Worried that there was something wrong with such drastic weight loss and epigastric symptoms, I saw my doctor.

He did an urgent gastroscopy, only to find my stomach and oesophagus was ‘pristine’. In fact, it was a lot better than my scope at 20. Well controlled reflux, nothing to explain the symptoms I was having.

“Are you feeling stressed?” my doctor ventured to ask.

Well yes. I was extremely stressed. At the time I saw him, I had not been sleeping well for weeks. I looked terrible. My skin was pale, I had large purple under eye bags, and unintentional weight loss. With chronic nausea and epigastric pain I could barely eat. I even took a photo of myself to memorialise how I looked then, to never forget.

Why?

“My job is a bit stressful,” I replied to my doctor.

He looked at me with sympathy. Saying he understood. Then I was given a bill for $1600, and that’s how I spent a fortnight of pay to discover my job was causing a large amount of stress and physical side effects.

With irony I realised I had to work harder now to pay for this bill. This strange cycle of paying to handle the negative effects of my job, then working more to pay for these medical bills, causing even more stress!

I was speaking with a psychologist too, another expense, all to deal with my job-related stress.

This isn’t normal. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t okay.

Photo by José M. Reyes on Unsplash

How did I get better?

Honestly, it took time. It took a whole lot of self-reflection. Painful, raw self-reflection that felt almost destructive at the time. How long was I going to continue at that unsustainable rate? Where I somehow got through the day on a few hours sleep, one coffee and nothing else?

Sometimes my skin didn’t see the sun for three weeks. Once a very fit and active person I barely moved outside of work. My relationships were completely neglected. All of my physical needs were completely ignored.

Something had to give.

At this stage I asked for time off, and said I wasn’t coping. With a large excess of annual leave I was definitely entitled to it legally, but it was declined. For about six months or more I tried to get at least one week off. Declined.

Finally, I got two weeks of leave due to the kindness of a colleague, who worked extra, so that I could have a break. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know how I could have got through residency.

Photo by Jessica Pamp on Unsplash

What helped for me

Time off, my psychologist and relationships is what helped me get through those hard moments. Also the deep self-reflection where I looked at what thought processes were negatively affecting me and what were helping me.

  1. Time off – I was mentally and physically spent. Time off made me feel more human
  2. Psychologist – I recommend this to everyone. It’s like having a GP check up, but for your mind. They can point out good coping mechanisms, and challenge unhealthy ones
  3. Relationships – my support network of my husband and friends really saved me. Also know who not to confide in because that can be damaging
  4. Self-reflection – the mind is a garden. Weed out those negative thought processes and water the healthy ones
  5. Doing what I enjoyed – spending my extra time reading, painting or dancing helped to bring joy back into my life

Out of everything, the inner change is what stuck with me the most. When you go to work focussing on how much you dislike it, that’s all you can see. If you try to switch your mindset to a more positive one, things do change for the better.

Uncle Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender

Having said that, it’s only a small piece to the puzzle of wellbeing. It was necessary for me because I had decided to complete internship and residency. That was my choice. If you want to change careers, do what is right for you and your health.

So that’s my story of how I paid $1600 to confirm I was stressed! It’s a bit funny and obvious now looking back on it. But sometimes, when you’re in the midst of it all you can lose sight of your feelings. Survival mode keeps you constantly moving, standing still and looking within is essential.