Shell-shock. That’s the only word I can use to describe what I felt when I started college. I was struggling as a pre-med student and felt discouraged by my performance and high-stress environment. The familial pressure to continue pursuing medicine as a career was unbelievable. The more they pressured me, the more I felt like I was drowning in doubts of whether I could actually succeed. I was working so hard, and yet, I wasn’t doing well. What was wrong with me?
Junior year, I ruminated about my career choice. I had this gut feeling that choosing to become a doctor was not clicking for me. As I thought about it more, I realized I had chosen the field not because of my interest in it, but because of my undying need to make my parents proud. I finally decided to quit pursuing medicine and focus on making a career out of something I was deeply passionate about: public health.
Getting my parents to support my decision was a gigantic hurdle to jump, but the greatest challenge I had to face was making peace with my decision first. That’s when it all started — this past summer —when I was working in Boston, Mass.
First came the feelings of constant restlessness and worry. I would wake up at night feeling light-headed and nauseous. My mind would be racing, my heart felt like it would pound out of my chest, and my lungs were unable to keep up with the rest of my body as I struggled to breathe. This would be the first of many panic attacks to come.
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As summer went on, I realized I had developed anxiety. The panic attacks became more frequent. I was told by a therapist to stay active and surround myself with friends, which I did but my condition did not improve.
Once I returned to school in September, I was hopeful that being busy with schoolwork would distract me and my anxiety would eventually fade. I ended up experiencing the exact opposite.
My anxiety amplified. I would feel anxious before and in class. Disappointment struck me again. Why wasn’t I getting better? Suddenly being back at school felt paralyzing. Then came the worst.
I started skipping classes. Sleep became my escape. Even if I woke up early I would force myself back to sleep just so I could numb my torturous mind. I would cry, for no reason sometimes. I fell into an endless cycle of having vicious thoughts.
I would cross the street when walking to class and secretly wish for a car to hit me. I found myself buried so deep in guilt about everything in my life. For failing, for disappointing myself and my parents, for being a burden on all my loved ones. When I felt happy about something, I would feel guilty for that too.
Physical pain suddenly felt like a distraction from the emotional self-torture. The war between my anxiety and depression was relentless.
Even though I was surrounded by friends, I felt so alone. My parents didn’t seem to understand why I was feeling down even when I tried to explain it to them. My mom suggested yoga and meditation to help my mood. My dad told me it’s all in my head. How could I tell them that there are some days I have to use every fiber of my being just to get up and start the day?
So there I was. In this deep pit of never-ending sadness that no matter how hard I tried, I could not snap out of. Every single day felt like an eternity squeezed into 24 hours.
But now, here I stand. Still anxious, still depressed. But feeling slightly more hopeful. After months of therapy and ups and downs, I finally started taking anti-depressants and my parents now understand the depth of the pain I was feeling. The journey to reaching this point was arduous but I’m just glad to be here.
Today, I just want to express my deepest gratitude to my parents, friends, and anyone who has been there for me.
To my parents – I can’t thank you enough for accepting even the darkest parts of me and loving me so unconditionally.
To my friends – thank you for holding me while I cry, forcing me to breathe when it felt physically impossible, and for always holding my hand through these impossible few months. Thank you to all the people in my life that have been there for me to vent to and never let me feel bad about it once.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past several months, it’s that pain is deeply connected with fear. There’s a fear that loved ones will resent you or think you’re a hassle. Fear that you won’t feel better. Fear that no one understands your pain.
For anyone who has ever experienced anything similar to this, I can’t stress enough that you are truly not alone. You may look around and think that no one else in the world understands what you’re going through but there are. Never be scared or feel ashamed of what you are going through.
Whatever you’re feeling or suffering from will get better. In the process, you will discover more about yourself than you ever thought you could. Most importantly, you will discover that you are a warrior and when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
Shilpa Prasad is currently a pre-med student at Boston University. In her free time, she loves to dance, read and binge-watch TV shows! Her goal as a writer for Brown Girl Magazine is to connect with girls all around the world by sharing her own unique experiences and ideas.