Depression, Immigrant Exceptionalism and Medical School.
I have wanted to be a doctor as soon as I knew what doctors were. I grew up in a small town in Africa. The only way to have any upward mobility as a woman was to be a nurse or a teacher, all other career paths were essentially dead-ends. I didn’t want to be a nurse however, I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to help people, but I always yearned to feel important. Like people needed me. I wanted to feel like I was worth something to society. At the time I saw doctors as the most important members of society. In my town they definitely were. They literally dictated life and death. Thats how important they were.
My mother was a nurse. It took her 8 years to obtain her degree but she did it nonetheless. She use her career in nursing to help get an Australian visa. This allowed my entire family a ticket out of poverty. Moving was difficult. Like any immigrant child the innate desire (and outward pressure) to make something out of yourself is ferocious. The minute I stepped foot on Australian soil the weight of my entire extended family was on my back. It was only our immediate family (me, my 2 siblings and my parents) that made it to Australia after all. I needed to be an example. Failure wasn’t an option. Not after all that had been done to help us by the rest of the family.
So, I strived for greatness. I wanted to be the best child ever, which in an African household means good grades and obedience. Primary school was difficult. I didn’t speak English nor did I understand any of the cultural norms. I was one of 2 black students at school (the other being my brother). I was bullied and exposed to racism for the first (but far from the last) time in my life. I still managed to be an exemplary student however the cracks were already showing. I started dieting when I was 8. Being in school made me aware that I was different from everyone else. My skin was obvious but I was also taller, fatter that all the other kids. I had short hair. One of my teachers constantly mistook me for a boy. My size was ridiculed. I took up too much space on the bus. My thighs jiggles in P.E. I was fat. I stated to look in the mirror and pinch my skin. I ran around the backyard. Started doing push-ups in my room. I refused sweets. I gave people my food at lunch or I forgot to bring it.
I graduated primary school with a few mental scars to show. I had a deep self hatred of my skin and my body. My social skills were extremely poor. However none of this mattered because my grades were good. In high school things got significantly worse. The racism was louder and the self hate stronger. My parents decided to send us to a private catholic school so we would have the best chance at life. This was a mistake. I felt more different than ever. I was stressed, my grades weren’t as good as they shouldn’t have been and I was still fat. I found comfort in the blades I jimmied out of my pencil sharpeners. Night after night when the house fell silent I would carve into my skin all that I had no other way to express. I found pro-annorexia tumblr. I started fasting. I was lethargic, I was depressed and I didn’t want to live anymore. I had several moments where I would hide a knife in my bedroom and stare at it at night. Willing myself to find a permanent solution to all of my problems. I was referred by a friend or teacher (I never found out who did it) to the school counseller. I never showed up for the appointment. Black people don’t have depression. Black people don’t cut themselves. Black people don’t have eating disorders.
The final year of highschool was the worst. I gained weight. It didn’t matter how deep the blade ran, I didn’t make even a slight dent in my problems. Worst of all my grades were slipping. The career counsellor told me I wasn’t going to be good enough for medical school. I should try something else. I felt like a failure. My parents (though they tried to hide it) were extremely disappointed.
I graduated and went to college for a degree I didn’t want. The university had a medical school that I was sure I could get into if only I could try. I couldn’t make friends properly. I hid in my room and ate after hours. I was too scared to use the communal bathrooms. I would shower late at night when everyone was asleep or walk (in the middle of the night) to the bathrooms on campus. I was a wreck. I was depressed. I was binge eating. But I studied. That’s all I ever did and the next year I did it. The golden ticket. I got an acceptance letter from the school’s medical program.
It was almost as if the act of getting into medical school triggered the worst phase of my mental health. I lost 20kg in 2 months. I was too depressed to go outside. I was afraid of failing. My grades were fine in the first year. In the second I lost control completely. I was lost. Looking up suicide methods and planning a way out. I wanted to die. I should have died. I didn’t die. Somehow I barely passed.
Now we’re here. Third Year. The year of the coronavirus. I lost all control. My grip on reality faded. I binged. I purged. I stopped studying all together. I failed. My parents are disappointed. My mom nearly fainted when I told her. I made my dad cry. I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. It doesn’t even feel like I have a right to be alive.
I feel like I’m drowning. Like there is no way out but to die. Sometimes the urge to die is strong. But a small part of me wants to try again. I will try again.
I’m going to the doctor. I am going to get the help I should have gotten so many years ago. Black girls get depressed. Black people cut themselves. Black people get eating disorders.
If you read this, thank you. This is the only task I have completed succesfully in 3 months. If you relate to this too please try to get help.