My name is Erin Kelly.  I’m a second year medical student at the University of Glasgow.  I’m twenty years old.  My favourite colour is pink.  I like dancing, swimming and listening to music.  In 2018 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.  Writing that sentence still stings but I am not ashamed of it.  I’m sharing my experience to educate other people, in an effort to normalise depression and help people realise that they are not alone.

My greatest ambition during high school was getting into medical school.  I received my offers in the March of 2018, and I accepted Glasgow as my firm choice.  I was so excited to start studying Medicine, like I had always wanted – but something didn’t feel right.  It was me.  

I felt nothing.  

I wasn’t excited about the things that used to excite me.  I wasn’t sad about the things that used to upset me.  

I felt nothing. 

 I didn’t want to talk to anyone.  When my favourite songs came on the radio, I didn’t want to sing along.  I didn’t want to dance anymore.  As the summer went on, I wasn’t even thinking about medicine anymore.  I was confused, lost and past the point of return.  I didn’t feel like me anymore.

Weeks of losing interest turned into months.  Medical school was approaching fast, and I wasn’t myself.  Now thinking back with a healthy mindset, I would have been upset and frustrated if I wasn’t my best self when I started medical school.  But at the time, I didn’t care. 

 I felt numb.  

I had prevented myself from living a normal life.  Being depressed stopped me from doing the things I love and spending time with the people I love.  The biggest hurdle that I had to overcome was letting them back in again.  Having supportive family and friends is what made me realise I was missing out on living.  As I started to reconnect with the people close to me it helped me remember the things that made me happy.  

I felt determined that I would not be beaten by depression.  

It wasn’t going to stop me from living a happy life, my life, and doing amazing things.  I realised that nobody was going to flip a switch and take it away.  Nobody could come and save me from this.  I could save myself. That was what mattered most.  

I decided to make a plan that would help me get back on track and realign my goals for medical school.  I started talking again.  I went back out socialising with my friends.  I started exercising every day.  I even started singing and dancing again – this time I added in a ukulele too.  I created new, healthy habits that would sustain me for a successful future.   The coping mechanisms that I created during this time of my life are ones that I use every day.  

Having depression felt like an uphill battle.  

I have made peace with the fact that I can’t always control how I feel.  What makes me feel empowered is that I can control how I react to my feelings, and how I manage my depression each time I feel it again.

In the midst of my recovery, I made the decision to take a gap year.  Initially, I felt apprehensive about postponing university for a whole year.  I had dreamt of medical school for what seemed like forever, and purposefully waiting even longer to go didn’t seem to make sense at first.  In time I came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t ready.  I was recovering from depression, and I needed to give myself the time to do that.  I decided to build on the healthy habits I was trying to instil in myself and get involved in everything could.  

I enrolled in a sign language course at college.  Languages have always been a passion of mine and I was excited to find a new way of expressing this.  My new-found hobby also gave me an outlet, a safe space to breathe.  My intentions for college were to actually enjoy learning sign language, in the hope that it would rekindle my excitement and help me heal too.  What I initially didn’t realise was that the friends I made at college would help me recover and be a long-term support system that I still turn to.

I also started my first job, part time in Boots as a Pharmacy Assistant.  Upon reflection, one of the most valuable things I learned in my gap year was the value of a conversation.  My favourite part about the job was talking to people.  I spoke to my new colleagues, customers and even became friends with some of the elderly regular shoppers.  I came to appreciate how comforting it was for them to have somebody to talk to, a constant in their day, as many of them lived alone.  

What is interesting about this is that just a few months prior, I hadn’t felt like talking to anyone.  

I’ve reflected on my experiences from when I worked in Boots more recently, particularly my interactions with elderly customers.  During lockdown, I have once again been reminded of the value of a face to face conversation, and the positive impact that it can have on a person’s mood.  Living through the COVID-19 pandemic has made me recognise how far I have come, in that my mindset has changed so much from when I first encountered the invaluable impact of a conversation.

I recovered from depression.  What did I learn?  Recovering from depression is not a straight road. There isn’t always a simple , paved path you can follow – a quick fix. Recovering from depression doesn’t always mean that you arrive at the same destination you came from and feel the same as you did before.  It is okay to change and become a different version of yourself. Depression has changed who I am, and how I cope with everyday life.  Even though I still have bad days, I wouldn’t take it away if I had the choice. I wouldn’t erase the journey I’ve been on because I believe I am now stronger for it. Having depression has altered my path into medicine, and I am better for it.  The lessons I learned in my gap year are integral to who I am now.  I am a better communicator, a more understanding friend and I am resilient.  I truly believe that the strength and confidence I have developed, the work I have put in and the habits I have formed are all now a part of me.  

I will be a better doctor because of it. 

Written By Erin Kelly