Wednesday, 2 October 2013

One month on

It's been a long time since I felt this pissed off, overwhelmed and really tired all at the same time. I have to apologise in advance, this is not going to be a happy post, but it's something I need to get off my chest because for the past few hours I have been feeling a level of anger and frustration which I haven't felt in ages. Unlike the majority of my posts on this blog, I don't even need to think about what I'm typing here, it's just flowing from my fingers effortlessly, which I assume is a big sign that I really need to vent.

To put things into context, I've been back at medical school for exactly a month, and am now halfway through the fifth week of a 12 week term which will be followed by a very important exam which, if I pass it, will allow me to progress to the clinical phase of the course. I'm glad to be back and to see my friends, but my god, there are certain aspects of this course which sometimes feel like I'm being pushed beyond belief and am totally powerless to push back. I'll try to break it down into a number of categories:

The pointlessness of small group work

How a typical morning/afternoon is structured on my course is as follows: lecture, small group work, lecture OR lecture, lecture, small group work. Then there's a lunch break or the day ends. The purpose of the small group work is to consolidate the concepts which have been taught in the immediately preceding lectures and I suppose, in some way, to encourage team work between group members i.e. by answering questions and completing exercises together.

This is an admirable aim, but it fails to take into account that different people learn in different ways. I find group work to be TOTALLY useless because it immediately follows the lecture and gives me no time to properly absorb the content, to go and look things up in a textbook, or to arrange my own notes - before throwing a load of questions at me.

Now, normally, I don't particularly mind having my time wasted because of someone's misguided notion of what learning "should" be like (er, as if I don't study in my own time anyway). However, when I have the most important exam of my life coming up in 8 weeks, this really throws into sharp relief just exactly how much of my limited time is being squandered each week to this rubbish. I could be spending the time working through things at my own pace and in a way which I understand, or you know, catching up on sleep (I'm not saying this to be lazy, see below).

Unfortunately attendance is monitored and compulsory, meaning that I have to sit through this utter pointlessness for up to 2 hours or more each day.

Lack of sleep

Once again, I'm finding myself becoming increasingly sleep deprived as the term drags on. In part, this is because, yes, deep down I'm nervous about these upcoming exams and the revision which I will need to recommence in two weeks or so (including year 1 content!) and this keeps me up at night.

HOWEVER a greater part is because a large amount of my day is wasted on pointless lectures or, even worse, group work - which means that I have to work much later into the night than I otherwise would. I would estimate that on a good night, I actually get into bed at 2 AM. When I fall asleep is anybody's guess, but I'd assume 3ish? I have to get up at 7:30 incidentally, so most nights I consider myself lucky if I get 5 hours sleep. I have had to go into uni on 3 hours sleep (or less) on more than one occasion this term, once again because group work is monitored.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't give a toss about losing sleep for a mere couple of weeks - the human body can withstand far sterner stuff than this, however, what I have noticed is that my lack of sleep isn't exactly doing me any favours as a human being. On a bad day, imagine my usual grumpy self, multiplied by about, I don't know...20? Don't misunderstand - I don't act like a dickhead and take things out on my classmates, but on many occasions I think it's very obvious that I'm really not all there and I'm not really being as friendly or sociable as I should be. Usually when my eyes are sliding out of focus for the fifth time in 20 minutes or so.

Lack of effective stress relief

Clearly the above aren't unique complaints. All students feel tired (though admittedly I don't know anyone else who's keeping my sleep hours - one of my friends tells me I'm pretty alone in this regard), all students feel stressed out about exams, and all students eventually feel fucked off at their university's assumption that the university's way of doing things is the "best" way.

However, I think I've unfortunately also become deprived of effective means of stress relief. When I lived in London and was feeling the strain, I would take my iPod along on one of my favourite walking routes, enjoy the scenery and fresh air and spend a good 3 or 4 hours simply walking the stress out of my system. Or you know, I'd just get smashed a couple of times a week.

No such luck here: the town my med school is in is rather small and if you tried walking anywhere for more than an hour or so, you'd either end up in the middle of nowhere, or walking around in circles. What's more I don't even FEEL like I have 3 or 4 hours to sacrifice for this anyway. But yeah, okay, I feel homesick for London a lot. There's no point denying it: I am so happy to be training to be a doctor, but I also really miss what I've left behind too.

As for getting smashed a couple of times a week, well that's even more off limits - I don't have the time and my hangovers have become something awful since I entered this latest stage of my life i.e. my mid-20s. But my god, everytime I see or hear drunken freshers on campus or around town, I literally want to break down in front of them and plead with them most earnestly to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE appreciate what you have right now i.e. the simply pleasure of being able to go out whenever you like, act like a fool, and not have to care about the consequences the next day. It will NOT last forever unfortunately - and that really, really makes me want to weep.

Being me

Of course...these problems are only problems because I am me. There are people on my course who deal with all of this crap and don't feel stressed out to the point of skipping sleep and getting grumpy. There are people who get much better grades than me, run long distant races for charity, have stable long term relationships and are just, well, let's face it, much more well rounded as people than me anyway, however much they do or do not sleep. I am not one of those people - I am me. All I know is that I want to be a doctor more than I've wanted to do anything in my life...and I am willing to make all the necessary sacrifices for this to happen...but sometimes I feel like I've abandoned so many other aspects of my personality in the pursuit of this one desire. And I do regret that somewhat.

No doubt, some people out there will be shaking their heads and will be saying "mate, you need to just give less of a toss" - yes, this is very true, but unfortunately I am not used to not giving a toss. After twentysomething years I'm not sure I'm really in a position to change this attitude either. I am - by my nature - intense, driven and determined. It's gotten me results, as my end of first year results showed. Unfortunately, it also leads to stress, personal neglect and mood swings. This is obviously something I need to work on as a person, and I hope very soon I can have the time to do that.

Do I feel better after this rant?

If you've gotten this far, then congrats and thank you. Yeah I feel a bit better but the fact that I'll probably be up until 2 AM tonight trying to figure out exactly what the bastard Loop of Henle does means that this isn't going to be an effective source of long term stress relief.

All I can do, I suppose, is plug away in the only way I know how to and hope that when I (hopefully, PLEASE) progress to clinical medicine, things will be less pressurised and I'll have more time to be return to being me. I can only hope it won't be too late by then and I won't have become irreversibly accustomed to feeling under pressure. Or maybe I'm just screwed for the forseeable future!