My name is Destiny Lu-Cleary. I’m a first year medical student, loving friend, quirky colleague, and, someone who has suffered from mental illness. It was incredibly difficult to muster the courage to share my story, but an impactful lecture on destigmatization sent waves of emotion rushing over me this afternoon. So here it goes.
Nearly five years ago, I left a local pharmacy with box of sleeping pills and a suicide note in hand. I wanted to leave this world. It was the summer after my first year of undergrad, and nothing in my life was going right. My self-esteem was at an all-time low. Life… seemed too painful to go through. No matter how hard I worked, it seemed I couldn’t get the grades to achieve my dreams. Regardless of how much of my heart I gave to someone, he couldn’t feel the same way about me. The cultural and generational gap with my family made communication impossible, and my life even more miserable. I couldn’t see a way out from this. I felt worthless.
At that moment, when I was leaving the store, I realized I was scared and hesitant. There would be no going back… so did I really want this? I decided to call a close friend. That phone call is something I will always attribute to having saved my life. We met up, and he convinced me to throw those pills away. Having that friend there to listen to me changed everything. I can’t quite explain it, but the presence of someone who loves and cares about you, listen, has an almost magical power.
That episode had ended, but I continued to struggle with my mental health throughout undergrad. Self-esteem was something I always had to work on. I was obese in high school, which left a scar on my perception of my own body-image. What started out as conscientious exercise and diet eventually evolved into an eating disorder. Purging food helped me feel in control in the moment, like I could finally determine what would happen to my body (which is of course ironically completely untrue)… At one point I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who told me I wasn’t as smart and attractive as my friends, and that I wouldn’t make it into medical school. My self esteem suffered and my dependence on my eating disorder worsened to the point I was purging multiple times a day.
Flash forward a couple years, and I am fortunate to say I am in a much healthier place than I was back then. But I recognize that I still have my struggles. Medical school isn’t easy, and there can be days where I feel completely overwhelmed, or incompetent compared to my brilliant peers. But I’m working on self-acceptance, and proud to have not contemplated suicide at all since starting this journey. Being in medicine gives my life meaning beyond myself…Even as I post this, part of me is afraid of being stigmatized and judged on whether or not I am fit to serve society. But my own answer to my fears is that I firmly believe my experiences will help me understand the patients I will be serving. Having experienced the worst of despair and hopelessness myself, I know that I will be there for my patients in the best way I possibly can.
If you think a friend, colleague, or family member is going through a hard time, talk to them. Reach out. I know for me, it made all the difference.
If you’re experiencing issues with your mental health, don’t be afraid to recognize it. Talk to someone you trust. If anyone out there doesn’t know who to approach, feel free to send me a message or wave me down at school. I’m all ears and heart for each and every one of you lovely human beings out there.
Sending love and best wishes,