I typed this really long post but was almost going to delete it. I felt like it sounded so silly. But I will keep it in the hopes that some of you find it helpful/encouraging because I've always enjoyed and was motivated by reading this thread. I tried injecting some context into this, so hopefully it doesn't bore you guys too much with being somewhat long.
I grew up in a relatively rough neighbourhood. I'll give you an example to highlight the point: in grade 7 while my friends and I were going trick or treating, we ran into three of my older brother's friends profusely bleeding from stab wounds. Turns out they had been ambushed by a group they had bad blood with. Anyway, one of them had a pretty bad gash in his neck, close to his jugular, but thankfully none of the major vessels were cut. My friends and I had to help them to a nearby clinic (which was thankfully open). Scary stuff, but it was the reality of the place.
My parents worked really hard to provide for my siblings and I (I have two older brothers - let's call them Alpha and Bravo). They tried their absolute best to keep us shielded from the bad stuff, but there's always an inevitable influence by the environment. Being males in a rough neighbourhood meant keeping up a “macho” facade. You definitely didn't get overly sentimental, and so my brothers and I were walled off emotionally not only from friends, but each other as well.
So what was the culmination of these early childhood experiences? The "climax" of it all came during my senior year of high school. Well, I should say my SECOND senior year. At this point in my life, I had never had the experiences to develop an appreciation for education and knowledge. I would skip classes to go play sports. There was a point in grade 12 where I had skipped more classes than I had actually attended. This meant that I was forced to do an extra year in high school to try and salvage my marks enough to try and apply to postsecondary.
This extra year was tough. You question the decisions you’ve made so far, you watch all your friends move on to the next stage of their lives, and you're in classes with kids younger than you. Unfortunately, this wasn't even the tip of the iceberg. Within the span of 3-4 months, my life literally spiraled out of control. My high school sweetheart (who had started university at this point) had just broken up with me. I already mentioned how I came from a background where I was extremely insular about keeping my feelings to myself. My girlfriend was a sweetheart - I could open up emotionally to her and it was a welcome change. Losing her in an already difficult time was tough, and unfortunately things kept getting worse. Soon after the breakup, I injured myself playing sports, effectively ending my entire sports year and requiring surgery. Sports had always been that one pseudo-emotional outlet of mine, so removing it was definitely a huge emotional hurdle. I even started losing my hair from stress (this is a contentious topic haha, but I genuinely believe acute stressors can potentially act as a trigger). Unfortunately, I would soon realize that all of these challenges would pale in comparison to what was to follow.
I will never ever forget this day. It still seems so vivid. I came home from school one day to see my brother, Bravo, in our driveway with this very confused/sad look on his face. He was very inebriated, but that confused/sad look still haunts me. He looked so vulnerable. He was being arrested for drug charges. It was heartbreaking. We would later find out that he had been battling severe mental health issues and masked them through substance abuse. Being arrested wreaked even more havoc on his mental health. We couldn't bail him out because my other brother (Alpha) had already tried. The first time he was bailed out, Bravo's mental health lead to him acting very erratically. He broke his bail conditions and disappeared. We were able to track him down after a friend of Bravo’s contacted the family. So I had to watch from afar, yet again, as my brother got arrested. My mom was with me this time. We later learned from the friend that Bravo had been really hungry, yet we saw him get arrested as he about to take the first bite of his food. My mom started getting very frequent panic attacks soon after this incident.
I remember visiting him in jail on multiple occasions, only to be received by non-nonsensical and hysterical laughter. This was absolutely brutal for me. I grew up always being Bravo’s sidekick. I followed him everywhere he went, being that annoying little brother. He really was my role model. So to see him there, unrecognizable, was very gut wrenching. We were unable to convince the penal system of the clear mental issues he was exhibiting and he was retained in a normal jail. His condition worsened and he was eventually placed in solitary confinement due to bad behavior. He stayed there for 2-3 weeks. Being a witness to this and unable to help was absolutely excruciating. Like, the breakup, surgery, extra year of high school seem bad right? They genuinely felt like a walk in the park compared to this.
It was during this ordeal that I had made up my mind to commit myself to working hard, getting into university, and getting into the field of psychology so that I might help others that had gone through similar situations as my brother. Thankfully, after a few months convincing, we were finally able to get through to the courts. We had been able to convince the judge to transfer Bravo to a mental treatment facility as opposed to a jail. I still remember the day we found out that they would transfer him: June 12th, 2009. It is probably on the top of the happiest days of my life. Getting into medicine definitely pales in comparison to that day. Anyway, he received a diagnosis and began treatment, which he has continued to this day.
I started university soon after. Motivated with my desire to pursue psychology, I had a relatively strong start. However, I was faced with quite a few additional hurdles on the way that reflected in my GPA trends. Beyond the typical academic struggles (taking time to find field of interest) and personal struggles (breakups, dealing with limitations after surgery etc.), helping Bravo navigate his mental health condition and potential substance relapses was quite challenging. Additionally, my other brother (Alpha) also developed a very bad substance abuse problem due to the stress of the events surrounding Bravo. It's been an ongoing thing for a few years and still continues to this day. This caused my mom's panic attacks to become even worse/frequent. However, Alpha has significantly improved in recent months. But to tie in an earlier theme, I strongly believe that there is a component of emotional support to this. My siblings and I were raised to be very insular about our feelings, and substances may be seen as an easy “alternative” to having to deal with these emotions. That’s why I think it's so important to cultivate the ability to share your emotions with others, and make others feel comfortable in sharing their emotions with you. Especially so as a physician.
So that's my journey to med in a nutshell. It took me 5 years to do a 4-year high school degree, 6 years total to do a 4-year BSc, three MCAT writes, and three additional years off. But I've always been one to challenge myself and improve after every failure. I've been fortunate enough to have amazing parents (though we might not agree on everything) and lucky enough to find amazing professors/mentors in my life. I owe literally all of my successes to these people.
Although I continue to be faced with some of the same challenges that seemed completely insurmountable before, I really believe I am stronger than ever, not only individually, but also because of the social support network I’ve been able to establish. I understand the responsibilities I carry because of these events, but believe me, that doesn’t stop me from being the silliest and happiest person that I can possibly be. I hope to carry these experiences into the field, and hopefully make a positive impact.
Here is a thread to some of my more CV-like details: http://forums.premed101.com/topic/69931-lost-with-updates/ if you’re curious about what type of stats, ECs etc. I was working with.
Good luck everyone!