The musings of a final year medical student

Sunday, 21 August 2016


The Newsroom, Edinburgh

I don't like writing negative blogposts, but I have to admit that going off antidepressants has been harder than I imagined. 

As I mentioned in my last blogpost, I spoke to my own GP about this, as well my dad who is also one. I asked both of them how I should do it and they both gave fairly vague, but still seemingly straightforward advice: do it gradually, and slowly halve your dose. These comments leave much to interpretation, and I have rushed this process. I have had some horrible thoughts and feelings that I thought were long forgotten - it felt like seeing a ghost, a phantom that used to exist. 

I was scared. Have I not really 'got over' depression yet? I am I 'too dependent' on this medication? Am I making the right decision? Like most confused ill people, I took to the internet. I reread what I had already seen on Mind's website (a mental health charity), and then stumbled across some advice from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Here it suggested that: "if treatment has lasted less than 8 weeks, stopping over 1-2 weeks should be OK. After 6-8 months treatment, taper off over 6-8 weeks". Given that I had been taking Sertraline for 10 months, I completely rushed this process. I'm going to see a GP tomorrow for some further guidance and a new prescription. 

When it comes to your health, never be scared to seek help and ask questions. I completely underestimated how horrible it can feel to withdraw from an antidepressant, and  I hope this helps any of you who may go through this process now or in the future. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016


Recently I have been weaning off my anti-depressants, specifically a SSRI named Sertraline. This was a decision I made with the help of my GP and my dad who is also a GP. It felt like the right time, and I would say for the last three months I have felt as if I don't really have depression - in spite of four days of OSCES, two written exams and one retake! I'm not sure if you can ever say you have 'overcome' a mental health problem, but I don't feel like I could say I truly have depression any more. Yes, I still cry occasionally and have bad days, but that is part of being human and isn't necessarily a deviation from good health.

It hasn't been easy going off these tablets. I started halving my dose, and then having half every two days. I have had a few instances where I've suddenly felt extremely sad for no particular reason. Other than that, I haven't had any unpleasant side effects like I did when I began taking Sertraline. I remember at the very beginning being on public transport and feeling very nauseous. The nausea probably lasted a good 2-3 months, enough for both my parents to suspect I was pregnant! However, that was not the case.

I read an interesting article about patients having persistent symptoms with no apparent diagnosis. I empathised, having always been prone to headaches and a sore neck. The NHS article discussed how aches and pains can be a physical manifestation of an undiagnosed mental health problem. I certainly agree with this, but I know in my case that my headaches are not related or in correlation with my state of mental health. The article went on to discuss ways of reducing generalised aches and pains, and I felt that I wanted to implement them into my day to day lifestyle. If I know I have a history of mental health problems and am currently not taking any prescribed medicinal or talking therapies, I may as well optimise my lifestyle and hopefully prevent a 'relapse'.

Here below I've made a list of (hopefully) realistic daily goals that should keep me in check.

20 minutes of light cardiovascular exercise per day

Yoga / stretching every day for about 10 minutes

Write down 5 things I am grateful for each day

Write down any obvious things that have stressed me out on that day

Drink plenty of water

Try to have better posture

Listen to one really good song a day that is really happy and cheerful

I will keep you posted as to how this goes!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016


This week I was lucky enough to visit Dubrovnik, Croatia with some of my friends from school. Despite not being a game of thrones fan, I still had a fantastic time!

The temperature was around 29 degrees Celsius each day which was too hot for my liking! We spent our days looking around Old Town, visiting the beaches, going up the cable car and visiting the island Lokrum. I also had pizza every single day.

We stayed in a very basic hostel, but to be honest I was just happy that it had air conditioning. As well as that, it was fantastic distance from Old Town. Opposite the hostel was a very hipster bar called Arts Cafe, and served a wide variety of cocktails.

One thing I didn't know about Dubrovnik was how romantic it was. The beautiful alleys of Old Town had plenty of live music, usually jazz or romantic violins. I had to pinch myself as I sipped on a cocktail, listening to a live band and watching the sun set and dip beneath the bright blue sea.

Overall, I would say you need a good three days, perhaps more for Dubrovnik. This will give you time to do the city wall walk (which is 75% off with a student card), visit one of the islands, go up the cable car, do a game of thrones tour if you wish, and soak up the atmosphere of Old Town.


Thursday, 11 August 2016


Now that I am approaching the third year of my medical degree, it feels like shit is getting real. The first two years is mostly about sleeping through lectures, going out a lot and managing to pass the science papers, which have a large emphasis on anatomy and physiology. Now everyone is talking about CVs, societies and intercalation.

I was undecided whether intercalation was for me. I haven't yet discovered an unquestionable yearning to specialise in anything. I know that the pathophysiology interests me, but that's pretty much it! The thing with intercalation is that it is a fantastic opportunity. At my university it is optional; if you want to graduate with just MBChB then that's totally fine. However, it can be argued that having an extra degree can give you a certain edge. It will get you a couple of extra FPAS points. In addition, consultants are more likely to have an extra degree compared to GPs, and right now I do feel that I would like to be some kind of hospital based physician rather than being in the community.

The other benefit of intercalating is that you can do it in a variety of places. As readers will know, I love London. Intercalating would give me the perfect opportunity to fulfil my fantasy of living in London, and so I am going to try and see if I can get myself on to a university's Bsc programme.

Whilst intercalating may seem fab, it's bloody hard work. The assessments can be very different to medical school exams. They usually involve a research project and essay writing. I have spoken to doctors who found doing their Bsc harder than doing their finals. Now THAT is saying something. It's not going to be a jolly year sight seeing around London with the odd bit of learning. Like medicine, you have to treat it like a full time job and put in the hours consistently throughout the year. In addition, you will be awarded with bachelor's ranking of first, two one etc., which does not happen when you are given your medical degrees.

The other risk is also the uncertainty. Would I really want to live in London? Isn't it going to be annoying to draw out medical school by a year? Will I enjoy leaving the clinical atmosphere and concentrating more on the academic, nitty gritty of science? After all, I went into medicine partly because I love talking to people and being in the hospital environment. It is also going to be very expensive. I don't know how hard it will affect my relationship.

However, I never want to look back wishing I had done something. I have always wanted to live in London and if I never try to pursue that then I think it will be a huge mistake.
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