Student Journeys

An Anxious Psychologist

Why Psychology? I get asked that question often, and my brain goes into overdrive, wondering where I should begin. I settle with the mediocre response of ‘It’s interesting.’ How boring is that? I wish I could have sat everyone down and told them exactly why I picked Psychology. But now here I am, with an opportunity to write it down for anyone to read, see my vulnerability, and hopefully become inspired to be more empathetic towards others. I suppose I should preface this by saying that everyone is going through something, has their own struggles and demons, and being compassionate in this world is truly priceless.

So, let’s start again… Why Psychology? Well, it all stems from one word that happens to be my least favourite word in the English dictionary: anxiety. It’s a normal emotion, they say, a feeling of worry, you could say, a terrifying feeling, I would say. The anxiety I’ve experienced was a force to be reckoned with, it had serrated teeth and intimidating eyes. It would sit on my chest, it would poke at my brain, it would mess with my emotions. It was shredding my self-confidence, my aspirations, and my ambitions. To me, it was not just anxiety, it was the monster sleeping under my bed every night, just waiting to attack.

My experience with anxiety started in my first year at the University of Exeter studying Diagnostic Radiography. I was an eighteen-year-old working twelve-hour shifts on placement at a local hospital amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. To say it took a substantial toll on my mental health would be an understatement. Ailing patients and apathetic doctors constantly surrounded me; I would see healthy individuals coming into A&E complaining of back pain and leaving with a diagnosis of potential lung cancer. Shortly after my first month on placement, I started dealing with anxiety attacks. It was debilitating, I would wake up with a racing heart rate and trembling fingers and go to sleep with tears in my eyes and a constant feeling of fear.

My anxiety morphed into daily panic attacks, and it got so severe that I had to drop out of university. I went to numerous doctors for support, and they would give my eighteen-year-old body a once over, offer me a sceptical look and dismiss me, thinking I was an attention-seeking teenager. That’s the thing about mental health; it’s not visible to the naked eye, so people think it doesn’t exist. It’s not diagnosable by basic tests, so people think you’re lying. It’s an innate, deep-rooted turmoil that only you can understand. That’s why I advocated for myself and took the initiative. I finally sought help from a psychologist who changed my life. She validated my emotions, gave me coping mechanisms, and taught me that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes – it doesn’t mean we’re weak; it only means we’re human. She convinced me to return to university despite my newly diagnosed generalised anxiety disorder. I am so glad I listened to her because here I am, on the other side, writing about how I conquered my anxiety.

So, that is why I want to be a psychologist. To give people hope and bring them out of a dark place. To let them know that they are not alone and that they will be okay!

Laraib Akram

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