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Psychology Master's Degree Personal Statement

Privilege, mental health, and the power of the human mind

"I woke up feeling as if I was falling from the sky again last night: head spinning, heart racing — I pulled my knees to my chest waiting for it to end. I felt my kitten lie down next to me and press her tiny, warm body against me, almost as if she knew that I was being attacked from the inside out. I talked myself out of going to the emergency room multiple times in that next hour, repeating over and over, “You’re ok, you can breathe” aloud to myself. As 4 or 5 a.m. hit, I finally fell back asleep after shutting off my alarms and giving up any hope I had the night before of making it to my morning classes.” (Fall 2015 — personal journal excerpt)

When people think of the term “medical professional” they commonly picture a person who diagnoses illness and prescribes a treatment. When I think of this term, I have a different viewpoint. Though diagnosis and treatment through prescription are of course a huge factor in the career of a healthcare provider, I want to be more than that. I want to be the person who can provide a safe and supportive environment for someone in need —whether I understand his/her situation or not.

When I was in my late teenage years, I dealt with an unfortunate event that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis of an acute panic disorder. Without the support of my devoted doctors/therapists and my parents, who were determined to help me get healthy, I would be a completely different person. Together, we built what we called a “toolbox” — a combination of tactics that encouraged healthy living and self-reflection that ultimately helped me regain the strength I needed to take care of myself. I will never forget this time in my life, not because of the distress it caused me but because of the overwhelming support I received. Feeling supported by those around me, even those who couldn’t understand, saved my life in many ways. But unfortunately, the majority of the population does not have access to this type of support

A few months after overcoming this onerous period of time, I began working at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. I and five other people schedule women’s/men’s health appointments and procedures for all of our clinics throughout Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. I took thousands of calls that ranged from a patient calling to renew a prescription to a patient in crisis after finding out about a pregnancy. Though all of these calls were what began to sway my decision to pursue a career in medicine, there was one call that convinced me. The call came in on a Friday, a day that is usually slow due to most of the clinics closing over the weekend. The lines had been quiet for a good ten minutes and I was practicing knitting with my coworker. My phone finally rang as I was mid-stitch and I dropped my cringe-worthy knitting project to pick up.

I could immediately tell the call would be a long one. The girl on the other end sounded despondent and was barely able to speak through her heavy sobbing. I calmly asked her if she was calling to make an appointment, to which she responded that she couldn’t have her baby. I told her I could assist her with scheduling an appointment if this was her decision, to which she continuously sobbed, “You don’t understand, I have no choice,” while continuing to cry. I sat on the line with her for what felt like eternity, occasionally asking simply in what way I could help her. She finally responded, “I’m 14 and my father wants me to keep the baby because I made a ‘stupid choice’.” I remember feeling trapped but knowing that in the state she was calling from, minors could not have certain appointments scheduled without documented parental permission or a judicial bypass — an order from a judge that is unfortunately difficult for a young person to obtain.

I had dealt with coercion situations before but not a situation where a parent legally had the right to decide for his child whether she would become a parent. I asked if she had another legal guardian whom she could speak with about the matter to which she matter-of-factly replied, “I don’t even know who my mom is.” As I explained the process of the judicial bypass to her, a door slammed in the background and she cut me off mid- sentence: “I need to go, my father is home, thank you.” I heard a dial tone, sat back in my chair, and took a deep breath. We never heard from her again.

I couldn’t help but think of my own parents’ unconditional love and support during my time of need. My job working at Planned Parenthood never failed to humble me and remind me that the support network in my own life is the exception to the rule. I know that when choosing a career in healthcare, I will again be in situations where there will be nothing that I can do to help. However, I do know that I will always have the power to be compassionate toward other people — and when I can help, I will always keep both my support system and those who go without support systems in the back of my mind.

I will never forget the moment I felt pure joy again at 22-years-old, after a long five-mile run in bitter 20-degree weather. I stood there, completely out of breath, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, that out of breath feeling wasn’t from panic, it was from exhilaration. Today, I can’t remember the last time I fell from the sky into my bed, waking up afraid of dying…but it’s a feeling I’ll never forget. For some people, whether their disorder is mental or physical, feeling consistently unwell is their reality. I will never be able to repay the people in my life for the sacrifices they made and time they spent helping me become a healthy, happy person. But being able to devote my life to doing this for others who need support represents for me the ultimate “payment forward”.

Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
Abigail Thayer

Aspiring freelance blogger focusing on normalizing openness related to mental health difficulty, body image and how these topics pertain to race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

See all posts by Abigail Thayer

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