Coming together through storytelling

Despite the fact that we are learning to help and to heal, most medical students would agree that it can be challenging to admit to ourselves or our peers when we are not doing well and to reach out for help. One of the biggest barriers seems to be the shame and the stigma associated with mental illness or, more broadly, with not being able to cope with everything that comes our way. When things are going poorly, many of us stay silent, try to handle it alone as much as possible, and seek help only when things become dire.

The Aesculapian Society, the Student Wellness Committee and Mind the Gap are three student groups at the University of Ottawa who came together and decided to make a change and start building up a culture of support within our student body. Having heard of similar events being very successful at other schools across Canada, we decided to run an open-mic event inviting students to share a story of a time when they have struggled. We called our event “Our Stories”.

mic pic

We wanted students to know that the event was a safe place where they could feel at-ease listening or telling these stories, so we decided to host the event off campus. However, having never run the event before we weren’t sure that we’d sell enough tickets to cover the cost of a venue. This is where the OMSA Wellness Initiative Grant saved the day. We applied for funding and thanks to the OMSA grant we were able to rent out a private room in an Irish cultural center, with a pub just outside the doors. We started collecting stories through an online submission form, and at first the going was a bit slow. As the date of the event drew nearer, the submissions started pouring in and we had to extend the time allotted at the venue! We recruited volunteers to read anonymous stories and hosted a prep night the evening before to allow storytellers a chance to practice reading their story to a small group before they stood up at the mic.

We decided to sell tickets at a low cost in order to cover the cost of a few extra items, including snacks. All profits went to a local charity known as Do It For Daron (DIFD), which does important work in the community to encourage young people to talk openly about mental illness. This mission was very in-keeping with the goal of our event and we hope that the money we donated will help them continue to host suicide prevention sessions, work with the school board to develop a mental health curriculum, and prompt discussions that save lives.

Approximately 150 students came to the event and 17 stories were told. The atmosphere was warm and supportive and we couldn’t have imagined the event going better. We have received an abundance of positive feedback about the event. Importantly, we have heard that more students have shared their own stories with friends, and have even gone to get help that they had been avoiding for some time. We hope that this event will become an annual tradition that will foster a culture of support, openness, and solidarity among medical students and beyond.

Thank you so much OMSA for helping us make this happen!




The art of saying “no”

So many of us who go into medical school are overachievers. We have tried to do everything. Student council presidents, valedictorians, researchers, first aiders, varsity athletes, talented musicians, debaters, model UNers, actors, etc. The list goes on. We like to be busy and we’re very good at balancing our schedules and very good at achieving. That’s part of how we ended up in medicine in the first place.

This, our greatest strength, is also our greatest weakness. Anything is good in moderation. However, for any virtue, there is a vice of excess. For me, I know that I struggle with saying “No”. Part of this is because the world is fascinating and I so badly want to help as many people as possible, and part of it is that I don’t want to let anyone down.

Unfortunately, if you don’t say no sometimes, it’s only a matter of time before your schedule gets too full and you end up completely overwhelmed and burnout. I felt burnt out after pushing myself too hard this year and it was challenging to fulfil any of my commitments. I knew I needed a reality check and a shift in my thinking. So I said “No.”

I said “No” to social events when I was tired, to extra curriculars that sounded great but I didn’t have time for. I said “No” to taking on extra work in class. I said “No” to sitting on new subcommittees that didn’t fit with my goals and that I wasn’t completely passionate about. In doing this I made new time for my friends, my family, the hobbies that I love, and commitments that will help me achieve my goals. My stress levels are lower. And, every time saying no gets a little bit easier.

You can be an impressive person without overwhelming yourself. To be the best you, say no to the extraneous and do what you love with 110% commitment. Take breaks when you need them. Saying “No” doesn’t make you any less or weak – it makes you strong and wise!

Say “No” sometimes!