Wednesday, March 21, 2007

This I Believe: Why Psychology is Important to Me

Over the weekend I came across a website entitled This I Believe, a national media project that engages people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide them in their daily lives, which inspired me to do something a bit different in this week’s post. I have decided to share a personal account that heavily influenced my core values and ultimately impacted the decision to devote my life to the discipline of psychology.

A few weeks after my fourteenth birthday, I awoke to an intense sensation of pain in the right side of my abdominal region. That night I was rushed to the emergency room after I could no longer withstand the enduring agonizing pain. The doctors performed various tests and eventually determined that I had an uncommon form of hepatitis known as autoimmune hepatitis or AIH. AIH is a disease that can be described as the body “rejecting” its own liver. For unknown reasons, the immune system attacks healthy cells, which leads to the inflammation and scarring of the liver, which if left untreated results in cirrhosis, liver failure, and eventually death. As in all autoimmune diseases, the treatment is to suppress the immune system with the use of immunosuppressant drugs, to minimize the damage and allow for healing in the afflicted organ. Unfortunately for me, that is when things got even worse.

The lesser side effects of the drugs, such as lethargy, headaches, weight gain and complete hair loss, were hard on me as I tried to adjust to the new social pressures of high school, but I managed, with the support of family and friends. However, what was not expected was the complete eradication of my immune system. Without that to protect me from illness, I became gravely ill and was transported to UCLA Medical Center (pictured to the right). Over the next four months I would endure fevers as high as one hundred and six degrees, a spread of infection, major bleeding, excruciating pain, and three life-threatening surgeries. By the time I was released from the hospital, I was physically and emotionally numb from all of the suffering. As one horrific ordeal ended, another began. Confronted with my own mortality at such a young age, I became severely depressed and began to withdraw from friends and family. It was nearly impossible for me to get my life, goals, and priorities back in order and things only appeared to worsen. The physical scars that still cover much of my body were nothing compared to the emotional ones. My parents soon realized that they alone could not provide me with the adequate help I needed.

When my parents first approached me about seeing a psychologist I was extremely hesitant. I believed I could handle my problems by myself. Deep down, however, I knew I could not. I eventually agreed to meet with psychologist because I desired the guidance necessary to get my life back in order again. I would have never thought that simple decision would become one of the most significant and most influential decisions of my life. Over the next few months, I had my own personal forum in which I could discuss things that were of real significance to me. With the assistance of a mental health professional I quickly returned to my old self again. This is how my passion for psychology was instilled. I hope to one day be in that position to help others in the same way I was helped.

Often times we can be distracted with how psychology is portrayed in our culture through movies, television, soundbites and politics, but ultimately I believe that the fundamental goal of psychology is to help people achieve and maintain a strong and healthy state of mental wellbeing. As a physician treats physical wounds, a psychologist treats mental distress. In order to live a complete life, we need both a healthy body and a healthy mind.

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