Breaking the Silence

Struggle isolated them, until they realized they were not alone

 

Breaking the Silence

Struggle isolated them, until they realized they were not alone.

Struggle isolated them, until they realized they were not alone.

Determined to conquer the pitfalls of stigma and self-doubt, PNWU medical students Logan Noone and Richard Arroyo co-authored “Imperfect Balance,” boldly sharing the stories of ten first-year medical students struggling with behavioral health disorders.

PNWU third-year medical student Logan Noone is well-versed in the art of overcoming confounding obstacles and turning misfortunes into opportunities. In fact, Noone’s entire medical school experience can be credited to one singular focus: his dream of one day being there to help someone suffering from a psychotic break similar to the one that forever changed his life.

Four days after receiving his undergraduate degree, Noone found himself in a psychiatric ward. The experience, which he describes as the worst stage of his life, landed him alongside the roughly 2.6% of Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness which causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs and devastating lows. For Noone, those mood swings were wrought with stifling depressions, manic storms, and suicidal urges.

Acutely aware of the horrors of mental instability, and equally cognizant of the challenges one’s mind can overcome, Noone emerged from the ward committed to doing what he seems to do best: absorbing the rigors of life’s most hapless circumstances and using them as fuel to help others.

My doctor was great and helped me recover, but imagine if he could have connected with me on an even deeper level?” Noone recalls thinking. “Imagine if he could have told me: ‘I’ve been in your shoes, I’ve been in the psych ward. If I can do it, you can do it.’”

In 2017, Noone took the first step toward becoming a doctor capable of doing just that, putting his often-stigmatized diagnosis front-and-center in an application letter to PNWU. That August, Noone arrived in Yakima as one of only 3.5% of applicants accepted into PNWU’s class of 2021. In his first weeks of medical school, however, despite his experience in overcoming the challenges that can plague one’s mind, he found himself struggling to cope with the mental toll of medical school.

After failing his first test, he doubled-down on his studying efforts, only to come away from the second test with an even worse grade. Soon, he was overcome by one thought: what if they made a mistake by accepting someone like me?

“At the beginning, you don’t have those tight social networks, and it felt isolating,” Noone explained. A firm believer in the power of communication, he decided to share the story of his struggles with his peers. In doing so, his classmates responded with eye-opening candor. Hearing their stories, it quickly became clear that he was not alone in his struggles.

Determined to pull the curtain back from the isolation of self-doubt, he recorded the first episode of his podcast, “Talk Mental Health With Logan Noone.” An hour-and-ten-minutes long, the episode introduced Noone in all of his vulnerable-glory, plainly detailing his journey from suicidal undergrad to mission-driven medical student. As his story reverberated around campus, students began reaching out to share their own stories.

Richard Arroyo didn’t listen to many podcasts, but after hearing about one of his peers openly discussing his struggles, he decided to tune in. After all, Arroyo had spent the first few months of medical school isolated and anxious.

“Coming to Yakima and immersing myself in this experience with all of these students — many of them younger than me, and all of them so smart — I felt very alone,” explained Arroyo. “Every failure was a punch in the gut, and you tell yourself you need to try harder, but you’re trying as hard as you can.”

Hearing his classmates open up about their parallel struggles was a startling revelation, and one that Arroyo has carried throughout his medical school education.

“Logan has been teaching me and my colleagues about the importance of communicating and not isolating oneself,” he said. “By discussing the difficulties we’re facing we come to understand that we’re not alone. If we can find ourselves in a community, that lends so much strength to the individual.”

Aware of his own previous aversion to podcasts, Arroyo connected with Noone to help spread the series’ powerful stories even further. An avid reader and passionate writer, he asked Noone if he’d ever considered writing a book.

I really hadn’t,” explained Noone, “until Richard told me: ‘These stories are so good, and we need to get them out to as many people as we can.’” He agreed and, together, they spent the summer of their first year of medical school writing the stories of their classmates who, much like them, had struggled with a variety of challenges, including depression, PTSD, severe trauma and more.

Released just weeks before the Noone and Arroyo were scheduled to take their board exams, “Imperfect Balance: Behavioral Health Disorders & First Year Medical Students,” highlights the lives of ten first-year medical students, each of whom struggles with a behavioral health disorder. “Like medicine,” reads the book's synopsis, “we are inherently imperfect. But it doesn’t stop us.”

By sharing stories of struggle and success, I hope that people will feel comfortable talking about their own issues,” explained Noone.

“A big part of the medical school experience is dealing with the accompanying psychological challenges,” added Arroyo. “It instills the resolve to get up, and to keep getting up is a part of the education. If we can change our perspective a little bit, our struggles can be things that push us forward, not hold us back. That’s an invaluable realization.”

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