Hello, finally getting around to introducing myself and how student debt continues to shape my life. I recently wrote this piece as a therapy exercise and this seemed like a great place to share it. I was thinking I would record and submit it for the week of action?
The One That Got Away
“Child who grew up with substance abuse in the household”
“ADHD- dissociative type”
“Bipolar II with dysthymia”
They’ve all been suggested as explanations for what went wrong at some point or another.
For me it was always the same thing- failure to thrive.
Labels that never felt defining but seemed to help other people understand me and those who loved me a little better.
And isn’t it important to be understood?
When I informed my counselor at Florida State University College of Medicine I was withdrawing, she said “Sarah, you will never regret doing this for yourself.” I think about her words all the time. It hasn’t been easy.
My name is Sarah Simone Judd. I’m a sister to six siblings and a daughter to two incredibly kind people. I am a wife to a Naval Officer who’s served on three deployments in the Middle East.
I have a Master’s degree in Public Health from Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), 50% of an M.D. from Florida State University (FSU), and an undergraduate degree in History and a minor in American Sign Language from New York University (NYU).
I currently work as a COVID-19 Case Investigator at the Virginia Department of Health in Norfolk, Virginia.
I also have $200,000 in personal student loan debt, an $80,000 education debt to the Army I never got the choice to pay back that is destroying my credit, and I have to help my parents- an unemployed cook and a public school teacher- pay back the $100,000 (now $200,000) in loans they took out for my undergraduate education.
While in medical school at Florida State University, my counselor, mentors, & professors would often say “You must be so brilliant to have gotten this far…”. Confused, I would sarcastically respond “That’s nice to hear you think I’m smart but I’m failing medical school… can you help me pass this test and we’ll talk later about why you all keep saying that to me in the middle of a crisis?”
They knew I needed a break. But couldn’t figure out why I was rundown and neither could I. I’d been running my whole life, why did I have to stop now?
When all was said and done, I’d failed STEP 1 - my first medical licensure exam- twice (first by 8 points, then 3), was stripped of my HPSP Army scholarship, I was upside down on the car loan I had to take out for school, almost $15,000 in medical debt, and I had to ask the question I was most afraid of: “Is there financial aid available to students on break?” The school’s answer was of course no.
While I was still trying to wrap my head around how I was going to pick up the pieces, my classmate, Matt, an entire person I never got the chance to really know, committed suicide.
It felt like tunnel vision, like I was a kid again, screaming at my entire family to stop hurting themselves and the people they loved-
-my mom to stop using food as a coping mechanism and teaching me to
-my dad, to stop using alcohol to cope with his ex-wife taking my older sisters from him
-my older brother, 14 years old, to please stop fighting and cutting himself and using drugs
-both my best friend and little sister, to stop trying to disappear into nothing and just eat
When everything felt still again, I remembered the number one rule: don’t hurt yourself or the people you love. Everything would be okay as long as you don’t do that. Take a step back. Breathe. Simone, listen to yourself.
And so I looked at my individual life:
My sense of self & everything I’d learned
My career: broken but possibly salvageable
My body: how in the span of two years I went from having zero medical conditions to a multitude (sores covering the inside of my mouth, vitamin deficiency, anemia, panic attacks, asthma, repeated stress injuries, decreasing exercise tolerance, and suicidality)
And then I looked at my partner, my dogs, my family, all of my friends- more than I’d ever dreamed I could have- and I chose that.
You can’t heal people if you’re sick and you can’t change systems of oppression from the inside. Survivors of trauma know how to survive. Staying would have killed me- all the signs were there.
What continues to hurt me every day is that it killed Matt. That 400 doctors a year commit suicide. That’s a rate double the general population for doctors and triple that for medical students.
Doctors, residents, medical students- people so good and selfless they’ve given up so much of their lives just to serve others- that they’ve been devalued and devalue themselves to a point of absolute pain and desperation. I worry about them every day.
I worry about the 10,000 chronically unmatched doctors in the United States- people who graduated from medical school but are consistently rejected from residency programs with an average of $200k in debt.
I don’t worry about the 550,000 lives lost in America from coronavirus. But I do worry about their loved ones and healthcare providers who are very much alive and grieving while already in so much pain themselves.
My mother, Laura, believes middle names, when given with intention, are defining of ones character. My middle name is ‘Simone’. It means “one who hears”.
I’ll spend the rest of my life hearing the echo of Matt’s life, the echo of the life of every doctor and medical student who has died by suicide, the life of every American who has died at the hands of a for-profit healthcare system- and I’ll do my best to pay them forward.
My life’s passion- healing people, hearing their pain- culminated into nothing I wanted, but something that’s needed.
I leave you with a quote from “Classic ‘fasch’ Fasciitis” an MS4 from FSU who two years ago, exclaimed to my sister across the bar she managed: “Sarah is your sister?! Of COURSE I know her- she’s a bit of an urban legend around these parts- the one that got away”.
Sarah Simone Judd