I start my predoctoral internship today, which is one of my last requirements before graduating with my doctorate in Clinical Psychology. I’ve wanted to be a clinical psychologist since I was 16 years old. I’ve never wanted anything as badly as I’ve wanted this. It used to scare me how badly I wanted this.

There have been so many moments over the last five years where I’ve doubted myself, doubted my clinical skills, doubted my ability to finish my graduate program, etc. Being a graduate student is incredibly difficult but being a graduate student with chronic pain/illness is a whole other ball game.

While I’ve been in pain almost every single day since April of 2015, I was not officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia until April of 2019. There were so many days over the last five years when I woke up and just wanted to immediately crawl back into bed. There were so many days where I was so physically and mentally drained. There were plenty of days in which I had to compartmentalize and do everything in my power so I could somewhat manage my pain (I was usually unsuccessful) before seeing clients all day.

There were an endless number of days in which I sat in my own therapist’s office and sobbed because I didn’t know how to do this. I didn’t know how to be the future psychologist I wanted to be while also navigating my chronic pain. For the last five years, I didn’t even think I could get through the next minute, let alone hour, day, week, or month in that much pain while also working on my dissertation, seeing clients, attending classes, completing coursework, babysitting, and trying to maintain somewhat of a social life.

On my worst days, I screamed into pillows, threw pillows against my bedroom wall, and sobbed on my bedroom floor until I eventually picked myself back up. On those days, I thought about my 16-year-old self who wanted this so badly. There were so many things she was still figuring out, but she got this one thing exactly right.

As a 16-year-old, I sometimes spent Friday nights in my childhood bedroom thinking of all the children and adolescents in the world who were feeling misunderstood, invisible, alone, etc. and who were struggling with mental health issues but didn’t have anyone they could talk to. Just thinking of them made me cry.

On my worst days, I think about my clients who are far more resilient than I will ever be. One of my clients recently told me that she enjoyed our sessions because for the first time, she had someone she could talk to. In that moment, I thought about all those nights long ago and how this is exactly what I dreamed of.

I’m especially grateful to my friends who have seen me fall apart over and over and over again and who still love me despite that. The last five years have been especially demanding, but I still want this as badly as I did all those years ago. My entire life changed at 16 when I decided I wanted to be a clinical psychologist and I will be forever grateful for that.

Sandra Alami was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is a member of the chronic pain/illness community as she has fibromyalgia. She moved to Arlington, Virginia in September of 2016 to begin her graduate program. She is currently working on receiving her PsyD in Clinical Psychology. Upon graduation and licensure, Sandra hopes to work with children and adolescents in a community mental health setting. She also hopes to advocate for those with chronic pain/illness as she understands firsthand how challenging it is to live with an invisible illness.