It is March 2017, I am giving a presentation to a group of about 20 paediatric trainees. Half way through my presentation I realise my jumper is on inside out and back to front. Without thinking I proceed to switch it around whilst still talking through my slide show. This is certainly not something I would normally do, especially given that nobody else could have possibly noticed it wasn’t on correctly! At this point my brain was going at 150mph. I was feeling on fire, full of energy, disinhibited, wanting to take on new projects left right and centre, unable to control the pace at which I was thinking and doing things. And suddenly, for no obvious reason that afternoon I was at the bottom of a pit, feeling completely apathetic, negative and hopeless. Overcome by anxiety I sat worrying about where I would park the following day, should I take the train, no maybe the car, but if I take the car…. before I knew it I was sobbing.
These huge swings in my mood would occur from one day to the next or sometimes within the same day. I would wake up and look in the mirror unsure of which version of me would look back. By the time I got to work in the mornings, the wonderfully perfected show face was on. Words would automatically come out of my mouth: “I’m fine thanks” “Yes I had a lovely weekend”. But as time passed, I became more and more exhausted. The show face started to crack. The lows got deeper, the anxiety more extreme. I was falling asleep at traffic lights on the way to work. I knew I couldn’t really continue… I was honest with my GP and my psychiatrist. I agreed to stop work for a bit. But somehow this seemed like the worst possible outcome. The guilt. The shame. The sense of failure. Because ultimately doctors cope, they get on with it and bounce back. But I couldn’t fix this. This was bigger than me.
Fast forward to July 2018, I am sitting in clinic dictating my last letter of the week. My mind is still. My thoughts are clear. I can concentrate. I can think. I look at the list of patients I have seen. Not as many as I used to see in a morning clinic but I try to let that go. Instead I look again and recall how close I was to quitting. How I never thought I could be a doctor again. How bitter and resentful I had become. And at that moment I feel proud.
Proud to be a doctor with a mental illness. I take medication. I am in therapy. Because doctors are human, and humans get sick. With help and support you can find a way through.
Reach out. It turns out it was the right thing to do…