Return to Work: Actually Quite Refreshing!

Anybody that has followed my blog will know that work was a major contributor to my decline into burnout/depression. Not all due to this, certainly; there were (and still are) quite a few factors from other parts of my life too.

Within work, there were various things that got to me, mostly due to exhaustion, frustration and negativity; the sheer workload, the time pressure and lack of time per patient, the emotional intensity, the lack of resources, the inadequacy of the system, feeling inadequate as a doctor as a result, misuse and abuse of the NHS, some patient attitudes (selfishness and ‘entitlement’ particularly), patient grumbles and the injustice of this more often than not. Hence the writing of that first blog The Other Side – I got to the end of my tether feeling like me as an individual and the practice as a whole was being held responsible and blamed for all the cracks in the system; yet the majority of the time it was not the fault of either. Yes, I have put that bluntly; many patients are wonderful, understanding and helpful but others make the job so much more challenging that it needs to be.

So, here I am 2 weeks after my first day back and feel like I’ve never been away in many ways! I’m phasing in gradually and will slowly work back up to ‘normal’ so the pressure is not really on yet. I’ve started off with less patients, longer appointments and shorter days and am increasing up bit by bit each day. A lot of the appointments have also only been ‘released’ at fairly short notice so I’m not yet seeing huge amounts of complexity, but the generally simpler ‘urgent’ type problems. However, I have already felt that frustration and passion around ‘injustices’ again; if only I didn’t have such a great desire to ‘fix’ everyone and everything and want to make everybody understand how to work together towards a greater good.

But….overall, things feel brighter now than a few weeks ago. I am not entirely sure why. Undoubtedly, the increasing hours of daylight and sunshine makes a huge positive difference to me. I am using my Sunlight Alarm/SAD lamp but I’ll reserve judgement on that until I’ve used it for a bit longer. The recent CBSO event where I had a chance to enjoy music again was absolutely amazing.

Something that the return to work has done, is brought a clear structure, routine and purpose back into my life. Initially, when I first went off work, I was all over the place which is what I needed at that point; to just give in to that need to rest as and when, both physically and mentally (I don’t actually remember consciously deciding this – it seemed to just happen). As time went on, the family routine became my routine again; getting everybody organised in the mornings and ready to leave the house etc. I gradually did more; I certainly wasn’t just floating around completely aimlessly, but there was no particular structure and specific goals had to be very deliberately planned rather than being defined by life commitments and events. It’s very easy to lose focus and impetus in this context. It’s also very easy to get stuck at home drifting through chores and just slaving away for others without really feeling like a person with any value or self-worth.

The return to work was something I was dreading and I can’t say I am loving the job again….yet (maybe I will one day?). But, it has been better than anticipated. I am not finding it (so far) as demanding as I thought I would (although I am worried about getting back up to ‘full speed’ mostly as I am concerned I will lack ‘recharging’ opportunities). I have already seen a few of my ‘usual’ patients and have actually enjoyed these interactions and also some of the other consultations; I didn’t expect this as it had all become a huge burden and trial before, even the ‘easiest’ situations.

Something that has surprised me is that I feel like life is falling back into place again to a degree. It’s good to mix with other people again; I have lovely colleagues across the whole practice team and they have been so wonderfully friendly and supportive. It’s good to know again what I will be doing on each day of the week and have a pattern back in my life. The opportunities to be alone and quiet and get things done for me or that I enjoy were always such a rare commodity that I desperately yearned for but rarely had. Having been off work, I think I was starting to take it for granted a little by the last few weeks and was maybe getting a bit stale just being at home most of the time. These alone and ‘free’ times are becoming something to be savoured and valued once again which also brings out a sense of something to look forward to and increases my motivation to make the most of them.

An odd benefit to going to work too…lack of children! As much as I adore them and am grateful for their health and ‘liveliness'(!), I do wish I could pause or mute them at times! (Noise and constant invasion of physical personal space is still something I find very overwhelming and difficult to cope with.) At work, I get to sit on my own without being clambered on, poked and prodded by 2 children. No-one is screaming or shouting at me. Nobody is saying ‘Mummy, mummy, mummy’ 20 times/minute. I can drink hot tea. I can choose what I eat rather than making it ‘child-friendly’ then eating leftovers rather than a meal of my own. I can go to the toilet alone! And it actually makes the times with the children better; more meaningful and focused.

There are still life challenges and there is still work to be done in terms of ongoing recovery and adaptations to all aspects of my life (and psychological outlook etc) in order to stay healthy and well long-term, but this now feels much more achievable.

So far, so good. I’m now feeling much more optimistic about the future.

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