It’s been a long 6 months since I hit crisis point and have worked towards recovery.
I had to fill in a form about what’s happened and it asked when the ‘medical problem’ first started. I had no idea what to put! One of my earliest blogs, ‘Warning signs‘ is all about this. Life has been tough for a while. Not in a major way; no massive worries (a big part of why I feel so much guilt about it). Just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do, noise and emotional burdens and constantly feeling like I couldn’t get on top of everything or have any time to recharge.
In many ways, this hasn’t changed. I haven’t changed, although I have tried to in some aspects (’emotional boundaries’ etc), but that’s not easy. The break from work was necessary; without at doubt. Although I knew I was struggling, I couldn’t change things quickly enough and my mind and body seemed to then make the decision for me; it got to the point there was no choice. I simply had to rest; I completely shut down seemingly without any control over it.
The first 2 months off work are pretty much a blur. This was very much time of self-preservation, recharging and recovery and little more. Then life built back up to a relatively normal level of functioning but still not particularly happy or back to the old ‘me.’ By New Year onward, things had more or less plateaued and I felt stuck. Much better than I had been but without being able to see how I could recover fully back to ‘normal.’ I felt very frustrated. But what is ‘normal?’ What had previously become normality was not happy or sustainable. And I knew that I wasn’t the end point of recovery that I needed. A lot of the triggers were still very much present in my life. The time off had allowed me to sort out some of the things that had weighed on my mind for a long time. Yet, it almost felt like being OFF work was becoming a trigger in itself.
The idea of returning to work did not fill me with joy! I am somebody who doesn’t do things by halves and therefore find it a very draining job. I couldn’t remember any aspect of it that I enjoyed. I was still so tired and ‘bad’ days with regard to mood and wellbeing were still relatively frequent; work was only one factor causing the problems in the first place. But there was no choice; I had to go back. My main concerns were mostly around energy and keeping up with the workload, rather than my ability to be a safe and competent doctor; that was never in question in my own mind or that of my colleagues.
Being at work itself has been fine; as well as the aspects I struggle with, I have even found myself enjoying some of it! Despite having some CBT around how to manage the emotional demands and so on, I have found it very difficult to put this into practice. I am who I am; highly empathic and an unfailing desire to do my utmost for the patients. This has meant I have tended to place myself under a lot of pressure and made myself more work than I have maybe needed to. But, I have already fallen back into my old habits. I still want to be that ‘listening, caring, human, normal, lovely’ doctor that I am described as. It is the core of who I am and how I practice and I am proud of this. But a balance needs to be struck somehow in order to preserve myself and I have not figured that out yet.
There is plenty of evidence out there that, in simple terms, being at work is better for psychological health and wellbeing than not (obviously not including times when a particular type or place of employment is the main problem!). I have discussed this with my patients many a time. Without a job to go to, it is very easy to fall into a trap of drifting about relatively aimlessly. This is not to say the time is fruitless but it is unstructured. Contact with other people is diminished on the whole. Staying at home all day is easy. Life can lack purpose and become quite isolated, especially when ‘depression’ is involved.
For me, work has brought about a huge turning point. It feels good to know what I am doing each day again. I have a routine. I have a reason to get up, dressed and eat breakfast by a decent time. I have a reason to dress smartly rather than in comfortable sloppy clothes all the time. I have something to do beyond mundane chores. I have a reason to leave the house. I am interacting with other ‘real’ people again (rather than mostly through written word online etc). My mind and brain are being used and challenged properly again. I am something more than ‘just’ a Mum and doer of housework once more. All these things contribute to increasing self-worth and purpose. The amazing child-free Thursdays now also seem particularly precious and give me something to look forward to; they are also much more focused. Other people have also noticed how I now seem brighter in myself than I did a month ago. Admittedly, another huge contributor to a improved mood for me is the lengthening days and signs of Spring.
Maybe this is the ‘back to normal’ that I was yearning for. Life still has many challenges, but this is a new ‘normal’ that is much more manageable. (And, no….I myself am still not normal!😜)