The History of my ‘Journey’ (of Burnout and Depression)
My ‘story’ (and blog) started quite accidentally on September 16th 2017 when I wrote ‘The Other Side’ and shared it with just a few people – who then wanted to share it more widely as it struck a chord both with other medics feeling a similar way and other people and relatives struggling with mental health problems.
At that point, I was diagnosed with ‘Burnout and secondary depression.’ I completely shut down very obviously to the outside world – I pretty much stayed in bed for days as if both body and mind gave me no choice but to give in and rest in every way. I could hardly vocalise my problems and feelings to anyone and it turned out writing it down was the only way I could process and express myself. I can barely remember writing that first piece but my vulnerability and raw transparency is probably what made it so well-received (read nearly 43,000 times to date).
There was nothing majorly wrong with my life but it was just an incessant roller-coaster of caring for everybody else every waking minute of every day – but not at all for myself – I was utterly exhausted in every way. Hence ‘there is nothing left to give;’ I had given everything.
I found the job intensely draining, especially as I am a highly empathetic practitioner – I simply can’t seem to practice without giving every bit of me to the person in front of me and ‘taking on’ their emotions. I have a yearning to fix all their problems and take away their pain; in whichever form that is. I can’t of course but that doesn’t stop the intense feeling of needing to try. I found this a really tough concept to accept when I thought this was the main contributing factor as it is what defines me as a GP, what the patients know and appreciate me for and my main strength as a doctor (along with the corresponding communication skills). Therefore the main focus of discussion in CBT sessions after this was how to preserve myself without betraying who I feel I am as a person and who I feel I am as a doctor – but there was no simple answer of course.
I knew I couldn’t completely blame my job; at that stage, my sons were aged only 3 and 1 and highly challenging in every way. There was no let-up at all; they needed me every second of every day (and night interruptions) and, as an extreme introvert, I found the constant barrage of ‘battles, tantrums, cries, noise and demands’ that I described in ‘Where is the line?’ really difficult – there was no solitude and quiet to recharge – and certainly no ‘me’ left. When I wasn’t at work, I was dealing with the children and/or doing housework – from waking moment to going to bed. Every. Single. Day.
Returning to ‘Normal’ Life
I had 5 months off work and phased back in in February 2018. All went well in the most part; the main change I made was to give myself a bit of child-free time each week to get a bit of that desperately needed quiet and also to achieve those tasks that had also got pushed out (like appraisal work!) as there was never an opportunity to do them. This made a massive difference. I still found my job intense but this had less of a negative impact on me.
Eyes are Opened
Things changed drastically in my life exactly 6 months ago today; part of the reason I am writing this now as today has felt quite emotionally profound. What had felt like relatively mild issues between my (ex)husband and I came to a head in rather a major way. Life was never going to be the same again. By 2 months later it had become very obvious that the marriage could not continue.
Why do I mention this now especially as it is so personal? Because, retrospectively, I realised that the problems between us were probably the major factor in what led to my depression in the first place. It is true I was burnt out – of course I was given the way my life was. It is true I was depressed. But the main reason for that was not the source I had previously thought i.e. it was NOT my job. And that is important to say; both for my general readers and also for my wonderful colleagues at my practice.
Here and Now
Where I am now psychologically? In a very different place to September 2017. In a far worse situation in terms of life issues. Quite frankly, it has been a living hell which has got progressively worse as we go through a now very messy divorce process despite my best efforts to make things as good as possible, but it seems it is not to be.
My children do not drain me anywhere near as much now. They are that bit older which makes a massive difference; subtle things have had a huge beneficial impact such as being able to have a shower and knowing they’ll be ok for those 5 minutes! Admittedly, I do sometimes still wish I could turn their volume down a bit! They are still incredibly full-on but have such amazing personalities. Overall, they bring me endless joy and I relish every second with them.
I love my job; I think more than ever. I stopped worrying about changing who I am and how I practice. I don’t need to now. I am being the doctor I naturally am. There is no denying that it is emotionally intense and I finish a working day exhausted. The system is under massive pressure, despite us working longer and harder than ever, and every day is full of challenges. But I am being true to who I am. And my patients appreciate me for the doctor I am. Therefore I have a huge sense of job satisfaction now; at individual level at least. Attempting to change how I practice would have been a huge mistake and the beginning of the end of my career as a GP.
Stressed but not Depressed
In the last 6 months I have struggled with brain injury, PTSD and anxiety/panic symptoms (which I’d never had before) and flare-up of my physical chronic disease. Then there’s all the ‘stuff’ that has to be done and is highly stressful as a result of the current situation. The culmination of all this has been tough to cope with and necessitated time off work again for short periods. But I am fine overall. I really am. I am certainly not depressed and haven’t been for months. Not only that, despite the current difficulties, those that have known me a long time have told me they can see the ‘old me’ returning; the real ‘me’ that was happy and full of life.
My Future; Psychologically
My future life is not going to be the life that I expected and desired. I am hugely grieving what has gone to the point it physically aches inside and tears flow frequently. But, life as it was was not happy or fulfilled. My subconscious knows that life in the future will be far better that it was. I am not a depressed/anxious sort of person normally and have always been an optimist hence my ‘motto:’ In every negative experience, there is a positive and something to learn.’ And this certainly applies in the fullest sense after recent events!
The Future of ‘GP and Human’
Many people have expressed concern about such openness about my personal situation and mental health being ‘out there’ and this has reached a point that I really have no choice but to cease any further blogging of this nature. I initially felt very disappointed about this as I know it has been appreciated by many, I felt like I had finally done something worthwhile in my life and others have done similar to me so I couldn’t see an issue as such (I was never working when not fully fit to do so and this is obviously the main point). But I don’t feel have any desire to continue now anyway and I do understand why this has to happen.
However, I am not prepared to delete the content to date as I have had so much feedback from many people who have found it useful to read; the openness is what has made people feel less alone in their own struggles. I therefore make no apology for leaving it all online.
As well as the blog, my online support groups are actively used by medics who find it useful to interact and support each other. My social media account posts are mostly about day to day life things and sharing useful or interesting things around healthcare etc i.e. all very benign!
I do hope that I may continue to write about various topics in future. Part of the impulse to write comes from that passion within me to try and help issues around us (not as naively as that sounds but every little counts hopefully!) and support those whose voices are not easily heard (e.g. my recent references to Domestic Abuse); I now have a platform I can use for a greater good hopefully. Future content is likely to be inspired from both personal and external experiences and sources but the origin will not be explicit.
In general terms, I am passionate about respect, integrity, selflessness, honesty and justice; in real terms, treating others as well as possible.
Specifically, I feel compelled to do my bit to try to improve the healthcare experience in the UK; both from a patient and staff perspective. I find the lack of understanding and compassion for the ‘other side’ (that phrase again!) incredibly frustrating and have a great desire to portray how it really is to those that don’t seem to understand; as my first blog said ‘But you don’t know that; you can’t see.’
Farewell to all from ‘GP & Human’ in this personal form. Thank you all so much for your loyal support as you followed my journey; it meant more than I can express.