No-one is invulnerable
beyondblue’s recent survey of Australian doctors confirmed that doctors have substantially higher rates of psychological distress and suicide attempts than other professions and the general public. But it was not until anxiety and depression affected one of our members that it really hit home.
A story of cumulative pressures
My experience with this illness started in a fairly mundane way. I was exposed to a gradual buildup of stressors that eventually came to overwhelm me, much like the frog placed in the slowly heated water that eventually boils to death. Fortunately I was able to extricate myself in time.
I was a junior consultant anesthetist working as a VMO in both public and private practice. I was busy trying to establish myself professionally while trying to raise a young family with a partner who also worked full time. As I picked up work, I was required to participate in more on-call rosters.
We took on a large mortgage so there was more pressure on me to increase my income. I started to feel my life was out of control and I had no idea how to fix the situation. Add a family tragedy and some extremely stressful clinical incidents at work into the mix and I clearly wasn’t coping.
Reaching a crisis point
I found it increasingly difficult to sleep, I was unpleasant to be around and I cut myself off from those who were most concerned about me. It was very difficult for me to ask for help. I felt I should be coping and was ashamed I wasn’t and I turned to self-medication to try to deal with my problems.
I reached a crisis point and I had to get help. Through my GP I found a supportive psychiatrist who got me on the right antidepressant after some trial and error. I also saw a psychologist who helped me work through some of my perfectionist tendencies and negative thinking and I took time off to re-evaluate my life.
Reappraised values and goals
A few years down the track I am much happier. I may not be quite as well off financially as I would have been if I had kept going down the old path, but I am far richer in friendship, health and enjoyment of life. And I believe I am a much better doctor and person as a result.
I know I am still vulnerable to another episode of anxiety or depression but I have developed strategies to recognise the warning signs and seek help earlier. I learnt that no one is indispensable and there will always be great demands on your time. You need to be wise about what you take on.
Many of my colleagues commented to me afterwards that they were surprised this could have happened to me. I guess the lesson is that no one is invulnerable.