As Mental Health Awareness Week comes to an end I thought I’d write a bit about my personal journey and (hopefully) warn against the dangers of work stress.
I struggled with my health all through uni. As an introvert, I found the social life expected was too much for me, it was so far out of my comfort zone, I had to pretend to be someone else and that cost me more energy than I had. Team this was a course (medicine) that I found very difficult; the high proportion of patient contact was great experience but, again, cost me energy I didn’t have.
With my commitments sapping me energy, my mood plummeted and my thoughts followed. I felt I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t cope, I was completely useless and I had imposted syndrome – someone was going to find out, I was a fraud and discover I didn’t have what it takes to be a doctor.
I got through medical school thinking “I just need to get through, it will be better when I qualify, there will be fewer assessments and I can get on with doing what I want to do, be a doctor”.
Unfortunately, when I qualified, while the daunting exams were over and I felt relieved that I’d made it, the stress did not stop. It might sound silly but until I qualified, I don’t think I realised that people’s lives were literally in my hands!
Yes, as a junior doctor, you have the support of a team but when on call or, as I was, working in a hospital with few doctors, it was down to me. I felt completely overwhelmed with the responsibility and felt I didn’t know enough. Imposter syndrome was crushing my confidence, the anxiety was crippling. Every time I needed to think clearly and quickly, my brain froze. Literally, no thoughts would come through my mind and I struggled to take action.
I spent many moments crying in the toilet. But this just led to guilt, I couldn’t do my job hiding and crying, so I’d dry my eyes and put on a brave face.
I still thought, “if I just get through this stage…” but I couldn’t survive thinking that at every stage. I tried to confide in my colleagues and they reassured me and supported me as best they could but my health couldn’t hold up.
One day I was a doctor, the next I was a patient.
My depression was severe and I was experiencing psychotic symptoms with my anorexia. My life was at risk with self harm and suicidal behavior. Of course, there were many contributing factors but work stress was right up there!
If you’re feeling work stress, please talk to someone, don’t hope it will get better, it needs managing. Your health is more important than any job.