The Bipolar Doc
Today I have the pleasure of sharing a blog kindly written for us by The Bipolar Doc (@doc_bipolar). The Bipolar Doc uses a Twitter profile to share her experiences and break down stigma associated with mental health conditions. She describes herself as a mother, wife, doctor and blogger who is passionate about improving the lives and well being of doctors and reducing Mental Heath stigma. I hope you enjoy her contribution as much as I did.
I am a patient, a mental health patient. I am also a doctor.
For years I said nothing about my struggles, afraid to speak out about for fear of potential repercussions. Instead, every day I put on a mask, a seamless mask that led everyone to believe that I was fine.
But then life became more challenging: the juggling act that comes with having two young children; the pressures of a registrar rota with endless gaps; the relentlessness of the non-clinical demands of trainees... The mask began to crack. The anxiety became overwhelming. My mood dropped to an all time low.
In the Summer of 2017, my psychiatrist signed me off work. I cried. Not for myself, but for the patients I was letting down, for my colleagues who would have to pick up my shifts, for the career that I thought I could never do again. Because as health professionals, we rarely put our own needs first.
I had almost a year off work. Weekly therapy, medication, support and above all, learning the importance of self-care. Prior to this, I believed that to be a good doctor, I had to put my patients first, I had to stay late to show my dedication, help my colleagues by covering extra shifts, excel in all that I did. Whilst I was recovering, I slowly began to realise that by looking after myself, by prioritising myself, I could in fact be an even better doctor.
So, with support, I returned to medicine. But I set myself boundaries. I prioritised my needs. I slowed down and I proved to myself that I could do it.
There is thankfully an increasing awareness of the importance of well-being in medicine. Health professionals don’t have to just get on with it. They don’t have to be seen to cope with everything that the profession throws at them. Instead, it is time to accept that we are vulnerable, just like everyone else.
The biggest thing that changed when I returned to work was that I spoke out. I no longer hid behind a mask. As I spoke, colleagues opened up and I realised that for all that time, I was never really alone.
Here are a few things that have really helped me:
- Find someone you can trust, a mentor, a supervisor or another colleague. This isn’t a portfolio meeting- this is a cuppa and a chat. Tell them how you feel and access the support that they can offer.
- Be your own advocate. Put your own needs first. If going to the gym helps you recharge, then don’t repeatedly skip that in favour of staying late or covering extra shifts. Prioritise you.
- There will always be patients to see and jobs to do. Working through lunch, starving yourself until 4pm does nobody any favours. Taking fifteen minutes to stop and eat will make you more productive and help stave off those mood dips that come with low blood sugars. It may seem like there isn’t time- make time.
- Ground yourself. When things are becoming overwhelming, when jobs are piling up and it seems like you will never get them done, stop. Take a couple of moments to ground yourself in the present moment. Feel the floor under your feet. Notice your breathing. I found that the best time to do this was whilst waiting for a blood gas result to print, or a urine dipstick to process.
- Value each other and lead by example. All too often we get caught up in the business of work. Notice your colleagues efforts and thank them. Praise them when praise is due. Offer to help them. In return they may do the same and slowly the department becomes a place where people feel more positive and valued.
And above all, it’s OK to talk.