MY authentic story – loss, learning, life and MENTAL HEALTH.
Today I’m going to reflect upon my experiences of my own mental health, how having difficulties has enabled me to learn about myself, wellbeing, which in turn has led to a happier life.
I was doing everything right
I decided to be a doctor in my 20s, I was fortunate enough to get through medical school. It was fun in some ways, being able to learn constantly, and also being with people, helping them. It was also very intense, and I found it difficult to perform at this high level constantly. Whilst this was a high-pressure experience, but nothing compared to working as a doctor.
I decided to be a doctor in my 20s, I was fortunate enough to get through medical school. It was fun in some ways, being able to learn constantly, and also being with people, helping them. It was also very intense, and I found it difficult to perform at this high level constantly. Whilst this was a high-pressure experience, but nothing compared to working as a doctor
I continued to work hard, and was able to serve thousands of people with health advice. This still makes me feel proud today.
Other elements of my life were going well also, I got married at the same time I graduated, and we have been blessed with two wonderful daughters over the years.
I had everything I had wanted. A well-paid professional job, being a partner, helping others through my work, being married to my wonderful wife and having two incredible daughters. But things weren’t right.
Why aren’t I OK?
Once I was a GP, things were still complex, people were unwell in a different way, which took me a long time to understand. It was often their lifestyle, social situation and psychological mindset that was making them unwell.
As a GP I saw these things affecting people, and tried to increasingly to help them in other ways. I learned about CBT and counselling and tried to use these skills to help people as well as my normal roles.
I also took on more professional roles and qualifications as I always had done.
I can’t tell you exactly how, but things became increasingly hard. I had a headache that never went. I felt increasingly tired. I drank more coffee to keep going through the 11-hour days.
But things just kept getting harder. I couldn’t concentrate, and was struggling to help others.
I remember cycling home having suicidal thoughts for months on end.
I came home from work exhausted and would either fall asleep or get angry with my wife and children.
I remember one day eventually telling someone at work that I was struggling.
And then, I remember a voice in my head ‘You’re more ill than the people you’re helping’
So I stopped. I didn’t go to work.
And I saw a doctor. And they told me I was burnt-out, depressed and anxious.
And I felt like a failure. Endless guilt and shame. A failure as a doctor, colleague, husband and father. Being ill was for other people, not for me.
And then I learned…
Being away from work was difficult. But slowly the guilt lifted over some months. I slept a lot, saw friends, and tried to exercise and look after myself.
I was offered antidepressants, but I didn’t want them. I saw in patients they often had no helpful effect. And they could stop them from learning about themselves and why they were unwell.
So I decided to learn instead.
I realised I felt flat a lot of the time. But I didn’t need to, and sometimes I felt happy. I remember doing a CBT course and thinking that I didn’t really know how I felt a lot of the time.
So I learned about how I felt, what emotions I had, how my body felt when I was happy, sad, stressed. I could start to see these things inside of me.
And I learned to meditate. And thought this I could feel calm, and see the world and myself much more clearly that I had done previously.
I had previously picked up messages from my childhood that I should work hard, help others and pursue wealth and status.
And then I saw I was leading someone else’s life. Chasing status and money, constantly helping others without looking after myself led to my exhaustion.
I then realised I could look after myself, aim to be happy and healthy, and that that was OK. In fact, it was fundamental.
But I could see now that to help others, I had to be mentally well in myself. And I was only starting to learn what that meant.
Things are easier now…
The past few years have been, and continue to be a process of learning, self-compassion and growth.
But I feel much, much better. The happiest and most content I have felt in my life on a daily basis.
And now I want to help others.
I can see there are a great many issues to content with for men, and mental health.
I know that men can often struggle with their mental health, as I did, but often don’t know where to start.