I can’t tell you how pleased (in a way) I am to have received so many emails and tweets in response to my last post https://revdavidsouthall.com/2014/01/20/organising-my-pants-drawer-on-self-care-and-depression/. I had tweets and emails telling me what strategies others used, and how they recognised when their resilience and well-being was compromised. And I had private emails from Healthcare Professionals telling me how they were struggling with depression at the moment.
IT STRUCK ME THAT THIS MUST BE ONE OF THE BIGGEST SECRETS IN THE NHS.
AND MAYBE ONE OF THE BIGGER SCANDALS.
THAT NHS STAFF ARE PUSHED TO THE BRINK AND END UP STRESSED, BURNT OUT, AND DEPRESSED.
AND MOSTLY TOO ASHAMED TO SPEAK OF IT- AFTER ALL THEY ARE MEANT TO BE THE CARERS.
So in the end I realised that I was not alone. There are hundreds of us out there; 1000’s even, who have succumbed to depression due to pressures at work. In fact, I remember when I returned to work after my sick leave, I encountered so many staff who, when I told them my story, said “Been there, done that.”
Now I don’t want to get all religious on you, but there is a sentence in one of the world’s sacred texts in which the Teacher says: “You will say Physician, heal thyself.” And if we can’t care for ourselves, then presumably we can’t care for others.
Is all this stress and depression avoidable? How should I know, I’m just a humble chaplain!
Do these episodes become one of those to which we look back and shudder. To right they do.
But there was comfort for me at least in knowing that I wasn’t alone.
So if you think it’s just you, then let me assure you again that it’s not.
So here is one of the emails I received from a colleague fro Worcestershire Acute Trust. I use it with permission but my friend wants to remain anonymous.
Note how closely it mirrors my story.
Maybe it mirrors yours?
I am always happy to be contacted either through the CONTACT ME page on this blog or by telephoning the Hospital on 01905 760124.
I don’t have answers, but sometimes it helps to walk with someone who has travelled a similar terrain.
“Dear Reverend Southall,
Please can I just say a huge thankyou to you for writing this recent article.
In this country, in 2014 there still persists a stigma about “mental health issues”. It must have taken a huge amount of courage for you to write the article in the 1st place! The words “mental” & “nutter” are bandied about too casually. Rarely do people stop to think that they may have unintentionally offended someone around them (me in this case!)
I was in exactly your position in 2011.My wife & I had decided that we wanted to surprise our two children with a (hedonistic) holiday to Disneyland Florida. We wanted to indulge our children, who don’t normally have foreign holidays & create great memories for their childhoods-which are over too quickly these days.
You can imagine how much such a holiday would cost-a figure normally unattainable on our modest salaries! We decided that it should be a surprise-only 7 people knew about the holiday-the adults going & our parents (all sworn to secrecy). We fooled the children into thinking they were going to Menorca..we got travel brochures for the region & our parents even gave us their old Euros for the kids to spend! Hook..line & sinker!!
I have the luxury/burden of a second job. I used the overtime opportunities available to me to chip away over 14 months to pay for this holiday-my goal at that time. At that point I was unable to say no when work was available. The end result was-you’ve guessed it-like you I worked myself into the ground & “got through” each day. I would fall into bed about 2340 & be asleep as my head hit the pillow.
My wife noticed something was afoot in early 2011.Like you, I got a strong hint from her to “go to the GP!”. My Male pride took over; “Man up-there’s nothing wrong with you”. Inside my mind was the odd but slightly humorous image of my father,”Men don’t need to go to the doctors!!” This one did-but just didn’t know it yet! I put off visiting the doc with various excuses-“no appointments” or “too much work”.
Eventually I crashed-hugely in October 2011. I apologise for saying this, but my depression was making me prone to suicidal thoughts. They normally occurred when I was passing a suitable site-a brick wall in the car, the top floor of a multi storey car park. However I am a secret coward & had no plans to act on these thoughts. I recognised it for what it was-an irrational thought, but put off telling my wife the whole, gory truth-I didn’t want to trouble her as she had enough on her plate with work, children etc. The one day I came home from a (to me) particularly bad day at work. I knew I had a problem when my “virtual pants drawer” overflowed. A patient said something quite innocent to me but in my state then I took it personally & felt terrible. I too went to my GP, filled in the “Big D” test & as you were, I was diagnosed with depression & anxiety. This resulted in me being signed off for 11 weeks-the longest period of sickness in my life.
My GP put me on Chemicals to start my recovery. I was told that if I didn’t feel fit to work, I was not to bother coming to see the Doctor, but just to “phone up” & a new prescription would be issued. In my state then, such an offer would have been too tempting to abuse. In addition I was referred by my fantastic manager for counselling therapy via [name omitted]-our in house counsellor at the [Place omitted] She was fantastic. I don’t know how she did it, but each time I came out of a session with her, I felt great, elated. I didn’t realise what the box of tissues on the side were for….I do now!! My most surreal moment came when discussing my sex life with a lady old enough to be my mother! I burst into tears regularly during my sessions-I felt I’d let down the male species as I was so conditioned “not to cry”!
I am ashamed to say I put my wife & children through a living hell. I was an angry, short/bad tempered bear with a sore head. I would regularly fly off the handle at the poor soul who happened to have annoyed me. They were all scared to be around me & lead to some big blazeups between myself & my teenage son. We had a new kitchen fitted while I was signed off-in my mind I was convinced my wife was having an affair with the carpenter..she always became more flirty, animated different person when he was around. It was a kick in the teeth to me & my imagination got away with me. I even asked her mum & best friend if there was anything going on that I should know about. It took me most of 2012 to recover. I didn’t start to feel “better” until beginning 2013.
Fast forward to August 2012. We go on holiday during the “Olympic 2 weeks” I had a “wardrobe malfunction” while going through American customs..! I was asked to take anything metallic off & pass it through the metal detector machine. However, I forgot my belt with a metallic belt buckle..you can guess whats coming! I had just brought some new shorts for holiday, which were being held up by said belt. As it set the alarm off, I was told to remove it and go through the gate again. As my shorts had loosened up, once my belt was removed-they headed south! Imagine my embarrassment at flashing my wares to 00’s of people in the customs hall…..much hilarity ensued. You know how those full body scanners show everything? I said to the guards-lets get the laughter over with now.
This was the real start of my recovery. I now know my limits, have made lifestyle adjustments, cut down on work & (hopefully) have restored a work/life balance post counselling. I am now in control of my destiny again & am a better Father, Son & Husband.
The comfort I have taken from other friends & colleagues during my recovery is how common this illness is. I was shocked at how many people have had it, lived it & got over it. These were people I admire & look up to (including yourself) They candidly were brave enough to admit to me they were also sufferers. I know who my true friends are & now am fully prepared to jump in feet first for any friend or colleague who needs help.
Your story has inspired me to write to you-I’m sorry it’s a bit wordy but quite a lot to cram in the story. Hopefully there are a few bits in there that you may find amusing. If my story helps one person to get through the nightmare that is depression, please feel free to use it in any media, but I’d like to remain anonymous.”