I ignored stress symptoms and my family's pleas
For the first 10 months 2001 shaped up pretty nicely. I had completed a year as a new GP
partner and was
enjoying the challenge. I had just reached parity. We had a new house
and were beginning to turn it into a comfortable family home.
In October we visited the US to stay with my brother in Kansas before flying to the East Coast to explore New York City.
Life was good. Until November that was, when I received a phone call from my mother that turned my world upside down. My dad, unwell with a resistant chest infection, had been admitted to hospital overnight with ascites.
I dashed to Portsmouth to visit him, where it rapidly became clear things weren't good. Just 10 days after
touching down at Heathrow, I was being asked by his consultant whether he should be resuscitated if his heart stopped beating.
While the rest of the hospital was preparing for Christmas, my family and I spent Advent huddled in a side room, watching someone we loved being stripped to the bone by an aggressive disseminated cancer. Within just three weeks of diagnosis he was gone.
At the same time my wife discovered she was pregnant. This was totally unplanned as we had completed our family four years earlier. With a lot of emotional energy tied up with Dad, it was something we both found very difficult to come to terms with.
In the weeks after Dad's death, with my brother back in the States, I became my mother's main support. My wife was suffered from morning, noon and night sickness and with two energetic boys to look after and hassles at work, I had little opportunity to sort out my own grief. The stress began to mount.
It started gradually. At first I was irritable and lost interest in my patients. I resented them for making appointments or requesting visits.
This resentment quickly turned to crippling anxiety. I started to doubt my diagnoses and consequently sought repeated reassurance from my partners. I became paranoid that every consultation would result in a negligence claim and would ruminate about patients every night when I got home.
By the summer of 2002 I was a wreck. I would wake early with a pounding heart and urgent bowels.
I was extremely tearful and drove to work every day with a sense of dread hanging over me, having retched my way through a measly breakfast. Despite this massive change in my behaviour, I managed to ignore these classic symptoms for months, even though my family and work colleagues made it clear they were worried about me.
It took a horrendous day on call, which left me wanting to curl up under my desk and die, to make me admit to myself that I had a problem and to take everyone's advice to see my GP.
She was fantastic and after listening to my story suggested I start an SSRI, take time off work and see a counsellor. But while I was happy to swallow her pills and even to see a shrink, I was reluctant to take time off. For a start, doctors do not do that sort of thing and second, thanks to the stigma of mental illness, I was scared of how people would react.
But my partners, who were supportive throughout, thankfully insisted I took my doctor's advice. So I accepted her sicknote and spent the next four months at home. During that time I particularly benefited from help I was given by the Avon Cope Scheme a support group run by volunteer doctors and counsellors which allows GPs to access specialist help during times of mental distress.
Thanks to them I received three free sessions of cognitive behaviour therapy from a clinical psychologist who referred me to a colleague to complete my treatment.
It was encouraging to read in a recent issue of the BMJ that these groups are being set up throughout the country.
Eventually I turned the corner and returned to work, initially part-time, in February this year. I am now fully fit and beginning to enjoy my work once again.
Although I would never want to repeat these experiences, they have certainly helped me deal more effectively with the large number of patients I see with similar problems.
I have learned to pace myself better at work, to be more assertive, to manage my time better. I also ensure I have plenty of time to enjoy pastimes that allow me to unwind, like exercise and this year I successfully competed in my first London Marathon.