Guest Blog: The First Step – The Bipolar Doc

The first step
She hands me the prescription.
“Sertraline 50mg, Once daily”
I stare at it. Numb.
Exhausted. Hopeless. Helpless.
I bundle my 6 month old daughter back into her pram and wheel her out, clutching the
prescription and some leaflet about talking therapy. On automatic pilot, I cross the road from the GP surgery and head towards the chemist. Dread. I know I will shortly have to hand this little green sheet over the counter to a complete stranger, revealing that I am clearly not OK. Utter humiliation. Pathetic. Laughable. A doctor who can’t cope with life.

I sit cradling a tiny white tablet in my hand and reading through the multitude of associated side effects- plenty of reasons not to take it. I reach for a glass and swallow it. I then trace the bold blue numbers on the therapy leaflet with my finger. Another complete stranger to whom I have to admit failure. With an overwhelming sense of weakness, I dial the number. “Press 1 for self referrals…”

I hang up. It takes three attempts before I actually speak.

A few months pass and the end of my maternity leave fast approaches. Although my mental health is improving and I am well enough to work, I am still not myself. My anxiety remains all consuming. Having spent years trying to hide my history of mental illness, I now know I need to tell someone. I practise over and over again. What words to use? What will they think? But more than anything, what will the repercussions be for my career? I am convinced that I’ll be contacted by the GMC, that somehow revealing my emotional vulnerabilities
makes me ‘dangerous’. A bad doctor. My career will be ruined. Yet when I finally find the words to explain my depression and anxiety, there is no talk of disciplinary action or GMC involvement. Instead someone suggests I see occupational health. They point me towards the Professional Support Unit and counselling. I discover Practitioner Health and suddenly feel held in a way I haven’t done before. Because reaching out allows us to build a support network, an army. It’s what enables us to keep going.

It takes courage to reveal our frailties in a world where stigma around doctors’ mental health prevails but the power of reaching out is huge. Whatever help you decide to access, that first step is huge. Walking through a door, picking up the phone, turning your camera on for a Zoom call… Whatever it is, remember that the benefit of doing it far outweighs the fear, it just may not feel like it right now.



Check out The Bipolar Doc’s website and other blogs at:
She is also on twitter @doc_bipolar

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