Read This Book: An Unquiet Mind

11552857I love that more healthcare workers are talking about depression these days. It’s something I did not see while I was studying, and that meant that I felt very alone. You might even have seen (or participated in) #crazysocks4docs, which was meant to highlight the high rates of depression in the medical profession. (Some took exception to the term “crazy” – but I’m not going to discuss that right now.)

Anyway, more and more HCWs are doing their part to delegitimise stigma by sharing stories of their own depression. But some mental illnesses are still “off limits” – bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia, for example; and it’s not hard to know why. For a doctor to get sad and burnt out? Most people can wrap their heads around that. But few are comfortable with the idea of an “unstable” doctor. Society hasn’t become comfortable talking about those disorders that may lead to losing touch with reality.

crazysocks4docsIt was on this background that I started reading Kay Redfield-Jamison’s “memoir of moods and madness”: An Unquiet MindWhat I like about it is that, although Kay is considered an expert in the field of BMD, this is not an academic text. Academic matters are mentioned only in passing; this is a tale of an academic with bipolar mood disorder.

The author traces her illness back to the first glimpses of it in her childhood – where, of course, she was not diagnosed. She was just very much like her father: mercurial, brilliant, curious, creative. It was not strange in her world, especially because she had an emotionally stable constant, namely her neurotypical mother.

“I have no idea how I managed to pass as normal in school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice despair in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise the pain.”

The benefit of reading Redfield-Jamison’s first-hand experience is in seeing how she fought, first against her diagnosis, and then against her treatment. How eye-opening to see that even an expert railed against her own mental illness.

Redfield-Jamison writes with such intricate self-awareness. It is as though she delicately unfolds her mind, displays its secrets, and then looks toward the reader, prompting, “Now, you.”

For a doctor with mental illness myself, An Unquiet Mind was a seminal read. The relatability is astounding – comforting, even. I want to give this book to everyone – those who have mental illness, and those who do not. Because people without mental illness do not understand. Many may try, but trying has its limits. I think An Unquiet Mind aides the understanding, just a bit more.

The writing is special in that it is simple. Unlike many memoirs, this reads smoothly, and is relatively short. It doesn’t try to be art. It just tells a story.

“People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.”

Suffer from BMD? Read this book.

Suffer from any mental illness? Read this book.

Love someone with mental illness? Read the damn book! (Please and thank you)

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General Practice is not exciting, but it is fulfilling

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By Lauren Squires, with permission. Click image for her Instagram.

As I enter into my third month of General Practitioner work, I find myself reflecting. I started with private GP locums to fill the gap til I got the job I wanted. But now I’m signing a contract and I’m here to stay – for at least another five months.

One evening, my housemate asked, “So, did anything interesting happen at work today?” When I responded in the negative, we laughed about how my work had become almost mundane compared to working in hospital and coming home with fascinating stories of grotesque injuries and life-saving surgeries practically every day. Continue reading “General Practice is not exciting, but it is fulfilling”

GP Work is Hard

One week of some GP locums and I am exhausted.

7b609ee5184afeee3a442d25e5549028I can spend 10 minutes per consultation if people have straight-forward tonsillitis or gastroenteritis.

But what about the parents who are hesitant about vaccinating? I need more than ten minutes to make an impact.

What about the woman whose pregnancy test was unexpectedly positive, and needs to discuss options? She might not have anyone else to discuss options with.

What about the myriad people with psychiatric illness? I need more than ten minutes to figure out if it’s depression, or if there is a history of hypomanic spells. Is it substance induced? Is there another general medical condition? Who can start someone on antidepressants after a ten minute consult? Continue reading “GP Work is Hard”

Can I Be A Depressed Doctor?

Ever since I wrote about how going for therapy was my biggest gift to myself*, I’ve met with a few medical students to talk about the topic of mental health. Many of them were worried about their ability to make it through med school with their illness. Many were worried about the viability of a career in medicine with depression.

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When I was a student, there was a rumour that students with mental illness would be excluded from the course. We were informed by our senior students, and they by theirs, and thus the rumour was propagated. Continue reading “Can I Be A Depressed Doctor?”

Mental Health Begins With Medical Students

Every few months, the mental health of doctors/medical students makes it to popular media. It seems like these spikes in attention occur, and everyone shouts YOU SHOULD CARE FOR YOUR DOCTORS! and then we write blogs and we tweet and we make youtube videos and eventually we go back to work, and nothing has changed.

I think we are the missing link. And by “we”, I mean qualified doctors. And also, you, the older doctors. Continue reading “Mental Health Begins With Medical Students”

The Safe Working Hours Wristband Campaign is Missing the Point – Here’s Why

If you’ve been paying attention, working hours of doctors (especially junior doctors) have been getting some good airtime over the past few months. The Province of the Western Cape has committed to actively reducing maximum continuous working hours for doctors to twenty-four, the HPCSA has promised to “look into it” (not that we have too much confidence there), and our biggest representative, SAMA (South African Medical Association) has come out in our support.

One of the things to come from all this is the launching of an armband campaign. This has its origins, I believe, from a similar campaign in the UK – although I have not been able to find any source to this link.

608772084 Continue reading “The Safe Working Hours Wristband Campaign is Missing the Point – Here’s Why”

Abortion Care: Did I Provide My Best?

It’s funny how sometimes, long after the fact, you start questioning your levels of care and competence.

During my first rotation of internship (last year), which was Obstetrics and Gynaecology, I was one of the few interns willing to do pregnancy terminations. (For the purposes of this blog, the matter is not up for debate – I have been pro-choice for nearly half my life, and have thoroughly evaluated my own beliefs.)

Just recently I’ve found myself thinking back on those four months and wondering if I did everything I could, and if I was empathic enough. Continue reading “Abortion Care: Did I Provide My Best?”