November 2020 – renewed perspectives

I decided a few months ago that I would re-write my first book ‘Life After Darkness; a doctor’s journey through severe depression.’ It’s not that my story is inaccurate but if I had received a different response on the first occasion I asked for help, I believe I would have avoided the 7 year nightmare that followed.

  Of course, life has moved on; it’s almost 20 years ago since my sudden and inexplicable recovery from an illness where I gained the diagnostic label of ‘treatment resistant depression’. So why would I want or need to write any further about this?

Sadly it has taken me a long time to unpick what happened to me and to discover the truth about the erroneous diagnosis, the well intentioned but completely wrong treatments I endured and the pseudo-science that led me to believe that I was in the safe hands of psychiatry. It was a shock when I first met somebody who challenged the diagnosis of depression. Yet once I was able to allow myself to contemplate that these learned, highly trained professors of psychiatry could simply put, be wrong, I felt as though my experience started to make sense.

The paradigm that I had had a severe, serious and prolonged depression which had not been amenable to standard treatment, which could relapse in the same way had a profound and lasting hold on my life. I found it difficult to be confident when I started to break away from the advice that my esteemed doctors had given me. It was very scary and anxiety provoking. But the rewards have been considerable.

I started to feel alive again after almost 25 years of high dose antidepressants but more importantly I am no longer afraid. I can be myself, free from worry about losing my foothold on life, free from the concern that I might once again be forced into hospital or given drugs or even ECT against my will. I can relish the fact that I survived and that I can work as a doctor and know that I am not a poor, vulnerable individual who is likely to succumb once the pressure gets too much.

I never was that person originally, though I became so when I was made a psychiatric patient. The label follows me on my medical record but I delight in defying the trajectory that the cynical and pessimistic mental health profession, unwittingly lays out for their patients.

 I have been fighting against the stigma of mental health problems since 2001 and now I wonder whether that has been the right battle to engage with. I do not want others to medicalise their traumas in the way I did and to look to doctors for answers. I know that it did me a great disservice and even today, the potential for harm is great.

Instead I would rather focus my efforts to encourage individuals who have had particularly difficult or traumatic encounters, especially as children to see themselves in the context of their experiences.

We are not weak when we have emotional turmoil. Our requests for help in processing the past are indicators of the strength of our purpose. We are survivors and we will be strengthened through compassionate understanding and in this way we can be those who break the cycle of dysfunction that only too often has the potential to repeat itself in future generations. For this very reason, I have to be grateful to be where I am today.

My family did suffer and I cannot speak for them. I can only hope that in time, there will be a realisation that I would have done anything to avoid that. Yes, I was a victim but thankfully, I passed from that passive state to one where I was able to take back control of my own destiny.

The challenge I have today, in my working life is to re-empower those who have lost their ability to determine their own future. Clearly this is never going to be absolute, but to live life to the full, self determination without prejudice or judgement will enable the best chance of recovery. Medics like myself have to give up on the idea that we are there to fix peoples’ lives and then, maybe our patients may start to view us as fellows who inhabit the same human struggles as everyone else. That should not take us away from the ability to be compassionate helpers when the ‘chips are down’, rather we must hold on to the hope, that each person will have the strength to survive the darkest night and awaken to the opportunity of a new day.

June 2020

I’ve been back in the UK for over a year. So much has changed and I am not just referring to the Covid pandemic. It seems as though we can talk about nothing else and it dominates every aspect of our lives. There has been talk of war on the virus, conquer and defeat, but with little regard to the actual facts of the matter.

Viruses aren’t at war in the classic sense; they just use other living creatures to propagate and survive. True parasites, they do invade our cells and it is not the politicians who fight them, rather our bodies; unfortunately, it is our immune systems responding to the alien, that causes reactions so severe that will for some, make us very ill. Viruses are a highly successful species in evolutionary terms, adapting themselves to suit their ongoing transmission.We are unwilling victims of course and there are many who have succumbed. Yet life goes on and how quickly we accept the situation, if it is not us who are mourning the death of a loved one.

As I write, a member of my wider family is still struggling between life and death after 2 months in intensive care, separated from his loved ones. A personal encounter of this sort, takes all levity out of the situation. An unpredictable danger, a threat to be taken seriously.

Of course there are positives to the pandemic . Our unstable world, which has been ravished by man’s selfish and thoughtless use of its resources, has a chance to recover, just a little. And many of us as individuals have been stopped in our tracks and made to think about what exactly is important to us.

It is heartening to discover how many people are enjoying the freedom that restriction brings. An oxymoron if ever there was one. The musts and oughts have had to take a break and with it, comes time; time for reflection, time to read, time to write.

Not true for everyone of course. Mindful that my job as an Emergency doctor here in the UK, is very different from what some of my international counterparts are experiencing. I am grateful that doctors in the UK do get time off; fortunate too that we have not experienced the overwhelming intensity of some hospitals in Europe, China and the States have encountered. Some flooded with seriously ill patients suffering with covid, that has happened in too many places the world over.

I am not saying that working life has been easy. It was extremely stressful as we prepared, not knowing how exactly the pandemic would ‘hit’. But, when it did, facing our fears brought a modicum of relief, though not of course for the patients and families who needed our services.

Many troubling events the world over. Institutional racism, homophobia, fascism, religious bigotry, communism and many other unnamed injustices. I just don’t know how to navigate through the overwhelming news of atrocity after atrocity. I feel intensely for a while, whether it is anger or sadness or the hopelessness of it all. But I cannot carry it, and I turn away, forget and move on. I cannot change the world, I am no god. So where is the line between apathy and responsibility?

Sitting in the sunshine, watching birds at our feeders, loving the blue skies and the spring flowers. I know that I am lucky; one of the wealthy few in world terms, I have a garden and a house, food on the table and a job to go to. Is it enough to be grateful, I ask myself and sigh, because I have no answers.

Hello, my name is Cathy

I am Cathy Wield, but who am I exactly and what makes me tick. Now redefining my occupation as a writer, the world suddenly takes on new challenges. My passions remain similar and I still want to fight the stigma of mental illness but there are new horizons. I have learnt so much more about myself since emigrating to the United States.

The books I have written are not the whole story or at least not the completed story. The historical events are indisputable, but I have more insight about my early life and how it affected me so profoundly in adulthood. I have experienced healing of some very painful memories for the first time which is exciting, although I am fully aware that this is a process and it may take a while.

I am a woman of faith, but further definitions in this category may draw some near but also push many away. So I would rather leave it at that for now. I have so much compassion for those who suffer from all walks of life whatever belief system they have chosen. My desire is to be authentic about myself but I know there are many pitfalls and though I abhor hypocrisy, I am just as likely as anyone to possess this trait. So this comes with a warning: I am far from perfect and may unwittingly offend, although it is certainly not my intention to do so. May I ask for your patience and tolerance because I am a work in progress and I will make mistakes?

I spent most of my working life as an Emergency Physician, but I did have a couple of significant periods where well….. the politically correct phrase is, I took ‘a career break’. It makes my profile potentially more colorful than most: Dr Crazy Wield specializes in every emergency related to depression, self-harm and suicide, but lives to tell the tale. Well able to sympathize with unwanted effects for many medications; personal experience of overdose, ECT, suturing and surgery. Excellent communication skills after 7 years of face to face counseling and psychotherapy. She’s not so bad at other aspects of Emergency Medicine either………..Suffice it to say, I can call myself a thriving survivor and I have a unique perspective having played both the roles of doctor & patient.

My plans to continue practicing as a doctor were thwarted when I arrived here in the USA. Despite passing the rigorous USMLE – US medical licensing exams, I hadn’t seen the small print which meant that in order to apply for the necessary clinical experience as a hospital resident, I would need to have qualified from medical school within the last 5 years – that counts me out. I am rather more experienced than that. Nevertheless, nothing is wasted, but my career is clearly not going to be as a clinician.

This is liberating in many ways, set free to pursue other avenues. My first attempt at a job here was working with the homeless, though it has to be said that the reason I resigned following an unprovoked assault, had more to do with the response of the institution than the actual injuries. I admit a little reluctantly that I suffered from PTSD following the assault, but on the positive side, I have another string to my bow in the understanding of mental health conditions – there’s nothing quite like ‘lived experience’!
My assailant was arrested but unable to stand trial ‘by reason of insanity’. I was horrified to hear that she was released back to the streets without any treatment. I had hoped that some good would come from this incident and that she would get the help that she so desperately needed. I was told, that it’s ‘too expensive’ to offer her treatment…………

As usual, it is those who have no voice who lose out the most – in this instance, the homeless, the mentally ill and the addicted. I feel right at home among them, but I need to step up, step out and speak out as I doubt many others will.

Please join me – there is a battle in progress. We will win it one day – injustice will be defeated.

To quote a famous book – “the wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and the dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Hasten the day!