February 2021

Life this year is stressful the world over, but more so for those who are caught up in the various political and economic fiascos resulting from the pandemic.

I want to step away from that subject right now as I am starting an ambitious writing project. I promised myself a few years ago, that I would set the record straight about what I believe really happened to me back in 1994 at the start of the period when I was first given a diagnosis of depression. The sequelae from then on are all too easy to understand given the psychiatry paradigm that has been around since the publication of the first edition of the American DSM (Diagnostic and statistical manual), which made the American Psychiatric Association millions of dollars.

I had no idea of the falsehoods that were presented to us as research, defining mental illness diagnoses and the treatments, which were supposedly evidence based. There is plenty of argument to be had to this day and of course it will be a battle to convince the majority mainstream psychiatric profession to change their views, particularly if it means doing themselves out of a job.

The current situation is that there is more and more hype with regard to the rising numbers of people suffering with traditional mental health diagnoses like anxiety and depression and therefore the perceived need for increasing the mental health workforce.

I completely agree that there are many people suffering from emotional or mental distress at the present time. There are many who have been recently bereaved or have suffered in all too familiar ways as a result of being ill themselves or knowing those close to them who have been seriously unwell with covid. I believe the mistake is in medicalising the normal response to difficulty and suffering. Not only that, there is also the worrying trend for people to be prescribed medication for these normal reactions and those very same drugs have a complex and bewildering effect on the way our brains function.

I have been there. Yet I also know how hard it is when you have desperate people in severe emotional distress begging for some kind of relief and you as a doctor are so unable to give them the necessary time to really listen and understand what is going on. However, knowing what I do now, I would be extremely reluctant to go down that path.

 Our culture is such that we have developed a very low tolerance for suffering and we have lost the ability to discriminate what is normal from what is pathological. Yet we are the same human species that has been on this planet from time immemorial and managed our societies with varying degrees of kindness and compassion for one another. If we have learned anything, then surely it is that accepting our differences and managing our expectations of one another with as much tolerance as possible, is a healthy way to live.

In some ways, the anti-stigma campaign that I fought so hard to promote has made things worse. More and more of our children and young people are being diagnoses with a mental illness and their behaviours labelled as abnormal. It’s only a few years ago, the very same youngsters may well have been dismissed as just manifesting a stage in growing up. The truth is, that the latter is much more healthy for all of us. But it is hard when social media has become so dominant and learning dysfunctional behaviour from others is easy.

When I was at school, I never heard of anybody hurting themselves. I did not know anyone who had completed suicide. Of course these things were not talked about because there was a general feeling that to do such a thing was selfish and weak. Families were ashamed and it was not long ago that a suicide attempt was a criminal act. I am glad I did not know that I could have used a variety of behaviours to draw attention to my plight.

I was an unhappy child for many reasons, but despite the misery, I made it. I came through and got myself to university. I know how things could have been better for me, but also I believe that if I had been a child in today’s world, it would have been a whole lot worse and I very much doubt I would have arrived at medical school before my 18th birthday as I did then.

I can easily see the connection between what happened during my childhood and  the crisis I experienced later in my life when I was diagnosed as being depressed. I saw it then but was told I was wrong. If they had maintained an open mind and the connection recognised as significant by the psychiatric community, then it is highly likely that my symptoms could have been seen as normal.

Normal doesn’t exclude support or help. I am not suggesting that I could have carried on with the life I had as a junior doctor then, without being able to replenish my energy and strengthen my inner being or that I could have made it without psychological support. But I know that being given a label of major depression and being told I was seriously ill opened the gateway to the acceptance of treatment. I wanted to get better. I was treated with drugs that changed the way I could respond to psychotherapy, as well as gave me terrible side effects, which the doctors told me were further evidence of the depression; drugs which were likely responsible for my suicidality. I had numerous ECT treatments and finally irreversible brain surgery. It was not just me who was harmed, so was my family. We continue to pay the costs to this day, almost 30 years later.

I have no wish for others to have their lives ruined by the same lies that caused my well- intentioned doctors to give me such treatments without any credible evidence base behind them. It is about time that the real story was told and I am currently writing a new book to correct the fallacies which I had accepted to be true, at the time I wrote ‘Life After Darkness; a doctor’s journey through severe depression’. I was duped by so called experts, just like millions of others the world over. Unless we do something now, there will be many more casualties. Our time has come, the bastion of traditional psychiatry must fall beneath our scrutiny.

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!