It was 23:45, and Ben was exhausted from working the last three long days; he was already 45 mins late finishing work. This lateness, which happened more often than not, was not his fault. The system, sick patients and an overwhelming sense of guilt that if he didn’t do it, then no one would drove him to see more and more patients and do the ‘right thing’ to help his colleagues to the left and right of him and most importantly to help the patient in front of her.
Despite this, there was a growing resentment, anger, and an expanding vacuum of feeling nothing. The compassion fatigue was now in full flow. With a young family, he knew that this recurrent lateness and conflicted feeling between doing the right or expected thing and the growing and gradually relentless negative emotion of repeating this pattern led to the slow and insidious path to burnout. So, not for the first time, he cried when getting back to his car before driving home, well aware this was spilling over to his family life and personal relationships.
Stopping this endless cycle of expectation, guilt and burnout appeared on the surface easy; the reality was ever more complex. Financial commitments to family, peer pressure from colleagues, the societal status of being a doctor, family expectations, and the sunk costs of getting this far in a career all played heavily on his mind. But this again was conflicted with the dark decline to worsening mental health and searing unhappiness that was growing daily. He felt trapped and isolated, with the world’s weight on his shoulders.
This feeling of being trapped in jobs we hate, slowly burning out and having that sinking feeling of leading a life less than your full potential is commonplace in our society and far more widespread than just in healthcare. Most of us have experienced this in our lives at some point. Adam Kay’s book and TV dramatisation of ‘This is going to hurt’ is a fantastic exploration of the issues around this.
But what if it is impossible to quit the day job, throw in the towel and move on? Please seek professional medical advice if you suffer from significant mental health issues through the issues I raise here. If this affects you but has not yet led to mental health problems, we can use several changes in mindset to try and…