A resident physician’s story of depression


It was 4:30 a.m. on a freezing cold winter morning when I dragged myself to my car and started down the street to the hospital. I was working in the ICU for the month, and sleep had become a commodity I no longer enjoyed. I tried to shake my brain out of the dense fog it seemed to always be in lately.

I looked up in time to see my car drifting across the middle line, and for a split second, I did nothing: the voices in my head had been telling my tired, depressed brain to end it all for weeks now and maybe today would be the day I finally went through with it. In my delirium, I grabbed the steering wheel, and the car lurched back into my lane. Tears streamed down my face as I drove on through the darkness. The urges were harder to ignore lately. I was so miserable: Beyond miserable, actually. I was numb with pain and my body was overwhelmed by months of sleep deprivation and I was battling extreme depression. I felt as though I were trapped, trapped in a dark box filled with desperation and hopelessness.

That morning the oppressive darkness in my mind was stronger than the pitch black outside, and the only escape my weary brain saw was to end my life. It was no longer a question of if I would do it, but rather when I would do it. That morning it took every ounce of strength I had not to do something stupid on the way to work. As I trudged into the hospital, I went through the motions of seeing and examine patients, but inside I felt nothing, I was numb, exhausted, weak and totally broken. I had gone into medicine to be a healing hand, yet somehow I was the one that had come out broken.

For months I had gone through the motions, always terrified that those around me would find out how miserable I truly was. I smiled and laughed as I always did but inside there was an excruciating pain, and my will to live was slowly fading away with each passing day. I stopped caring for myself; I no longer cleaned my apartment; I stopped showering; I stopped cooking; I stopped seeing myself as a human being that had innate value. Each day the voices in my head told me to end my life, and each day I went home sobbed until I could not cry anymore. I would empty the bottle of pills into my hand, but then in a moment of weakness, I would put them back. I couldn’t go through with it. Maybe tomorrow … until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I was counseling a depressed patient on the importance of reaching out for help but as I stepped out of the room and I felt a deep sense of hypocrisy. I was the one who needed help, yet I was too scared to ask for it.

That afternoon I had a breakdown, a meltdown in front of my program staff. I should have been embarrassed, but I was too exhausted to care, too numb to feel, and too depressed to think. All I knew was that if I didn’t do something, my life would end and that terrified me. That day I took the first step towards wholeness. It took every ounce of strength I had to reach out and ask for assistance, but today I am proud of that step. I took a leave from my program, and I spent a long time in intensive therapy. Slowly the world around me began to change: Only I started realizing that it wasn’t the world that had changed — instead I was the one who had changed! Day by day I grew stronger, and slowly my mind began to heal. I found happiness and joy again and eventually I returned to work with a newfound confidence, peace, and happiness as well as tools to handle the stress and pressure I face each day.

Tears cloud my eyes as I write this story, because I can still remember what that dark place of emptiness and pain felt like. However, I write it today because I don’t want any resident to ever have to suffer silently again as I did. Resident depression and suicide is a real and debilitating disease that cripples many and claims the life of some of the world’s best and brightest. Today I realize that if I had not reached out for help that day I would be one of them. I am unashamed of my experience because today I am stronger for it. My deepest desire is that perhaps a resident somewhere will read this story and be inspired to reach out for help, that maybe a brilliant young life will be saved because of the painful experience I went through.

The author is an anonymous physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com


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