Dr Rebecca Lawrence is a consultant psychiatrist and clinical director.
I have had a long career in psychiatry, which has been intertwined with my own mental health problems. The latter started relatively abruptly with a puerperal psychosis prior to my psychiatric training, and I have had many episodes over the years, involving hospitalisations and electroconvulsive therapy, as well as drug therapies. Talking therapies have been of limited benefit when unwell – and have seemed less relevant when I’m well.
I have a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder, which I find hard to accept. My psychiatrist tells me that doctors are the most self-stigmatising patients that he comes across, and that he knows I’m becoming unwell when I start to talk more of having a personality disorder. However, I try to follow his advice, and am fortunate that I have had long periods when I have been well.
I have been very lucky with family, friends and colleagues – and those involved in my treatment – and am still surprised by my life and how it has turned out.
I have been a consultant psychiatrist in addictions for over ten years now, and have been clinical director since last year. I also work in the chronic pain service, having recently completed a masters in pain management, and do as much teaching as I can. I have a wonderful family, and play music in what spare time I have left.
What advice would I give to others? I am realistic that my illness is unlikely to go away. I used to try to fight it – which was helpful at times – but it does affect my life and will continue to do so. It hasn’t stopped me doing what I want to do, but I do have to adapt at times. It does affect me, like any chronic illness would.
And that, ultimately, is what I would say – adapt if you need to because of the illness, but never because of the stigma of the illness, whether self-stigma or otherwise.
Rebecca has previously written a personal view piece for the British Medical Journal.