By Aamer Safdar, hospital pharmacist
In 2021, I had to take sick leave from work because my mental health had deteriorated to a point where the only option I had was to resign from my job.
I am a pharmacist with a career spanning over 25 years in the NHS and have worked in some of the biggest Trusts in the country. I had only taken one day of sickness absence in my career until then. This was in the middle of the pandemic; I had very little support from seniors and had to seek help by myself. As a man, this felt particularly hard, but I found people are much more willing to help than I thought they would be.
Get help as soon as you can
Looking back, I should have left much earlier to protect my mental health, but my work ethic and the duty I felt to support my team and trainee pharmacists took precedence. I remember a time when I first met our trainee pharmacists, and I cried in front of them…twice. We all know about the fight and flight response, but rarely do we talk about the freeze response; I would freeze ‘like a rabbit in headlights' and when senior colleagues would ask me a direct question, I simply couldn’t answer them.
Getting through dark times
During my time off work, I found myself in very dark places; I thought about committing suicide a few times as I felt I could not go on like this. Taking antidepressants helped, but they took a while to ‘kick in’ when I first started them. As time went by these thoughts were less regular and, even when they did come, they didn’t have the same impact on me as before.
Religion has always been important in my life and I would pray regularly, but find that I was praying incorrectly because my mind was somewhere else. I consistently recited the same 'surah' (chapter) incorrectly and became obsessed with this. I would get upset and take it as a punishment from Allah SWT which was, in hindsight, illogical.
Getting better slowly
As time passed, my confidence got better, and I managed to get a bank pharmacist role at my local hospital which was tough at the start but I never gave up. Today, as I write this, I am in a much better place.
It has been a long journey to get where I am mentally. I have a saying ‘Teflon not Velcro,’ where I try to let negatives slide off (Teflon) and positives stick (Velcro). If you can relate to my experience, then let’s go on a journey. Let’s promise ourselves that we will focus on the positives from now on. I know it won’t be easy and there will be ups and downs, I know that we have to face people with a smile even though we know that this is a mask and we are hurting inside.
I now openly speak about my experiences as a way of normalising things for me and to benefit others. I would love for you to talk about your mental health as if it were a physical illness. In doing that we would collectively be healing ourselves and busting the taboo of mental health.
Pharmacist Support, the profession’s charity, provides free and confidential services to help those in difficulty www.pharmacistsupport.org or call 0808 168 2233.
We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group.