One car accident and two text messages 

Caroline Walker, Founder of The Joyful Doctor

I received two messages this morning.

The first was from one of my lovely 1-to-1 clients thanking me for the work of The Joyful Doctor (a team effort truly but it’s always so lovely to get positive feedback).  

The second message was from a friend forwarding on an article - about a GP with two young kids who sadly jumped to his death off a bridge in 2018.

I feel like the universe is letting me know I’m on the right path today. Helping doctors.

This is part of the response I wrote to my client: 

I can totally relate to your traumatic year as an F1 - that was one of the worst times of my life too for exactly the same reasons.  And I had a similar visceral reaction to Adam’s book.  [That’s Adam Kay - speaking at our JD Live! event tomorrow in London - eek!] So pleased he’s speaking at the event tomorrow. I suspect deeply that many doctors are suffering from untreated PTSD like I was for a long time.

For years I had a Pavlovian fear response every time I heard a bleep go off, or an ambulance siren, and over the years it generalised out, until even the most innocent of sounds made my heart race with anxiety.

When I had my PTSD treated (I thought it was related to a mugging, but it turned out to hark back to my F1 years and even into childhood) - it all got better.  I started to realise that I had been walking around in the world expecting something horrific to happen at any moment. After the treatment (a mix of EMDR and trauma-focussed CBT) I felt calm and safe for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Last week I had a car accident  (I’m ok), and it all came flooding back.  My mind was filled with terrible thoughts of what could go wrong, and my critical voice went into overdrive.

Thank goodness for the years of recovery and work I’ve done - I could see it for what it really was - trauma - not my fault, not permanent, just a horrible state of physical, emotional and cognitive arousal that would probably ease off over the coming days and weeks.  I didn’t know it was that in 2004 when I was a doctor on the wards for the first time.  I was just petrified. Constantly. 

I noticed a bit of stiffness down one side of my back after the accident and I went to get a deep tissue massage to try to prevent any problems developing.  And it turned out to be the most painful experience of my life.  Physically it was all I could do to bear it - and emotionally, I was left feeling dazed and overwhelmed.  That night I cried.  I sobbed, like I haven’t  sobbed for a while.  It was a real visceral deep release of years of emotion.

I can still remember all those days and nights as an F1 I felt so helpless.  I was terrified that people were dying because of me and I thought I was the only one who felt that way.

As Adam said in a recent interview - I thought I was the only one who cried in the toilets.

We can, and we do, heal though.  With time and support and courage to face our most awful moments with the guidance of someone who knows how to help our brain file them away under ‘remembering’ not ‘reliving’.

A week on from my accident, my critical voice is quietening down again slowly, and I’m still not exactly sure what I’ll share at the event tomorrow on all of this - but I know I am doing the right thing.  I will show up and be honest and be present for those incredible doctors who are in the room with me for that short time.  And Adam will join us, and speak, and no doubt we will all be united by our shared experiences of pain and fear and humour amongst the bleakness.

I can’t thank you enough for sharing with me your most vulnerable moments.  You will never know how much they help me to keep going when things are tough. 

Much love
Caroline
Xxx

2 comments

I never cease to be impressed with you, Caroline! It is really wonderful that you are able to share your trauma, to help others. R X

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It's all about the sharing of our vulnerabilities. Thank you for being a wonderful example of a real and wonderful and knowledgeable and experienced human who's not afraid to be open and therefore truly uplift others through doing so. 

I wonder how many medical students are prepared (and by this I mean literally prepared, given appropriate training and guidance) for possible trauma during their training or career?

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