I wonder if it’s different for everyone. With me, it was the hat made of lead. I’d feel it start to press down on my skull as I entered the practice, and with everyone that approached saying “I’m sorry to grab you before you start, but I need to talk to you about…” that hat would get a little heavier.

Knowing the hat wasn’t really there didn’t make it any lighter – at least if it was a real one I could have just taken it off.

Imaginary as it was, it was a very real, physical presence, pushing down on me and making it hard for me to lift my head, think clearly or even smile. How could I smile with this thing pressing down on me? It made me feel like I was a mile underwater, and that was fitting, because I was slowly drowning.

What’s the point?

not alone quote
If you find yourself struggling and want to talk to someone, both Vetlife (0303 040 2551) and Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) offer confidential and non-judgemental support.

It was my parents who made me go to the doctors. Depressingly stereotypically, I didn’t think there was any point – I knew there was nothing physically wrong with me, so what was a doctor going to do? My dad looked at me one day and said he really thought I should go, and to reassure him, I decided to acquiesce.

I wasn’t really expecting anything to come of it. I had been through a few periods like this before – maybe not quite as bad as this one, but I thought I’d get through it.

In the consulting room, the doctor asked me what was wrong. Instead of saying, as I had planned to, “I’m just a little stressed at work at the moment”, I was surprised to find myself crying and unable to speak.

Torrent of anxiety

My doctor was a patient and kind man, and took his time. In a few moments it all began to spill out of me – the fact I couldn’t stop thinking about work; the mistakes that haunted me; the fear of making more mistakes that paralysed me when I looked down my consulting list; the feeling that I was an imposter not worthy of the job; the mental exhaustion that never seemed to go away; the irritability, the short temper, the tears. The fleeting thoughts of suicide…

The torrent of anxiety that flowed out of me sounded like someone else talking, not the happy-go-lucky Nick I always thought I was.

The doctor listened, and nodded, and didn’t judge (I wondered as I spoke if he had ever had feelings like this too). He nodded, and asked me a few questions about the darker thoughts I had been having. Then he nodded, told me that I had a depressive illness, signed me off work and put me on medication.

Denial, then realisation

I was shocked, and I knew he was wrong. It wasn’t depression – well, not “clinical” depression. I wasn’t the type. I was cheerful, happy, I didn’t dwell on things. I was just going through a bad patch. I was just stressed at work – there was a reason for it all.

So if the diagnosis was wrong, then the treatment wasn’t really going to work, was it? I just had to get through it.

The doctor was right. The treatment worked. The medication made things easier, and the time gave me perspective to work on the root causes of the problem. It wasn’t all that quick, and it wasn’t all that easy, but eventually that bloody lead hat stopped pressing on my brain, and eventually I found I could think clearly again.

It might be that you’re lucky. You might never have feelings like I did. You might not be as lucky as I was to have someone that cared about me encourage me to get something done about it. You might not be as lucky to have a doctor that understood what I was going through, even when I didn’t myself.

No shame

If you aren’t so lucky, and if you have your own version of a lead hat that is making it feel like you can’t smile, or think, or carry on, I want to give you a very clear message: you are not alone.

It’s probably different for you, because it’s different for us all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find help. However bad it feels, and however bad it seems, there is help for you, and there’s no shame in finding it.

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14 Comments on "The lead hat"

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Sharon
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Sharon
9 months 21 days ago
Thank God, I’m not alone , yes this cement block builded on my shoulders for years I couldn’t lift my head and enjoy life , I’m on meds since last may , it was a struggle. But I’m ere , a new grandmother , a mother. a wife , and even a friend , there is someone at the other side of that clinical door , as I called it , (for mad ones) lol when I finally rang that bell , I knew I was going to be ok . Good luck to everyone out there looking for help… Read more »
Anna
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Anna
9 months 20 days ago

Thank you. Brilliant article and very familiar feelings.
What were the root causes to the problem which you found? Have you continued to work as previously or found ways to make working more manageable?

Nick Marsh
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Nick Marsh
9 months 19 days ago

There were, as ever with these things, a number of causes, but this made me reassess my life and make a number of changes. Just making the changes, and knowing that I had taken control of my life again, helped a very great deal.

Lowri
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Lowri
9 months 18 days ago

Thank you for sharing. Hopefully we can all be more aware of each others lead hats so that everyone has someone who can tell them it’s time to see the doctor

Rose
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Rose
9 months 17 days ago

My issues were how could something I loved and devoted my life to turn around and do this to me? Then I Realised that being a vet was all consuming. I did not exist if I was not that consummate professional. It took the simple act of walking away from the job to start to allow me to recover. I changed careers, moved across the globe and restarted my life. Drastic moves but life saving.

sharon Alston
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sharon Alston
9 months 17 days ago
a brill one Nick. it is scary how many of us are in or have been in this boat. I had to properly hit the wall before I got help. And I have to change my life now or it will never go away. our profession needs so much more support in this area, and don’t get me started on the corporates who have a growing number of crumbling partners, breakdowns ignored or used to bully out partners. something must must must be done. meds surprisingly help but it’s not the answer. I’m sure path has its own stresses but… Read more »
Rachael
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Rachael
9 months 17 days ago
Thank you for your honesty Nick. I too have my own version of the hat. In addition to the thoughts and fears you elude to, whenever I try to broach the subject with my parents (my only family), I just get the comment ‘but you’ve always wanted to be a vet since you were 3’. This may be the case but I’m sure many of us out there have discovered the reality is in a different ball park to the dream. I’m on meds and just keep my mouth shut now, but I know at some point, it’ll all go… Read more »
Nick Marsh
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9 months 13 days ago
Hi Rachael I tried to do the same, and it worked for a little while, but it did me no good whatsoever and certainly not my friends or family. The bottom line is that the only one who can really help yourself is you, and you have to be willing to make a change. I found once I started to ‘think the unthinkable’ and really ask myself what my options were, and where things were honestly likely to end up if I didn’t do something, nothing really seemed as bad. I had a very dark night where I asked myself… Read more »
Emily
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Emily
9 months 17 days ago
Thank you for such an honest article Nick. I have read a few of your articles now and you have described exactly how I have felt many a time in practice. I think you are giving something that is very much needed to the profession by talking so honestly. I can also identify with Rose’s comment about how being a vet is all consuming. I too have changed careers now, but I will never forget the challenge of trying to lead a “normal” life and be a vet at the same time and how it did take over my life… Read more »
Ruth
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Ruth
9 months 17 days ago

Great article – this will be a help to many vets and their families. Depression is so common amongst the profession and it’s great to see it being acknowledged and discussed. Thank you

Emma
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9 months 16 days ago
Thanks for this article Nick, it’s been ten years since I was in practice full time but those words are healing to me to realise that what I thought was ‘just me’ is something others have and at Ed living through. For Rachel who wrote at 7:33 on the 31st, Please don’t ‘wait and see what happens ‘ – please take one more step.in actively managing your life and happiness. I had always wanted to be a vet too – but at three it’s likely something that your parents mentioned and encouraged too. I love vet – but there’s variations… Read more »
Nick Marsh
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9 months 13 days ago

Thank you all for your kind comments. I’m very happy to talk to people individually, though I’m no wiser at this than any of us! Just find me on facebook or my website and send me a message. If nothing else, I have big ears (does that make sense? I don’t mean I’m, like, an elephant or anything)

Anonurse
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Anonurse
5 months 30 days ago

Hi Nick,
I’m so sorry to learn of your struggles but so pleased you’ve sought help and are on the right track.
4 years ago you took the time to reply to one of my comments on a blog post of yours and your kindness and empathy gave me the courage to keep vet nursing (when I thought I could not).
Thanks for your care and commitment – it’s what makes you so good at what you do.

Nicky (she of the many rats!)
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Nicky (she of the many rats!)
3 months 1 day ago

thank you for these powerful words Nick.

I realised 1-2 months ago that I needed to do something about how low I was feeling. I’m already putting changes in place work-wise by learning new skills but these won’t come to fruition quickly enough to make me feel better now. I took the step to go to see my GP – one which I now realise I should have done a lot sooner.

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