My heart feels like it will come out of my body’ — (The Times)

Original article no longer available

The Times

August 2, 2007

From Philip Burguieres’ diaries

It is the spring of 1990 and I am the sixth month in tenure CEO of a Fortune 100 company. The company has serious problems 20 years in the making. My personality has adopted, accepted, taken hold, and is obsessive about these problems nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

My mind seems to have taken on a life of its own – distant from my physical body. But the effects on my body are evident. I have sleepless nights and the smallest of things agitates me. I want out but am stuck because I have never quit anything in my life (suffering through the curse of a cruel high-school football coach to the trauma of being in the Navy during Vietnam). I can’t quit, so the pressure builds.

In a movie with my family, I have what I later find was a “panic attack” . . . It is a feeling of incredible anxiety. My heart feels like it will come out of my body, I want to scream; I want this feeling to go away.

Within a few weeks I am totally exhausted and pass out in my office. My first encounter with 911 people. Two days in the hospital and every test in the book and I am declared “well”. The nice doctor tells me I need a vacation. Within another few weeks I am in the office of a female psychiatrist, my first visit, and she decides to hospitalise me, which I refuse. She says I am suffering from canal depression and need therapy, medication, etc. I have a position in the community and can’t accept much of what she says. She is a woman of presence, beautifully dressed and I am in a hospital gown. She speaks down to me. (If there is something amiss in my brain why have I had to take my underwear off?) Finally we agree I will take a magic pill. It is called Prozac.

Within two days of being on a low dose of Prozac and am in a stage where I want to jump off a bridge. My anxiety level has risen to breaking point. It is a negative excitement that words find hard to describe. We go through a series of drugs over the next few weeks with similar results. I start to learn and to study . . . “There is not a magic pill” . . . this is at the beginning of a process that will soon lead to me leaving my job (I quit) . . . and being well for six years.

I get another great job but little do I know that I have not gotten to the root cause of my depression, which recurs like a firestorm in 1996.

It is May of 1996. My son is about to graduate from high school and has been accepted at a fine private university; my daughter has a job as an investment analyst with Merrill Lynch and is ready to start an MBA programme; my wife has been fighting breast cancer since 1990 and is winning; and my company has just doubled in size with a major acquisition.

What is wrong with this picture? I am just about at the bottom of a second clinical depression. Can this be happening to me again after five years of “good” mental health? The symptoms are all there, but brutally worse than five years ago. I am not sleeping at all; I’m certain that the world would be better off without me; I simply cannot force myself to exercise; and my mind has become a force within itself obsessing over and over for hours on end about the most miserable of outcomes.

Multiple tries at various medications have given me no relief; in fact, seemingly made things worse. Therapy is somewhat helpful . . . What do I do? My wife is exasperated.

In June, out of sheer desperation, I start my search for the “magic” answer. Surely there is someone, somewhere . . . I read information sent by a friend about the best mental health facilities in the US. My doctor cannot find an adequate place in Texas. I call a few places.

With tremendous trepidation I fly to a major mental health facility in the Midwest with some modest hope. Will I ever see home again? I am placed in a programme called Professionals in Crisis – a synonym for clinical depression.