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

SSRI Ed note: Depressed CEO becomes suicidal, depression worsens on Prozac, other meds.

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.