TV doctor Dr Frances Pitsilis admits she was blindsided by her own serious health scare

She now focuses on spreading the word about the warning signs for burn out.

By Ciara Pratt
For more than three decades, Dr Frances Pitsilis has been at the forefront of general medicine, delivering babies, working in emergency medicine and even administering cosmetic procedures. She's shared her knowledge on breakfast television and her former show, Is Modern Medicine Killing You?, and makes it her mission to improve the lives of those suffering from chronic illnesses.
But while Frances (60) has spent her career devoted to the health of others, she wasn't aware when she was hurtling towards two major burnouts.
"I was chairperson of the After Hours service and I was doing obstetrics – which is a 24-hour job. My worst ever thing is that I wouldn't get sleep for five days. I'd work in the day and deliver babies in the night," she recalls of her first burnout back in 1997.
"And then the power on the fridge went off and the freezers had a meltdown at home, so then I had a little meltdown for a whole weekend!
"I didn't know that's what it was and that's what happens to people when they don't know they're burning out. One minute they're at work and the next minute they're on stress leave," she says.
She was able to continue to work with the support of her staff. But just two years later, Frances succumbed to what she calls "the big one" and had to take six months off. Burnouts often manifest through symptoms including insomnia, migraines, clammy palms, loss of rational thought and out-of-whack hormones – the list goes on, Frances explains.
But her burnouts and immense stress have also resulted in her experiencing depression and loss of sight in recent years, which required two surgeries to restore.
"I went on anti-depressants and waited to get well 18 years ago, but they didn't make me feel better. I thought I was unstoppable before I got burnt out, but then I realised I wasn't unbreakable any more. If I knew then what I know now, I would have found a doctor who could help me the way I help people."
Frances is honest about the aspects of her own personality she believes contributed to her burnout.
"I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I was trying to do in 15 minutes what really needed longer and I think I'm one of those people who when stressed, will work harder," she admits.
In fact, she believes many women can relate to traits such as "being the type of person who can't say no because they typically look after others before themselves, but they need to do a good job so they end up getting overloaded".
Seeing the need to find a new way of healing herself and others suffering in the same way, Frances studied for a diploma of occupational medicine, and completed international training in nutrition, natural therapies and hormones. This, she says, enabled her to see the big picture of a person's health and correct the imbalances caused by stress.
"If we start from the top down – you lose your vitamins and minerals, your neurotransmitters don't work properly, you start to drain your hormones, you lose your gastric acid and it disrupts your gut flora. So your immune system, your gut system, your hormones, all systems don't work properly and get disrupted."
Look at your lifestyle first, she says, correct your nutrition, correct your hormones, then turn to drugs if they're still needed. Her clinic now treats countless patients who are at the end of their tether facing a number of chronic conditions including fibromyalgia, early menopause, hormonal imbalances and bowel conditions.
"A good percentage of fibromyalgia in women is because of an undiagnosed underactive thyroid, amongst other things," she tells.
For a number of years, Frances has been filming videos to post on YouTube detailing these conditions and how to treat them because she believes all patients should have access to this information.
To most patients, doctors are infallible human beings who have all the answers. So does Frances worry about revealing her burnout history?
"I don't hide it – I'm happy to mention it. It's really common in women doctors and in women full stop.
"Most of the women I see are burnt out. It's common in people who work very long hours and have very demanding jobs.
"But I've got better because after I got burnt out, I had a lot of counselling to understand what I do to myself. So then when you're doing it, you say, 'Oh, I'm doing that again,' and you know what to change."

What is burnout?

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