10/09/2019 by Dr. Danielle Anderson, BSc, DVM, CCRP, cVMA 3 Comments
Suicide Awareness day
When I was a kid, I remember wanting 2 things in life. A family, and a career as a veterinarian. I have the extreme fortune of having accomplished these dreams. Neither of them was what I expected, but at my current 44 years of age, both have exceeded my expectations. My staff, my friends, and my clients know me and know that I am an open book....sometimes to a fault. So most are also aware that I suffer from depression and anxiety. I actually wrote "have suffered" and changed it as I realized that that is not a true representation. Why?? Because although 99% of the time I am good....really good due to a very strong support system and coping mechanisms. I also know that there are times where that anxiety is lurking and that sad day can spiral pretty quickly. I am writing this because not only have I know people who have committed suicide, it is becoming far too common in our veterinary community and I felt on today's Suicide Awareness Day, it was something that I needed to talk about.
As with anyone, there have been times in my life that have been more difficult than others. The doubts that I could get into vet school. The doubts of whether I am making the right decisions for my kids. Having my 2 1/2 yr old in the hospital with pneumonia and a collapsed lung while being 8 months pregnant with my daughter. My 6 week old infant daughter having an intussusception. Euthanizing patients that could have been saved if money was not a concern.
Graduating from vet school, after 9 years of university, was the most exciting time for me. I had a wonderful supportive boyfriend (now husband) who was willing to move cities with me. I had a great job offer with lots of support. and I could not wait to start my career. It was not long after that I felt that my career was not what I expected. Job changes did not help. A decision to take time off and have a baby and then restart at a temporary position seemed to get me back on track. Life was good. It was not until the birth of my second child that my mental health spiraled. I cried all of the time. I did not enjoy....anything. I felt......empty. I was fortunate to have a husband who saw what was happening even when I did not and sought out help. I was fortunate to have a boss who's wife saw me and recognized the signs as she had gone through them a few months before. But what if these things weren't present? What would have happened to me? Would I have ended up like my colleagues? I was my own worst enemy. Stubborn and resistant to taking help and drugs because I wanted to be able to do it on my own. No, I won't stop nursing. No I don't want medication. The stigma of mental health disorders and needing medication combined with a stubborn Type A personality was not a good combination. As veterinarians we want to fix things and when we can't it is frustrating. I wanted to fix myself and could not. What helped? Other strong women with similar personalities telling me that it was OK. Describing the feelings that I couldn't put into words, but they could because they had also dealt with them. And a husband that did not give up. Treatment for my post-partum anxiety and depression was successful. I was able to come off of medications later that year. But this was not the end of my story....
It wasn't long after that when events unfolded triggering the same emotions of standing in a tornado of anxiety and feeling like there was no way out. This time it was harder to control. It was a difficult road and again I was lucky and thankful to have family and friends with whom without them, I do not know how I would have survived.
Depression is not sadness. You can't tell someone to "just be happy". Trust me, I told myself that everyday, and I remember thinking "OK, I'm good"....and then sitting at the doctors for a quick recheck only to completely lose it when asked how I was doing. We become fantastic on putting on a brave front. There is a reason people are surprised when someone commits suicide. "He/she always seemed so happy!" "Seemed" is the key word. My wonderful supportive husband has learned that there are times I just need to regroup and sit on the couch. There are times I need a hug and times I need to be alone. However being sad doesn't necessarily mean you are "depressed". Not everyone is the same. What my emotional triggers are may not be yours.
In 2013 I became certified in rehabilitation and in 2016 I became certified in Medical Acupuncture. These two things have allowed me to practice veterinary medicine the way I need to. Client centered. Full of conversation. Offering options and support to people when they feel they have run out of options. It is not for everyone. In fact due to the very close relationships I form with my clients, it is more emotionally involved sometimes than regular practice. I did love regular practice for a good portion of my career but I am very thankful that my path has led me to where I am now.
My hope is as follows.....be there for one another. Stop judging each other. Be kind. Have conversations so if someone is having a rough time and maybe heading into that anxiety depression tornado, maybe, just maybe they might be willing to talk if they know someone is there to listen. People are human and make mistakes. It is easy to forget that when we are dealing with Doctors and Veterinarians but they are human. They have emotions. Shaming them for charging is not OK. Shaming them for not showing emotion is not OK when it may be there only defense mechanism against the 10 euthanasias they had that day. Shaming them for being too emotional is not OK when that outlet is better than them bottling it up. Take care of eachother...and yourselves.