Being a veterinarian is both extremely rewarding and challenging at the same time. I openly share my own personal story with other vet professionals in an effort to help them find a unique path to sustainability in this beautiful yet trying industry. Oddly enough, learning resiliency to cope with my professional life has helped me navigate through this new, unprecedented “COVID life”. Not medically speaking, though that helps as well, but more in terms with dealing with the emotional roller coaster we’re all now on. How? There are four key areas I often managed through as a vet that are helping me now and can apply to anyone, not just vets.
Limit secondary trauma: though secondary trauma is the indirect exposure to a disturbing experience through narrative or firsthand account, it’s none the less damaging. At first you can handle a story, but as time goes on they pile up and become overwhelming. You can’t escape secondary trauma but teach yourself ways to limit contact with it. Today, you can’t turn on the TV or even look at Facebook without being barraged with the latest COVID statistics and tragic events. So how, when this pandemic is consuming everyone’s lives do you protect yourself? Turn off social media, not completely, but give yourself a finite amount of time to get your news. When you do turn it on, allow yourself the time and space to embrace your emotions. Share your sadness, frustration, and anxiety with someone else. Verbalizing your pain won’t remove it, but it helps to release the negative energy to move you forward.
Allow yourself judgment errors: everyone is human. Nobody has a crystal ball. Sayings we’ve all heard. In medicine we are often times burdened with making critical designs with limited information which may not have been the best course of action once more details presented themselves. In hindsight we see where we could have gone differently but in the heat of the situation we did the best we could with what we knew. These are not “mistakes”, they’re judgement errors and don’t define our worth. How does this relate to now? If you’re beating yourself up over a financial decision gone wrong or potentially inadvertently exposed your family’s health and safety, don’t. You did the best you could with what you knew at the time. The best thing you can do is learn from it and let it go.
Accept the unknown: news flash, veterinarians don’t have all the answers and not every situation presents itself in black and white. We don’t know when a dog might have a first time reaction to a vaccine or when a cat is going to attack with no warning during an exam. True we have at minimum 4+ years of medical training but our decisions are also influenced by past experiences and our knowledge of how diseases work. In the end, we work with the best information we have at the moment while still living in an ocean of uncertainty. Fast forward to life today and EVERYTHING is unknown. When will kids go back to school? When will we be able to travel again? Will my family stay safe and healthy? Will I be able to find toilet paper? Allow the unknown to be there, accept it and then carry on.
Be comfortable with feeling powerless: every day I felt moments of powerlessness at a vet. It actually was the source of a lot of my misery. And when I felt powerless, I’d often go straight to blaming others. Example – my client’s inability to pay for medical care for their pet. But when I blamed and pointed fingers I realized it was simply my inability to accept the feeling of not having control over the situation myself. This pandemic has definitely made me want to place blame somewhere. Could we have somehow prevented more deaths had we done something differently? Why didn’t my friends or family take me more seriously when I told them this was going to be bad and they needed to get ready sooner? What government leaders can I believe? The situation we’re in today sucks, there’s no sugar coating it, but there isn’t one person to blame. We will all get through it better together, collectively.
In the end, we’re all just trying to navigate this imperfect world during a slightly more chaotic time right now and I am thankful for the life lessons my journey towards finding sustainability as a veterinarian has done to help me. We will go back to traveling, visiting friends and family, and going to sporting events. It may, no will look different than it was prior to COVID. Adjusting our mindset to help us get through this is going to be critical just remember, take it one step or day at a time and allow yourself the grace to be human. Words I often told myself as a veterinarian.
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