Today I woke up and I felt like a stranger. I was utterly exhausted. When the alarm went off I pulled the covers over my head trying to drown out the sound of my alarm. I wanted the conviction of being able to hit snooze, but I knew it was only prolonging the inevitable. Nothing in my life had changed. I got up like I do every day with the intentions of giving the best possible care to my patients. I drank my coffee, painted my face, threw on some scrubs and began my trek into work. I grumbled my “good mornings” to my coworkers and began my day.
It was a day that began fully booked. As I set down my purse, I saw all phone lines lit up blinking an angry, impatient red. Nothing went right and no case was straightforward. My doctors were tapping their feet waiting for lab results on patients whose owners anxiously waited in the lobby. None of my patients wanted me to help them today. I had dogs who wanted to rip my face off and cats who were more than willing to scratch me to shreds. I felt like I was constantly problem solving and trying to ensure that things ran smoothly in the clinic, but despite my best efforts, they didn’t.
In fact as the day went on, every problem magnified the problem before it. I couldn’t hit a vein to save my life. All of my surgery patients were roller coasters under anesthesia. I internalized every case that took longer that it should have and beat myself up for every miscommunication. I became frustrated and overwhelmed at inefficiencies and became my own worst enemy. Mentally shut down, I quietly went about my business, internally tearing myself apart for perceived failings and allowing my inner dialogue to consume me to the point I couldn’t pull myself out of my funk.
I went home and replayed how I could’ve made today better or flow more smoothly. I sat on my back porch with a cold beer and the beautiful sound of silence. But as I stared off into my backyard, my wheels were still churning. At what point did I lose control of the situation and how my day went? Where did I go wrong and why were my thoughts still at the clinic I had left an hour before? I realized in some way or another work never left me.
Today was the catalyst of the weeks before it. I had been overextending myself for weeks and I continued to put more on my plate personally and professionally. This had been building to a head for quite some time and I only chose to acknowledge my lack of boundaries when I was at my weakest and most vulnerable. I had spiraled out.
In our field we so often set extreme standards for ourselves. We take our work home with us. We allow our own feelings and emotions to be put on the back burner. I had completely forgotten about self care and in turn had pushed myself to the breaking point. We all know that self care is crucial to surviving the field. If we don’t take time for ourselves or allow ourselves some room to breathe, this is the end result and quite often it can be much worse. So many times we feel that we can handle it. We are rock stars and won’t allow ourselves to fall victim to burn out. Well, until the beast rears its ugly head and we are just to tired to fight.
Don’t be a hero. Yes, we are all bad ass contributors to this great profession. But when we feel ourselves starting to slip, don’t ignore it. Minimizing it only works for some time. There are so many little things we can do to promote our own self care. We know we don’t always have a lot of time and I really believe that taking small moments when you can will slow down the beast of burn out. Read a book on your lunch break or sing loudly to the radio when you get off. Sit down and talk to your family or friends for a little bit after work. Indulge yourself. Get a coffee, go see a movie, dig around in your garden, go for a walk. Stop pushing yourself for 10 minutes and breathe. Watch the sunset. Look at the stars.
I can’t guarantee that I will learn to know when I am rapidly approaching burnout. But I have learned that ignoring the symptoms of burnout isn’t going to make them go away. So when I get frazzled, I’m going to take a step back. When I am tired, I am going to go to bed early and not push myself to continue to read veterinary journals until the wee hours of the morning. I’m not going to come home after a busy day and retreat to the back porch to beat myself up. I’m going to come home and sit down with my family. I’m going to ask them how their day was. I’m going to try to not grab fast food and inhale it because I missed my lunch again. I’m going to take baby steps toward self care.
There are going to be insane, chaotic, emotional days in vet med. There will be days that you succeed and look like you know what you are doing. There will be days that everything you touch turns to shit. But here’s the good news. Those days will draw to a close. They will end and tomorrow will be a new chance to succeed. Tomorrow will also be a new opportunity to put yourself first, if only for a few moments. We cannot continue to lose ourselves to this profession. We cannot let the tension build until we run screaming from the clinic like a crazy person. We cannot forget that we are people outside of our chosen job. It is just a job folks, and at the end of the day we cannot let a job consume us, regardless of how passionate we are.
These times will pass. As long as we remember to fight the good fight but occasionally fight for ourselves we can beat this. So often we think that our lives equate to doing our best and taking a roll of the dice, purely banking on luck that the odds will be in our favor. Luck can only last so long and eventually we have to take action to secure our success. We have to look at the big picture of self care and not just the immediate in front of us. The immediate is not sustainable. There will be nights we are tired. But we will wake up and continue to give it everything we have got. We can slay this beast with compassion. Compassion for ourselves.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jade is a licensed technician of 9 years who lives in Port Orchard, Washington. She enjoys emergency and critical cases, dentistry and creating a bond with her clients and team. During her off time she is busy keeping up with her two crazy Basenjis!