In the ups and downs of life, we have good years and bad years. Some years are like a dream you never want to leave, filed away in the wistful memory banks as “The Amazing Summer of 2011” or whatnot, and others are particularly nightmarish beast-years you want to set on fire and never mention again. I had one of those this year.
As veterinarians, I think we’re often extra susceptible to those sorts of years from hell since we take on such enormous professional burdens. 2010, for example, was my last terrible year, and it involved a deceased patient, lawyers, a loathsome TV reporter, and the demise of my sanity. By the end of the year, I was past burned out and more of a charred, hollow husk of ash incapable of walking into a clinic without hyperventilating. But I learned a lot from the experience, and I wanted to end this crappy year by sharing some of those lessons with you:
- It’s OK to take a breather.
When you reach that tipping point, continuing to push yourself can be disastrous for your emotional and physical health. If you need to take a break, do it, whether that means a short vacation or a leave of absence from the profession. Will your boss judge you? Who cares! It is never too late to come back down the road. People do it all the time.
- Sometimes you have to set out with no plan.
We’re Type A, I know it. Quitting a bad job or taking a breather after a traumatic divorce or whatever the situation is, sometimes you are going to be in a place where you are looking ahead without being entirely sure what’s there. Something is there, and that’s all that really matters for now. Better to move forward into the unknown than remain in despair, because hope is really what defines us as humans, right? Never lose hope.
- Be open to things you weren’t expecting.
After surviving the Year From Hell, I diagnosed my labrador with osteosarcoma and I started the new year by euthanizing her. Not much of an improvement, no, but the colleague who came by to help asked if I wanted to work with her part-time, and that is how I ended up doing home hospice and euthanasia. It’s amazing work. I thought I understood everything about death after a decade or so in the field, but OH, I was so, so wrong.
- Have faith that surviving this is going to make you stronger.
Because guess what? After surviving one terrible year you’re probably going to have another. Welcome to being human. But what they say about what doesn’t kill you is entirely true, and I can verify that after experiencing 2015.
Life got much better in the intervening years after 2010. I realized no one pilloried me for saying “I don’t enjoy working in a clinic anymore”, I got to write a book, I went on some World Vets trips, I decided to embrace the whole self-care thing and became a spinning nut. I picked the kids up from school every day. Everything was beautiful. And then- 2015 came lumbering in.
One day I was happily decorating the house for Easter dinner with the kids, relishing the happiness that comes from being surrounded by family who loves you, and the next day my Dad texted me that my mother had a brain tumor. It really was that fast. The next two months were a blur.
She wanted to forego treatment. I fought for her to be allowed to leave the radiologist behind and go straight to hospice, using lessons I learned from my veterinary work to argue with the doctors.
She wanted to live her last days at my home, with the kids around her. I swallowed my fear and brought her in, not knowing what they would be seeing.
I took another break from work, because she needed me. And I needed to be there. There was nothing more important than being present.
I continued to go to the gym, because I understood by that point that taking care of yourself is the only way to fully be there for those who need you.
My mom died this year, and I’ve never been so sad and lost as I am now. But the garbage that I survived in 2010 was so important for setting the stage and giving me the tools I needed to make it through this year, and I’m grateful for it.
- Trust in those who want to help.
I know I’m not living some unique People Story of the Week – in fact, I know of four close friends who lost a parent this year alone.
So if you had a miserable hell year, I hear you, friend. Join me over here at the bonfire and let’s light this garbage up and never speak of it again. We got this one. May our 2016 be filled with better things.
Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and petmd. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.