By: Shawn Finch, DVM
From my friend, Andy Roark, “Write about something you are passionate about.”
How fun! How open-ended! I could write anything! I couldn’t wait to get started!
“This should be easy,” I thought. I am passionate about so many aspects of our profession – the clients, the patients, the veterinary team, and so many topics – spaying and neutering pets, end of life care, pain management. Only, I am not, not lately.
The problem is that right now I am using all my energy to stay alive. I am not excited about anything because I am determined to survive and am using drugs (antidepressants) to reach that goal. They are working, but they dull my senses, my zest, my drive. I don’t care though because it is so good not to feel despair.
This past summer I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I have struggled off and on with depression all of my adult life. The anxiety is fairly new.
Depression is so common in our profession. Is veterinary medicine a profession that attracts people prone to depression or do the demands and sadness and ups and downs of the career pull us in that direction? I suspect a combination of both, but I can tell you that when you are struggling to get out of bed because you feel the heavy, dark weight of not being able to reconcile wanting to be gone with the despair of the looming mortality of every person you know and love – including yourself – and every patient and pet you love… (I know! When I am well, my first thought in the morning is that I need to get up and brush my teeth without tripping on a small dog! A much cheerier way to start the day!)…well when you wake up in that state and spend the whole day trying to shake it…you do not quite care what caused it, you just want relief.
Suicide is relief. It is Wrong. It is Not the Answer. It is A Permanent Solution to a Temporary Problem. But it is relief from that overwhelming oppressive state. After trying to pull yourself up by your laces until you are utterly exhausted, it is kicking off your shoes. Maybe the answer, for a bit, is walking around with your laces dragging. Or letting someone else pull you up.
I have a wonderful family and wonderful friends. I have pets I love, a home and garden I love, a great career and a strong faith. When depression overcomes me, messing with my head and my heart and distorting reality, none of that keeps me here. A promise I made to my brother Bill fifteen years ago keeps me here, “I will not give up.” Staying does not benefit the depressed person – I mean, of course it does in the long run – but staying, in the short run, is for those you love.
Dad told a friend who was struggling with depression (and who survived, I believe because of Dad), “When you think, ‘Things are not getting better,’ change that to ‘Things are not getting better yet.’”
Drag your tired, confused, despairing self to the doctor, or find a friend or family member who will. When the first medication does not work, tell your doctor and try the second. When you do not click with the first therapist or psychologist, find the second, and the third. You don’t have to make it to the other side; you just have to make it the next step.
I get angry when people call suicide the most extreme side effect of depression, which, of course, it is. But it is not inevitable. I am strong. You are too. I always have a choice. You do too.
I cannot speak to the causes and the amplifiers of depression, except from my own personal experience. I can speak to the links to our profession, but not as an expert, only as one obsessed with reading every study, every article, every opinion and sadly, every obituary.
This past season, I have lost many dear patients, including my Mom and Dad’s sweet poodle Ernie, my brother and sister-in-law’s sweet cat Abaye and then our own cat Max. My friend and vet school classmate Edie Klein committed suicide last year and took all of her pets with her. All of this and more has broken my heart and worn me down. Things layer. Things overwhelm. It would be easier to not deal with life, but it is not the path I will take.
I am not one to share openly without a reason, but this seems like a pretty good reason. I tell such a personal story hoping it will help you. Depression does not define me, but it sure has been a heavy weight.
I can tell you from here on the other side of such a depressed season that life is good again. I mean, it was good then, but now I can see it accurately again, without such an oppressive cloud over and around and through me. I may get there again – statistically it is likely – but I have one more memory of getting through to keep me strong. And I promised my brother I would stay.
Dr. Shawn Finch is an associate veterinarian at Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals in Omaha Nebraska. She and her husband Russ have two wonderful daughters, Amanda and Abby, two underfoot dogs, Noodle the Poodle, a sixteen year old miniature poodle, and Luna Lovegood, a five month old Chihuahua X Westie mix, and one regular dog, Joy the Puppy, a five year old lab mix.
Shawn manages social media for Gentle Doctor Animal Hospitals and is on the editorial advisory board of Veterinary Economics. She has a (mostly) veterinary blog, Riley and James, and is on Twitter at @finch93.