Resolute to Relax

For years, whenever the First of January came about, I would dread to think about making a New Years Resolution. I think most people can agree that we usually intend to lose weight, cut down on our alcohol intake or reduce sugar in our diet. Mostly our Resolutions are about minimising or cutting something out of our lives, and it’s a shame that often or not it’s something that actually gives us a little pleasure, which is often why we fail. Taking away those little joys makes us miserable and more often we realise that drinking a little less during the week or cutting out those biscuits at tea time are just not worth it if it takes away those little pleasure moments that keep us going.

For years my New Years Resolution was that I was going to lose weight, get fitter, get healthier and I always failed. The problem is that New Years Resolutions are almost always too ambitious, losing weight, for example, require a complete change of lifestyle, a change of mindset. One year I became so obsessed with losing weight I very nearly became a full-blown bulimic! I came to realise that my eating habits go hand-in-hand with my depression. If I get low, I comfort eat and if I can’t comfort eat when I’m low, I will find other ways to express my sadness which can manifest itself in more dangerous ways, like self-harming. It’s only recently that I’ve realised that in order to lose weight, I need to change the way I think about food and how I use it in relation to my depression. These are things that will take a lot of time and a lot of hard word which at present I’m not in a position to put myself through.

Of course no one says that you have to have a New Years Resolution, you can just carry on as you do any other time of the year, but it’s nice to have a fresh start, to reflect on your past year and go about making changes to better yourself and those around you, but the important thing to remember is that New Years Resolutions should be attainable, something that you know you can achieve but also something enjoyable! It doesn’t just have to be about improving your physical health, as your mental health is just as important and doing things that make you happy or relaxed are just as valid as losing weight or cutting carbs. They also don’t have to cost you money, like an expensive gym membership or equipment for a new hobby. It also doesn’t have to take up lots of time, perhaps you could have a bath once a week, or read a book, or bake a cake?

This year, I have given myself one simple task to do, I will do it everyday if I can and it will neither cost me money nor time. Before Christmas I found myself a little diary, a bright yellow one that has ‘Do more of what makes you happy‘ written across the front. My task is simple. Everyday I will write something in my diary, either about something I achieved, some kindness someone gave me, some kindness I gave to someone else, or something that made me smile.

Now when I say achievement, I’m not talking about saving a cat from a burning building or assisting an elderly person across the road, no, I’m talking about simple things, like just being able to get out of bed, or brushing my teeth, especially on those bad days when such seemingly trifling tasks are huge mountainous trials. It could also be that I helped a client overcome her fear of clipping her dogs nails, or that I successfully did a head bandage! These are all small things on the day but they are instantly forgotten when the fog of depression swoops in and your mind plays back all of your failures. It would be nice to be able to reach for this little yellow diary and read through the positive things that have happened to me, to remind myself that my life is not worthless, it has light and moments of achievement and joy, no matter how small they are.

After enquiring on Twitter what others will be attempting to achieve this year, I was impressed to see many were looking at bettering themselves as nurses, being better at caring for themselves and their own mental wellbeing. It was refreshing to see that mental health is starting to be discussed more, and that the veterinary profession is starting to see that depression and anxiety is a real issue within our community. I hope that all of those who are making New Years Resolutions this year are making them with their own mental well-being in mind.


Depression: the unwanted Christmas guest

“How can you be depressed at Christmas?” I’ve heard this too many times. Depression, like any illness, doesn’t instantly go away the minute Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas” starts playing on the radio or when the Christmas decorations go up. If I am in the right frame of mind, I will often counter the question with another. “If you broke your leg, would you expect your broken bone to heal just because it’s Christmas?” Putting this question to people who don’t understand depression helps them see my illness from another perspective, one that they will find easier to associate with.

There is a lot of pressure on people to feel and act extra cheerful over the holiday period but for someone suffering with depression and/or anxiety, it can be a complete nightmare. That mask of normality has to be maintained for longer and has to be even more convincing during the festive period and I can tell you it can be utterly exhausting and leaves you more depressed then at any other time of the year. All the joys and pleasures one might get out of Christmas is replaced with the stress of convincing others that you’re not being miserable or “being a Scrooge”.

For me, Christmas time is quite melancholic. As a child, I loved Christmas, I got spend the whole day with my family and my extended family. We had traditions and routines that I looked forward to. Now, however, most of my extended family has either passed or moved away, both my brothers are now married and spend Christmas with their In-Laws, so usually it is just me and my parents. I say “just”, but I am very lucky to have two wonderful parents still living and who love and support me. I just don’t get that same magical feeling during the holiday period no matter how I try to replicate or force it. Maybe Christmas is just for kids, but I’d like to think we can still hold onto a bit of that childish joy as adults. It’s important to remember that Christmas means different things to different people, so although it is meant to be a joyful holiday, celebrating love and family, many people have to live without it and so Christmas is not a time of celebration.

I also find Christmas a difficult time to work in the Veterinary profession. It’s not Christmas if you don’t have at least one client yell at you for taking away the money they should be spending on Christmas. I’ve had clients refuse life-saving surgery for their pets because it would mean their children went without presents. I’ve been accused of ruining Christmas’ because we wouldn’t treat their pets for free (“Where’s your Christmas Spirit?!“) and I’ve had owners come in with with their new puppy or kitten that was bought as a Christmas present and blanch at the price of the vaccinations. It’s frustrating, upsetting but unfortunately part of the job, so I just force myself to take a deep breath and swallow my sadness to deal with later, whether that is to talk about it to a loved one or team member, or do something I enjoy to try and counteract the negative experiences.

The other reason Christmas can be more stressful then any other time of year is because it is also a time of self-reflection, how did I do this year? What did I achieve? What didn’t I achieve? So it’s not hard to imagine a lot of people get depressed at Christmas because we’re constantly comparing our achievements to our peers. Invites to Christmas parties make it hard to avoid situations like this, which just brings me down even more when I find myself in a tightly packed, noisy pub trying to hear what my friend is saying over the deafening din of the Christmas music and trying to down as much alcohol as possible until I felt numb enough to cope with my social anxiety. I soon realised that forcing myself into these situations was just setting me back in my recovery so I began declining party invites but offered instead to meet for a quiet cuppa instead, somewhere where I felt safe and could maintain my friendships without feeling like I was isolating myself.

So if anyone tells you they are feeling down or depressed over the Christmas period, ask them how you can help because that’s really what Christmas is all about, being there for one another.

If you’ve stayed with me so far, I want to thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas filled with love and hope. 

Taking the Nurse out of the Practice

Last week, the week I have been waiting for since the beginning of the year, finally arrived. I was off on holiday! My one and only holiday of the year. A whole seven days out of work and even out of the county. It’s been no secret that I have recently been struggling with my depression again. Medication is one tool to help alleviate some of the more terrifying aspects of the illness, but I need to help retrain my brain to think differently to how I perceive and associate thoughts and feelings. A break away from what I already know and unconsciously associate with dark thoughts provided me with a small beam of light that broke through the fog of my depression.

I was heading to Norfolk with two long-time friends, Donna and Amy (whom also happen to be RVN’s), Charlie (Donna’s nine-month-old son), Donna’s four dogs; Chudleigh, Buddy, Lucy and Ruby and my own dog, Anubis.

The risk of going away with fellow RVN’s is that you’re at a risk of talking ‘shop’ when you’re together but actually, work hardly came up! Of course there were a few stories here and there, a few interesting cases we wanted to share (since we don’t work in the same practices) but all three of us were in the mindset of using this week to recharge and enjoy the festive season. It was Charlie’s first Christmas so we enjoyed putting him into cute Christmas outfits and taking a million photos, we enjoyed watching Christmas movies, we wrapped up and went for walks along the beach to enjoy the fresh (if brisk!) sea air and then we’d end the evening after Charlie had gone to bed with a nice glass of wine and a few games. It was heaven!

As with many practices in this modern age, we have a “Whatsapp Work Group”. Originally it was meant to allow staff members to let each other know if they were ill or going to be late but it quickly developed into a means to catch up on cases and chase staff members for information if they weren’t in. The dangerous realisation is that there really is no way of switching off of work mode when colleagues can contact you at any time to ask you questions. Sometimes I would be awakened at an unsociable hour in the night because a sleepless colleague had thought they’d forgotten something. This led to me switching my phone onto ‘Night Mode’ after 8pm. I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to make sure I have a few hours before bed to clear my head of anything that might give me stressful thoughts and work definitely provides a lot of those! However, despite this, I always have a compulsion to message the group on days when I’m sick or on days off, just to make sure everything is okay. This time, however, I was going to make an effort to avoid all work related communications.

I made a point of ‘muting’ the work “WhatsApp Work Group” to avoid the temptation of checking in and seeing what was occurring and I also avoided checking the practice Facebook page. My team is wonderful and they fully acknowledged that I needed this time away and that short of the building burning down, they wouldn’t contact me in regards to work. The ultimate test came when a well-known client, Mrs S, sent me a text half way during the week (Note: I don’t make it a habit of handing clients my personal mobile number, but there was exceptional circumstances in Mrs S case which I won’t go into). I knew she was waiting on test results and she messaged me to say she had had a missed call from the practice but was too scared to call back in case it was bad news. I was just about to start dialling my practice’ phone number to find out for her what the call was regarding when I stopped myself. No, I am on holiday, this is not a life or death situation, my team can handle it. My fingers began to tremble as I tapped out a message politely explaining to Mrs S that I was away on holiday and unable to find out the information she wanted. The reply was instant and Mrs S was so apologetic at having interrupted my holiday and that she would call the practice right away. There, it had been simple, but I had spent an agonising few minutes between sending my message and recieving her reply wondering if she would be upset and if I was being unreasonable and should just call the practice for her. Thank God for my friends, they talked some sense into me, but knowing them as well as I do, I know they would have felt exactly the same way I had.

The question is, how much of ourselves are we expected to give? Especially if you’re the type of person who keeps so little to yourself. As an RVN, our number one attribute is caring for others, whether that is the for the patient or the client. We are people pleasers, hard workers. I have done my far share of going above and beyond but sometimes we have to draw a line and decide that our own mental wellbeing is just as important as being the best RVN we can be. Part of my therapy is to learn when to say ‘no’ and that ‘no’ is not a dirty word. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, it doesn’t mean you are poor at your job and it certainly doesn’t make you a bad person. I’m still learning this and I will slip into old, self damaging habits every once in a while, but for now, I know that during my next holiday, my practice will survive without me, my colleagues will continue to support me in the same way I hope I support them and I can allow myself to leave the RVN in me at work without compromising my self-worth or mental wellbeing.

About Time…

Having thought about doing it for years, I’ve finally plucked up the courage to write a blog about my experiences as a registered veterinary nurse struggling with depression. I am certainly not in the minority, a great many veterinary professionals struggle with  mental health issues and I am sad to say that some don’t win the battle. There are those, like me, that are vocal about their depression and there are those who deal with theirs in private. There is absolutely no right or wrong way of coping with mental health issues, and I certainly don’t want anyone dealing with depression to think that keeping it private makes you a coward or weak. Depression is certainly not a black and white issue, the mind is complicated and we’re all just trying to make it one day at a time.

Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist or counsellor, nor do I hold any qualifications in the field. I do not claim or pretend to know how depression affects other people, I will only be able to discuss my depression, my experiences and my methods. What works for me, will not necessarily work for someone else and vice versa. I would advise that if you feel depressed, hopeless or that the world would be better off without you, please talk to someone or if you wish to keep it private, talk to a doctor or to Samaritans on 116 123.

Secondly, I will explain the title of my blog, “A Veterinary Nurse in the Fog“. Depression has many faces and many names. During a session with a psychologist several years ago, she explained to me that depressed people see their depression in different ways. For example, to some people depression manifests itself as a creature, like a parrot or a monkey. These creatures taunt you, remind you of your failings and devalue your existence. To me, my depression is like a fog. Some days it’s thick and heavy, suppressing me, smothering me, separating me from society and making me feel so isolated that I wonder if there were ever any people around me to begin with. Other days, the fog lifts slightly so that I can see outlines of people and I feel a little less isolated and a bit more normal.

I am hoping that this blog will further my own therapy, in writing down my thoughts and experiences, I can map out my train of thought, lead myself to the moments, memories and actions that can trigger those “fog” days and if somehow, my own journey helps someone else come to terms with their own battle, all the better.