The Nurse Curse

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Just a quick one today, it’s been playing in my head a lot the past couple of weeks and I wanted to write it down and try to process my thoughts.

So I’m going to say something that’s a little bit controversial. Sometimes I hate my job.

I’m not kidding, sometimes all the hard work, blood, sweat and tears just don’t seem worth it. Sometimes I feel so frustrated and under appreciated that I find myself scrolling through job sites to do anything other than Veterinary Nursing. Sometimes I struggle being around people, clients and colleagues included. I want to shut everyone out for just a few minutes so I can process my emotions and calm down. Sometimes when I’ve over stimulated, when I find I’m dealing with too many things at once, I find myself getting angry and frustrated. A few times I even snapped at people for dividing my attention beyond my capacity. I feel instantly ashamed the moment it happens, after all a Nurse is supposed to be able to cope with stress and everything happening at once, right?

I work in a small practice and as our team is now growing, there are few places I can go and hide if I need a break. The only guaranteed place of solace is the toilet but then if you take too long in there, people soon suspect you might have a problem! The benefits of being able to take my dog to work is that he needs toilet breaks too, so I can pop out to the garden out in the car park and suck in some fresh air and re-calibrate myself. Although my team knows about my depression, I can’t expect them to be able to read my moods and know when I need some space, because even I don’t even know when these moments are going to occur. And also, I have a job to do and I can’t always avoid my team if they need me.

I often feel there is a lot of pressure on the Veterinary team to be enthused about their jobs all the time, no matter what, the “Nurse Curse”. We’re in a caring role, which often makes us feel we have to put others well-being above your own. I’ve read numerous articles and social media posts by RVN’s who state they have always wanted to be nurses and knew from an early age it is what they wanted to do and every day for them is a new adventure, a new challenge and they face it motivated and enthusiastically. And as I read these statements, although I’m super happy for them,  I can’t but help feel a little bitter. I wish I could be that secure in myself, I wish I could bounce into work with motivation and purpose, sometimes it takes all the strength I have just to do one consultation. Sometimes when a receptionist tells me there is a client waiting for an appointment with me, I find myself groaning internally or even out loud! Sometimes when I see a full day of ops on the white board I feel fed up. Is this normal? Is this just me? Is this just my depression or am I truly unsatisfied with my career? I honestly don’t know and I’m too scared to ask anyone. Would they tell me I was a bad Nurse for feeling that way? Does this mean that all my hard work was for nothing?

But here’s the other side of the coin. I love my colleagues. Seeing my fellow RVN and the VCA’s lifts my spirits, we joke about work or about our private lives. We have the same sense of humour, we work together well, each person has their role and we fit together like a well oiled machine. I couldn’t ask for a better nursing team.

And that consultation I was reluctant to do, turns out they have just bought a new puppy and he’s visiting me for his second vaccination. He’s cute and fluffy and wants to give me kisses as he wags his little tail. My heart sours with love for this little cutie and the owner is laughing and enjoying watching this interaction. The client listens intently, asks questions, makes notes, thanks me for my help with genuine gratitude. I smile as they leave the room and my heart swells. I can’t believe that twenty minutes ago I was thinking this might not be the job for me.

I feel like I’m going to continue having this love/hate relationship with my job until I find I hate it more than love it and end up doing something different. I would still want to work with animals but maybe in a more home life friendly capacity. Is there such a thing? Who knows, I’ll look into it the next time I have a feverish desire to escape the practice!

 

 

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Mothers Day

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So, as today is Mother’s Day I wanted to write a post about how my depression effected my relationship with my Mum and how it pulled us apart but then finally brought us back together.

My Mum is one of these people that takes you by surprise. To look at, she is this little, slim red head, with the patience of a saint and who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. But so help you, if you mess with her kids she will eat you alive and no matter what trials you throw at her, she will not back down because she will fight until the bitter end. I am nothing like my Mother but I wish I was. She is so tough and strong but she is also soft and wise and she is my hero.

It was a different story about 16 years ago. I suppose you could say we had a typical teenage daughter/mother relationship. She grounded me for doing something stupid, I told her I hated her and slammed my bedroom door shut. I wasn’t nice to my Mum at all and I’m so glad that she is still around for me as an adult to admit that I was a little shit and that she didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated her and that I have never, not once in my life actually hated her. She knows this of course, because as I’ve previously stated, she is wise.

I knew something wasn’t right. I felt as if there was this darkness growing deep inside of me. It scared me but at the same time drew me in, like a moth to a flame. My Mum knew something was changing in me but with her own Mother desperately ill in hospital, she was distracted and that was understandable. I remember writing my Nan a letter, asking her not to die, we still had so much to do together and as a family which she simply could not miss. But she died anyway and that darkness that bubbled below the surface consumed me and I didn’t know what to do with all this anger, sadness and despair that suddenly overwhelmed me. So I turned to self-harming. I used a razor to trace lines over my wrists, testing it gently at first and then applying more and more pressure until blood began to trickle around my wrist. I was very careful about hiding the blade and my self-inflicted wounds, only wearing long sleeved shirts and jumpers. Almost every night I added a few more lines to the collection and then I would stick some paper towel over my forearm and go to sleep. Why did I do it? Is there really a logical reason to someone slashing their wrists? I wanted to mask the pain, mask the sadness and loneliness, so by creating physical wounds, it helped hide the emotional ones. Does that make sense? It didn’t to my Mum, who found out what I was doing almost a year later. She didn’t understand and I think that scared her the most, so she took me to the doctors who diagnosed me with clinical depression and I was put on some medication and that was that. Life went on and I think it was assumed I would just get better.

But I didn’t. I was still self-harming but I had just learnt to be better at hiding it. Maybe my Mum would have noticed something was still not right with me if tragedy hadn’t struck again and my Auntie, my Mum’s little sister, died in a tragic accident.

There was another casualty that day; it was the day I lost my Mum. I wasn’t sure if it was shock at what she had witnessed or the realisation that in a few short years she had lost her Mother and baby sister, but my Mum retreated into herself. She became cold, distant, unfeeling. I can count the times I have seen my Mum cry on one hand and the death of her sister was not one of them, at least not that I had seen. Over time I began to get angry with her, angry at her for abandoning me and my brothers. I was so self-obsessed, consumed by my own illness that I didn’t think to try and understand things from her perspective. She had lost two people she loved, she was traumatised and had to face up to the realisation that the people she loved would die one day. Perhaps in her mind she became distant from those she loved so that it didn’t invite more tragedy. In my own despair, I stopped taking my anti-depressants and began playing a stupid and very dangerous game. I bought some painkillers and every night I would take one more tablet then the one before, to see how many nights it would take for me to not wake up in the morning. I genuinely hated being alive, life had taken a much loved Grandmother, Auntie and Mother from me and it could take me too because I just didn’t care.

It was during a very heated argument one morning with my Mum that I blurted out exactly what I was doing with those pills and the expression on her face will haunt me forever. Without a word she bundled me into the car and drove me straight to the Doctors’ Surgery. I stood there behind her as she asked the Receptionist if I could see a doctor as soon as possible. The Receptionist politely explained they were all very busy and then it happened, my Mother, my hardened, unfeeling Mother broke down in the middle of the waiting room, sobbing her heart out. Unsure of what to do, the Receptionist went to grab a Doctor whilst another helped my Mum to a seat and passed her a tissue. All I could do was stand and stare at my Mum. I was in shock, and it snapped me out of the fog to see that my Mother did care, she cared more then anyone else did. I suddenly felt incredibly guilty, my Mother had lost her own Mum, her sister and almost her daughter. How could I do this to her? I suddenly felt like the worst daughter in the world and I resolved to get to better for her. I told the doctor this, I promised him I would stop self-harming, take my tablets and stay away from pain killers and I meant it.

I was on a new path, a long scary one but now I had my Mum by my side. It wasn’t easy, my Mum didn’t understand depression and she still doesn’t. She thought that by telling me to “keep my chin up” and to “just keep busy” was excellent advice to tell someone with depression. I knew she meant well, but it just wasn’t helpful. I remember her finally getting some grasp on my illness when the doctor explained to her that my depression as an illness, a chemical imbalance of the brain. It wasn’t exactly what he said but it is how my Mum realised that depression wasn’t something that someone could just get over by smiling through it.

Since my teenage years, my relationship with my Mum has definitely improved. She is even the reason I got into Veterinary Nursing. I was upset because I hated my job as a cashier at a high street bank and wanted to do something different. Mum asked me what did I want to do most in the world. My answer was to work with animals, so we ran through a list of jobs involving animals but a lot of them were unrealistic. “What about a Vet?” she asked. I scrunched up my nose, “Nope”. “Well what about a Veterinary Nurse?” That gave me pause for thought. A caring role, working with animals. Sounded perfect.

Fast forward 10 years and here I am. Still here, still battling depression but not on my own anymore. My Mum fights alongside me, gives me a reason to carry on when it gets too much. And my Mum is learning to open up more, to talk to me about things she wouldn’t normally discuss with me because she’s worried about burdening me. Our relationship couldn’t be stronger and when I felt confident enough to tell her what I was doing with my blog, she turned around to me and told me how proud she is of me. That meant the world. Now I don’t mean that my Mum has never said she’s proud of me, she’s been proud of me for a lot of things, many, many things but to be proud of the one thing she struggles to understand is something else.

I love my Mum, she is my best friend, my champion and my hero. It might seem mushy but it’s Mother’s Day and I mean every word of it.

Happy Mothers Day to all the Mothers that are here and all those who sadly aren’t, you are always in our thoughts.

Studying as an SVN with Social Anxiety

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It’s taken me a long time to write this post because frankly, I really don’t know an awful lot about social anxiety and I will be talking about a time which was particularly dark and difficult for me. What I do know about social anxiety is that it’s frustrating, crippling and isolating but I’m not sure of the mechanics behind it, if indeed there are any! About five years ago I was diagnosed with social anxiety and referred to a CBT course at Healthy Minds. Although it didn’t really help improve my anxiety, it did help me make a bit more sense of it.

I don’t really know of any defining moment when I realised that I had a problem. I was a shy kid who progressed to painfully shy in secondary school and then that shyness manifested itself into something physical whenever I engaged in social events with friends and even family. It’s very hard to put into words what happens during an anxiety attack but it can very quickly turn into a full blown panic attack and in a brief moment you can go from coherent and stable to a quivering, sweaty mess on the floor. Not many people are aware of my social anxiety, it’s not because I’m particularly ashamed of it, but when you also suffer from depression, fearing being around people pales in comparison to the awful symptoms of depression, like wishing you weren’t alive anymore.

My CBT sessions were supposed to help me find the route of my anxieties and how to better deal with them by firstly defining the trigger, then talking and walking myself through the complex muddle of emotions that followed and then the symptoms of the anxiety itself. I was able to pinpoint that my anxiety attacks would often occur before social gatherings, drinks with friends, meetings, going clubbing, going food shopping, etc. We narrowed it down to being in close proximity to a large group of people, whether known or strangers seemed to set me off. At first I would get a nervous feeling in the pit of my belly, the sort of feeling you get before a big exam, I would then start to get hot all over, I would become aware of how flushed and red I looked, my palms would get sweaty and then the rest of my body would follow suit. The nervous feeling in the pit of belly would grow and twist and churn until I felt the overwhelming and out of control need to go to the toilet. That was the pinnacle of my anxiety and that was what I was most afraid of, losing control of my bowels in front of a lot of people. It got so bad that I would take a spare pair of underwear, baby wipes, body spray and nappy sacks with me wherever I went and I always had another supply in my car.

For an SVN with social anxiety, there was no worst place to be then to back in a school environment. In fact, my worst nightmares consist of being back at school! I hated school, I didn’t like most of the students there, in my mind they were immature, superficial and pathetic but at the same time I hated being apart from the norm. I didn’t feel like I fit into any slot as a teenager, I wasn’t a “geek” per-say, but I enjoyed reading and wanted to get good grades and please the teachers. As a child the thought of getting older, getting married and having children repulsed me but it was something I would be expected to do and maybe as an adult I would feel differently about it. At 31-years-old, the idea of marriage and babies still doesn’t appeal to me and as I see my brothers and my friends marry and procreate around me, I still don’t have that desire to do the same. Does that make me weird? broken? I don’t know. I find I am happiest in my own company, I love coming home to an empty house where I can sit in silence after listening to people talk all day or watch television and remain an outsider of a conversation that requires no contribution from me.

Anyway, I digress. As an SVN it was inevitable that I would need to go back to college to achieve my qualification and get the job I so desperately wanted. My first day of college was a nightmare, I was so nervous, I felt sick, I had about 2 panic attacks on the way there. I knew in no uncertain terms that I had to appear normal, I couldn’t let any “weirdness” leak out otherwise I would make myself a social pariah for the rest of the course. As it is, I got chatting to one girl and I must not of given off any “weird” vibes because she was happy to chat to me and sit next to me in class, then came the pressure of talking to the other students around me. I’m so worried about saying something stupid or inappropriate that I will always sound test what I’m about to say before I say it, “Is this what a normal person would ask/say?” I ask to myself (in my head, not out loud, as that definitely would not be normal!). After class I will usually critique what I said, could what I have said been misinterpreted? Did I say this wrong or could I have said something else? I sometimes lie awake at night worrying about what I have said or done during a social transaction, which is insane, I know, believe me I know! But I just can’t stop myself and it ends up causing more anxiety and I feel even less equipped to deal with social situations.

As time went on, I noticed that my social anxiety was certainly starting to impact my ability to keep up in class. I was so preoccupied with appearing normal and appeasing my fellow classmates that I found my work was suffering, I would have up to seven panic attacks in the morning before class and after college I would feel so emotional drained and exhausted I would go straight to bed. It wasn’t long before the anxiety began to exacerbate my depression and I found myself spiralling downward until I just couldn’t cope anymore. On the morning of college I would sit in my car and cry my heart out, I would feel physically sick, I would have a panic attack and then in shame I would drag myself to bed wishing that I would just go to sleep and not wake up. It was a terrible existence and when I finally went to the doctors they immediately insisted that I be signed off work. I was too ill to argue and spent the next month recovering. On returning back to work, I had to have a very serious conversation with the management of my training practice about my future as an RVN. I had missed a great deal of college due to my sickness and I was very much behind on assignments and my NPL. I was given a choice, either I rejoin my class and struggle to catch up with my class mates plus deal with the very real possibility that I would fail, or I go back six months and join another class to catch up on everything I had missed. The thought of rejoining my former class made me feel sick, all the questions about my absence and I was in no position mentally to deal with the strain of the extra study to catch up on months of work but on the other hand, I was upset at the idea of not graduating with my former classmates. But as I thought about it, none of my “friends” from my former class had contacted me during my illness. In fact it was if I hadn’t existed there in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold this against them, they had lives and studies of their own but it became obvious to me that I hadn’t made any lasting friendships in that class, especially none that had warranted all of my panic attacks, stresses and intense anguish that I had endured for almost a year prior to my breakdown. I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to do the sensible thing and go back six months and catch up properly. I initially was apprehensive at joining another class, one that had already been together for two years and had formed friendships and groups. I felt the familiar burbling of anxiety in the pit of my stomach as I got in the car to start the long journey to Potters Bar. My limbs were shaking, my mouth was dry as I wandered by myself into the classroom alone. I took a seat at the back of the class to make myself as unseen as possible and then my new classmates began trickling into the room and a bubble of nausea rose in my throat as I gave a polite smile. I could see in the faces of these people that they were wondering who I was and why I was there. I felt judged and examined, I hated it, hated being the new kid at school. All the anxieties were coming back but I had to do this, I had to do this for my college and training practice who had given me another chance, but most importantly I had to do this for me.

After the initial awkward chat of explaining why I was there, the girls became engaged in catching up with one another. I looked around the classroom, was this it? There was about 10 students, 10! There had been close to 40 in my last class, all those bodies and voices causing a constant wave of anxiety to swoop over me, but 10 students! I could cope with that! I didn’t feel as claustrophobic here, this was…doable. And of course it was, I went on to pass my exams and became an RVN.

I do imagine that some might ask how is it possible for someone with social anxiety to deal with clients on a daily basis, it is our job after all to deal with people as much as animals. Well, I can’t speak for others with SA, but I find dealing with clients a different kind of social interaction, it’s a professional one where I am in the position of authority, I am a professional, I am Kayleigh Charman, RVN, not Kayleigh Charman socially awkward anxious wreak! No, that Kayleigh is for outside of the practice where she can’t go out to the supermarket without preparing herself mentally.

I have a few amazing friends who I have confided in about my anxieties and they have been just amazing. One of my best friends is a complete extrovert, she loves people, she’s confident, always out there, easy to talk to, easy to make friends with and she can’t imagine feeling the way I do but she does what she can to make things as comfortable for me as possible. She usually will come to mine to catch up or I will go to hers, last weekend was the first birthday of her little boy and she had invited me and some friends and family to a little party at her flat. When I arrived there was about fifteen people, friends I didn’t know and family, some of which I had only met a handful of times. My friend actually apologised to me and said she didn’t realise how many people would turn up, she got me a drink and sat me down beside her and didn’t leave my side until I felt a bit more comfortable, but inevitably she was needed else where and her sister took up a conversation with me, which I was so grateful for. Eventually a mutual friend turned up, who also knows about my MHI and I sat with her and her husband and became a lot more relaxed. Friends like these are worth their weight in gold. Friends who can’t associate with what you’re going through but try their best to make things better for you anyway, just by listening and acting on what you’ve said.

I have a long way to go, as I’ve said before, I still really don’t understand social anxiety but I am finding ways of helping ease the symptoms, such as being with my dog or listening to calming music. I may give CBT another chance, just to see if there’s anything else I can learn but in the mean time I have learnt that it’s okay to say “no” to social situations where I know I will struggle, and that being open and honest about why I feel I cannot attend social situations has helped my relationships with friends and family as they now know it’s not personal, and many are willing to make changes in order to accommodate me and my weird brain! So, if you have a friend who continuously turns down invites or seems to cut social visits short, ask them if they have social anxiety because it might be the start of a conversation that will help someone open up about their own issues.

An Open Letter To SVNs

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Dear Awesome SVNs,

Starting as an SVN is a thrilling but intimidating start. When I first started it felt like everyone seems to know their place, knew what was expected of them and always seemed to be doing exactly what needed to be done whilst I stood around feeling like a spare part. There are many things I wish I had been told when I started as an SVN and after talking to many of my ex-colleagues, I realised that they felt the same way, so I have written a list of some of the important issues I faced as an SVN and the things I wish someone had told me.

Firstly, you should know that out of all the applicants for the role, you got it. Don’t ever forget your first achievement was getting the job in the first place. Veterinary Nursing is notoriously difficult to get into and I’ve seen applicants with qualifications and experiences a mile long get rejected for the role because they didn’t have the right mindset to be a RVN, nor the right personality to work well as a team. All the qualifications in the world don’t mean anything if you’re arrogant and won’t work well with others. So pat yourself on the back because the qualities for a good RVN were seen in you.

Never stop asking questions. No question is a stupid question. Question everything! What type of suture is the surgeon using during this stitch up? Why are we sedating this patient instead of doing a full general anaesthetic? What instrument is best for extracting a tooth? There is always a reason why everything is done a certain way or why one way is preferable to another. If you can, write it down because if you don’t feel particularly comfortable asking that particular colleague you’re with at the time, you can always ask someone else later on. At my Training Practice, there were a few RVNs that intimidated me, however unintentionally and it put me off asking questions, which I regret.

You will forget stuff, a lot! There is so much information to learn in this role that you never, ever stop learning. Even RVNs who have been in the job longer then you have been alive don’t know everything, even if they pretend they do! Asking the same question, no matter how may times doesn’t make you stupid or forgetful, there is just so much that you need to ram into your head that some of that information is bound to leak out. This is where the notebook is handy again, because you can jot things down to remind yourself. No RVN can tell you they didn’t have to ask the same question several times!

You will make mistakes. This is a big one because one of the most stressful things in our line of work is making a mistake, whether it is a small one or a big one. How often in life do we make a mistake and someone will say “It’s okay, you’re only human” but at work, this is not applicable because for some reason you can’t be human, you have to be more than, better than. It’s ridiculous really, of course I’m not saying you should shrug off every mistake with this excuse, we are required to be careful to avoid errors as these can cost lives, but mistakes are unavoidable sometimes and I can assure you that when a mistake is made, you will never make that mistake again. Just be honest and as soon as you have realised your mistake, tell someone, rectify it and learn from it. You are only human after all.

It is okay to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Just because you are an SVN, doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to feel these things and that somehow it means you are not cut out for the job. Throughout my whole training period I felt this way, that I was somehow inadequate for the role and even more so when my depression decided to hit me full force in the middle of my training. My illness left me missing a lot of college to the point where I didn’t have any other option but to go back a year. I was gutted at first but it was the right decision, I had missed out on so much at college that there was no chance of me passing my exams along with my former classmates. So if you need a break, don’t be afraid to admit it, there are ways around it, ways to let you put your mental health first but still carry on to make it as an RVN. If any of you follow me on Twitter you will see I ran a poll not long ago to find out how many RVNs felt at some point during their training that they wouldn’t make it and the results was extremely telling as 78% of those who answered said they thought they would NEVER qualify, that’s over three-quarters! So trust me, you are not alone.

And finally, I wasn’t sure if I should bring this up, but it was a big part of why I struggled during my training, so in case you are going through the same thing, I will mention it. Not every member of your team will be helpful, patient or supportive but this is not your fault. There were many times at my Training Practice where I would be snapped or huffed at because I didn’t know where something was, or I didn’t feel confident enough to do something. Once, I was embarrassed in front of other colleagues because I couldn’t correctly locate a landmark on a patient. I hope that you never have to experience this but if you do, I want you to know that this is not okay. It is not okay for colleagues to make you feel inadequate, stupid or useless because you absolutely are not! Sometimes it is easy for some people to forget how hard it is to start something new, not that I’m excusing their behaviour. All I will say, is that if you feel something is unjust, whether it is to you or another member of the team, write it down. Write down when it happened, what happened and who was involved as this will be important if and when you decide to take it further because specifics are vital in making a case. I cannot overstate how important it is to carry a notebook around with you at all times, just be careful of what you write incase your notebook is mislaid.

I hope this has been helpful and if there have been any issues I haven’t raised, please let me know. The point I wanted to make is that you’re not alone, that there may be times when you question whether Veterinary Nursing is for you, if all the hard work is worth it and I can’t answer that for you, no one can, but sometimes stress and poor mental health can convince us to give up on the things that we enjoy and the things that we really want to accomplish in life because we’ve been led to believe we are not worth it. But I’m here to tell you that you are. You are worthy, you are strong (even when you feel like you’re not), you have everything you need to make it and when you do and I hope you will offer the same words of encouragement to the next generation of SVNs.

 

Resolute to Relax

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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 Uninvited Christmas Guest

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“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

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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.