A few years ago I ran away from my job.
At least, that’s what I called it at the time, that is how I framed it in my head. I couldn’t hack it, I was a failure as a vet. My mind was wrecked, my physical health was wrecked, and my stomach curled up into knots every time I pulled into the parking lot. It wasn’t only me who suffered; I knew my heart was not where it needed to be for my patients. They deserved for me to want to be there. It was a bad place to be in.
With the gift of perspective, I know now I was dealing with some pretty significant burnout. I didn’t know that was what it was at the time; after all, don’t you have to be in it at least a couple of decades for that to kick in? Or be a practice owner? This is how it works, I was told. No one really talked about it, or it was code for ‘bad vet’, not for a defined type of stress reaction. Old Doc Johnson who treats everything with pen G and steroids needs to get put out to pasture, he’s old and burned out.
No matter the reason, I knew I needed to leave and take a breather. I am very fortunate that my husband was supportive of the decision, even without knowing how it would play out, or when I would be back. Although I saw it as a failure on my part at the time it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
I have learned to let go of a lot of destructive ideas in the past few years:
- that taking care of yourself is an indulgence;
- that saying ‘no, I can’t’ means you are a slacker;
- that being a veterinarian means you put your work above all other things.
I had to practice those sentences a couple years before I really truly believed them, but I do now. I listened to a wonderful VetGirl webinar today on the topic of veterinarians, depression and suicide and was kind of taken by surprise when our wonderful presenter said, “self care is an ethical obligation- to yourself and to your clients.” She’s right.
If you recall, one week ago today this happened in my neck of the woods:
A few days after the smoke had cleared, I had a girls’ weekend getaway that we had been planning for almost half a year. Girls weekends aren’t really something I’ve done much of- too busy, other priorities- but we randomly decided at a Christmas party that we should plan one. I didn’t know how much I would be needing it at the time, but man, I’m so glad it happened the way it did.
I flew far, far away from my blackened streets and up to the land of one of the world’s finest philosophers: Santa Rosa, home of Charles Schulz.
We ate, all weekend. Really, really good food.
We tasted some wine. Really, really good wine. Our personal favorite was a wine by Ehlers Estate, which was founded by a man with a deep philanthropic interest and is now owned by a trust that funnels all its profits into cardiovascular research. (I tell you this not to try and sell their wine, though if you ever get a chance you should absolutely try it, but because it ties into the rest of this story.)
The wine we sampled is called “One Twenty Over Eighty,” in honor of an ideal blood pressure. We liked it, so we bought a bottle to share that evening.
We all came on this journey with our own piles of stresses and stuff going on, and one of those things involved a friend taking a spot check blood pressure monitor, just to kind of keep an eye on things.
“I feel really relaxed,” she said later in the afternoon. “I’m going to check my blood pressure, just to see how it went today.”
She took it, looked at the numbers, shook her arm a little, and held up the monitor.
“One Twenty…Over Eighty.” OK, maybe closer to 125/82, but nonetheless, it was pretty darn good. Magic, almost.
On the last morning before we left, we bumped into Kenny G in a bistro. All I have for proof is a surreptitiously snapped picture of the back of his gloriously curled head, but it was confirmed that yes, we lunched with the G himself. Seriously, if ever you were waiting for a sign from the universe that you needed to kind of chill out for a few, there are few signs more blatant than running into the king of smooth jazz. This may top the time I ran into Weird Al at Disneyland (story for another time).
Good friends, laughter that makes you snort in the most unfeminine of ways, and maybe a sip of an exceptional wine if that’s your thing. It may not replace all the medicines in life you might need, but a little self care now and then does wonders, it really does.
Here’s to your One Twenty Over Eighty, whatever that might be. Cheers.
Very, very well put. I LOVE “self care is an ethical obligation.” xo
Dr. V says
I think doctors should be able to prescribe massages and wine.
So glad you could get away. Jealous!
Dr. V says
Thank you- it was the most perfect timing.
Linda Case says
Love, love this piece. My favorite line was “Good friends, laughter that makes you snort in the most unfeminine of ways, and maybe a sip of an exceptional wine…” Nothing is more rejuvenating and centering than spending time with gal friends and laughing, laughing, laughing. Cherish the moments.
Dr. V says
Leslie Ann Jones says
Love this piece, and especially because I REALLY need to hear it right now…am a solo practice owner and my clinic is taking off (yippee!!) but as I try to balance clinic and family and friends (whom I’ve not seen in FAR too long unless their dogs need annuals) I really need to have a weekend where we eat too much, laugh enough to snort regularly and enjoy some adult beverages… So thank you for sharing- because our girlfriends are sometimes exactly what we need!
Dr. V says
1. Congratulations on your practice success! I am so happy for you!
2. Right now, today, before you forget and memorial day weekend gets busy and the idea becomes less vital in your mind, email your friends. This is your assignment.
Megan Taliaferro says
Wow, your timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve been struggling with…something…lately. After reading your post I think it might be a touch of burn out. I have wonderful clients and I see absolutely wonderful patients, but even so…sometimes I think we all just need a little break.
Dr. V says
Isn’t it odd, you hear it all the time but then you chalk up whatever you’re experiencing to “well, that’s the job description.” Nope. I hope you give yourself a great little break soon.
What an open and honest and beautiful post that we all need to hear. I’m glad you’re feeling a bit better. And, as my bp is a bit high, I’ll take a sip of that wine!
Dr. V says
Thanks Peggy! I agree, have a sip!