**Trigger Warning - Mental Health Discussion**
As I sit and type this blog I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes because I am about to turn my back on what has been a big part of my identity for as long as I can remember.
I have never been ashamed or afraid to talk about my struggle with my mental health over the last couple of years, but it had always been in the past tense. And now I find myself writing in the present tense once again.
It crept up on me and I didn’t realise I was struggling until I was deeper and darker than I had been before. What started out as constant physical and emotional exhaustion and flare ups of health issues, quickly escalated to no motivation to do anything, crying all the time and thoughts of harming myself - an emotional place I never thought I could get to because I thought I was doing all the right things to protect myself. But there’s only so much you can do to help yourself when you are constantly faced with emotionally draining situations.
I’ve known for a while now that I would eventually walk away from clinical vet work because of the physical and emotional toll it was taking on me, but I’ve been battling with the decision for a long time. With time and space to really focus on how I’m feeling, I realised that more than anything I’m scared. I’m scared to walk away from a job that I truly do love, but also because - who am I if I am not a vet? But staying in this profession, at least for now, is not an option. I want to be happy, I want to thrive, I want to live.
I read an interesting article the other week, written by a vet, about the nationwide vet shortage the United Kingdom is currently experiencing. It went through a detailed list of the different reasons that could be contributing to this crisis e.g. long hours, gruelling work, low pay etc. All of which I agreed with, until I got to the point about client interactions. I can’t remember his point word for word, but it was along the lines of ‘yes we deal with some difficult clients, but the good ones more than make up for the bad’. After 13 years in this industry, I couldn’t think of anything further from the truth. Not only that, I don’t know a single person in the industry - vet, nurse, or receptionist, that doesn’t feel the exact same way.
I don’t know the person who wrote the article so I have no idea whether this is their truth. If it is, all I can say is I am truly envious of their experience because they are one of the lucky ones. The cynical side of me wonders whether their statement wasn’t completely true, and they just didn’t want to publicise how they really feel about their clients.
For a long time I have felt that our industry goes above and beyond to keep our clients happy at the direct detriment of the people working in it. This has resulted in one of the (in my opinion) most toxic and destructive working environments that I am aware of, where being verbally abused is a daily occurrence and praise is a shock to the system. It’s an environment that is self perpetuating because the clients who abuse us are never reprimanded. They are never told that their behaviour is unacceptable. They are never asked to leave and to find another clinic to attend. And so, their behaviour is deemed acceptable and they continue to do it because they got exactly what they wanted as a result of their disgusting behaviour.
For me specifically, this rude and often abusive treatment from clients has always been the most difficult aspect of my job. Every clinical shift I will be literally run off my feet with barely any time to go to the toilet or eat. I will be treating mildly sick to very sick animals, having end of life discussions with clients, discussing financial constraints, euthanising animals and everything in between. This gruelling workload is too much for many people within our industry, but when you also have to endure varying degrees and methods of emotional blackmail, bullying and abuse from clients, and be expected to ‘soldier on’ to the next client as if my morals/intent/knowledge/skills/worth as a human weren’t just questioned. How can we be expected to carry on without any ill effects?
If we go back to the article I read that said ‘the good clients make up for the bad’, I can’t help but wonder how can this be true? Just this weekend past, I was yelled at by a client for 15 minutes (and before you ask, it doesn’t matter why because nothing I could possibly do would ever justify abuse for any amount of time). How many pleasant clients would I need to see to make up for this one bad one? To put this into perspective - how many times can you say thank you in 15 minutes? A lot right?! The reality is that unhappy people yell and scream and tell everyone and happy people most often say a simple thank you and tell no-one. When was the last time you spent more than a minute truly praising someone for their work? Not just a simple ‘thank you’, but a truly heartfelt declaration of thanks? Don’t get me wrong, this does occasionally happen in our job. But it is so rare that when it does happen, that staff member will generally go around and tell everyone. Because it simply just doesn’t happen very often.
At the end of the day though, for me, this client yelling at me for 15 minutes was my last straw. I stood there during the interaction just thinking to myself - why am I putting myself through this? I can’t do this anymore.
It’s time for a break from clinical work, maybe a permanent one, while I focus on my well being and other passions that truly light me up without also tearing me down.
For people within the industry, it’s beyond time for a change. But how do we go about it? A friend and I are working on a passion project to identify the top 5 aspects of our job that are having the biggest effect on our profession and it would be really valuable to hear from you. I will link our survey for you to please share with everyone you know - vets, nurses, receptionists, animal care assistants - literally everyone you work with. Their experiences are all important.
For pet owners, please, I implore you, communicate from a place of kindness. I understand that situations can be highly emotionally charged, but your treatment towards the people working within the industry is truly resulting in good people leaving their job that they love, having emotional breakdowns, harming themselves or taking their lives. Every pet owner can make a difference by simply being kind and treating the people within our industry with respect, by treating them like you would want your sister/wife/mother/brother/father/husband treated. There is always a way to communicate clearly, from a place of kindness. Always.