This is my first blog about mental health, and to be frank, it is quite a daunting molehill to climb. I’ve written blogs for clinics I have worked at, some of my favorites called ‘Tick Talk’ with the title being a deliberate play on the sound of time passing. Those blogs were easy to do. Easy to plan. Easy to write. Easy to post.
This one? This is a whole different beast of a blog. I know how to be detached, medical, scientific, sterile. Or as my counselor tells me at almost every visit, I’m ‘really quite great at compartmentalizing’. I’ve had to be able to euthanize a patient in one room, wash my hands (it allows me a moment to wash off the emotions/stress/grief), and move on to a family with their first puppy in the next room. After a day full of extreme highs and lows, taking responsibility for it all, making hundreds of life and death decisions in a split second I go home and leave it all at work. Actually, I found myself leaving it all in the car ride home. Those 20 to 30 minutes became the key time for my brain to unwind and to switch from being the one making all the decisions to being ‘just’ a human again. After all, it’s healthy to take off the superhero cape and the all the weight associated with it.
That was my life. The one I had dreamed of and strived towards for as long as I have memories. I’m sure many of you can relate… We veterinarians tend to be a breed set apart from the muggles, yet so like one another.
One day, 2 years ago, I hit my head. In a freak accident. It should never have happened, but there is no point thinking about the coulda woulda shouldas.
Since then, my world has been dumped upside down and wrung inside out.
There are many sequelae that do their best to suck my soul. However, among the worst offenders is the Isolation. I spend hours and hours alone. From 630am until 630pm my partner is away from our home. He also sleeps from 930pm until 545am. That means that I get, at most, 3 evening hours around him where we are awake. In those hours we eat dinner, clean up the kitchen and by that point I am usually so exhausted/painful/symptomatic that I need to lay down. I can’t carry on conversation coherently any more. It’s cruel, because I want to be able to communicate yet I can barely focus long enough to remember the beginning of his sentence never mind the thread of the conversation.
I have one local friend. She is in her 70s, and we do a short walk together once a week. All the others have fallen away as it became clear my symptoms weren’t going to improve in what they perceived to be a tolerable amount of time.
I have no local family. Our parents and siblings all live a 2.5 hour ferry ride plus a 10 hour drive away. I can’t handle that amount of travel, and they are all too busy to visit me.
I do interact with medical professionals during my menagerie of appointments. I see neurologists, physiatrists, pain clinic occupational therapists, massage therapists, physiotherapists, kinesiologists, a counselor, general practitioners and the list goes on. They see me for 10 minutes or so, and then move on to the next one. I’m quickly a blip in their rear-view mirror.
There are 5 people who still check in regularly with me through various messenger apps.
I share this so that you can see I spend a lot of time Isolated. So Alone. Soul suckingly alone. I share this with you not to be all ‘woe is me’, but rather to make you think. Is there someone with chronic health issues that has fallen off your radar? Sending a text may take you 20 seconds but may well be the highlight of their afternoon/day/week. Reach out. Keep asking people to attend social stuff who have previously had to cancel due to their health. They may not be able to but will appreciate being asked. If you plan to go out for coffee with them and they end up not being able to that day, bring them a coffee instead. Or ask if you can bring them something else. Don’t forget them and add to their Isolation. Make an effort. It may save their life.
But that’s a blog for another day…
Dr. M. Brink
The Admin Team of NOMV is a group of veterinarians dedicated to improving veterinary mental health.