I recently removed the key to the dangerous drugs safe in the veterinary practice I’ve just resigned from, from my key ring to return it. And as I did so, I thought:
‘I wonder if my suicidal ideations will change now?’
I’ll come back to that.
I also recalled how often I’d heard the following over the last 20 years in practice:
‘My son/daughter/nephew wants to be a vet when they grow up.’
Always uttered under the impression that veterinary work is a dream job. But the dream can morph into a nightmare. There is currently a shortage of vets (in part) because our burn out and suicide rates are sky-high.
So why, after dedicating years to entering this prized profession, do many vets want out?
Perfectionism is rife amongst us. This increases our predisposition to anxiety and depression, especially if that perfectionism is taken for a ride in a world where clients can’t afford best practice diagnostics and treatments.
We love working with animals, but most of our time and energy goes into dealing with their owners. We become a shock absorber for their emotions. Positive and negative. And sometimes the switch between the two happens quickly. A euthanasia appointment followed immediately by a puppy vaccination. Our own feelings are set aside for our patients and clients.
There is very little room for errors. At some point we will make a mistake with devastating consequences. When you’re a perfectionist that can be impossible to move past.
We work many unpaid hours only to have some pet owners tell us that we must earn a lot of money and that we mustn’t love animals if we don’t provide free or discounted services.
We marinate in guilt over taking sick days. If we take a day off, our work doesn’t wait until we’re back. It needs to be re-scheduled, cancelled, or (worst of all) it is dumped on our already hard-working colleagues. We are almost impossible to replace at short notice. So, we don’t take a sick day unless we are totally incapacitated or extremely contagious.
Unlike other professionals who have the knowledge, skills, and access to potentially lethal medication to die by suicide, we are practiced at euthanasia. We witness again and again what a gentle way to die this is. We perform euthanasia to alleviate incurable suffering. The mental pain of chronic, intense work place pressure, anxiety, or depression can feel terminal in the middle of it.
Returning to my opening thought about suicidal ideations. I have experienced them occasionally as a symptom of Bipolar 1 Disorder. For me, they aren’t triggered by my veterinary work, but the ideations use the nature of my work against me: Vicious, involuntary, precise and clinical, thoughts and images that play on a repeat loop behind my eyes. A terrifyingly accurate portrayal of how I would die by euthanasia. Accompanied by a glorious and horrifying peace, because I know it would work.