The quest for emotional well-being should not be undertaken alone.
Fear of the unknown prevents many of us, including veterinary professionals, from seeking mental health services. Although the internal hesitation and external stigma attached to these services has begun to diminish, many people still find it difficult to take the first step on the path to self-care. Shedding light on the unknown is the best way to eliminate fear and light the way.
Having used mental health services for many years, I am a big advocate for the different options available. I began my journey in my early twenties, taking advantage of cognitive behavioral therapy and prescription medication, among other alternatives. I have worked with different types of professionals over the years, spending the most time with a favorite social worker. I also visited offices once and never came back because I was exploring what was best for me, even in terms of cost and driving time (those things really matter).
After overcoming some challenges, I weaned myself off the meds and worked on developing what I call my spirit of happiness. When I moved from Michigan (home) to North Carolina, I again asked for help because I knew the experience would be both transformative and stressful. Wanting to be proactive, I participated in stress and anger management groups and benefited greatly from the guidance of an Army chaplain. One of the main lessons from my journey is that the number of services available is vast.
There are mental health services for every person and every need. They can be used as maintenance, as automotive tune-ups, or in times of crisis or aimless wandering through confusing chapters of one’s life. There are practices, treatments and approaches that influence a person’s state of mind, but which do not relate directly to mental health.
When we begin to recognize that we are multidimensional and face mental, emotional, physical, and social stress or illness, everything changes for the better. We no longer take a fragmented approach to health. To experience true wellness, we must be intentional and holistic. Although we work with a team of professionals to manage our health and well-being, we must be at the forefront of the effort. Even though it can sometimes be difficult to show ourselves off, we have to do it. Partnering with the right people and getting the job done will make self-advocacy easier.
More importantly, when we engage in the process, we must engage in it. Whatever the practitioner’s role, as patients we need to see ourselves as part of a partnership. Veterinary professionals ask the same of their clients: to partner with them and be compliant for the sake of pets. They ask their clients to be open, honest, and forthcoming so they can navigate the relationship and ensure the well-being of their pets.
Every clinician has had one of these cases. It is obvious that something bad has happened; the dog ate something dangerous, for example. Yet somehow, whether out of embarrassment or uncertainty, the owner can’t provide a consistent track record: maybe he’s shy about finances or his ability to properly care for the animal. Then suddenly, the child intervenes: “I saw her eating a bag of onion rings on Tuesday.
Largely because of social media, people have taken to giving strangers a “highlight reel” of their lives, even when they seek professional help. But aid should not be viewed negatively. Let go of the idea that not being able to solve your own problems makes you inadequate or that needing the support of others is a weakness. Everyone longs for a hug, even if only a strong one, that carries them through difficult times. But hugging yourself is not enough. You can, instead, choose to change your point of view. Why not shorten your distress and develop skills that will last you a lifetime? Why not give yourself the means to hire a professional?
There are many organizations and resources, like the VIN Foundation and BetterHelp.com, that can give you the support you need. Of course, “I tried that and it didn’t work” is a common refrain. Keep trying. There is hope. A negative interaction or a type of therapy you don’t like is not a general indictment of the whole system.
Find someone you can connect with, someone who understands you and vice versa. My favorite social worker understood me like no one else. She got me through some tough times when I was too depressed to drive to see her.
Find that person. Find people who approach life, health, and wellness the way you do. When I was ready to change what wasn’t working and learn the skills to safely quit meds, I had people guiding me. Connecting can improve the quality of your life; he can transform it or even save it.
After all, as a clinician, you’ll have the conversation about quality of life with their clients thousands of times over the course of your career. How many times have you had this conversation with yourself?