In June Dr. Roark launched the 4 eyes save lives initiative. The goal is to reduce accessibility to lethal drugs in veterinary medicine. The article on this life-saving initiative can be read here.
The idea behind this initiative is to ensure that nobody in a veterinary clinic can access the means to die by suicide on their own. If someone else is present, the chances of someone taking their own life is greatly reduced. Setting these systems in place is not only life-saving, but it is also a relatively easy change for many clinics. It’s an actionable goal if people in the veterinary profession are really serious about reducing the risk of suicide in the profession.
I believe this should be standard practice within the veterinary community, but also in the wildlife rehabilitation community. Does anyone else have these steps in place outside of human medicine? It’s been almost a month since the launch of the #4EyesSaveLives initiative was launched. Has your clinic implemented these strategies? For those in other animal care areas, how do you limit access to lethal means for people in your facility?
“If you REALLY cared about animals, you would help me”
“Profit shouldn’t come before lives”
“All you care about is money”
If you work with animals, and especially in the veterinary field, you have heard this many times. Sometimes many times per shift. Not only is responding to these statements exhausting, but it’s infuriating. If you cared about money you would have chosen another profession. Caring for animals is not a lucrative career, despite what people think based on their veterinary bills. The average person has no idea what amount of money and time goes into the background of running an animal care facility or clinic. It’s not their job to know, all they know is that they can’t afford fluffy’s treatment and that brings up a lot of negative emotions for them. They’re unsure of how to deal with it all, so they project it onto the person in front of them or even on the clinic as a whole. This post is not about explaining this, however if you’re interested in reading a great piece about it Sarah Boston wrote an article describing this occurrence and you can read it here.
This is about what happens AFTER the emotional blackmail, online bashing, and guilt/anger/pain that comes along with each and every one of these scenarios. This is about how to care for yourself when you’re going through the aftermath of the client freakout. Here are some steps that can help.
Reach out to people who ‘get it’. There are communities on social media where people in the industry of animal care can reach out to their colleagues and explain their situation. Sometimes talking with others who have been there helps us to not feel so alone and isolated. This on its own can be therapeutic.
Increase your self-care. Do your best to take breaks, eat regular meals, turn off social media, try to ignore the sh*tstorm. As with many storms, they will blow over with time. Due to confidentiality, if your client goes online to voice their disappointment, sharing your side of the story is often not an option. Therefore, having an open and honest discussion with your team (you have a team with you, after all) and journaling your side may help to release some of the frustration. Also, some form of activity where you can release tension (team axe throwing? Kickboxing?) Whatever your jam is – do it and bring your team!
Ask for help. Whatever this looks like for you. If this is some serious bashing or you’re starting to doubt yourself then this may mean contacting a therapist who can help you manage negative emotions, contacting a veterinary PR company, asking for mentorship from someone who has been there, and whatever else you feel you may need. Well-being can be regained and maintained if you ask for help.
Set boundaries. We teach people what we will and will not tolerate. If you have a client or member of the public berating you or your services then you do not need to work with them. Leave the negative emotions where they belong – you don’t need to then take the negativity and direct it towards your team members. Also, try your best to leave work at work and not bring home the baggage that comes with the stress of working with animals and members of the public. Your team and family deserve the best you and you’re not the best version of yourself if your brain is stuck at work or stressed about the day (I will write a blog post at a later date about this as this can get lengthy)! Share with them that you’re struggling with the negativity, and they may find ways to brighten up your day or even share that they’re struggling, too. Then you can all work together to bring each other up!
Remember that you’re human, only one person, and you’re not perfect. You can’t solve every single problem you come across. The animal care field is full of perfectionists and high-achievers who excel at their work so when someone bashes or questions their commitment to helping, it hurts. You are human and it’s not your fault that a client can’t afford medical care for their pet – even if they try to put the burden of guilt and blame on you.
I want to hear everyone’s thoughts. How do you deal with the emotional blackmail and moral injury that comes along with your job? What tips do you think I should add? Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know!
It’s one of our most basic and fundamental emotions. It triggers the release of stress hormones which is a part of the fight, flight, or freeze stress response people have evolved to use for self-preservation. However, prolonged release of these stress hormones is harmful to our own health. ‘Stuffing’ anger is a very unhealthy way to cope – but unleashing it in the moment can also be very harmful.
Maybe it’s the client in the veterinary clinic accusing us of ‘only caring about money’ while refusing to bring in the sick cat who hasn’t eaten in a week. Maybe it’s the member of the public who feels they can doctor Google how to raise the baby squirrels they found and refuse to bring it in to your wildlife rehabilitation centre (even though you know they’ll drop it off at the door when the poor babies are deathly ill and it’s too late for you to save them). Whatever it is, the feeling of anger can quickly arise.
In the animal care world, often our anger is related to the fact that sometimes animal suffering is out of our control. It’s difficult knowing you have the ability to help, but for one reason or another, your hands are tied. So what are we to do when there is nowhere to put our feelings? When our options are unleashing it on the client or member of the public (definitely not recommended and may even cost you your job) or ‘stuffing it’. We generally choose the latter. This unleashes stress hormones in our body which are there as long as we hold our anger. We need to let it go by finding healthy ways to express our anger. ‘Being angry doesn’t give you permission to be cruel’ whether this is towards other people in our lives or ourselves. We need to stop stuffing the feelings that come with the work that we do.
It’s also important to keep in mind that anger is very good at masking other feelings. Feelings of hurt, sadness, anxiety, stress, etc. often show up as irritability or anger. So working on anger also tends to unleash some of the emotions that it’s masking. Expressing anger in healthy ways allows us to explore the feelings that are hidden underneath the anger and can be a positive and constructive practice. Here are some ideas of how to express anger in healthy ways when you’re faced with a difficult situation:
Things that can be done immediately:
Take a deep breath (or ten!)
Pick a calming word and use it or imagine a calm place. Even if for a short few seconds this can be very helpful.
Remove yourself from the situation if possible.
Reflect – ask questions about the situation that may help you gain perspective. “Is it worth it for me to get angry?” “Will this matter tomorrow, next week, next year?”.
Imagine the situation from all angles, what may be the other person’s GOOD intentions?
When calm, address your anger or concerns with the person if possible using ‘I’ statements. “I’m concerned about X, Y, Z,” or “I felt that…________ what are your thoughts?”. By addressing your side while also being non-confrontational you will get a better idea of what the other person’s perspective was.
Trust your team’s intentions. It might be difficult to have things not go or be done your way, but trust that you and your team are always working towards the same goal.
Things that can be done when you have more time:
Journal! Write out exactly how you feel and why you feel that way. Sometimes getting it all out on paper is enough for us to process the situation and helps us to gain perspective. Once you’ve written everything out, it sometimes help to set some goals on how to help something positive come out of the negative experience.
Exercise! This helps get all of our pent-up energy out, gets the blood and endorphins flowing, and helps us blow off steam. Pro Tip: You don’t have to be a runner to blow off steam. Turning on some of your favourite music while singing at the top of your lungs and dancing (complete with finger pointing and singing to pets) is very therapeutic.
Create! Painting, drawing, crafts of any kind can help us focus on the current moment and allows us to concentrate on something other than our anger.
Therapy! Having a professional guide you through managing your stress, anxiety, and anger can be one of the most rewarding things we can do for ourselves. Very often, we learn so much about ourselves in therapy that the benefits flow into various areas in our lives.
The work you do is difficult. You need to take care of your mind, body, and soul ❤︎.
This is what the sign on the door to my first baby and me yoga class said. It was easy for me to ignore the sign in the moment (after all, it’s easy to not feel ‘mom guilt’ when you’re doing something for yourself and your baby). However, since class this morning I’ve reflected on how often this has been true for myself and for people in the caring professions
As caregivers, we are taught that sometimes caring for others means putting their needs above our own. This often isn’t a conscious choice to completely neglect ourselves so much as a plan to delay what we need until later.
Maybe it sounds like:
“I’ll have lunch after I get Fluffy hospitalized and settled in.”
Only to close Fluffy’s kennel door as the receptionist tells you there’s a walk in emergency in exam room 3 and you know you’ll be needed almost right away.
Telling yourself that you’re going to take that “self-care” bath with a glass of wine that you’ve planned and have been looking forward to for the last week when you get home. Then, as soon as you walk through the door, chaos ensues.
Almost always without fail, we push these things for ourselves off. We have intentions of doing things for ourselves but the reality is that something else more urgent comes up or we commit to something someone asks us to do instead of saying no because we’re worried they’ll get upset. It’s not always as trivial as skipping lunch or a bath. But it’s almost always the result of an inability (often a very real inability) to say no.
Saying no is hard. Self-care is really about setting boundaries and saying no. I challenge you to find places in your life where you can say no to something or someone in order to say yes to something for yourself.