Day 39: The Space Between

I have had this really distinct feeling, the last few days, that I am moving through glue. I call this place an emotional purgatory. A space between worlds. I talked about the crazies a few days ago here and how they come to be when there is a space that you are in that is between your new life and your old life. It is not a pleasant place to rest and is 100% not a stopping point. The longer the crazies go on, the more pressure and funk surround you. I think the level of crazies that occurs is probably in direct proportion to the “bigness” of the life change at hand. Currently, the one I am going through is pretty large. I shouldn’t be surprise. I have about a four year expiration on staying in one place and doing the same thing day in and day out. I am just not meant to live with my days decided for me. So, on to the next adventure.

I am tired of working a 9-5 job. I am tired of having to answer to a boss and a manager and of having a hundred different levels of “checking in” that need to happen to get through the day. I want a job where I can be my own boss, make my own decisions, not have someone looking over my shoulder. I simply don’t need that. I know a lot of people who do, and a lot of people who love the oversight and not having to make decisions, and I applaud those people because they do jobs that, quite frankly, I don’t want to do and give me the freedom to pursue my dreams.

I also want a job that I can leave behind for a while.

I may work a 9-5 and technically am supposed to be at the clinic for those hours, but the work is never ending. The patients don’t automatically fix themselves by an appropriate time in the afternoon, the client calls and emails don’t stop after five. If I could set my own hours, maybe I would feel different, but I can’t. I have to be at work from 9-5 and then I am still expected to be present and available whenever clients/patients need me. I was told by the CEO of our company that unless I was prepared to work 24/7 I was not going to make it in this profession and maybe he is right. I definitely do not fit into the current paradigm. I have been trying to maintain some anonymity with this blog but it is time to come clean on one thing.

I am a veterinarian. I work primarily with horses. The expectations of an equine vet coupled with long hours, limited pay, a dangerous profession and the endless other stressors make it a really hard profession to survive in and we are seeing a higher attrition rate than ever before. Don’t even get me started on the stifling student loan debt and the hugely inflated cost of higher education.

Quite frankly, I am sick of it.

I used to love this profession. Before I started vet school I was working two jobs, attending two universities to get my prerequisites done, I was volunteering to gain experience. I was up early, went to bed late, was hugely motivated and thought I knew what I was getting myself into. I would drive an hour one way to get to the clinic I worked at, they would call me in the middle of the night for emergencies and I would go, happily. I loved it. Right up until I was handed my diploma. I had just spent four years taking 20+ credit hours a semester on top of working three jobs, I was exhausted before I even got on my feet. I took my first job, an internship (basically a requirement to work in equine medicine), making barely enough money to survive.

Once I was out in the “real world (and out of my internship)” things were a lot different. Suddenly I was responsible for cases. Solely responsible. I had to make all of the decisions, have all of the hard conversations, come up with treatment plans and ideas, taking all of the little considerations into account before making recommendations.

Medicine is not cut and dry. Especially vet med. In addition to having patients that can’t talk, we don’t have insurance to subsidize treatment in many cases. We have to balance what is the gold standard of care and all of the things we would like to do in the best interest of the patient with the owner’s budget. We also have to have realistic expectations of what treatments owners can be expected to take on at home with regard to their comfort level and patient disposition. We have to be able to justify every test that we want to run, and we should be able to do that! The disconnect comes in though when clients compare veterinary care with human medicine. They don’t realize that their doctor often just asks for a whole boatload of diagnostics knowing insurance is paying for it. If you actually ask your healthcare provider to explain why they are doing what they are, sometimes they can’t, and damn they don’t like to be questioned. I was fired from a doctor for asking why she was running the tests she was and for asking if we could consider an alternative treatment opposed to a strictly Western based one. Her response, “that’s not how I was trained so it doesn’t exist in my world.” Many of them are afraid to look outside the box and think critically about their patient as a whole. Symptoms are treated, not underlying causes. This is COMPLETELY opposite to vet med.

Veterinarians are an amazing group of people. We work our asses off. We love your animal and we try really really hard to do the absolute best we can with often limited resources. We, or at least I, try to practice preventative medicine in the hopes that we can you pet healthy enough to not require many veterinary visits. Most clients do not understand how much we care. They don’t understand that we go home and pour over literature trying to find something that will help your terminally ill pet. They don’t understand that we may have to end the life of a patient we have known for 15 years and five minutes later go into a room with a bright, happy family who just got a new puppy, pushing down our own emotions so we can be present with each case. They don’t understand that we discount work…. A LOT… in order to be able to provide better care than what you can afford. They don’t understand that the constant belittling of the veterinary profession and bitching about invoices makes us insane because if we actually charged for all of the things we did (like a hospital or human doctor would do) that your bill would have been twice what it was. And they don’t understand that we have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession.

Our work is dangerous and very emotional but we often have to stifle that emotion so we can continue with our day. We are constantly questioned and belittled and in my experience this also includes from family members and friends, so there is little reprieve. We have to know about multiple species and are expected, by clients, to know EVERYTHING about all of them. In the equine world we have trainers pushing for meds and injections that sometimes aren’t in the interest of the patient. We are constantly asked to compromise our values in order to provide a service for many of our competition clients. We are asked to give our cell number out to all of our clients who sometimes, because they thought of a question at 2 AM, will text or call at all hours, not realizing we just worked a 14 hour day where we had one pee break and our lunch and dinner consisted of a gas station hard boiled egg and some peanuts, and we can’t turn our phone off because we are on call. Most people will never know the jolt of resentment that comes when our phone does goes off because we are so damn tired and realize that once interrupted, won’t be able to fall asleep again. Most people will never know the heartache that comes when we lose a patient and wonder if we had done just one more test or procedure if we could have saved them. Most people will never know the absolute guilt that comes with having to tell someone, I’m sorry I can’t help you today, it is my day off. That shit gets into the heart and stays there.

And many people will never know what it is to see a mountain of debt so high that as a single person I can barely buy a used car and forget trying to buy a house… Most people won’t know what it is to go to work everyday armed with the knowledge that what they are making is a drop in the bucket, enough to survive but not enough to even begin touching the principle on their loans.

So, I am changing my current reality. I am choosing to believe that there is a different life for me. One where I can breathe. Where I can help people and have an impact on humanity. Where I can pay off my debt and live a life that is both satisfying personally and professionally. I don’t think I will ever stop being a vet, or stop working long hours, or obsessing about my patients, but I will stop being someone who is consumed by this profession and I will start being someone who does it my way. I will be an oar that is helping to shift the paradigm for all of those bright eyed veterinary wannabes that will come after me. In writing this I realize I do really love this profession. But I love me more.

So… this purgatory…

I really went off on a tangent there. I guess I am more passionate about it than I thought. I don’t want other people to feel like I do right now. I don’t want people to feel stuck or pushed into a corner with a weight on their chest because they love what they do but realize it isn’t sustainable.

I want people to feel freedom in their minds and hearts. I want them to have room to breathe, no not just room to breathe, room to take huge, full breaths, freely and openly while spreading their wings. Before I can make any sort of change in this world, I have to learn to do that for myself.

In many ways this blog started as a way to process feelings about Mr. X, it was a way to place a microscope on my life and examine all of the things that I need to change and adjust. It started as a way to get through some heartache and has turned into a hyper-focused evaluation into the edges of my own humanity, a way to stretch my own boundaries and not just discover, but create the life I was meant to lead.

Part of the process of “rebirth” is swimming through the mire and muck. It’s recognizing that the purgatory, while an uncomfortable place, is also a place of tremendous growth and means that there is movement. It is a place where one can either swim forward or backward. Decisions are being made, progress is being made, but nothing is written in stone yet. It is a sacred place actually. It feels like total shit, but is the breeding ground for the next better thing. So as I find myself here, trying to breathe through the glue, attempting to keep my head above the surface, I find a massive amount of appreciation, because I am here. I am alive. And I am well on the way to creating whatever the fuck I want. ❤ ❤

Image by Nicholas Demetriades from Pixabay

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