I cried on my way to work today.`i was tired, frustrated, anxious and (despite my best efforts) running late, again. As I sat in traffic my inner voice started to detail my many inadequacies, as a parent and a veterinarian, and the angry tears flowed.
I consider myself pretty tough emotionally (which has served me well in this profession over the years), and am not usually prone to introspection, but recently it has been getting harder to batten down my negative mental monologue.
I have recently returned to practice after my third maternity leave and I have worked part-time since I became a parent six years ago. My two days a week in clinic allow me a reasonable case load but I still feel hugely behind where I would like to be on a professional level.
I love my job and the practice I work in but I battle constantly with a lack of self-confidence. I feel that my career gaps were more like chasms. That my baby brain is no longer capable of remembering or retaining any kind of clinical information. I constantly compare myself to my (wonderful but full time and childless) colleagues and feel I come up short.
Then my rational brain counters this nagging voice of disparagement. I am a good vet, I do know my stuff, I can perform operations. and am a valuable member of the team And to be fair, this is true. Clients and colleagues like me, my patients get better and my surgeries survive.
But it starts again. Am I lulling myself into a false sense of security that I know what I am doing, simply because I can convince the people on the other side of the table? Are my colleagues secretly exasperated by my lack of up-to-date knowledge? Are they mopping up my mistakes when I’m not there? What do they really think of me?
It was my choice to have a family and then go back to work. I value my career and I want to progress (and my family needs me to be earning a wage) but am I being selfish? Are others suffering, patients and my children, because of this decision I have made?
It is very easy to start over-thinking and for your brain to go into a downward spiral of self-doubt
However, having spoken to my child-rearing female peers, I have realised this is a common struggle.
So I want to say to anyone out there feeling this way, I see you.
I see you running yourself ragged getting a family out of the house and deposited in childcare before arriving at work in the nick of time.
I see you dragging yourself away from the clinic at 5.45pm, feeling guilty about going but then feeling even worse when your children are the last to be collected, again.
I see you battling with your self-confidence and constantly comparing yourself to your colleagues.
I see you staying quiet in clinical discussions, not really believing that you can contribute anything that the other vets can’t.
I see you stressing over surgical procedures but picking up the scalpel anyway.
I see you trying to manage your cases and report your results within your limited work hours and feeling like you failed when you don’t get through everything and your colleagues have to pick up for you.
I see you working though lunch breaks and never saying no to an extra consult, to prove you are a useful member of the team.
I see you scrabbling for childcare when your kids are sick and only taking time off work as the last resort.
I see you, I am you, and you are not alone.
It may be true that at this stage in our careers, we aren’t flying as high as we could. Maybe we are relying on past skills and knowledge. Maybe we could be better but that doesn’t make us bad. The extra layers of time-consuming, energy sapping responsibilities we carry are substantial and we should cut ourselves some slack.
A loyal, reliable, trustworthy and experienced vet is an incredibly valuable asset to any practice, and one who recognises their potential flaws and weaknesses is far preferable to one who believes they are invincible.
I know that just reading an article isn’t going to silence your inner demons, just like writing one won’t silence mine, but talking to my friends and realising I wasn’t alone in my worries was incredibly helpful and I have learned that I must try to be kinder to myself.
One day I will be back on it, working more days, studying hard and aiming high but for right now, while my children are small and demanding, and my clinic hours short. Being good, is good enough.
We would like to thank Cat for sharing such a personal story with us, we hope it will help others who are having similar concerns.
The Vetlife website also has some very good resources on self-care and burnout – for details click here Vetlife.