I’m sitting in the car and crying outside of my daughter’s school. I’ve just left work and made my way to her school for her annual talent show. We are doing an aerial yoga routine together that we have been practicing for 2 weeks. I know that she’s inside nervously waiting for me and I’m trying to get a grip on myself before I go in. I don’t want her to see that I’m a mess and that I’ve been crying because there’s no way I can explain to her why I’m upset that won’t make me seem like the worst parent ever.
Let me explain; Buster is making his way to the hospital. He’s in pain and his mom is ready to let him go. Buster who I have been taking care of for the last 10 years. Buster who I’ve seen through countless ear infections, 2 sarcoma removal surgeries, chemo, radiation, heart disease, periodontal disease, and now a hemangiosarcoma that showed up on his leg overnight. I love Buster and I love his momma who is a sweet, dedicated and understanding lady. It took everything in me to say no, I can’t stay to euthanize him, the ER doctor will have to do it. And now it hurts. I’m in, what can only be described as heartache and I feel terrible. Not only that, but I feel terrible that this feels so terrible. My daughter and my husband are my priority and I’ve made myself a deal to act that way and to show them that they ARE my priority. I just didn’t know that it would hurt so much.
I’m having serious growing pains. Growing pains for setting boundaries with myself, my staff and my clients.
As we start to dive deep into mental well being in the veterinary profession you hear this all the time. “You need to set boundaries”, “you need to leave work at work”, “you need to learn to say NO when you need to”. However no one ever tells you how and no one ever tells you how painful it is going to be as you begin to do this.
It is hard. And painful. And necessary.
It is necessary because if we do not have boundaries, we will put work first. And we will hurt those we love the most, including ourselves. If we are to live our life by design that means we need to be purposeful about the boundaries we place on our personal time. We need to actually think about what we want to spend our time, energy, and brain power on when we are not at work. We need to think about our loved ones and what they mean to us, and how do we want to spend our time together. So for me, this means setting the following boundaries:
- Leave work on time or as close to as possible. Sometimes I need to finish my notes after my “done time” so I put headphones in to block out the noise but also to signal to my staff that I am officially out of office and all calls/questions need to be directed elsewhere.
- Leave work at work. No phone calls/texts/emails or updates about my patients when I am out of office. No looking up labwork or emailing clients on my off time. Re-route my brain when it starts to think about work when I am at home (be present).
- Prioritize school/kid events in my work schedule and get there on time!
Once these boundaries are made within you, it is then time to share them with your staff. After all, you have been acting and doing things that go against these boundaries all along and if you don’t share them they will have no idea that they exist. It is time to be open and honest about what your new boundaries are and why they are important to you. Share what they mean to you and to your family. In my case it means that my husband and daughter get to feel like they are important to me, that they matter more than my work and to them this translates to love. For me it means that I get to spend my time with my loved ones without worrying about what is happening at work or with my patients so that I can take care of my mental wellbeing which enables me to continue to give.
Once you have shared your boundaries and the reasons for having them, you can then ask for understanding that when you do (and will) say no, it is never because you don’t care. It’s just that you need to take care of yourself and the people at home waiting for you.
This is life changing work we do.
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