Out of the Darkness..

Although I find this post very difficult to write, I would not be my most authentic self without sharing this story. This time last year was one of the most difficult and darkest times of my life. I wanted to share this particular story because it is important for me to raise awareness for those going through depression and what that can look like. Maybe it will also serve as a gentle reminder to be kind to one another. I also hope that a veterinary colleague or lost soul will find comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone and that maybe what helped pull me from the darkness can help you too.

In the summer of 2018, I had fallen into deep depression and a hole so deep that I felt there was no escape. There were many aspects of my life at the time that contributed to my depression which included: my workaholic mindset, insurmountable school loans, burnout (having held a full time and part time veterinary position for most of my career), a toxic work environment, lack of boundaries, ridiculous expectations that I had put on myself, the general disrespect for my profession from the public, lack of support from my husband, and the mindset of trying to keep up with a lifestyle I couldn’t afford. I was at my worst. I started having daily panic attacks on the way to work that consisted of heart palpitations and shortness of breath. I started to notice that I wasn’t giving my usual 150% at work which is truly what terrified me the most. Especially because, my work performance has always been the way I evaluate my self-worth.  Once back in my car, I would often start sobbing immediately without knowing why.  

When I would finally make it home, I would sit on the couch like a rotting vegetable and stare at the ceiling. There were times I wouldn’t eat for days, and others where I ate everything in sight. I was physically sick and had been suffering for years from all sorts of chronic illness. Most nights I was plagued by shooting back pain and was unable to sleep. I was on 3 to 4 different medications to control chronic stomach ulcers and constant heartburn. I no longer smiled, laughed, or found joy in anything. Which for people who know me, this is the opposite of who I am 99% of the time. I was lost and running on an empty tank while life passed me by. I knew that I would have to make some dramatic changes to save myself but I had no clue how to do it. This would be the time in a person’s life to take a sabbatical. However, for a girl with $170,000 in student loan debt, I couldn’t afford such a luxury.  

I suffered in silence for years. The worst of it lasting about 4 to 6 months. Some of my closest friends started to notice how unhappy I was and they served as a very important mirror into my reality. Sadly so, one of my very best friends was actually going through this with me. My reality consisted of no longer planning anything on my days off. More often than not, I spent them buried under covers and feeling hopeless. My husband had no idea what to do with me. To him I just seemed sad. He attempted to motivate me, but did not understand how bad off I was. One of the hardest things I have had to learn in my marriage is when to ask for help. In general, I HATE help. I have worked so hard to become the self-sufficient woman that I am today. Now here I was, helpless and hopeless. When I initially asked my husband for help, it was mainly to support me through attempting to transition to a different work place. I also wanted to cut back on my work hours. He was not thrilled to hear this and to him it just seemed like I didn’t want to work. My husband was used to a certain lifestyle and was concerned about maintaining that and us still being able to tackle my school loans. The response I was looking for was “Of course. Whatever you need.” Without that immediate response, I fell further into despair.

I knew that it was up to me to get off the hot mess express. Without knowing exactly what to do, I through myself into research. Long story short, I had to remove myself from my toxic work environment. Life is too short to work somewhere that you are not happy. I am a completely different person than I was a year ago and many things contributed to my recovery. Finding bravery was a critical step. I stumbled upon a woman named Rachel Hollis through a Facebook ad and watched a small clip of one of her RISE seminars. In this three minute video, she completely captivated me with the reality that no one is going to change my situation but me. It was up to me to stand up, be brave, and fight for my life. After watching that video, I immediately got in my car, drove to the bookstore, and bought her book Girl, Wash Your Face and read it cover to cover. This book spoke to my soul and gave me the courage to change my work situation the very next day. There were many attempted plans on how I would continue to make a living without staying at my current work place that failed miserably. Ultimately, I was able to transition into relief veterinary work that actually provided me the relief! However, this transition took several months and I found that many other things helped me through it. I starting taking CBD oil that turned out to significantly diminish my panic attacks. Placebo? Maybe, but who cares. It was working. I also used essential oils that seemed to help take some stress away in the moment.

I have always loved to exercise. Whether I am lifting weights, swimming, boxing, or bike riding, I have found exercise to be a much needed escape and crucial to my mental health. I am definitely at my best when I am able to incorporate daily exercise. This has been very difficult to maintain throughout my career given the long work hours and emotional toll that being a veterinarian has on you. However, I find this to be vital and will always try to include daily exercise into my life.

Overall, I can thank most of my recovery to finding a therapist. I am glad that as time goes on, there is less of a stigma in regards to having a therapist. Frankly, I feel that we could all use one. I wish I had found her years ago, but with my stubborn nature, I assumed I could fix my own problems. I came to her completely broken and she gave me the tools and homework I needed to take a terrifying look inwards and find out why I am the way I am. I found that starting a gratitude journal and discovering the Enneagram was the most helpful. My gratitude journal was a way of replacing anxiety with things I am grateful for. It’s truly incredible how well this worked. Instead of my usual panic attacks and constant anxiety, I was now looking at my sweet puppy patient with a compassionate heart again. I would sit with my eyes closed and be grateful for the warm sun on my skin or the birds chirping. As I began to slowly discover all the life around me again, my anxiety began to melt away. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, I highly recommend starting a gratitude journal. All you have to do is write down 10 things every night that you are grateful for no matter how big or small. This will cause you to look for things to be grateful for throughout the day and will often replace your feelings of stress and anxiety.

Now, the Enneagram. If you haven’t heard of the Enneagram before, it is basically a well-researched personality type tool that will help you discover more about yourself and others around you. The Enneagram Institute is one great resource for more information. So is the book The Road Back to You. Through taking several Enneagram tests, I found out that I am a type three. Without a doubt. The three is considered the achiever. Threes are considered to be success-driven, ambitious, image-conscious, etc. After reading about my type, I was floored. It seemed as if someone had hijacked my brain and wrote a book about me. Everything I read was a true reflection of my inner most thoughts and feelings. I learned that a dark side of being a three is that we often wear masks in order to adapt to and people please those around us. We often do this so well that we never look inwards at who we truly are or how we truly feel. At my worst, I found this to be painfully true and often asked the question “Who is the Amanda behind the mask?” Thanks to this terrifying look inwards, I have been able to rediscover myself over the past year and am happier than I have been in a long time. I love living life just as I am. I encourage everyone to research the Enneagram and get to know yourself better and those around you. This system has also served as the best communication tool in my marriage. By learning why we both are the way we are, we have opened the door to true understanding and clarity. My husband is an eight which is also known as the challenger. I will say, being married to an eight isn’t for everyone. He is a head-strong and dominating personality type, but for me, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have discovered so much about ourselves and our relationship through the Enneagram, and for that I am forever grateful. Now that we understand each other on such a deeper level, I am happy to report that my husband has ultimately become the best support system I could ask for and I love him fiercely.

In conclusion, it was a long and challenging road out of the darkness. Through some tough self-reflection, therapy, gratitude, and bravery, I am finally living my best life. I have no desire to return to the workaholic version of myself that only felt self-worth by how hard I worked and what I achieved. I now know that I am enough, and so are you.  

Depression? Isn’t that just a fancy word for feeling “bummed out”? “- Dwight Schrute

4 comments on “Out of the Darkness..

  1. Jamie Robbins-Comer

    its nice to know I am not the only one who suffers from depression, anxiety and panic attacks and also diagnosed PTSD. I am seeing a therapist but I am going to look into some of your resources you mentioned about the books. I know going through these things are hard to share, but so glad you are! I am working on myself and its a slower process than your recovery. Thank you for being so open and I love your blogs and getting to know you on a deeper level, since we did work together for a while, lol.

  2. Jennifer Stepp

    Thanks Amanda. I have struggled similarly the last couple of years and took the leap into relief work last January in order to help alleviate some of the pressure when my FT job wouldn’t let me come back part-time after I had to take a medical leave for Finn. It truly is a relief to be working relief. My biggest challenge currently is not succumbing to the requests from the clinics I work at to take an associate position, but I know I am not ready to do that yet. The last year… I saw such dark times and sadly but thankfully I am still here, but only because of my children. If it weren’t for my inability to abandon them I would have gladly left this earth. I had to make some drastic changes that weren’t very popular with a lot of people, but my life literally depended on it.

    We need to be able to speak of these things freely and openly and honestly and examine how we get into these dark places… My husband doesn’t make enough money to even pay our rent, and the pressure for me to earn earn earn has been great. However, with relief work, I can focus on my patients and reserve time to recuperate from the toll our profession takes on us. Again… thank you for sharing this. It helps me feel a little less alone and a little less shameful of my own struggles. I wish you all the best.

    • Thank you for sharing this comment, Jennifer. I have followed you too and know you’ve been through some tough stuff. I’m very glad that you are still here. I hope that you keep what is best for you at the forefront of every future decision you make. I don’t think being an associate is something I would sign up for right now either. I know at one point, I was willing to get just about any job outside the veterinary field just to get myself out of a toxic work environment. Of course this is easier for me not having children to provide for. You certainly aren’t alone, and I am here if you ever need someone to talk to. Thank you for sharing your story. I’ll be thinking of you.

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