What a week! On Friday, I woke up feeling that bone deep exhaustion. You know the kind where you can barely keep your eyes open and you feel like someone has kicked you in the stomach. That’s how I felt, but I had to get up, meet the team and go see more patients. I made it through the day but had to hide away and sleep immediately after dinner.

I love my job but sometimes it has the capacity to knock me down. At first, I blamed it on the fact that it was a full week back right after the holidays but I didn’t really stop over the break, so I don’t know if I can blame it on that. I wondered if there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I make it through a week? Then I emptied my pockets.

My pockets really aren’t that big. I have a light winter jacket with 2 pockets and a pouch in my scrub top. I rarely carry much in there besides my keys and my phone, so when I took out one item and then another and another, just like a magician’s hat, I knew that it must have been a crazy day. That’s what happened almost every day this week. I had syringes, and needles and gauze, oh my.

Every item in my pocket told a story of what my day had been. I looked at this collection of items and reflected on each day. I had gone on more appointments alone than usual. I had more sad cases and a disproportionate number of euthanasias. I had to do more physical work than usual and my mental energy had been drained from difficult cases, many of which I couldn’t make better. No wonder I was exhausted.

I realized that I had pushed my own boundaries. I had forgotten to take care of myself first.

Now, I will spend the weekend catching up. I will get to bed on time, drink lots of water, eat my vegetables, exercise and make time to catch up with friends. I will start to feel better, but only until next time, unless I learn the lesson that this week is trying to teach me. Rather, than catch up and care for myself after I have been depleted, I need to remember the lessons of self care each and every day. I need to listen to my body and the weight of my pockets before they become to heavy to carry.

I want to be there for everyone who needs me at every point, but that isn’t always possible. I need to remember that if I don’t take care of myself first, I won’t be able to take care of anyone else. This is the same for many of my clients. Often they are caring for very ill, often terminal pets. It can be a full time job making sure that a sick pet is well cared for. I remind them to take care of themselves as well. We encourage them to ask for help when they need it and take breaks and live a healthy lifestyle. Caring for the ill is about self-care just as much as it is about caring for others.

Each item in our pockets tells a story of our pet, our family, our friends but the lesson is about ourselves. It is a lesson of self-care and wellness. In order to care for our loved ones we need to first care for ourselves. Eat well, sleep, stay hydrated, exercise and set boundaries. If it seems like there is too much going on and that self-care is an impossible task, then it is more important than ever.

What is in your pockets? What are the things that are weighing you down? What are you doing to take care of yourself so that you can continue to care for those who need you? We want to know your favourite self-care ideas.

Author: Dr. Janet Henderson