I’ve suffered with generalized anxiety since my early teens. It was something I’ve always tried to convince myself I didn’t have.
I remember in high school, I used to have to take my exams in a separate room because the constantly clicking noise of a mouse and the typing noise on the keyboards in the computer lab used to drive me insane. When I got to college, my anxiety got even worse once my parents got a divorce. I found myself constantly needing to be distracted by something so that I wouldn’t have a panic attack or be consumed by the thoughts in my head. I began to develop pretty severe Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and felt like I was constantly overwhelmed with a false sense of security in every aspect of my life. I met with counselors and tried to work through my anxiety, but I was never consistent enough or maybe I didn’t care enough—on the outside I looked perfectly fine to everyone else and I thought that’s all that mattered.
Then I got to veterinary school. That’s when everything got worse and the suffering I felt on the inside started to transition to the outside. Ultimately, I began to deteriorate physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. First semester was the hardest for me. I took two gap years prior to veterinary school and I found myself struggling with how to get back into the “school mentality.” I felt like I forgot how to study. I found myself finding it too hard to focus and went through a continuous cycle of imposter syndrome, while constantly comparing myself to others. I felt trapped and the anxiety became crippling.
I remember failing almost every one of my midterms that term. I got an email after them asking if I would like to repeat the term. At that point, I went through one of the hardest and darkest times in my veterinary school career. I felt like an absolute failure. I didn’t even know if I had it in me to continue.
Fast forward to today. I am finishing up my third year of veterinary school. Now, I often look back to my first year in veterinary school and how hard I worked on “fixing” myself. I went to an anxiety group on campus, worked out more often, studied with classmates, and stopped isolating myself. I also went to church and prayed more and tried to normalize my life away from home and became more organized. I began to feel like I had more control over my life.
One of my more favorite things I had set in place for myself during this tough time was having a routine. For example, before every exam, I would get to school early to meditate and pray at a special spot on campus, which overlooks the ocean, while listening to my favorite gospel song (“Made a Way” by Travis Greene). This is what grounded me and helped to reset every crazy thought, worry, and all the anxiety I felt and by the end of those 9 minutes and 53 seconds, I felt at such peace and ready to conquer whatever came my way that day.
I still haven’t perfected this, but I have seen improvement. I have less mental breakdowns than I used to, don’t isolate myself as much when I am feeling overwhelmed, am not afraid to ask for help, feel less anxious, and find more joy in doing veterinary school related things, like surgeries for example. I am no longer succumbed by the fear of failing. I feel like I am a much happier person and so much more confident in my abilities than where I was two and a half years ago.
As we are all in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to urge you all to self-reflect. Wherever you are in the world, if you are still working in clinics, or if you are working to try and finish out this semester online, think about how far you have come. You may have suffered, or are still suffering with imposter syndrome, you may have generalized anxiety, you may be feeling “stuck,” but I am here to encourage you and tell you can and you WILL get through this.
Create a routine for yourself, set small goals each and every day. It is ok if you get off track every now and then. Take deep breaths and know you are not in this alone and find comfort in that. I haven’t cured my anxiety in any way and I might never will, but what I have done is conquered my anxiety in very small steps day-by-day by following my routine and THAT is what helps to keep me going.
What I have learned about myself is that patience is key. If you feel yourself starting to get anxious or on the verge of a panic attack, find the thing that helps ground you. Whether it is listening to your favorite song, watching a funny TikTok, cuddling with your pet, calling a loved one, eating ice cream, or taking a second to cry; do it and then GET BACK TO IT.
Setting unrealistic goals for myself, being too detail oriented, and not understanding how hard our profession can be is what made things extremely hard for me. Everything in this life is a learning process and the good news is you will have so many people who are willing and able to help you be the greatness you are destined to be. Trust that and keep your routine going! The key to happiness and the management of anxiety is finding a routine during small moments of chaos in life. I am wishing you peace and comfort during this pandemic… wherever you might be.