Having anxiety feels like driving a car and knowing one of the tires will hit something sharp and blow out. You know one of them is going to go, but you don’t know which one, so you can’t take any precautions. If you stop and get them checked the man will chuckle and tell you all the tires are currently fine, ma’am. He’ll tip his hat and wish you a good day. A good day? you’ll think, how dare he? Most days you’ll go on driving because your logical brain tells you that’s the only thing to do here; that you can’t fix something that isn’t broken and you can’t prevent something you can’t predict. But there are days you don’t get in the car, because you can never shake the feeling of dread; the knowledge that doom impends.
Having depression feels like carrying bags of ice on your shoulders. They’re so heavy you find it hard to move; so cold you can’t get comfortable. Nothing you used to like to do is fun anymore carrying these things around. Some days just getting up out of bed is impossible. Your friends wonder why you can’t just put the ice down and come out with them. Your family is hurt and frustrated; why doesn’t the ice just melt already? You know it’s not that simple, so most days you go about your business under the weight and cold. Therapy and hard work can melt the ice some, sure. But it takes time. And meanwhile you’re still freezing cold and heavy, trying just to survive.
Experiencing these things at once can be especially hard. I know, it’s been my life as far as I can remember. Depression comes and goes, but there isn’t a day of my life that some tire somewhere threatens to blow as I hurtle down the highway. Living in a somewhat constant state of fear is my reality.
Why am I talking about this on my dog training blog? Because a month ago I read a really brave post by another dog trainer, one I have a lot of respect for. He spoke out because speaking out about mental illness is the only way that we will shatter the stigma surrounding topics like anxiety, depression, and their fatal side effect; suicide. I thought about his post for a month. I considered writing my own for that long. Rarely do I consider a topic for that long; typically I write as soon as I stumble upon something I must say. But animal care workers like myself are more likely to die of suicide than people in other professions. According to at least one study, we are actually at 5 times the risk, right up there with police officers and firefighters.
When I speak to my colleagues in dog training, I see mental health concerns all over. Burnout, compassion fatigue, crippling perfectionism, control-centered anxiety, and plain old anger are everywhere I look. I know because these people are my mirror; because I have experienced all of these things. But what are we talking about? We’re talking about whether its ok to cancel on clients if we are sick. We’re talking about how to choose between giving discounts (to save the dogs whose caregivers either can’t or won’t pay our normal rates) and upholding our policies on payment (you know, so we can eat and pay rent). We’re talking about the other trainer who is doing it wrong. We’re talking about the dog who was in the wrong house at the wrong time and paid with his life. We’re talking, always talking, about doing more, giving more, and saving them all.
We are not talking about our mental health, and it is, quite literally, killing us. So please, speak up, speak out, and listen. We must take care of each other.
If you are a dog training professional and feel so inclined, please join the Facebook group, Self-Care for Dog Trainers.
And if you need help, start here: