In this blog, Kate discusses her journey with mental health which included a diagnosis with ADHD. She tells us how she has learned to embrace self-care, and also encourage it in those around her.

*Trigger Warning – Anxiety, Depression, Alcohol Abuse, Suicidal Thoughts, Feeling Alone, Mental Health, Stress, Verbal Abuse and ADHD.

“My name is Kate, and I’m a student veterinary nurse.

Although I believe that anxiety has always been a part of my life, I did not receive a clinical depression and anxiety diagnosis until I was 22 years old. I went through a difficult time in my life when I felt like nothing was going to happen to me. I was not living the life I had imagined, while everyone else—especially my school friends—was getting married, buying houses, traveling, and graduating from university, among other things.

I started consuming alcohol and experiencing depressing thoughts. I felt that my life was meaningless and that there was no need to continue. I also felt trapped and alone. I felt I couldn’t tell anyone what was going on in my head. Eventually, I received help from the doctors. I started taking anti-depressants and going to therapy. At last, I was relieved to be receiving help and having someone pay attention to my issues.

After countless applications and job interviews, I was finally hired as a VCA in a veterinary practice when I was 23. Despite my excitement at landing my dream job and the opportunities this could open up for me, I was disappointed to learn that, contrary to popular belief, my depression did not instantly go away.

I have worked in practice for 8 years now and all through that time I have dealt with anxiety and depression, and I won’t lie it hasn’t been easy. For a while I tired to ignore my depression and anxiety. I didn’t talk about and I didn’t try any self help techniques. I took my medication and in sense carried on with life, but unsurprisingly, this did not help with my mental health. 

My mental state deteriorated when I began working nights. I had a shift schedule that alternated between two weeks of nights and four weeks of days, and at first it didn’t seem too bad. However, as time went on, I realised that working nights didn’t give you much of a social life. I was missing out on hobbies and get-togethers with friends, which greatly contributed to my anxiety and depression. Being unable to visit friends and engage in my usual hobbies was making me feel more depressed. I was also anxious because I thought my friends would start to dislike me and stop hanging out with me, and I felt like I was losing “the old me.” Despite everything, I was able to keep up with my treatment, which got me through some difficult moments. Then lockdown happened.

As with everyone else in the world, lockdown completely shifted how I lived, how I worked and the work shifts did not get better. I was put on extra medication because I was experiencing daily headaches due to stress. The only socialisation I would have from my scarce work shifts—shifts that were often incredibly stressful and frequently resulted in verbal abuse with clients—was making my depression worse. We gradually became bored with our daily walks because I started to miss being able to travel to walk the dogs.

Nevertheless, despite everything, working in practice taught me that I wasn’t the only one with mental health issues and that my coworkers were very willing to discuss their challenges and what helps them. This was incredibly encouraging for me because I used to bottle up my problems and have them ignored when I tried to talk about them.

As a result, I began to discuss my mental health more often, regardless of how I was feeling at the time. I would talk about my issues and always get a positive answer. I experienced a significant change in myself after that, which inspired me to take better care of myself. I found that going for walks with my dog was the one activity that truly brought me joy. When it was just me and dog walking on the beach, I felt no care in the world.

I began to realise that self-care is not a sign of selfishness. If there’s one thing that COVID brought out of people, it was people’s awareness of mental health, which oddly also benefited me. For want of better terms, I started to accept to myself that I was not a mentally well person and I was not embarrassed of that.

I noticed a surge in self-help books appearing in bookstores, and there are many apps available for download and social media profiles with helpful intentions. All of these things were really beneficial to me. It helped me in discovering methods and interests that lessen depression and anxiety. I started taking up activities like yoga and meditation, along with taking the dogs for walks. On top of that, I began planning social gatherings at work to encourage coworkers who might be experiencing mental health issues as well as to create a feeling of friendships and some kind of support system.

I began my studies to become an RVN around two years ago. This was a step higher in my career goals, and to be honest, I never imagined I’d make it. Even though it clearly added stress, I know the result was worthwhile, and my college was always available for support if required. In addition to almost finishing my course and my OSCEs, I also joined the BVNA student council earlier this year, which was a major accomplishment for me.

I also began the process of getting diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of 2023. ADHD is frequently associated with depression and anxiety.

As we all know, working in practice has its ups and downs and can be overwhelming. Although I am still on medication for anxiety and depression, I have learnt to admit when I am not feeling okay, and people want to help me. I read self help books, try to get out in nature more, I water my plants and feed the birds in my garden. Little habits I have picked up help me to manage my stress and depression.

It’s important to remember that anyone can struggle with mental health and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Depression is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders, affecting around 1 in 6 adults in the UK, and women are twice as likely to experience depression than men. However, 15% of women receive treatment for depression, compared to only 9% of men. These statistics mean that you will not be the only one suffering from mental health issues, even though it may feel like it.

If there is any piece of advice I would give to someone who is suffering from mental health issues is, it would be to get help and take time for yourself. A lot of people may not want to go straight to medication and there are other options around. There are charities that you can talk to, there is counselling and there are other forms of therapy. And as I said, take time for yourself. This could be anything from a weekend away to a small hot bath with bath bomb. Do whatever makes you happy.”

If you are struggling with anything mentioned in this story and need to seek help, please look at our Mental Health Toolkit, and/or the following signposts;