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Until 2016, I was tortured by a negative voice in my head that I thought was me.
It would constantly tell me:

If I didn’t get top of the class that I was useless

I was missing something obvious in all my cases that someone else would find and think I was stupid.

People didn’t like me

If a client asked to see someone else, I’d done something wrong.

The next thing would make me happy (and never did) – house, cars, clothes etc.

More qualifications would justify my being a vet

I was fat

Eventually I’d get found out.

I should be doing more, achieving more and comparing to anyone doing “better.”

That staying in work longer hours would fix everything (I could be there to clean up my “mistakes”)

I thought someone else would see my cases and wonder why on earth I’d chosen that treatment.

On the outside, I had it all. I was a successful vet with a huge client following, an internal medicine certificate, I had a radio show, speaking events and received endless thanks and gifts. I had my own house, a brand new car and I kept fit. I felt like a failure though, on a treadmill to nowhere.

Inside my head, I was sick of the civil war. All I could hear was this voice. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get away from it. Nothing ever good enough, living a performance-related experience and happiness on a delayed payment plan.

I was not a nice person to be around. As hard as this voice was on me, it was on other people and made me snappy and unforgiving. I closed my family out of my life. I became angry and frustrated easily with colleagues. A weekend off work and I’d create a War&Peace style document to ensure nothing went wrong with my cases.

On my own, I’d cry with frustration. I’d sit on-call, on the floor of the dispensary crying and not understand why my brain was so broken. Everyone thought it was a gift, I thought it was a curse. I’d be sick of it turning up at all hours of the day “you missed this”, “don’t forget that time in July 2014 when that client was mad”. Coffee with friends, my mind wandered to work. I’d go home and sleep to escape it, that didn’t always work. Somehow it persuaded me that if I worried enough, then it might be ok.

I received amazing feedback, but this negative voice wouldn’t let me accept any of it. “Fluke”, “that’s one nice comment but nobody else said anything,” “that was a straightforward case, you don’t deserve the praise”, “looks like you got away with that one again.”

This spiralled out of control, to the point where I couldn’t see the point of my life. I couldn’t ever keep this voice happy, no matter what I achieved, what I owned, what I did and what I looked like. I hated myself, because I thought that voice was me. I was not a pleasant person to be around, I embodied “hurt people, hurt people”.

They say talk to yourself like your best friend. I wouldn’t talk to my worst enemy the way I talked to myself. I used to drive, crying, and many times I considered whether the only option to switch off this voice was to drive into a wall. In our profession, when something is suffering beyond repair, we euthanise it. I was suffering and felt like I was running out of options.

I had a very supportive boss who could see what was unfolding, and despite trying herself, begged me to go to the NHS. I went through cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) and although I gained a little relief in knowing I’d finally acknowledged that something needed to change, the voice was still there and I knew there must be more out there.

Through much searching and learnings, I came across a strategy detailing that we all have this negative voice. You are born without this voice, but it gathers evidence and information through your life – teaching you to compare, compete, nobody likes you, money is everything. It is added to, without you even knowing about it. It’s like a subconscious programming that we tune into, wrongly think is us and is usually choosing for us to feel bad. Through the day, our subconscious is exposed to trillions of pieces of information, but can only process 2000 of them at a time; this leads to deletion, distortion and generalisation of what we actually perceive. The negative voice never goes away, but you can choose not to believe it, and know it isn’t you. Once you realise this, you know that your self worth is not on external achievements, as it would have you believe.

Once I realised this, and it changed my life completely. I felt like a huge weight was lifted. I wasn’t a performing monkey. I had a value and it didn’t wager on my achievements. I was a much nicer person to be around, as I understood what inner turmoil many others are going through.

Now I actually like myself and acknowledge that I’m a brilliant vet. I know what is me and what is coming from that negative voice. I know that every time after a bitch spay it’ll still jump in with its unhelpful musings, but I acknowledge it and know it’ll quieten down. I know if I feel bad, then that negative voice is choosing my thoughts. Sometimes it’s easy and I choose something else. Other times, I just have to sit with it, knowing that it’ll pass; I’m still there underneath, it’s just bad weather.

Since realising about this subconscious pre-programming, my career, income and relationships have accelerated tenfold. My consciousness has skyrocketed, I make better decisions and I choose to respond rather than react.

My lesson from this: don’t own every thought that you have, not all of them are yours.

Dr Katie Ford

This article was written by Dr Katie Ford, one of the mentors at VetX Thrive for the Europe region. To learn more Dr Ford’s career and our other mentors at VetX click here

We hope you enjoyed this article today. If you liked this content and want to learn more about how to have a great career as a vet, check out our VetX Thrive program designed to teach you all the non-clinical skills you need to not just survive, but thrive as a vet.

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