My Mental Health Journey – A Blog by Amanda Doran, DVM
Ancient Alchemists sought to transform lead into gold – they thought they could actually transform matter! I used to think about alchemy only in the literal manner and believed such a transformation was ridiculous, but then I read Tara Bennett-Goleman’s book “Emotional Alchemy: How the Mind Can Heal the Heart.” Emotional Alchemy is the idea that we have the power to transform our moments of confusion and emotional pain into insightful clarity and to see our difficult times as beautiful teachings.
We are all on our own paths. Living our own versions of the human experience. There are billions of circumstances, options, and decisions made over time that have led right up to being where you are and who you are today -for me too, for all of us…… Really think about it – it’s mind blowing!
Navigating through my human experience of those circumstances and options, I struggled with guilt, blame, negativity. After discovering emotional alchemy, I realized that I could transform these struggles by utilizing a list of 4 simple rules. These rules have truly shaped how I make my decisions as a veterinarian, friend, and family member. I saw how they allow me to make the best out of the circumstance I am faced with (no matter how small or significant). So, I chose to keep them close and have carried them around on a tiny piece of post-it note for years. More than anything else I’ve tried, focusing on these four simple rules helped me move forward with my life and my career when I felt like I had nowhere else to go.
These lessons allow you to pare down the overwhelming nature of your decision and see that you do have a choice, a decision to make, somewhere you can go, and I would love to share them with you.
1. Be mindful of your response
There are very few things we actually have control over in any given situation – these are our thoughts, our actions, our behaviors. In order to have control of these, you must be mindful. Without mindfulness, the experiences of our past can warp our reactions to non-threatening stimuli. History of verbal or physical abuse, neglect or trauma as a child can trigger inappropriate responses as an adult causing us to quickly see and prepare for the worst in any situation. Before reacting, be mindful to take the time to recognize what makes you feel sad, angry, alone, or unworthy about a situation. Acknowledging the triggers of those feelings can help you rewire your brain and change the way you respond. Reactions made quickly based on triggers will damage relationships or put you, others, or pets in harm’s way. Taking your time in the moment to be mindful and study the situation gives you time to respond in a manner that will benefit you and those around you. A positive mental attitude is your most valuable asset and that, like all good things, takes work – mindfulness is that work.
2. You create your environment
Let’s think about your day in the veterinary clinic. Each person in that clinic has essentially the same components to their day – the phones, monitors, clients, barking dogs, emergencies, emails and masks. Now think of the people in that clinic that seem to be unscathed by their surroundings – they stay calm and steady. Is it because their environment is different? No – it is because of how they view their environment and respond to it. They create their environment and so can you. Remember that we have control of our thoughts. The thoughts and emotions that you allow yourself to have internally are expressed as your outward behaviors. Your outward behaviors and thoughts become your environment – now the chaos of the clinic isn’t so chaotic when you choose to think about the situations in a calm and positive, mindful manner. Instead of feeling like people are out to get you- say “no” to that thought and challenge yourself to seeing people as genuinely good and doing the best they can. Remind yourself that something else may be seriously affecting their day and situation and that your response to them could create a better environment not only for you but for them as well. Choose to see the good and you will find yourself interpreting a tough day in a very different way!
3. Embrace your emotions
A few years ago I learned about an idea called spiritual bypassing. Introduced by Buddhist teacher John Welwood, spiritual bypassing is a “tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”. To me, this feels like pretending everything is ok when really it is not. This is very different from being present with your feelings and embracing them for what they are. There is nothing wrong with not being okay. Hard things happen to us every day and it is completely alright to not be okay. It is important to give your negative emotions your attention in order to understand them and where they come from. Talk to someone who can help you work through those emotions and then give those emotions the loving space to be let go once you no longer need them. If we don’t embrace all of our feelings and give them space to be felt (especially if you are repeatedly exposed to trauma), they will continually come back to you in some shape or form. By working through and embracing all of your feelings, you can then apply your mindfulness to keep negative emotions from triggering you into reactions that create a negative environment.
This above all has helped me find so much freedom in my life. For a long time I blamed myself for things that I cannot go back in the past and change. I did the best I could with the information I had and from where I was in the current situation. I kept telling myself that, with the information I have now, I would have done things differently. Maybe I would have, but that is totally irrelevant because I didn’t have that information. I did what I could with the information I had when I had it. I have to forgive myself for not knowing better at the time. I did what I needed to do to survive the current situation and I got through it. I was who I needed to be then, so that I can be who I am now. I am who I am now so that I can become what I am going to be. Stop blaming yourself for the past, embrace your emotions of guil, fear, sadness and then let them go and forgive. Being kind to others starts with being kind to you.
Peace to you on your travels.
Dr. Amanda Doran is a practicing certified hospice and palliative care veterinarian (CHPV) and operates an at home euthanasia practice in Duluth, MN. Dr. Doran’s medical interests center around end of life care, effective communication, and personal resilience. She shares her home with her partner in crime, 2 goofy husky shepherds and a crabby old peach tabby. She also slings tarot cards for fun.