Author of Down the Yellow Brick Road
(Self-help / Autobiography)
L.M. Connolly MS DVM spent twenty-six years as an associate veterinarian at a private practice. Throughout her illustrious career, she has seen it all – the good and the bad. Only those who walked in Dr. Connolly’s shoes can truly understand the emotions prevalent within the veterinary community. It’s a career filled with compassion fatigue, depression, suicide, and struggle. Her book is multidimensional. In part, it’s an autobiographical journey through her life as a veterinarian. But beyond that, it’s a self-help guide for those suffering from the emotional turmoil that comes with a career like no other. If you are a veterinarian and find yourself feeling alone, this book will support you along your journey as you process your thoughts and emotions. There is hope at the end. Linda was able to make it out to the other side and improve her emotional and spiritual health.
Learn more about Dr. Connolly and the inspiration behind her captivating story through our discussion – where she elaborates on what motivated her to write the book, mental health struggles, healing, and more.
Joe: After a 26-year career in veterinary medicine, what inspired you to write this book?
Dr. Connolly: I wouldn’t call it inspiration so much as frustration and desperation. I have known so many unhappy (and suicidal) veterinarians, including myself. I just want to make the profession a better place for others – to live with a work/life balance, to love what they do, and to work under better conditions than we currently have and are trending towards.
Joe: What do you hope readers take away from your book?
Dr. Connolly: Several things. First, that if you have anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental health issue, you are not alone. Reach out for help and it is available. Second, that the veterinary community needs to evaluate what is driving changes, the detriments to us, and how we can improve the situation. Third, to educate the general public about life as a veterinarian. Fourth, people need to be kinder to others, because “one may never know who nearby is quietly suffering from mental, physical, financial or family issues.”
Joe: What is the most challenging aspect of working as a veterinarian / what is the most fulfilling?
Dr. Connolly: Simply put, the losses and the wins. There are many challenges to the profession as I quote Dr. Tomasi et al’s peer-reviewed study in the AVMA Journal: “specific characteristics of the profession…long work hours, work overload, practice management responsibilities, client expectations and complaints, euthanasia procedures, and poor work-life balance.” I also add hostile work environments, low reward, and high student loan debt to this list. The wins are the relationships with the clients, watching a sick animal get well and go home, playing with puppies and kittens, knowing that you have helped a client feel better (decreasing worries, guilt, or helping with difficult decisions), saving an animal, and camaraderie. Since we spend more time at work than at home, and under very stressful situations, our coworkers are sometimes like family.
Joe: Did you ever question your career or want to walk away from it?
Dr. Connolly: That is what I am doing now! I had to retreat from the profession because I had compassion fatigue/empathic distress, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation, which led to a host of medical issues. I have to save myself so I can help others. By bringing awareness about the pitfalls of the profession to others (and making suggestions for how to improve these issues), I hope to help my colleagues and other individuals in similar situations and mental states.
Joe: The title of your book is so interesting when thinking about the subject matter, can you briefly share what inspired the title?
Dr. Connolly: As I reflected on my career, I could see many similarities between it and the 1936 movie, The Wizard of Oz. I could put faces to the Munchkins, the Apple Trees, and saw the unrecognized hard work of the Witch’s minions. Of course, I also remembered a lot of Toto’s too! My own actions were reminiscent of the Witches (good and bad) and the Wizard. The analogy was perfect.
Joe: At what phase of your career did you realize the importance of mental health and advocating for those who are struggling?
Dr. Connolly: Not until I detached myself from the profession. All I initially knew was that my career was killing me – both mentally and physically. Once I stepped back and could see ‘the forest through the trees’ (so to speak), I realized that I had a lot to share with others, and that I still wanted to help prevent loss – to prevent suicides of my colleagues and others. We have lost too many already.
Joe: Did you learn anything about yourself when writing the book?
Dr. Connolly: Of course! I have learned about depression/suicide, treatments for these, about emotional intelligence, boundaries, skills for mindfulness, sleep hygiene, leadership qualities, and most importantly, that one must treat the mind, the body, and the spirit to be healthy.
Joe: How long did it take you to write Down the Yellow Brick Road
Dr. Connolly: It took three years. It was an on and off process because it was so emotional for me – and so cathartic. I would write diligently for a few days, then have to take 3 weeks to several months off. I also took a trip to NIH/NIMH (the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Mental Health) for a twelve-week study. This was invaluable and became most of the Part 3 of the book.
Joe: What has your book’s initial feedback been like so far?
Dr. Connolly: The one word I keep hearing is insightful. Of course, my close colleagues know the stories already and concur with the descriptions. I can’t wait for the hard copies to be available and for word to spread to the general public.
Joe: Are you currently working on any new projects or have any upcoming book events?
Dr. Connolly: I call myself an eclectic writer – not just one genre. In addition to this autobiography/’state of the-union’, self-help/self-care book, I have a published scientific article from graduate school and a printed (unpublished/unauthorized) cookbook for the NIH hospital. I have also started are a screenplay, a present-day spy-type fiction book, and have plans for several more books.
Joe: Are there any social media accounts you’d like us to highlight?
Dr. Connolly: I can be found on Facebook at LM Connolly MsDvm or on LinkdIn.
Regardless of your professional background, I highly recommend Dr. Connolly’s new book. Prior to learning about the book, I had no idea how prevalent debilitating mental illness was in the veterinary community. There are so many who suffer and despite the noise inside their heads, they carry on with a brave face. But sometimes, the brave thing to do is to stop. Sometimes, you need to recognize that you need to care for yourself and do what’s necessary to heal. Recognizing that you need help is true strength. Dr. Connolly’s story will save lives. Those in the veterinary community – and other professional communities who feel the same – should follow her lead.
Suffering should never become our normal. Your health – mental, physical, and spiritual – is more important than your career. I’m so grateful for Dr. Connolly’s honesty and her strength to write this book. It made me think deeply about those working in veterinary medicine, and also examine my own personal wellbeing.
So get this book. Think about yourself and those around you. Live thoughtfully and compassionately. Always remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope down The Yellow Brick Road.