“The day I almost ended my life started like any other day,” says Dr. Kimberly Pope–Robinson in her book The Unspoken Life: Recognize Your Passion, Embrace Imperfection and Stay Connected.
Pope–Robinson came as close as you can to taking a fatal dose of Vicodin. She thought, “Do I do this? Do I take these pills and end my life? Or do I continue into the abyss that is nothing what I expected life to be?”
She thought about her rescued horse, Toby, who depended on her. And then Sanjay, her cat, ambled into the room as if on cue. Sanjay instantly snapped her out of it, enough at least for her to think of her husband, family and friends.
Pope–Robinson says she came as close as you can get to letting it all go. Suicide is a real problem in veterinary medicine. So, she was hardly alone among those with that same feeling.
She not only saved herself, but by creating her company, 1 Life Connected, and by sharing her experience and communicating about her reality, she has saved likely more lives than she knows.
To know Pope–Robinson back in 2010 you’d think she was a smart, ambitious woman. She may not have been happy in her job—but from the outside in, you’d never guess she would contemplate ending it all. After all, she had no history of diagnosed depression, her job didn’t deal with euthanasia and her loans had long been paid back.
“Suicide is a moment of intention,” she explains. “In my case, I felt powerless, trapped, as a middle manager—stuff from above and below coming at me. I’d hear about doctors suffering on a daily basis, whatever they were dealing with, their compassion fatigue and being overworked and all of it—and I was feeling traumatized. My bosses weren’t horrible—but they didn’t make it better either. I was overwhelmed with shame and blaming was made internal.”
She says she was overcome by what she calls “sinkers.” These are negative things that pull us down. She hadn’t then learned to keep her balance and use “balloons” to pull her up. “Each of our journeys and interests are unique, so balloons are unique to all of us. We need to identify them, pay attention to them and celebrate them.”
Balloons can be outside hobbies and interests; from Hula dancing to yoga, religion, friends and family, even work.
These days Pope–Robinson is known as “the emotions girls” and is on the road a great deal of the time, reaching as many veterinary professionals and students as she can, talking about balloons and sinkers and transparency about feelings.
Her over–riding messages include, “If your sinkers are over–taking you, and you’re feeling like you’re falling. Well, you’re pretty normal. 1 Life Connected is about empowering yourself but not blaming or judging yourself or attempting to hide what you are feeling from yourself. As veterinarians and caregivers, we sometimes feel dark and lonely—trapped by our obligations and the expectations of the world. We care for so many lives. Yet our own lives can feel unspoken for. The good news is that we can cross that bridge back to connection, starting with just one step. And let those balloons rise.”
After graduating from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Pope-Robinson interned in equine medicine, and then worked at a large animal full–service specialty clinic near Sacramento.
She loved the job, but after only six months, a major sinker hit her hard. She was diagnosed with Ehlers–Danlos syndrome (EDS), a disease that weakens connective tissues, which made both her job with large animals and one of her favorite hobbies, running, very difficult.
Due to her health issues, she transitioned to small animals, first in private practice and then at Banfield where she was soon Medical Director and responsible for 40 hospitals and up to 140 veterinarians. “That was way too much,” she says. She eventually promoted someone to take about half of that work load.
In 2013 she accepted a job at what was then Pfizer Animal Health as a regional strategic veterinarian. Her job was to influence and develop key opinion leaders and build relationships. While she enjoyed the job, by 2015 she had begun to speak as the “emotions girl,” and soon left the security, benefits and salary of Zoetis (formerly Pfizer) to launch 1 Life Connected. In fact, Zoetis supported her, and overall most veterinary professionals are grateful to hear her message; grateful—if nothing else—to hear that they aren’t alone.
Despite her illness, Pope–Robinson is back to running and is on her way to running a half–marathon in all 50 states. She’s now at 24 states, just finishing up a run in Michigan. For her, this is clearly a big balloon.
“I am seeing parts of the U.S. I’d never otherwise see,” she says. “Your little part of the world is only just that, a little part of the world. We are all connected and I’ve enjoyed meeting new people in all parts of the country, and seeing places like Yellowstone, Fredericksburg, VA, and the Great Smokey Mountains.”
She says that her other balloons include her tattoos, her purple hair, favorite pieces of jewelry, her friends, family and her husband, Jeff. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the Human Animal Bond Association.
“Of course, my animals,” she adds. “And that includes the stuffed otter I travel with.” There’s, a cockatoo named Maui, a cat named Graciebird and Isabelle, a French Bulldog.
“Most of all,” she says. “I know I’ve helped people—nothing can be more rewarding.” +