On 18 November, after countless rephrasings, deleting the whole thing several times and much self-doubt, I sent out a difficult tweet. “Last year, while on [The Great British] Bake Off I was bullied horribly, not just online, it even went as far as phone calls to my work to tell me to die. When we saw the new contestants announced this year, I was so worried about who was going to be the ‘me’ of this year. It’s been a tough year for everyone so I really hoped there would be more kindness this year. Clearly not. The contestants are real people who just like to make cakes! Please think before typing something publicly. How would you feel if that was said about you or your friends or family? The hardest part for me last year was knowing that my family could see it all online and the effect it had on them. Please just don’t do it. Oh, and newspapers, publishing the bullying tweets so giving them a greater platform really doesn’t help.” Last year, after late-night baking, minimal sleep and trying to convince the nurses that each on-call swap was for yet another wedding, the secret was finally out: I was on The Great British Bake Off. For one fabulous week, the excitement and anticipation were unruined. Chatting to clients about the iconic tent and driving past newsagent boards announcing “local vet to star on GBBO” was great fun.
However, after the first episode aired the online bullying started. People didn’t like my voice, my clothing, that I went to Cambridge, etc. This continued, building each week, until the week Henry was eliminated. The tweets were in their thousands, private messages on all forms of media and phone calls. Being handed the phone to speak to a client, and then hearing a voice telling me to kill myself was the breaking point. I made it as far as my driveway before breaking down completely. Being a vet, I believed I was prepared for negative comments; we all fear them every day – a bad online review, a client spreading false claims to dodge a bill, or worse, from colleagues. While I have always been very lucky with my colleagues, friends have suffered from a complete lack of confidence after comments about surgical ability, or even appearance. Being a vet is undeniably stressful and takes its toll on mental health, whether you want to admit it or not. We are all affected by losing patients or giving bad news. Now imagine one of those days interspersed with horrible comments tearing you down, whether from clients, colleagues or elsewhere; that can turn a bad day into an unbearable one.
As a profession we need to look out for each other and consider the impact of small actions or comments. If you think someone isn’t pulling their weight, or has made poor decisions, talk to them about it rather than to everyone else. During the show, a Facebook group allowing anonymous posts from vets and students published a negative thread about me. That actually hurt more than all the comments from other strangers; vets stick together, or we should. I didn’t reply. I wanted to, to tell them that’s not what the profession is about and they wouldn’t last in this world without the support and respect of other vets. If any of the students who liked those posts are reading this, I really hope you’ve grown since then and aren’t behaving that way towards your fellow students and colleagues. Kindness goes a long way, but bullying and cruel comments can stay with people forever.
Mental health is always on a knife edge when working in a high-pressure environment. We all know the suicide rates and stats in the profession, but when they are just figures on a page it’s hard to comprehend. A wonderful veterinary nurse I worked with in my first job committed suicide last year as a result of mental health issues he kept to himself. He was always joking around at work, helpful and up for drinks with the rest of us. We had no idea. If someone in the practice is feeling that way, a few unpleasant comments, even if they seem like a joke, could be a push too far. Ask how people are feeling. They might not open up, but wait for a proper response in case they want to talk. I finally started talking about how I felt last year while riding out with a friend. I hadn’t planned to, but it really helped. My bullies stopped, I’m in a good place now. I couldn’t have carried on living with it as many people have to. Look after each other, maybe plan some activities together outside of work – a fun run, an activity day, a pub quiz or even just a barbeque – it could really help someone.
On a positive note, the support among vets was, and still is, something that helped me and meant so much. Messages from vets around the country, America, Australia and Europe telling me they were supporting me as one of their own was just fantastic. Cat the Vet replied to my tweet with “… the vet profession is so proud of you! And we will help and defend you if you ever need it!” This is how we should all treat each other. All of the time. I am back on TV for this year’s Bake Off Christmas special. I debated doing it, but why should bullies ruin something fun? Look after yourselves and each other, and thank you to every one of you who supported me last year.