Have you happened to notice that people are a little bit... I don’t know... crabby 🦀 lately? I have witnessed the infection of anger, pain, exhaustion and fear in my patients, coworkers, friends, family and self. I’m pretty sure only my dog is immune to 2020.
Now I’m not asking that you fart rainbows. We all have stuff going on. This entire year has been a GREAT BIG... challenge. But have you considered that your thoughts and actions could be affecting your situation? Before you get defensive, let me disclose some of my own dirt.
I can easily create a DETAILED list of events that have unfolded over the last year that resulted in my own compassion fatigue. But instead, let me describe to you what the end result was. A great big pile of me. Twenty pounds heavier, crying in public (like multiple times) and I was ready to just up and quit my job without a plan in place. There was definitely a scene where I used my favorite F word to someone that it was not advisable to do so with. Lets call this when I decided to take my "time-out".
So what is compassion fatigue? I dare declare that compassion fatigue is the “other pandemic” occurring in the world at this very moment. I googled the definition for you;
"Compassion fatigue is a condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring. It is sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress." Wikipedia
The cost of caring. I really do thinks that in general humans do care. The problem is that we all have our own objectives and limits. Miscommunication, stress, MONEY, a pandemic, past traumas, etc. all collide and create the perfect storm. The end result is the woman who almost got me to hit the ground for cover when she screamed "FUCKING STOP I AM A GOD DAMN PEDESTRIAN" tonight when I left the dollar store. She was not yelling at me by the way, I too was a pedestrian at that moment. But I still caught what she was spreading...her hurt, anger, frustration and FEAR toward some poor kid who appeared to be a bit of an inexperienced driver.
Back to that detailed list, here is the thing, even now I am bitter, hurt and tired from the last year... but it would only be fair to disclose the "DETAILED list" if I told you about my contributions to that list in addition to the outside contributions. It also would only be fair to disclose the list if I put it in perspective to what other people are dealing with in comparison. Not to say that my stress, hurt, anger and whatever other injustices I have felt are not valid. They are. My feelings are valid, it just doesn't justify me being an asshole to others.
In sharing this list am I looking for your sympathy or your empathy? What is the difference and is one right and one wrong? Sympathy is feeling pity for another's hardships. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Everyone needs to vent, but if I really want you to be able to understand I need to tell you the WHOLE story and also at the same time recognize that even with my version of the truth, it is only telling the details from my perspective. The other players in this drama could have (and did) experience the situation in a COMPETELY different way, thus resulting in the conflict. By the way, I am not going to share the list. It won’t change anything-I don’t need your sympathy. I also didn’t spew on you (if you are reading this and I did I truly am sorry) so I’m not looking for some empathy either. And it would not be an exercise in compassion for myself or anyone else to share that list. Some shit went down, I said swear words, fell down and cried about it. I then decided to stand back up. To be continued.
If you are reading this and happen to be feeling burnt out and the definition of compassion fatigue resonates with you, know that you are not alone. I caught that virus too. This year was hard and very creative, with its seemingly never ending challenges. I think we can agree that acting like the Grinch isn't going to solve anything. Be nice or at least be quiet.
So is there a "vaccine" or treatment for compassion fatigue you ask? Why yes, there is. In this case, the prevention and the treatment are one in the same. The cure, actually is quite simple but challenging at the same time. Are you ready?
Consistent, DAILY selfcare.
Treat yourself like you would a toddler. Naps, whole foods, hydrate, move and breathe. That is too easy to actually work... try it, I double down dog dare you!
The other piece of this is that Empathy part, that will come back when you put your own oxygen mask on first (practice your selfcare). Then you'll be able to step back and not react but instead see the person standing in front of you. The great big pile of a person who needs a “time-out” but may not have the insight, ability or means to take one. If you actually listen someone’s story it’s impossible to not have some degree of empathy and insight into their behavior.
That insight then challenges you, to ask yourself what do you want to contribute to the situation. Do you want to spew venom and one up their hate/hurt, perhaps escalate the situation and then feel guilty about it for days?Or could you instead take a “time-out” for them. Take a breath. Perhaps a sip of water. Even a physical distancing (you should already be doing that one). Because your reaction is just as much a part of the story as the catalyst. Reality is subjective. You hold the pen (paint roller in my world). What do you want your contribution to the story to be? Because compassion is also contagious.