Is "Compassion Fatigue" Still A Thing?

In all honesty, I should have known better: I left chemical dependency counseling because of the high level of burnout. (My clientele were homeless, which leads to higher burnout).  Working with nonprofits and marketing agencies should have left me depleted, but in dealing with providing care for my mother, part of me wonders….is compassion fatigue still considered a thing?

Much of this thinking was sparked by….well, last week, as I was running errands for my mother, I had a serious fall. I hit the ground hard enough to get a black eye and draw blood. Of course, I was planning to dismiss my injuries as “merely a scratch”….but I fell in front of a police station. When four police officers – wearing vests, sunglasses and armed – tell you to sit and go to the ER, you do so.  And I spent four days resting and ruminating….it was the first serious rest I had in awhile, and much of that time was spent reflecting on how much I feel like my ability to be compassionate is severely compromised. For someone who considers himself a “community builder”, that can be extremely toxic and corrosive if left unchecked. Like so many other people, I feel continually under siege, and although compassion is sorely needed…finding it can be a challenge.

Part of it is simply frustration – with everything that’s happening (including the recent Las Vegas shootings…and Charlottesville…and my own recent efforts to balance finding freelance work with caregiving), I find it harder to be empathic. Not impossible to be empathic, or even apathetic, but I am feeling rather diminished in feeling for others. It’s been difficult when asking for help – for many of my friends, their lives take precedence (as well they should); for so many others, especially when it comes to finding work…I’m often told that I’m not “doing enough.” (When I point out that my time can be limited, I get a series of blank stares….as well as the realization that the person is likely to adopt Gary Vaynerchuk’s “crush-it-and-be-a-master” philosophy).IMG_6734

For a person whose time is precious, and who fights to maintain personal boundaries on behavior…it can be draining. Especially for someone like me, who has a tendency to schedule themselves to death. My extracurricular activities are minimal (in fact, the Chicago TARDIS charity auction is my only major obligation), and thanks to tools like StayFocusD, Virtual Hope Box, and AppDetox, my recent break from Facebook has shown me that taking regular breaks from social media can be beneficial for my mental health….yet I still feel like the well’s run dry. So am I suffering from “compassion fatigue”…or do I require another, even longer break from my activities?

(And you may asking a key question…no, I’m not waiting for “the other shoe to drop” when it comes to my mother’s health. She’s taking care of herself, and there’s been nothing of note. I’m also in a relatively healthy frame of mind mentally….remembering a friend who committed suicide four years ago reminded me of a personal oath to take positive steps if my thoughts ever turn towards flat-out despair. Plus, I also read an essay that I wrote for a benefit book on depression and creatives….and read all of the other essays…and get reminded of the best next steps I need to take). But have I experienced the repeated trauma of compassion fatigue…or am I just working through a myriad number of feelings? I’m relatively clear-headed and have a strong perspective about my life, but want to really make sure that I’m handling things in the best way that I can. typewriter

But do I suffer from compassion fatigue, or am I merely burned out? One thing I’ve learned from watching YouTube videos about compassion fatigue is that the first step is usually awareness, followed by self-care….and yes, I am taking care of myself when I can. (It’s hard to balance time when you have an older, ailing parent – it’s like dealing with a fidgety child with a large vocabulary.) That’s meant ceasing contact with relatives who don’t feel that I’m doing enough (and who, ironically, tend to support Trump. Seriously). It’s also trying to find resources for self-care….although let’s be clear, some of the very people who are encouraging others to use resources are cutting funds to those very programs (and yes, I’m talking about our beloved governor Bruce Rauner amongst them).

And like many other people in this country, perhaps I’m feeling less “compassion fatigue” and more basic emotional fatigue. We’re living in a time of great divisiveness, with one side acknowledging the insanity that is happening…and the other not only dismissive of reality but openly mocking those who see what’s happening. I’m not going to deny that we’re all hurting right now – thankfully, I’m not that self-obsessed – but perhaps finding compassion, even if only to nurture ourselves, is becoming harder to find…but gaining in worth. Donating money and supplies during natural disasters is one thing, but demonstrating common humanity towards another is becoming increasingly difficult.

I’m not saying, for example, that we should never accept the unacceptable (so fighting white supremacy and fascism directly with force is always warranted), but that when it comes to our friends, loved ones, and allies….sometimes, the hardest thing to do is show that you care. I’m hoping to change that behavior in myself, and I’ve started with some small victories. Here’s hoping that, when this current insanity wanes at some point, I manage to retain some basic human decency.

Otherwise, I probably have experienced compassion fatigue.

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And as always, thanks for reading!

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