Compassion Need Not Fatigue You

Compassion Need Not Fatigue You

There is a difference between being tired, even to the point of exhaustion, and the world-weary state of compassion fatigue.

Knowing the difference is one thing. Striking the balance between compassionate caring and trying to address the tidal wave of need that greets everyone who joins a cause, be it animal welfare, child welfare, addressing race or gender related violence,or global climate change is quite another.

The tidal waves that hit everyone who so much as scans a newsfeed are very real. The needs of the world are paralyzingly immense. There is no question about it. None. That giant sucking sound you hear is the pain of the world trying to swallow you whole. But as a fellow human with a few decades of caring behind me, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to let it eat you alive. The pain CAN chew you up, no doubt, and I know a LOT of caregivers out there cope by protecting themselves with a sturdy suit of emotional armor.

But let’s stop awarding “A’s” for stuffing unprocessed grief.  We need to stop wearing “I never cry” like a badge of strength and get clear on this one thing: Stuffing is not coping.

But do take heart. There IS another way. A softer way. A way that includes crying but also much joy in the small moments. Personally, I have yet to see pain or abuse that was not worth shedding tears over. If you see something that touches your heart I have one thing to say:

Let it touch your heart.

Hearts are good things. Openly caring is a good thing. Letting life touch you is a good thing. Being consumed and going all ‘warrior/savior’ is not…not if it costs you compassion and steals away too much of joy.

THE key to avoiding compassion fatigue is remembering the actual size you are. THAT is all you have to work with. So…work with it.

See that old lady’s hand holding that paw?  That’s mine.

I don’t feel like an old lady and the first time I saw my hand look like that in a photo it astonished me. It’s some crazy shit to watch yourself get old. I’m at that “but I don’t feel any older!’ stage of the game.

And yet, I am getting older.  And I’m old enough to KNOW that I will not live to see the last homeless dog find a home. I won’t live to see a world where no dog is ever used as a puppy mill dog, or bred to produce dogs for fighting, or for bait. I will not see an end to the pain and I’d lay money that you won’t either.

And yet, that does not fatigue me. It disheartens me at times, but it does not depress me. That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t broken, because it is. I have let enough life in…enough stories in…that it broke long ago. But that just meant that the best parts of me got to spill out. I wouldn’t trade this old broken heart of mine for anything.

So how have I avoided depression and compassion fatigue?

By knowing my scope. By looking honestly at those tiny old lady hands. By knowing that I only have one life and it’s probably more than half over.

BUT! I know what I CAN do. That paw I’m holding was attached to my house guest this weekend. A sweet, sweet girl named Pearl. She was with me recovering from spay surgery so she can get adopted. As you can see by the paw, she’s not currently winning any awards for cutest pocket pup.

And yet, she stole my heart. She represents so well why so many people become so deeply immersed in animal welfare. She has seen the worst of us and yet she gives nothing but trust in return. She hasn’t given up on us even as we are so often tempted to give up on each other.

Think on that for a while. I’ll join you.

Will Pearl’s worn and calloused paw be the last I will ever hold? Will she be the last cast off breeding dog I will ever meet? Will her rescue kennel remain unoccupied for even a day once she find a home? No. Not by a long shot.

But this isn’t about ONE small person with old lady hands meeting the tidal wave. This is about one lady taking care of one old dog in her time of need.

Sometimes, it simply about making chicken soup and sitting with a paw in your hand.

Pearl resting while she recovers from her spay surgery. She is now adoptable through PACT Humane Society in Bloomingdale, IL.

Pearl resting while she recovers from her spay surgery. 

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