Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wit's End

It's something experienced by a lot of people.  Usually people in helping professions (doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, even those who carry caseloads of disability claims - like those at Workers Compensation or other similar organizations) suffer from it the most.

Psychologists call it 'compassion fatigue' or 'secondary post traumatic stress syndrome.' Oversimplified, it's 'caring too much.'  But realistically, it's impossible to be a caring and loving human being and to NOT be affected with the suffering of other human beings when faced with it on a regular basis.  

So people deal with it in several ways.  One way is to cut off the emotion and relegate that to the back burner, or underground.  This may result in physical illnesses such as ulcers, stomach problems, hypertension. Or clinical depression arising from the feeling that they have done all they can, and it's not enough.

Another way is to wrestle with it.  Anger and frustration ensue - and a whole host of other types of physical problems result: stress-related problems such as diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, back pain, heart trouble, headaches, and even (some believe) fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes.

Still others - fewer and farther between - are honest about the nature of the trauma to which they are exposed. These people acknowledge that there is a toll to be paid when others suffer, and they look for ways to be built up, cared for internally, so that they can have something to give those who are in desperate need of help.

It's not wrong to care.  It's not wrong to be angry about suffering.  But it's also not wrong to know when it's time to step back and gain some perspective.

In the course of my job, for example, I read about a lot of traumatic events, in the words of the individual who has experienced them.  Sometimes, the images those words evoke make it necessary for me to stop once in a while and process things.  And I need to remind myself that unless I am okay with me, I can't be there for those who are looking for my help because I will have nothing left of myself to give.  I must remember to give out of a full spirit and not an empty one.

That's why my rejuvenation times are so important to me.  I have learned that if I don't look after myself and take care of my spirit, I will experience compassion fatigue and be of no use to myself, my husband and family, or my employer.  Maintaining a conscious contact with God, through various means as they present themselves, allows me to keep within my own skin and not try to live anyone else's life for him or her.  It doesn't make me less compassionate; it makes me more capable of empathy when that is warranted.  

It sounds hokey but getting adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and time to call my own really does help keep me from my wit's end. 

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