Written by Anonymous
“You are such an angel!” “You are such an amazing person!” “You inspire me and you are the reason I don’t give up!”
These are just a few of the reactions I’ve gotten over the years from people who learn about the work I do. For some reason, though, I seriously don’t know who this person is anymore. It doesn’t sound like me, but even more so it doesn’t feel like me. That woman they are describing was left in my twenties. As of late, I haven’t been feeling like such an amazing or accomplished person, much less like anyone’s angel.
From the outside, anyone who looks at my life might not assume anything is wrong. I am highly educated. I have a good job, a supportive family, and friends who love and support me. I travel and go on adventures, and my heart takes me to where I can help others the most. Everything is seemingly perfect.
That woman they are describing was left in my twenties.
These days, I find myself getting more irritated with the little things, not wanting to be around people as much – even going so far as to deactivate my social media accounts- and feeling unhappy with the things that normally make me happy. I don’t feel as fulfilled by the work I do or where I am in life in general. My sleep cycle has been completely disrupted by this negative shift, so I haven’t been sleeping well, I get headaches often, and I’m just overcome by this tired feeling. Most of the day, I feel apathetic and numb.
I have begun to question everything – what I am doing, the direction my life is going in, and why I am feeling the way I am. Is God punishing me? Is God angry with me? Am I not strong enough in my faith?
Another roadblock I’m currently facing is feeling depleted of the energy to help others. I don’t care about the things I’ve always cared about. I have developed such a negative, cynical view of the world, which has extended to thinking negatively about people. For every time I have told others to be patient, have stronger faith, and not give up, I feel like such a hypocrite. I don’t feel strong enough in my faith or like I am patient enough. This has led to feelings of deep moral, emotional, and spiritual anguish. It’s like a car running on empty – eventually that car will break down in the middle of the road. It finally dawned on me after a conversation with a friend that I am suffering from compassion fatigue. As a health care professional, I should have seen this coming.
Compassion fatigue is defined as a deep physical and emotional exhaustion and a pronounced change in the helper’s ability to feel empathy for their patients, their loved ones, and their co-workers. It is marked by increased cynicism at work, a loss of enjoyment of our career, and eventually can transform into depression, secondary traumatic stress, and stress-related illnesses. The most insidious aspect of compassion fatigue is that it attacks the very core of what brought us into this work: our empathy and compassion for others.
For too long, I was putting everyone else’s needs before my own. This meant I was not dealing with my own emotions and the things that took a toll on my heart, not being as compassionate to myself as I am to others as I know I should be. I felt that making others happy and helping them fix what is hurting them would give me what I needed as well. The truth that is hard to swallow is that there is no easy way to deal with everything we experience as health care professionals. We must go the extra mile to find healthy outlets to work through our own emotions.
According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, some of the symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
- Reduced ability to feel sympathy and empathy
- Becoming pessimistic, cynical, irritable, and prone to anger
- Increased use of alcohol and drugs
- Diminished sense of enjoyment of career
- Becoming demoralized and questioning one’s professional competence and effectiveness
I’m an over-achiever. I also tend to be too hard on myself. So, as a perfectionist, wanting to do it all and be everything to everyone, I’ve found myself in quite a predicament. It is difficult for me to be optimistic or hopeful for the future. It’s starting to set in that I cannot go on like this. For those who are suffering from compassion fatigue, the treatment starts with awareness. It’s OK to not be OK.
Recognizing that I am dealing with compassion fatigue has been the first step towards healing. Coming to the realization that I have to deal with my feelings and understand what is impacting me so negatively rather than pushing those feelings to the side to avoid dealing with them is a strong step to take towards that end.
Self-care is critical to dealing with compassion fatigue. This includes getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising, spending time with the people who uplift you and love you, and seeking professional help in the form of a trained/licensed counselor or therapist. Taking a break from the things that are adding to your stress and finding a better work-life balance can also be vital.
If you’ve reached this point, you must stop cutting the fabric of your soul into pieces to clothe other people. Love yourself, put yourself before all others, and be strong for yourself before you are strong for others. You can’t continue to spread positivity and love and happiness to others from this low place in life forever. For all of those who are struggling, know you are not alone and there is nothing wrong with admitting you need a break or help getting through it. I hope to find the peace I have been praying for and am willing to be a partner on your journey to find your own peace as well.