As some of you know, I am big into the topic of compassion fatigue. In fact, some of you may be fatigued from hearing me talk about it! When I speak on the topic, I unashamedly admit that I am the “poster child” for compassion fatigue. Some of my wounds have healed, leaving the tender scar tissue. Many more still remain, some of them irritating scratches, like paper cuts. You know the kind: they can be the smallest little slit, but it hurts like crazy. And yes, I have some big, gaping wounds that I know will likely never heal. When it comes to compassion fatigue, I have literally “been there, done that.”
I think I finally realized how deep some of these wounds are when I was stopped dead in my tracks by the annual Compassion Fatigue conference in Kingston, Ontario. I began my training on CF up in Kingston with a private firm, and then extended my learning by attending two of the annual conferences. Typically they have presentations from different lines of work that can suffer from compassion fatigue, such as mental health providers, humanitarian organizations, even the “human” medical field.
It’s funny, well OK, sad, that I am the lone person there from veterinary medicine. Being there at all stuns some of the attendees, who can’t imagine why “playing with puppies and kittens all day” could be traumatic. Then I just share with them the news that veterinarians have the highest suicide rate compared to other professions, and they immediately adjust their thinking.
This year, I looked over the line-up as I have done the last couple of years, searching to see what I can learn from others at this meeting. It may take a little stretching for the topics to apply to veterinary medicine, but not too much; there are so many similarities. My intent, of course, is to learn how to help my colleagues.
This year, though, I decided not to attend because guess what, it was all about healing us. Those of us who are suffering from compassion fatigue and attending this meeting, instead of training us how to help others. Well, I can’t imagine doing yoga and meditation, and caregiver healing techniques of all sorts, for my own use … I need to focus on helping others. Yet I realized that it’s deeper than that. I don’t want to share, I don’t want to refresh those wounds, I don’t want to be vulnerable to others, even if they have CF too! I don’t “need” that, I need to learn … it’s all about helping everyone else except me.
When that sunk in I realized that I always will be the poster child for compassion fatigue, and while I wear my wounds with pride over the hundreds of families I have helped in my career, the scabs are easily reopened. I hope that I will learn to balance the two: my help to others, and my help to myself.