"Every person is born into life as a blank page - and every person leaves life as a full book. Our lives are our story, and our story is our life. Story is the narrative thread of our experience - not what literally happens, but what we make out of what happens, what we tell each other and what we remember."
This morning, I was thinking about how often we write and teach about the facts of compassion fatigue - the definitions, trajectory, symptoms, resilience-building - and yet we rarely speak of or write about our stories, the felt experience of compassion fatigue. (Unless we're in our therapists' offices, writing in our journals, or bravely sharing in small groups at a CF workshop.)
However, this week I've come across four poignant stories of the lived experience of CF and I would like to share them with you today. The first is the blog post of a counselling student recognizing his compassion fatigue for the first time:
My brain was becoming more and more jumbled, and my short-term memory was getting worse and worse. I had lost all motivation to do anything non-passive. I wanted nothing more than to be by myself. The mere thought of people immediately drained my soul dry. The light of day hurt my head, and I was depressed when I was forced to go out into it.
In fact, I was depressed most of the time. The weird part was, I would wake up in the morning feeling okay, but as soon as something went wrong with ANOTHER one of my many needy friends, I would suddenly become void of energy and positivity for the next few days. This slowly morphed into not wanting to get out of bed at all, in anticipation of what complaints, suicide threats, nervous breakdowns, and any other traumatic events I'd be getting phone calls ... about that day.
That sounds cynical, but that's what I was turning into - a bitter cynic. I was so stressed out, but I couldn't quite pinpoint why. It got to the point where I couldn't even solve my own relatively simple life problems, and they began to add up and overwhelm me. Then I was dealing with my problems AND theirs.
After some thought and a little bit of research, I realized I had compassion fatigue. Severe compassion fatigue, I would say, that has been building up for about four years. I am going to seek counselling, because I can't go on like this. I can't.
The second is Behind the Mask, a 10-minute YouTube video by a paramedic recovering from CF, the third is the blog post of a church ** minister ** and writer who left public ministry a few years ago to recover from his CF, and the fourth is the story of a Compassion Fatigue Specialist who has not only recovered from CF, but has become weller than well and now helps others with their healing journeys.
I hope that these stories will help you to better understand how it feels to live with CF, (if you haven't had the experience, yourself) - or - that they will help you to see the similarities between your own "narrative thread" and theirs, and thus to feel a little less alone.
** Note: Gordon is in the midst of changing his website host so when you click on "minister" you will hit an error page. Click on "Select a month" under Archives, select February 2012, then scroll down to February 27th.