Monday, March 30, 2009

Letting Go...

Sometimes it feels as though letting go, surrendering control, will allow the world to fall apart. What if something goes wrong? What if someone makes a mistake? What if there's a mix-up?

And yet, carrying the burden of responsibility for everything turning out right is exhausting. We become drained, anxious and irritable when we try to hold life together by sheer force of will. I spoke with a woman this week who is a helping professional who is also caring for her mother, a woman living with cancer. She told me that although she speaks about "letting go"  all the time in her work, she'd never realized to what depths and repeatedness this act was required of family caregivers.

So, what would happen if we didn't try so hard to control things in advance? Could we lighten up, just a little, and respond to circumstances as they arise instead? Kate, the beloved adolescent character of Jean Little's writings, understood about the need to let go, at least occasionally:


Today I will not live up to my potential.
Today I will not relate well to my peer group.
Today I will not contribute in class.
I will not volunteer one thing.
Today I will not strive to do better.
Today I will not achieve or adjust or grow enriched
or get involved.
I will not put up my hand even if the teacher is wrong
and I can prove it.

Today I might eat the eraser off my pencil.
I'll look at clouds.
I'll be late.
I don't think I'll wash.

I need a rest.

Perhaps we could all let go, just a little, in our own ways, today, and have a rest...?

I will be doing just that on Friday when I travel to southern California for a week. And after that comes Easter weekend so you will not be seeing a blog post here for the next two weeks. Until then - Happy Easter!




Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Promise of Spring...

I encountered these crocuses under a tree by the lake yesterday, a reminder of the hope and the promise of Spring.

I think that early recovery from Compassion Fatigue is a little like the coming of spring. The signs of early recovery are subtle at first - being wakened one morning by a whisper of optimism, hearing yourself laughing for the first time in a very long while, feeling a longed-for gathering of energy and interest. Gradually the bud inside you begins to swell and grow, creating the new weller-than-well person you are becoming.

The process of recovery is not a direct line from A to B though, rather, a meandering route of two steps forward and one step back. As James E. Miller says of Spring in Winter Grief, Summer Grace:

This season cannot be all brightness and glow, however. You still feel sad sometimes.
You get caught off guard by sudden rushes of painful emotions.  That's the nature of 
Spring - The gradual warming punctuated by brief stabs of chill. Yet as you  let your 
feelings evolve in ways most fitting to you, you promote the natural unfolding of your 
grief, the natural unfolding of your life.

He goes on to describe this natural unfolding in more detail:

You can begin to direct more and more what is happening around you.

You can decide about those things you want to start doing again.

You can experiment with things you've never tried before, realizing that something
within you now is eager to try.

You can begin to turn your attention more to others,
offering what you have to give, welcoming what is there to receive.

You have every reason to do both,
and every right.

In fact, James Miller is speaking about the process of recovery from bereavement but I believe he's got it right for those of us recovering from compassion fatigue as well. There is a seasonal flow to both experiences and the season of Spring brings the warmth, showers, budding and blossoming that equate to the Springtime of our recovery.

Most of you who have heard me speak more than once, know that I use a beautiful haiku by Jean Little, as a closing for all my workshops.  Over the years it has become my "signature", a blessing for those courageous enough to be beginning their own recovery. It goes like this:


I feel like the ground in winter,
Hard, cold, dark, dead, unyielding,
Then hope pokes through me like a crocus.

So, bouquets of crocuses to each of you as you take the next step toward recovering from the
"gift" of compassion fatigue.

* Both books I've quoted today would make beautiful gifts for yourself or for someone you
love. Winter Grief, Summer Grace has wonderful photographs and poignant prose with
unintrusive Christian overtones and Hey World, Here I Am! by Jean Little makes a
great gift for an adolescent or pre-adolescent girl - or anyone who ever was one!





Sunday, March 15, 2009

Getting Enough Sleep...?

This past week has certainly been one of diminished sleep for me!
Between the advent of this year's Daylight Savings Time, an out-of-town workshop with a time zone change, an overnight visit with an old friend, and seeing my goddaughter off on Spring Break at the airport at 4:15 this morning, my sleep debt, (the difference between the amount of sleep we need and the amount of sleep we get), is pretty high. The bad news is that this sleep debt is cumulative. The good news is that a few consecutive nights of full, uninterrupted sleep will usually return us to full functioning.

How do we know when we're sleep deprived? Sleep researchers say that our sleep latency tells the tale. In other words, if we are well rested, we will make the transition to sleep within 15 - 20 minutes but if we're sleep deprived, we will fall asleep in less than 5 or 10 minutes. (Or as soon as our heads hit the pillow, as the saying goes.) Other ways of taking stock include asking ourselves if it is hard to wake up in the morning, if we wake refreshed or tired, if we run out of energy by late afternoon or how long we sleep if we don't have to wake up.

Most adults need 8-9 hours sleep each night but many of us average around 7 hours with the result that we have more accidents, we're more prone to infection, we make more mistakes at work, we lose concentration, short term memory and IQ points and we are less resilient to stress. 

When we add to this the effects of long term professional shift work or 24/7 family
caregiving, we have the potential for serious physical and mental health problems and a diminished ability to care for others safely.

In,  The Little Book of Stress Relief,  Dr. David Posen, MD, suggests that we:

*  Assess how much sleep we're getting currently & how much we need to function well.

*  Go to bed half an hour early for a few nights and see what happens.

*  Then add another half hour for a few nights.

*  Keep adding to your sleep until you wake naturally, feeling refreshed.

*  Sleep in an hour or two on weekends if you run a deficit during the week.

If you are working extra long shifts because there are not enough staff or if, as a family caregiver, the idea of getting more than a few consecutive hours sleep any night makes you laugh, (or cry), things might not be so easy. You might need to summon help or actually get away regularly in order to meet this most basic of needs.

Can you ask a friend to take your children after school so you can sleep til dinner time when you're working night shift? Can you renegociate your care aide allotment? (During the last year of my husband's illness, I traded 120 hours of daytime care aide help for 2 or 3 nights of RN coverage a week and that saved my sleep and my sanity.) Can you ask a family member to watch things at your house while you go to theirs' for a nap? Can you arrange to go away for a weekend for the sole purpose of catching up on your sleep? Brainstorm with others in similiar situations to find outside-the-box ways of catching an extra 40 winks. It will make all the difference to your mood, your energy and your perspective.



Thursday, March 5, 2009

Before I Leave...

I'm on my way to Banff very early tomorrow morning to teach a Compassion Fatigue workshop for transplant professionals. I am greatly looking forward to working with this dedicated group of people, and also, to seeing a nursing friend from the old days in CCU and to meeting my new great granddaughter for the first time! It promises to be a busy, happy - and cold! - weekend.

Before I leave, though, I would like to tell you about an online learning opportunity with the Compassion Fatigue Specialist and Accelerated Recovery Program (ARP) developer, Eric Gentry. He will be offering a teleseminar, Compassion Fatigue Prevention & Resiliency:  Fitness for the Frontline, through PESI Continuing Education Seminars on Friday March 13, at 2:00 - 3:30 pm (Eastern Standard Time).  The price is very reasonable and the outline looks comprehensive  and well integrated with the latest research.  You can  find seminar information and registration at