Sunday, April 26, 2009

Compassion Fatigue Recovery...

Recovering from Compassion Fatigue can be a slow and difficult process, particularly when there is a significant amount of personal loss and trauma, (primary traumatic stress), to work through. At the same time, it is a journey that can yield true joy and wellness if we're willing to do the work of becoming self aware and self caring.

Yesterday was one of those days of joy and wellness in my own recovery process.

Since sunny childhood mornings spent weeding with my mother, gardening has been a great source of peace, creativity and comfort in my life. But after the experience of maintaining a trauma therapy practice while caring for my husband and then for my mother during her brief terminal illness three months after his death, I didn't want to take even one step through the garden gate. The thought of caring for anything or anyone in any way was overwhelming. I couldn't even care for myself very well.

That was almost five years ago and so much has changed since then. With intention, effort and patience I made space for my body, mind and spirit to heal. I found a good grief counsellor to be a companion and "emotional container" as I grieved and, later, I did body work to release the traumatic stress stored in my muscles and sinews. I walked every day by the Lake, allowing Nature to do her healing work. I meditated and prayed and I waited in the stillness until I was able, finally, to store enough energy to interact with others again. Then I began to spend time with selected loved ones who gently led me back to life. I journalled, I listened to Mozart and Abba and I read my favourite authors and poets. Gradually, I remembered the things that authentically refresh and sustain me.

But, still, I didn't want to garden. The very thought of it made my chest tight and and my limbs heavy  with inertia. As I sat with these feelings, I came to believe that the return of my desire to garden would announce my emergence from this last severe episode of Compassion Fatigue.

So, imagine my delight when I woke at 4:20 yesterday morning with plans for springtime plantings swirling about in my head. New roses to replace those damaged by the winter's cold. More container vegetables this year. Sweetpeas for the trellises. I was up and perusing gardening books by 5:00 and at the garden center when it opened at 9. This morning, there are three new bushes in the rose garden and a row of sweetpeas along the fence. This afternoon, the tomatoes and swiss chard will be bedded and the first batch of mesclun sown.

But, best of all, is the knowledge that in waiting and trusting my own process, I have allowed my energy to accumulate to a point of abundance again. I have healed and filled myself up and now that energy can overflow into healthy caregiving - of both plants and people. It has been more than worth the effort and the wait and now I have my garden as both a source of joy and beauty and as an early warning system for encroaching compassion fatigue in the future.





Monday, April 20, 2009

Personal Boundaries....

When we grow up in families of trauma, we may lack the opportunity to develop healthy personal boundaries. (A personal boundary is an imaginary line of demarkation between me and not me.). When our boundaries are poorly differentiated, we run the risk of overextending ourselves in our helping roles.

As James Miller expresses so clearly in The Caregiver's Book -

To be close, you must establish boundaries.

When the needs of someone you care for are great, 
or when you have become part of the other's life in so many ways,
you may desire to draw as close as possible.

You may be inclined to keep that person always at the forefront of your thoughts.

You may try to keep yourself always within easy reach of their grasp.

You may find yourself almost merging with the other person,
so whatever happens to them happens to you.
Whatever they feel, you feel.

Whatever upsets them, upsets you.

Whatever their pain, you take it on as your own.

Identifying so completely with another
is an ideal some caregivers have sought
But it is less than ideal.

We all need healthy personal boundaries.  We need to be able to maintain a separate self with our own experiences, limits, sense of privacy, supportive relationships, and times of reprieve and refreshment.  When we create a separate space for ourselves, we allow the people we care for to have their own space as well.  As Miller says, -

They need it as much as you - perhaps even more. For they may not have the 
strength or clarity to create that space on their own.

And as Rainer Maria Rilke has said, -

Love consists in this:  That two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.

Are there ways that you can create your own space today? Define your own limits? Take some time out? Nurture supportive relationships? It will make a healthy difference to you and to all those for whom you care.