Friday, April 23, 2010


I am packing my bags again, though this time for vacation. I will be away from the office until May 5th, planting my garden, visiting with friends and having my annual therapeutic check-in. (Compassion fatigue educators, like therapists, need to have regular check-ins.)

I'm already excited about planning fall workshops when I get back. There are tentative plans for a Caring on Empty workshop on October 22nd and a Compassion Fatigue: Going Deeper I: The Enneagram workshop on November 19 & 20, both in the greater Vancouver area. More details in the late spring or early summer.

In the meantime, as John O'Donahue says in, To Bless the Space Between Us -

For Work

May the light of your soul bless your work
with love and warmth of heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring light and
to those who work with you
and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never exhaust you.

May it release wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.

May you never become lost in bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find hope in your heart,
approaching your new day with dreams,
possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed,
sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Support Systems...

I'm just back from a week's writing at The House of Bread, a Benedictine Community on Westwood Lake outside Nanaimo, BC. The Sisters of this Community provide many services to the folk of Vancouver Island including the Bethlehem Retreat Center, a wonderful place of peace and stillness on the Lake and within the shadow of Mt Benson.

During my week with the Community, where I always feel lovingly supported and nurtured, I reread an old book, - thank you, Pat! - written in 1980 by Judy Tatelbaum called, The Courage to Grieve. While much of the content is now outdated, Judy's writing about effective support systems is still well worth sharing.

As we all know by now, an effective support system is crucial to Compassion Fatigue recovery and resilience. But what is an effective support system, exactly?

Judy Tatelbaum says that a good support system is composed of three parts:

1. Self Support:

Because few of us consciously count ourselves as part of our own support system, we can fail to attend to expanding our inner resources. It often takes a crisis like Compassion Fatigue to make us recognize our need for our own self-love, concern and support. The more we neglect ourselves, the more we deepen our depletion and impede our recovery.

Self support involves comforting and bolstering ourselves, listening to and accepting our feelings, paying attention to our physical needs, and making sure that all our needs are met rather than ignored. (This may sound impossible if you are early in CF recovery. If this is the case, you may need to draw on environmental and belief-based supports until you have "filled-up" enough to begin meeting more of your own needs.)

Recovery from CF and learning to stay well may require us to develop different self supports from those we're used to using - becoming more active or more quiet, learning to talk more or to be more contemplative, expressing feelings out loud or writing them in a journal, becoming more responsible to increase self esteem or taking a rest from responsibility for a while.

Honouring ourselves, (our needs and feelings), means showing concern for ourselves in all the simple things we do to make ourselves feel better. These needs are as variable and unique as we are.

2. Environmental Support:

Environmental supports are the network of people and activities that give our lives meaning. This network was once readily available through extended families living close together and in stable neighbourhoods or communities where people were known from birth until death. Now, in times of scattered families and greater transience, we must put effort into creating our environmental supports. If we don't, we can find ourselves unsupported and in great need when trouble arrives.

Many people have told me of the importance of their friendships during times of distress. We would certainly have been in difficulty had we not had friends to call upon during my husband's long illness. When I finally realized that I couldn't do it alone and needed respite, I sat down with my address book and phoned everyone we knew or had ever known - his friends, my friends, our friends, people from his work and my work, folks from organizations to which we'd belonged - and, after explaining our situation, I asked if they would sign up for a Wednesday or Saturday morning with my husband so that I could get some time away. The response was overwhelming. People cried on the phone because they had known of Derrick's illness and wanted to help but hadn't know how. The years we'd spent developing and nurturing relationships meant that we had the support we needed when self support wasn't enough.

Even if we have few friends, our environmental support system is larger than we might think. It comprises a wide range of people - intimates, family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, family physicians, health care professionals, psychotherapists or counsellors, clergy, lawyers, insurance agents, financial advisors, funeral directors, volunteers, local business people - and activities - adult education, work, volunteer work, clubs, travel, art, music, dance, support groups, sports, faith-based organizations, meditation, stress reduction activities, environmental work. Even if we haven't worked to strengthen this part of our support system, there is probably more there then we might imagine.

Philosophical or Belief System Support:

Tatelbaum says that whether our beliefs actually sustain us in a crisis is an individual matter but that our philosophy of life very much affects how well we cope with pain or problems. The meanings we ascribe to life, suffering and death can be key to how we survive the pain. For example, people who can accept sorrow and crisis as part of their own growth and development can find their beliefs deeply supportive.

So, much can be gained by consciously assessing the state of our support systems. What part of my support system is strong right now? What part could use a tune up? What is one thing I could do this week to increase my self, environmental or philosophical/ belief support system?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Fragile People ...

This week I read a guest blog post by Lindsay in my friend, Francoise Mathieu's, blog and I have asked Lindsay's permission to share it with you as well:

After donating blood a friend of mine wrote in a google buzz, "Why are health professionals so rough??? I'm fragile people!"

Sadly, we are rough. We spend so much time patching people up that pretty soon we're like factory workers putting bolts on a widget. It's a form of "compassion fatigue." We're faced with so much sadness and suffering that we slowly, subconsciously, learn to hold our patients at a distance. But somehow, some patients, some situations, find their ways deep into our hearts.

This weekend I was changing a dressing on a particularly nasty bed sore on a sweet young lady who is close to my age. The sore was so nasty, and the patient so young that I couldn't help but let my heart go out to her and to feel pained for her situation. I did my best to let her see and feel my empathy and made sure to talk to the next shift about a few things that could be done to make her more comfortable.

To respond to my friend's comment, we health professionals are also fragile people, but we've wrapped our hearts away so that we can do our jobs professionally and efficiently. But we're grateful for comments like yours, and for patients like mine that remind us that we're all fragile people. (Emphasis mine.)

Thank you, Lindsay, for this reminder that we are all fragile but that we can, as Whitney Houston sings, " ... find our strength in love".

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Family Rituals ...

Happy Easter, everyone! (Or Passover Greetings or Happy Spring, if you don't celebrate Easter). I've taken a break from blogging for the past couple of weeks hoping that the tendonitis in my wrist would settle down, which it seems to have done, and I'm glad to be back.

I'm on my way to Vancouver Island for Easter weekend and am excited about connecting with people I love, preparing and eating a delicious Easter dinner and spending lots of time relaxing, reading, chatting and learning to play "Set". (My goddaughter's goal for the weekend).

We have a number of special traditions surrounding each of the major holidays of the year and look forward to sharing these rituals when we're together. Special foods and table decorations. Gifts. Songs. Long walks. Worship services. Visits with particular friends. Volunteering. And while each of these rituals adds enormously to our enjoyment of the holidays, that is not their only importance.

In the 1980's, research was done regarding factors that lead to resilience in families under extreme stress and one of the major factors was a family's ability to maintain it's rituals and traditions. This doesn't mean that we must continue to do everything in exactly the same way, but it does mean that it will help if we can hold on to some aspects of the most important traditions. There is a sense of grounding, support, hope and expectancy that can come when we continue with the traditions that have provided identity and continuity in our families over time.

My husband understood the importance of maintaining the pattern of our rituals as much as possible, so much so that toward the end of his life he would do nothing but rest for several days before a holiday so that he could accumulate the energy to join us at the table for dinner - first on two feet, then with a cane and, finally, by wheelchair. Now, long after his death, the children still mention how grateful they are that he was able to celebrate with us right until the end of his life.

What about you? What Easter, Passover or Spring rituals contribute to your family's resiliency? If life has changed, are there ways to adapt your rituals to fit your current situation so that they don't go by the wayside?