Monday, February 28, 2011

1st Compassion Fatigue Conference ...

Hi everyone! Just a note to make sure that you are all aware of the first Compassion Fatigue Conference which will be held at the Ambassador Conference Center in Kingston, Ontario on June 15-16, 2011.

The conference has been organized by my colleague and friend, Francoise Mathieu whose educational events are always stimulating and very well organized. There will be a number of excellent speakers including Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, the author of Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, plus many opportunities to network.

I am looking forward to being in Kingston, both for the conference itself, and for the opportunity to visit with dear friends in one of my favourite towns. It would be lovely to meet some of you there.

For more information or to register:

Photo of Kingston, ON by Bigstock Photos

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shame and Compassion Fatigue ...

Shame is an experience that has no redeeming features. It is always negative and wounding.

Shame differs from guilt. It is the sense that we are inherently flawed - that we are bad vs having done something bad. It is a feeling that makes us want to hide our real selves for fear that those around us will find us unlovable and abandon us should they discover what we are really like.

So, what does shame have to do with Compassion Fatigue? I've been thinking about that question all week and have come to the hypothesis that shame may be a major factor in maintaining CF.

The impact of shame appears at several points in the CF trajectory:

1. Early on, shame may have helped to motivate our choice of a helping career. For example, if we were shamed in a healthcare or crisis setting while young, we might, consciously or unconsciously, have become drawn to rescuing people in similar situations. If we were shamed for our dependence or weakness as children, we may have chosen work where we could experience a sense of independence, power and control.

2. Later, as we encountered traumatic events and accumulated losses in our work, shame may have kept us from sharing with colleagues our natural human responses to terrible situations. We may have come to believe that one has to appear strong and invulnerable in order to be accepted.

3. As we began to develop symptoms of CF, we may have felt that we couldn't tell anyone about those symptoms or ask for help for fear of being ridiculed or found lacking.

4. As our symptoms increased, we may have begun to realize that we could no longer care for others in the ways that we had in the past. Our capacity for empathy had disappeared. The identity that we had built as particularly caring, compassionate people had crumbled and we may have felt profound shame about no longer being the people we were "supposed to be". Judging ourselves harshly, we may have withdrawn from the very people who could have supported us.

And, thus, shame undergirds and maintains the experience of CF.

The way that most of us deal with shame is to avoid being vulnerable, as you can see above. In our North American culture, any kind of vulnerability is judged as weakness and a potential source of shame. We generally feel much safer when our vulnerability is masked by our "strength" and protected by the armour plating of perfectionism, distancing, and emotional numbing.

However, this kind of protection comes at a cost. We can lose spontaneous expression our real selves, our connection to others and our ability to tap into the strength and support of our spiritual lives. We become lonely, isolated, and empty. And we numb that pain with busyness, workaholism, and the compulsive use of alcohol and other drugs, gambling, spending, sex, exercise, and food.

So, what can we do to increase our tolerance for vulnerability and thus reduce our shame? Social Work researcher and author, Brene Brown, suggests that we can embrace our vulnerability by:

1. Practicing authenticity, courage, connection and compassion

2. Practicing gratitude

3. Honouring the ordinary in our lives rather than the extraordinary - eg nature, children, play, community

4. Allowing joy and love to enter our lives so our reservoirs will be full when bad experiences come our way.

If you would like to learn more about the impact of shame in our lives and how to build shame resilience, there are several good books on the topic:

1. I Thought It Was Just Me by Brene Brown

2. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

3. Shame and Guilt: The Masters of Disguise by Jane Middelton-Moz

4. Facing Shame: Families in Recovery by Merle Fossum & Marilyn Mason

5. Shame: The Power of Caring (Revised Edition) by Gershen Kaufman

And if anyone has thoughts about these ideas, please feel free to comment.

Photo by Bigstock Photos

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Financial Strain on Family Caregivers ...

A new poll published by the Canadian Cancer Society this month says that 88% of the 2,231 polled thought that providing care or assistance for a family member would have a negative impact on their financial situation. 57% said that it would have a major impact.

Those of us who have lived the experience might be excused for giving a hollow laugh. Could anything be more self evident? Between lost income, depleted savings, extra expenses not covered by the basic medical plan and money spent on counsellors and respite care in order to stay sane while caregiving, many families will never recuperate their financial losses. This is particularly true of families who face a lifetime of caring for an seriously ill or injured child.

Few of us would give up the opportunity to care for an ill or disabled loved one, but many would be grateful for some compensation for our losses. Family caregivers save our governments millions of healthcare dollars annually at great cost to themselves and their families. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, the economic contribution of family caregivers in Canada was estimated to be between $25-26 billion and 65% of households with a caregiver report a combined income of less than $45,ooo. (23% reported less than $20,000!).

With an aging population and a federal election in the offing, it behooves each of us to ask pointed questions of our political parties regarding how they would increase government financial support for family caregivers.

The Cancer Society, like many advocacy organizations, has been pushing for better financial support through the federal Compassionate Care Benefit, asking for improvements including:

* Increasing the benefit period from the current 6 weeks to 26 weeks, accessible during a 52 week period.

* Increasing flexibility through allowing benefit claims for partial weeks taken over a longer period rather than blocks of weeks at a time.

* Changing the wording of the eligibility criteria from "significant risk of death" to "significant need of caregiving due to a life threatening illness".

* Amending the Canadian Labour Code to protect the jobs of caregivers.

Special provision also needs to be made for increasing support to family caregivers who are self-employed. Benefits attached to tax credits are of little use to someone who can no longer earn an income due to their caregiving.

It is said that societies are judged by the degree to which they support their most vulnerable. Most family caregivers provide generous and unstinting care for their loved ones. Can we do any less for them?

Please take a moment to call or email your local MP's office to register your concern for family caregivers and to ask what his or her party plans to do, specifically, to support them.

Photo by Bigstock Photos

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Great Nutrition Resource ...

Last Saturday, I went with my sister and her freezing cold grandson, (what is it about preteen boys and their aversion to coats??), to my first Winter Farmer's Market of the season. Up to this point I'd been eating the fruits of the autumn harvest from my own garden but pickings were getting slim so off to the Market I went with family and half a dozen cloth Market bags.

I came home with red kabosha squash, onions, potatoes, kale, carrots, apples and portabella mushrooms and, inspired by the sight and smell of all those wonderful fruits and vegetables, I've taken the time to cook and eat very well this week. (And when I eat well, I have more energy to put into my exercise routine so I've also enjoyed two yoga sessions and great daily walks at the Lake in the spring sunshine.)

There's no question that a healthy diet and good exercise are at the foundation of good physical and mental health, (to say nothing of being an important part of initial recovery from compassion fatigue), but amid all the marketing hype, how can we be sure that we're making the best nutrition choices?

One great resource I like to use as a guide is the Canadian Nutrition Action Healthletter
published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The Center is an independent non-profit consumer health group that advocates honest food labeling and advertising, safer and more nutritious foods, and pro-health alcohol policies. They accept no government or industry funding and are thus able to critique food products and policies honestly.

The Healthletter, which is celebrating it's 40th anniversary this issue, is a colourful, sixteen page magazine that arrives in my mailbox ten times a year full of good nutrition research, Canadian name-brand product evaluation, recipes and tips for healthy eating. It is a quick read and provides huge bang for the buck.

Some of this month's articles include:

* Unexpected: Surprise (Nutrition Research) Findings From the Last 40 Years
* Magnesium & Sudden Death
* Don't Just Walk
* Beyond Bread: Think Thin (Brand-Name Ratings of Thins, English Muffins, Bagels etc)
* Under Wraps: Healthy Fillings for Sandwiches
* Artery Crusts: An Evaluation of Brand-Name Pie Crusts

If you are interested in creating a healthier life style, why not take a look and see if the Healthletter might provide the information and motivation to help you on your way?

Friday, February 4, 2011

A New Project ...

I'm delighted to have been asked to participate in a new project of Pacific Lutheran University's MediaLab . This award-winning group, based in Washington State, is producing a full length documentary on Compassion Fatigue which is due to premiere in the fall of 2011.

The new film is designed to give a broad look at how first responders, other front line workers, volunteers, family caregivers, and even those who support disaster response organizations financially can become overwhelmed and rendered impotent by their knowledge of others' suffering. It will define CF, discuss it's effects on helpers and their families, and explore strategies for prevention, recovery and resilience.

We are fortunate to have such a skilled group of students taking on the task of raising public awareness regarding compassion fatigue. It will also be wonderful to have this new film as another tool in our CF toolkits.

Other films by the MediaLab group include "Illicit Exchanges", a documentary about the influence of drugs and guns in North America and "Point of Entry", a film which explored immigration in the US and Canada. These films have won numerous national awards including college division Emmy nominations.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

86 Self Care Ideas...

Here are the top self care ideas from a great group of 60 social workers, mental health professionals and family caregiver supporters at today's Compassion Fatigue workshop.

1. Working out at the gym
2. Running with the dog
3. Cooking tasty, healthy food
4. Aromatherapy
5. Small gestures of giving to others
6. Doing nothing
7. Silence
8. Yoga
9. Singing
10. Massage
11. Listening to, and playing music
12. Watching a feel-good movie
13. Morning meditation
14. A bath with candles and music
15. Being in a library
16. Buy yourself flowers
17. Window shopping
18. Gardening
19. Playing
20. Spending time outdoors
21. Journal writing
22. Reading a good book
23. Accepting and honouring your feelings
24. Knitting and crocheting
25. Enjoying your first sip of morning coffee or tea
26. Chatting with a friend
27. Cleaning house
28. Baking
29. Aerobic exercise - biking, cross country skiing, swimming
30. Staying calm
31. Sitting by the fire
32. Living with intention
33. Good dental hygiene
34. Regular health checkups
35. Gratitude journal
36. Last thing at night - identifying the nicest thing that's happened that day
37. Leaving the computer off
38. Avoiding the newscast
39. Laughing and having fun
40. Inspirational reading
41. Being mindfully aware/in the moment
42. Regular meditation
43. Connect with your spiritual side
44. Dancing
45. Craft work
46. Create a support network
47. Eat cookies
48. Prayer
49. Storytelling
50. Travelling and planning it before hand
51. Purposefully doing superficial things
52. Stand-up comedy, sharing a joke
53. Quilting
54. Grouse Grind
55. Candlelight
56. Cooking when not under pressure
57. Being alone and contemplative
58. Going for a sauna
59. Pedicure/manicure
60. Sex
61. Having a facial
62. Debriefing with colleagues
63. Validating yourself to yourself and to colleagues
64. Attending workshops
65. Staying in your dressing gown all am when on a day off
66. Dancing in my kitchen
67. Buying only good wine
68. Long walks on the beach
69. Hikes in the woods with the dog
70. Making photocards
71. Kayaking and sailing
72. Playing a musical instrument
73. Landscaping
74. Sleeping in
75. Pet's unconditional love
76. Driving and road trips
77. Walking to and from work
78. Sitting in a sidewalk cafe, drinking a latte
79. Pausing to breathe
80. Time with your grandchildren
81. Stomping in rain puddles or piles of leaves
82. Validating your colleagues
83. Walking in the grass in bare feet
84. Looking at clouds
85. Letting the warmth of the sun soak into your back or your face
86. Eating chocolate