Wednesday, October 30, 2013

3 New Opportunities to Learn ...

Hi Everyone!

This week, I've been tripping over one learning opportunity after another, each of which has tweaked my interest and made me pause to take a closer look. So, assuming that if you're reading this blog your interests might be similar to mine, (a broad assumption, I know), I want to share a few of these gems with you in today's post. So, here goes:

1. The World Premiere of People Like Us:

People Like Us is a new one-woman play written by Saltspring Island poet and playwright, Sandi Johnson, and starring Sarah Louise Turner. It tells the story of a Canadian military policeman who returns home after the 1991 Gulf War a changed man. Kate, his wife and carepartner, is determined to help her husband heal and in doing so, becomes an advocate for veterans still fighting for the care and support they deserve.

VancouverPlays' preview describes the play this way:

People Like Us is the story of a military policeman's wife, Kate O'Rourke, who becomes an outspoken advocate for veteran's rights while courageously battling the bureaucracy to restore her husband's health and keep her family together. While fighting for a diagnosis for her husband, who she suspects is suffering from Gulf War Syndrome, Kate inadvertently becomes an advocate for people like her family whose collective cry for help continues to fall on deaf ears - the powerless veterans who served their country with honour and now feel helpless facing the minefield of red tape they must navigate - doctors, prescriptions, veterans' affairs, disability pensions, and a system that would prefer to forget them.
At a time when the new Veteran's Charter is changing the benefits soldiers receive, and veterans are raising their voices to contest these changes, this personal story illuminates the larger controversial issue of the government's obligation to the men and women they send off to war and what they do to help them once they return.

Designed to coincide with Remembrance Day and Veteran's Week, the play runs from November 2 - 16 at the Firehall Arts Centre on East Cordova Street in Vancouver and I, for one, will be in the audience. I hope that many of you will be able to be there as well.

Postscript:  I saw a preview performance of this play today and it was wonderful! Sarah Louise Turner's performance was exquisitely nuanced and she deeply embodied the chronic sorrow of family carepartners, particularly military spouses fighting against an intransigent military medical system that demands diagnosis before treatment but will not admit to the longterm effects of the chemical soup that  devastated soldiers during and after the Gulf War.  Go and see this play, then go and see your member of parliament!

2.  Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day by Thich Nhat Hanh:

I'm not sure how I missed this one of Thich Nhat Hanh's prolific writings but miss it I did. Published in December 2012, this new book offers simple and concrete practices for improving the quality of life in our workplaces.

Written from a Buddhist perspective but accessible to anyone, this small book offers chapters such as Waking Up, Setting Your Intention, Going Out the Door, Arriving At Work, Mindfulness At Work, Eating At Work, Finding A Home At Work, The Island of the Self,  How Your Thoughts, Speech and Actions Bear Your Signature, Meditation Before A Meeting, A New Work Ethic, Co-Responsibility, and many others.  The final one reminds us of 30 specific ways to reduce workplace stress.

Throughout these many short chapters, readers are invited to try practices such as letting the phone ring three times before answering to ensure that we are truly present to whomever is calling, reciting a poem of gratitude every morning to set our minds on a thankful path, and listening to our co-workers with only one purpose in mind - to give them an opportunity to express themselves. Simple practices but essential to peaceful living.

I think this gentle volume would be an excellent addition to any workplace or to any compassion fatigue or burnout library.

3.  CBC Radio presents Financial Expert, Gail Vas-Oxlade:

Friday November 1st's guest host on The Current will be financial expert and reality TV star, Gail Vas -Oxlade.

With a blunt, straight forward style that is both pointed and refreshing, Gail identifies the causes of our financial woes and plots paths to self-regulation and financial security. On Friday's show, part of CBC's season-long project called The Money Project, Gail will answer financial questions from listeners and talk about her new financial literacy tool kit.

It would be great to hear her opinions about the many financial concerns of family carepartners. Anyone feeling brave enough to call in?

So, these are the three sit-up-and-pay-attention learning opportunities that crossed my path this week. I hope you can enjoy at least one of them.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CDN Health Professionals' Experience of Compassion Fatigue ...

I hated getting up in the morning to come to work, feeling that I couldn't do anything. I became cynical and satirical. I found myself being rude and sarcastic to my colleagues ... Whenever I would hear somebody else saying, "I'm so busy, and I am having such a hard day", I would try to be sympathetic but I had no sympathy for them. I was thinking, "You're having a hard day? I'm having a hard year."  Every day for me was like the one day that other person was having. I felt like saying, "Suck it up." That's not a nice way to be in a team ... but that's the way I felt.  
(p 125)

Above is a health care professional's comment that I read to a diverse group gathered for last Friday's Caring On Empty workshop. It came from the new Canadian book, Lying Down in the Ever-Falling Snow: Canadian Health Professionals' Experience of Compassion Fatigue, by Wendy Austin and colleagues. (2013)

This book is a multidisciplinary attempt to describe the phenomenology or felt experience of compassion fatigue and, in this regard, the authors have more than reached their goal. Listening with exquisite attunement, they have chosen quotations from healthcare professionals that describe the subjective experience of compassion fatigue with both subtlety and clarity:

One morning I was going in to work and I found myself in the midst of a ... full-on anxiety attack ... I just told my husband, "You need to turn around; I can't go to work today. That's it, I'm done. And ... I turned around and went home and called the doctor ... I didn't quit. I went on a leave.
One lady I had as a patient, she was newly diagnosed with diabetes and I was teaching her how to draw up her insulin with syringes and whatnot. I wasn't very patient with her. But I was just so exhausted and had nothing left to give. She made a comment to another nurse, and that nurse came up to me and said,"You know, your behaviour ..."  It made me realize that something was going on here. I'm not behaving the way I would like to behave. I'm not acting in a way that I would consider professional.
I feel like I'm just a bit of a zombie, no energy for anything. And it's not a physical tiredness; it is a mental tiredness, but it is also an emotional one and I feel just numb ... I really disconnect from my emotions and my body ... It's a dizziness in your brain, trying to find a way to take control of what is going on ... it's numbness and deadness inside. (It's) disconnection from people, disconnection from spirituality.
I couldn't get past my own suffering ... It was the first time in doing this kind of work that I felt like somebody needs to help me: I can't do it on my own anymore.
This attention to detail continues with the development of a uniquely Canadian metaphor for compassion fatigue. The suffering of patients and clients, seen as "ever-falling snow", is said to demand training and resources as we journey through the "winter country" of our work. We are exhorted not to give up in the face of that suffering or to "lie down in the snow" in our depletion, but to grasp hold of the knowledge, moral values and compassionate support within and around us so we can continue to journey onward.

Where I have had trouble with the content of this book, is in the lack of clarity regarding trauma as the central organizing principle of compassion fatigue. After two personal journeys through full blown compassion fatigue and six years of creating and facilitating CF workshops and master classes, I have come to believe that CF is primarily a trauma issue and that should we lose sight of that fact, we lose sight of necessary pathways to healing.

While I value the authors' thoughtfulness in teasing out individual contributory factors to CF, I see many of these factors as primary and secondary signs of posttraumatic stress, supporting the notion that trauma is at the core of CF. It is this larger picture of trauma that fails to come across in the writing.

I suggest that any of you who are interested in our evolving understanding of CF find copies of this fairly densely and academically written book and see what you think for yourselves. I would love to hear your comments.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thoughts of Thanksgiving ...

Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.

W J Cameron

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  It's very early in the morning on what will be a full and happy Thanksgiving Saturday for me. I hope the same will be true for you. 

Focusing just a little too much on next weeks's Caring On Empty workshop, I forgot to book my ferry to the Island until last weekend when there were very few spots left to be had. As a result, I'm spending much of the day here in Vancouver rather than having arrived in Nanaimo last night as I normally would. The silver lining in all this is that I can make it to the last Farmers's Market of the season and stock up on bulk carrots and apples for the winter. Both these trips - to the Island and to the Farmers Market - will be gifts to write in my gratitude journal tonight.

I've been thinking about gratitude this week and the positive difference gratitude journalling has made to my general attitude about life. As my thoughts spiralled around, I realized that in strange way, gratitude has become about me. I recognized that my first thought, when I think about gratitude, is to think about the benefits that being grateful has had in my life. It's a subtle shift that I hadn't realized had taken place.

It wasn't until I stumbled across WJ Cameron's notion that, thanksgiving is action, that I realized that my focus had become a little unbalanced. Gratitude is about other people too. (As obvious as that sounds!)

Then, yesterday, in one of those wonderful synchronicities that can drop into one's life, I received an email from Alisdair Smith, a Vancouver-based life coach, facilitator and business chaplain. In it, he wrote about the difference it can make when we remember to say thank you to others (not just write about our gratitude in our journals at night). Alisdair was speaking in a business sense, citing an article in Forbes magazine about employee disengagement,  but the same thing applies in our individual lives. Sometimes, it is easy to get so caught up in the busyness and demands of our personal and professional caring-giving that we become neglectful in noticing others' gifts to us and actively saying thank you.

So, if thanksgiving is an action, I thought, who have I thanked recently (outside the normal politeness and pleasantries of everyday life)? When have I last been intentional about writing a note of gratitude or phoning to say how much I appreciate a person or their actions?  It hasn't happened as frequently as I would have liked.

What about you? Do you regularly thank the people you work with, the helpers who come to your home to support your caregiving, the man with the cheery encouraging smile who takes your parking ticket every day? Perhaps this can be a challenge for all of us this Thanksgiving weekend. Can we take a moment to write a note of thanks to someone we might not usually acknowledge in this way or stop to look intentionally into the eyes of a loved one and thank them for all they mean to us? 

I, for one, plan to do just that - and also to say, now, how very grateful I am for you, my readers. Thank you for reading and for your many emails of reply. Some of them I cut out and paste in my gratitude journal. Your thanks have make a difference in my life. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Life-giving Choices ...

Hi everyone! Fall is my favourite season and today is one of those exquisite fall days that can only happen in Vancouver. Yesterday's dark clouds and pouring rain have disappeared. The skies are clear and blue, the sun shines through the mist rising from the Inlet, the first snow tops the North Shore mountains and it's cold enough for the cyclists to have donned their gloves for the morning commute. Perfect!

Days like this are life-giving for me. My energy hums from first light and I look forward with excitement to a list of activities that will feed rather than drain my energy - things like making a big pot of vegetarian chili for the cold days ahead, walking at the lake with my camera, picking out and planting new bulbs for the garden, chatting with loved ones in England and finishing a new compassion fatigue book that I want to review for you next week.

When was the last time you had a truly life-giving day? Or morning? Or hour? What does it mean to have one? The American English Dictionary defines life-giving as:
Gives or can give life.  Strengthening; refreshing; inspiring.
Do you have as many life-giving days as you'd like right now? What is live-giving for you? How can you add some life-giving activities (or non-activities) to your already busy schedule?

If you can carve out a few minutes for yourself, why not sit down with a hot drink and your journal and try the following "life-giving" exercise:

1. Draw on a blank page a large tree with several branches and roots.
2.  On each of the roots write an activity that you've done in the past that has made you feel alive and energized.  Visualize and remember each one in detail and feel the quickening you experienced in your body. Consider how long it's been since you last engaged in each activity and ask yourself why.
3.  Now, write on three of the branches activities from the roots of your tree (or new possibilities)  that you would like to try in order to strengthen, refresh and inspire your life.
4.  On a fresh page, make a specific plan for adding one of the three to your life. Be as detailed as possible - what do you want to do, how often, with whom? Also write down all the things you would need to have in place in order to add this activity to your life (including what you might have to give up in order to make space for it).
5.  If your life has changed considerably since you last enjoyed these activities, you might want to think of a way you could enjoy a "chunked-down" version of your chosen one. For example, if you once travelled but are now staying closer to home while family caregiving, you might be able to schedule to time to read travel books, watch travel shows on TV, reminisce with old travel buddies over photos and a glass of wine, or arrange respite for short day trips to special places in your own area. It won't be exactly the same, but it has the potential to be life-giving in its own way.
6.  Tell someone, who will receive it kindly, what your plan is. (We're more likely to follow through if we share our plans.)
7.  During and after the activity, spend some time taking in the good

The world is full of these life-giving opportunities. Good luck with finding the ones that fit best for you in this particular season of life.