The topic of self-care comes up whenever caregivers get together — particularly that we’re not particularly good at it. I’ve noticed a lack of spring in my step recently. Some of it is a carryover from the bicycle accident two months ago (nerve and soft-tissue trauma). Most of it originates with the work I’ve been doing for the last 16 months: attending to the spiritual needs of patients near the end of their lives, as well as to those of their families and friends, and to my coworkers at hospice. I cherish the work and my desire to be of service is undiminished.
There’s a condition called compassion fatigue (a.k.a. Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder), which refers to a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It occurs among trauma victims and those who work with people who are traumatized. I don’t think that’s my problem, but I could be heading that way. I know of someone who home-cares for his aging parent round-the-clock. He’s spoken to me about feeling fatigued, depressed, and trapped. And guilty, of course, for feeling less than 100% compassionate towards dad.
I just phoned to cancel a visit with someone living in a care facility and said that I needed to rest. Fortunately, the person at the other end felt similarly tired and we agreed to try again tomorrow. As with many things, the first step is to name it … this persistent weariness and the realization that I won’t be able to “save all sentient beings” in a day or even a lifetime.