Friday, May 20, 2011

Compassion Fatigue


"That which is to provide light must endure burning." - Victor Frankl

Me and my co-workers went to a Compassion Fatigue workshop this week - the new word for burnout.  I went because I thought it could be useful information to pass on to new No More Deaths volunteers or old ones, the ex-pats, as I call them.  The group of volunteers who committed many years and time and energy to the work only to leave it after putting everything they had into it.  But during the workshop I realized that the signs of compassion fatigue they talked about were very familiar to me and what I experienced. 

So, the workshop was pretty kooky at times, and I didn't walk away with many answers or insights.  At one point, we did an exercise where we had to sit on our hands and relax our sphincter muscles...oh god, what did I get myself into?  Apparently, sphincter relaxation helps our body during times of stress and is a suggested practice when we're having a tough day.  Okay...

I hate wasting a perfectly good opportunity for learning, so later that night I started thinking more about my own compassion fatigue over the years and was surprised that I hadn't had a meltdown sooner.  I love my work with the kids and being at the high school, but I'm not in love with it anymore.  The good news is that I can still see myself doing this for a long time, but maybe not with the passion I first had.  The kids and the family issues, non-stop crisis at home, drug addiction, suicides or attempted suicides, homelessness, dysfunction, lack of motivation...there is so much everyday.  And I still enjoy being a safety net for some of them.

More notable, is my time with No More Deaths.  Seven years ago I started with them.  I can remember the intense passion and energy I put into the work.  I remember thinking "I'm being called to do this work" and for a while my mind and body found it's own energy to work through long days, weekends, and travels to the desert, summers in the desert, vacations in the desert.  It's like my feet knew where to take me and I just followed.  It's like my mind was determined and my body had no say-so in the matter. 

I travelled to Tucson every weekend, went to meetings every weeknight, organized, coordinated, took all the phone calls, e-mails, hate mails, letters, and late-night visitors to my house.  I hiked endlessly, walking and walking and carrying big loads of water in each hand.  I bandaged blisters and listened to stories of hope and of lives left behind.  I was determined.  For years I've been doing this.  Then, something strange happened.  It seems like I woke up one day, tired.  Really, really tired.  I don't know why or how it happened.  But I stopped going to daily meetings, I stopped going to Tucson every weekend, I stopped making my summer in the desert walking the trails.  We still have meetings, but only twice a month, I still answer the phones and take the e-mails, I still welcome the occasional late-night visitor...but something had changed, shifted.  This all coincided with my Cascabel trip a few years ago and the realities and insight I gained on the mountain those days.  But, how did it happen?  It's like the candle was blown out in my soul. 


I don't think there's a quick or easy answer to how or why or what this all means.  I think it's all a part of god's plan for me.  Everything that happens is part of something bigger.  I have to believe that.  I don't believe it's god's plan for me, or any of us to be happy.  That's a pretty selfish thing to think (although it's very American, right?).  But, I read this piece by Anne Lamott where she talks just about this.  Here's a quote from a priest friend of hers which I think sums it up for me:

"God's will for each of us is to have a life. And it is up to us to go and get one. Find some work, some love, some play. Taste things. Be of service. Feed the hungry and clean the beaches and clothe the naked and work for justice. Love god, love your neighbor. Help build a world where it is safe to be a child, and where it is safe to grow old. And love cats, and the occasional dog." 

This is great!  What I was missing during my time with No More Deaths was my life...the rest of it.  It's all about balance and I had lost it for a time.  But I think I'm back on track.  My life is almost 180 degrees different from that of 2 years ago.  But it's good.  I came down the mountain with a plan I didn't recognize.  With a map with no roadsigns.  And I trust, and I walk...
It's all in the plan...

1 comment:

luke and pamela said...

looking at yourself is a beautiful thing. i am inspired to do the same. i love the a.l. quote. thanks for sharing.