How to Manage Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving

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Hello, and thank you for being here, I’m very pleased to be here. I’m going to talk to you about compassion, fatigue and caregiving. If you have been a caregiver or you are now in the throes of caregiving or you will be called a caregiving.

I hope this information will be helpful and useful to you now and in the future, compassion, fatigue and caregiving navigating the road to wellness.

During the Vietnam war, a young psychologist and first responder, named Charles figley notice something very unusual was happening as the Wounded Warriors were coming off the battlefield and sharing their stories of horror and trauma that they were experiencing on the battlefield. He noticed something funny was happening. It was indeed changing him and he didn’t understand that because he knew as a professional how to protect himself. He started to feel less safe. He started to question his values and morals and his whole quality of life just started to plummet. It was any had in aha moment and he said to himself something is happening here. I am taking on the pain and suffering of the wounded warriors and I am making it my own in a sense what he was doing was he was experiencing a secondary traumatic stress syndrome. This became his life’s work and in 1995 he coined the phrase compassion fatigue. I first learned about compassion fatigue.

20 years ago I was a single mom with three kids. I worked two jobs during the day. I was a an editor with the college textbook publishing firm and at night I worked as a correspondent for the San Jose Mercury News. When my last one went off to college my daughter, Elizabeth, my youngest, I said to myself it’s time to do something for me, something that I want to do. I’ve always been a lifelong caregiver for animals, I’ve always loved animals. I realized that society has a flagrant disregard for animals and I wanted to change that. I was going to save every animal that came my way. I also wanted to get into training and development, so I enrolled in a year-long certification course at UC, Santa Cruz, and when I got my certification, I started to look for a job. Well, this was about 1999 and at that time we found jobs on Craigslist. So I went onto Craigslist and lo and behold there it was training and development manager, Humane Society, Silicon Valley. It was my job, so I went the Clyde and several interviews later I got the job two weeks into the job. The executive director came to me and said I’d like you to do a compassion fatigue, training for the entire shelter. I said sure, I’d be happy to do that. I was a new employee. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to do a good job, but what I realized is, I didn’t know anything about that. I had never heard that term compassion fatigue, so I went up to my office and I googled it. What came up was the academic writing of a?

Charles figley and the professional quality of life self-test, that’s the work of Dr. Beth Huddleston, who at that time, was a director of the Institute for Rural Health at Idaho State University. Well, much to my surprise. After reading all the material and taking the professional quality of life desk, I realized that I suffered from very, very high levels of compassion fatigue. It had probably destroyed my quality of life for many many years. This started me on a journey to learn more about this and in the meantime, I started the compassion, fatigue, awareness project and it has brought me on a road to wellness that has brought me here today in the fourth century. We have this wonderful comment. This is the 4th century. This man said this life is not merely to be alive, but to be well – and this is the core of my teaching of my education – is to try to teach edge. You can excuse me caregivers that they can’t just go through the whole process of caregiving just everyday trying to do the best they can. They actually had to be well, and what does that mean? We’re integrated human beings, we’re talking about body, mind and spirit teaching them to be self-compassionate caregivers every day to do something for themselves. So why do some people get compassion, fatigue and some people don’t? What are the symptoms? How do we recognize it in ourselves and in others, dr?

Fegoli says compassion: fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress. It is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the caregiver. So what are the symptoms? How do we recognize it? It’S a rough road. Believe me, I know I’ve been there. The first thing is we notice we want to isolate. Why do we want to isolate? Because everyone is asking of something for us from us and we don’t have anything left to give we’re fairly depleted. The rhythm of a healthy caregiver is fill up empty out, fill up empty up, fill up empty out every single day. Well, if we deplete deplete deplete, you can see what happens. We get this set of symptoms and remember. This is only a set of symptoms, it’s not a disease, it is fixable and I’m going to show you how we can do this so isolation. We want to isolate, we don’t want anyone else to bother us emotional outbursts. Where does that come from? It comes from the fact that in our early childhood, in our formative years, we learned we did not learn good coping skills and we learned to just push down everything in order to deal with our lives. If, indeed, there were trauma and pain and suffering in our early lives, so we push it down and we push it down and we push it down until sometimes the human body says I’ve had enough of you and it comes out as an emotional outburst, physical ailments.

What are these you go to the doctor, you say doctor, I feel just terrible and I can’t get well. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, what is it it’s, the headache that won’t go away? It’S that scratchy throat. Thats always there. It’S that pain in the back of the neck. It’S the shoulders that are so worn out because we’re carrying such a heavy load. It’S that lower back ache that keeps us from living a full happy quality of life, because we can’t do what we want to do. It’s the gastrointestinal problems and what are those those are? The stress points of the hue and body. The body is saying to us: stop stop you’re hurting me, but we don’t listen, because we’ve got to keep going and going and going of Ember success mentality, and this is just the fact that we always feel we’re other-directed and everything is out there. The problems, the challenges, the answers are all out there, so we set up at them versus us when, in reality, all of our answers are inside healing is an inside job from the inside out, not from the outside. In substance abuse. We all know, we read it. Every day we know this is going on in our society. Americans are self-medicating, but we’re not self-medicating with good food and exercise and healthy relationships, no we’re reaching for the chocolate and the overeating in the gambling and the pornography. The drug abuse, the tobacco. We all know we do it, there’s no shame in that. We all do it sadness and apathy, and this is that veil of sadness. That’S that’s over us all. The time I know I suffered from that terribly I would go to parties or events or even at work, and everybody was happy, and I never quite understood why I didn’t have those same things going on in my life, so sadness and apathy because we’re not living That full quality of life, which is our full human potential, flashbacks and reoccurring nightmares. When this happens to you, the chances are very good that you probably need some professional help with a mental health professional.

The one thing I can say is make sure that your therapist psychologist psychiatrist knows what compassion fatigue is often times they recommend going to Hawaii for a couple of weeks make you feel much better. Oh, it will for two weeks, but then you’ll come back and you’ll fall right back into the crevice of compassion fatigue. So what causes it? Why do some of us get it? Some of us don’t well as most things, it begins in early childhood. These patterns, the pattern of other directedness somewhere along the line. We learned that it’s more important to take care of others before we take care of ourselves and when we try to take care of ourselves, we have feelings of shame and self-centeredness and selfishness, and we have to overcome this if, indeed, we don’t fill ourselves up.

We have nothing left to give others. Its that simple, a lack of strong personal boundaries if we suffer from the effects of compassion fatigue, our personal boundaries our way out here we let everything and everyone into our lives and oftentimes. It’S hurtful and it doesn’t help us at all. The journey to wellness is bringing in those personal boundaries. We decide what we will and won’t allow in our lives, and this is very difficult. It sounds simple, but I can tell you it is the most difficult thing. You’Ll ever do learning to become from other directed to self-directed is the most difficult journey, but it is worth every minute of the work unresolved, past pain and trauma that lives within us. We keep pushing it down and pushing it down, but it’s in there and it’s going to come out. We have to learn ways in which to let go of the trauma that we experience. We can do it with rituals. We can do it all different ways, because what doesn’t move through us defines us over develop sense of responsibility, and again this comes from that early childhood. There might have been drug abuse or alcoholism or physical abuse in the family and as little people. We watch this going on and we became very responsible for everything and we carried these patterns into childhood and we feel like we owe the whole world were responsible for everything and an impulse to rescue anyone in need. Where I saw this and I continue to see it as I travel the country – is an animal welfare work when I was at the shelter as a training and development manager. The young people often came to me and said I have a problem. Maybe you can help me, and I said what is it well: I’ve adopted six dogs, five cats, three guinea, pigs, a garter snake and there was a pot-bellied pig and I was thinking of taking that home too, and I said well, you know what are you going to do about this – and I said I don’t know.

I’m in a one-bedroom apartment with three other people, the the personal boundaries. You know if you, if you adopt one dog, you know take home one cat you’ve done your job, so we try to shrink down their impulse to rescue anyone in need, and we’ve all worked with people. Probably that have done this. So where do we start? How do we start to make our lives better? How do we lift our quality of life so that we’re happy healthy human beings? We start with creating a self-care plan and people say to me all the time. I don’t have time for that. I’M too busy I’m too busy caregiving, I’m too busy doing other things. I don’t have time for a self-care plan, and my answer to that is: you need to make time, get up a half an hour earlier and run or walk or meditate, or do yoga to make that time for yourself absolutely important so authentic, sustainable self-care? We need to do what CENTAC to us, and this is a road we have to travel as well. We have a world today that is constantly telling us who we are, who we should be with what school we should go to what we should eat, what color? Our hair should be what color we should wear this fall. All of that is being bombarded on us and in order to find our true north, we need to spend time with ourselves and figure out who we are and be that authentic person and it has to be sustainable because boy it just keeps coming. You may be caregiving now and at some point the caregiving will end, but it will happen again. Its just the way life is, we take care of each other. Thats what we’re about empathic discernment. We need to figure out what hurts us and if something comes at us, a photograph or post on Facebook, or something like that, we have to learn when to say stop. This is hurting me and stop looking at that. If someone says something hurtful to you, please don’t say that to me: you’re hurting me, it’s okay to do that! Ask for help. Caregivers are not good at asking for help strengthen your resiliency. We now know that this is something that isn’t genetic.

We all have the ability to be more resilient. We need to practice, it lives a balanced life, fill up empty out, fill up empty out, embrace spirituality. New studies show that we all need a form of spirituality. It doesn’t need to be a traditional form of spirituality. It can be anything you want it to be. We live in Friday, Harbor my gosh go. Watch the rocks, there’s no higher form of spirituality than watching the beautiful creatures be mindful. Mindfulness is a huge thing right now, they’re using it in schools they’re using it everywhere. It means being 100 % present in what we’re doing and what more beautiful gift can we give to others to be 100 % present for them and be grateful, be grateful that you’ve been called to caregiving it’s a precious and sacred gift. Lou liova Scalia is well he’s. Now no longer with us, but he once said in this phrase too often, we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening, ear and honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. As care givers, we have that in our hearts and hands we have the ability to change the world, we have the ability to change a life. I know this is true because it happened to me many many years ago when I was going through this and learning all about compassion fatigue.

I left the shelter because I was so terribly burnt out and what did I do? I took the job as director of programs at Ronnie McDonald House at Stanford, I traded euthanizing animals for working with dying children and their families. At that point I was pretty much on all fours and I thought, if I don’t do something for myself – I’m not going to recover from this. So I moved to the coast of California to a little village called Capitola. I rented a small studio apartment about the size of my thumbnail and I lived on credit cards. I would not recommend that, but you know sometimes in life we do what we have to do so, every day, from my little apartment on Depot Hill, I would walk down into the village down and around beautiful ocean there up around the train trestle by beautiful on This right-hand side, beautiful shadow, brick, restaurant left-hand side, the parking lot for the restaurant and I would walk a couple more blocks now go the library and I would take out books free of charge. One day after months and months of doing this ritual trying to clean out the cobwebs and resolve some past and trauma, I walked by the restaurant, the restaurant and I looked to the left-hand side and there in the parking lot in the corner, was a pedestal about This tall, I wouldn’t pedestal, and on top of it, was a wooden hand-carved frog of equal size. This thing was big. I thought I’ve never seen that before. They must have just put that there last night, so I walked across the parking lot and I was in awe of this thing. I walked around it several times and enjoyed looking at the beautiful artwork and out of the corner of my eye. I could see this man walking toward me. I think he had a straw hat on, but I’m not sure anyway, when he got up to me.

I said: hey, do you know anything about this frog? I said I’ve been walking here for months and months and months and I’ve never noticed it. I think they put it here last night, he said. Oh, no, he says that’s an icon. It’S a historic icon here in Capitola he’s been sitting there for a lot of years and I said well then I guess maybe today it’s a sign for me. It’s telling me I’m ready to croak. He looked at me and he said. Oh, my dear no, it’s telling you you’re ready to jump and with that I look back at the Frog and I turn to thank the man for his kind words and he was gone. He was gone. I ran to the side of the road. I looked to the left. I looked to the right. I ran to the other side of the road. I looked to the left. I look to the right. He was gone. Seemingly he disappeared in thin air and to this day I believe he did, but I can tell you that his words changed my life shortly after that I put two and two together. I connected the dots and I did some wonderful things in my life to help. Others, which I continue to do today, I know that all these years, that has been a long time. His words are still with me because whenever I’m afraid or I’m nervous or I’m sitting upset or I’m frustrated his words pop into my brain and it says, jump and I do and it has made all the difference.

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