Thursday, June 17, 2010


What is 'Compassion Fatigue?'  I have it.  There are times when I am exhausted, depleted and extraordinarily empty.  This is not a new sensation for me, if indeed sensation is the word.

There is a cost to caring. Yesterday was such a day.

It is documented that listening endlessly to stories of fear, pain, and suffering often can bring on similar feelings in those who listen, those who care.  It is said that the most effective therapists are those who have an enormous capacity for feeling and expressing empathy. I have been told by professionals that I have that ability.  However they/we are also the ones most at risk for Compassion Fatigue.  It is also well documented that therapists, and I am assuming that includes pet therapist handlers, may begin to have nightmares and generalized anxiety.  It has also been defined as 'burnout,' or a kind of 'secondary victimization.' There are episodes of depression, sadness, and what is now being labeled as 'compassion stress/fatigue.'  Interesting to note is that now people can be traumatized simply by learning about an event

This leads me to a conundrum.  If this 'secondary catastrophic stress reaction' is the reason for my frequent depression and panic disorder, resulting in considerable emotional upset, then I too, as do my soldier's, have PTSD.  Which now actually has a title - STSD (Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder). 

Studies have shown that the best support for someone suffering from STSD, caused by constant exposure to victims, is the support of friends and family. Studies also indicate that symptoms of STSD are nearly identical as those of PTSD.

Emotional and mental exhaustion starts out gradually and becomes worse.  In wanting to alleviate the pain and the cause of pain of others, apparently I take it on. For me it is an occupational hazard.

Yesterday I had an overdose of STSD! 

My day began with a closed door meeting at BAMC that was extremely stressful. Moments later, I spent the afternoon with a beautiful young soldiers' wife who was in deep shock.  She had just arrived a couple of hours before in San Antonio with her 5 month old baby boy to be escorted to BAMC to see her Air Force husband who had been critically  injured in Afghanistan.  He is in ICU with a severe traumatic brain injury and multiple burns.  She arrived with no clothes, no diapers, no toys, no sleep. Intense fear consumed her as she clung to me crying.  As I pulled her beautiful blond hair out of her face, another soldier's wife cradled her baby, and in the stifling heat of 96 degrees we all cried. Cried for her pain, for her husband, for the hundreds just like him laying their lives on the line for us.  Warrior Family Support got her diapers instantly and airline tickets for her mother and family to be flown into San Antonio to support her.  She was seriously dehydrated and I got her three bottles of ice cold water.  She nursed the baby, as I retrieved toys, bound for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, from the trunk of my car for him to have something to snuggle.  Leaving her was hard.  Forgetting even harder.  Her pain absorbed me all night.

I returned home after dropping off the bags and bags of toys at Soldiers' Angels Warehouse.  The phone rang as I walked in the door resulting in an hour conversation with a friend, struggling to find himself after a severe stroke.  Then a call from another friend whose husband is abusive, and she wants a divore. I lead her to an attorney.  Another friend exhausted by problems at work shared with me as well.  I was depleted and had nothing left to give. 

I curled up in the fetal position and fell asleep.  

The cost of caring. 


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