By: Cheryl Carstens, MN NOW Vice President
I was introduced to a new term a few months ago-compassion fatigue. I am well aware of burnout and have read several articles recently about that phenomenon, but my job wasn’t the source of this extreme exhaustion. Unfortunately, my job suffered some of the consequences, but it wasn’t the source. I had taken all the necessary precautions to protect my physical and mental health during the height of the pandemic. But what I am experiencing now is something different. Something I have not experienced before in spite of my history of anxiety and depression.
I have always been a highly empathetic person. Since I was young, I have known there are certain stories on the news I have to avoid because those situations become ingrained in my psyche I can’t let them go. It is much more than crying at Hallmark commercials. I have always been able to manage it, until now. My empathy has taken a nosedive. It has become easier than ever to turn my compassion off and watch a Netflix movie instead, maybe even a senseless Adam Sandler movie.
What have I become? I have always taken great pride in my compassion. My drive to help others. To care when others look away. In fact, I could never understand how someone could just look away. But yet, I am on the verge of becoming one of “those people”. I want my compassion back. I need answers.
So, I googled compassion fatigue and recognize the symptoms. It is a “condition characterized by emotional and physical exhaustion leading to a diminished ability to empathize or feel compassion for others, often described as the negative cost of caring. It is sometimes referred to as secondary traumatic stress”. Yep, that sounds like me and many people I know working for a cause. After the election, I took a few hours to celebrate some of our successes but quickly became overwhelmed but the work yet to be done. I have my planner open to set my goals for 2023 and I can’t even write one word in pen. Ink is too much of a commitment.
Instead, I am going to put my planner away for the rest of December. I am going to spend time with my family and friends and pick up the “relentless pursuit for equality” in January. Maybe a few weeks of appreciating the gifts I have been given will renew my sense of purpose in 2023. I know being an empathetic person is who I am, and I know there is much work to be done but for today, I am going to practice some compassion for myself. I invite you to do the same.
MN NOW Vice President