Fighting Compassion Fatigue

I’ve been on a trend of not feeling great with my rheumatoid arthritis. If it isn’t pain and stiffness, then it’s the exhaustion. And I find that feeling bad and exhausted is not great for when I need to channel my compassion.

Mindfulness to combat compassion fatigue

When someone complains about an ache, I just want to smack their head and say: “how about feeling that every day times a thousand?” I keep my mouth shut, because I know that everyone’s pain is uniquely their own. But I still feel it—my compassion is sapped and I need a recharge.
During these times, I need to be really mindful of what I say. And I find that I often need a timeout from people. I feel so crabby and don’t want to take it out on others.
But I also feel so frustrated with what seems like a lack of compassion and understanding for people like me who have a serious chronic condition and disabilities. My challenges are not going away, while so many of the complaints I hear from others are superficial and fleeting. I want these people to understand the depth of serious, unsolvable problems and get some perspective on their own situation. What they’re dealing with may not actually be that bad or even worth complaining about.
It’s hard to say, and really I cannot be the judge. But I do need to take care of myself and recognize when I have some compassion burnout. I can’t be the one to take up these burdens when my own well is dry.

Things to help you refocus

To cope and revitalize, I spend time with people who really get my situation and support me. I do some activities that make me feel better, like reading a good book, listening to music, going to theater, watching a good show, or eating a great meal. I work hard to get outside of my own head, my own pain, to enjoy life. It may sound silly, but I think it also helps to get some extra rest because when my RA has me in serious fatigue-mode then my compassion goes way down.
Another technique that I find helpful is working on a project. When I can’t make my own pain disappear, it helps me to feel effective by doing something that I can accomplish. This may be planning an event, putting together a photo album, helping a family member with research, or any number of tasks. Working on something and completing it makes me feel a little less disempowered and a little more useful.

Living with a chronic illness is certainly not easy. It takes huge amounts of emotional energy to keep ourselves going, especially through rough periods when we may not be seeing the light at the end of the pain tunnel. We need compassion for ourselves to keep going when we don’t know when things will get better.
Sometimes I just have to tell myself that it’s OK when I run out of compassion to give to others. That sometimes I just need to recharge and give myself a break, or let people get what they need from someone other than me. I don’t always have to be the person to provide never-ending understanding.
I do think the world needs more compassion overall. That people need to be kinder to others, more forgiving and understanding. We need to step out of ourselves. Even if we can’t know what troubles other people, we can understand that everyone struggles with their own pain.
But some days, my pain does get the best of me. It’s OK to take a break and take care of ourselves when we need it.

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