Self-Care for Compassion Fatigue, Part I

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Dearest Readers,

Recently I switched email providers in my attempt to step up my marketing game.  Yay for progress!

(Note on this, if you're on my mailing list then over the next couple of weeks you will be getting news of a very cool, low-priced product I made for you all.  It’s a secret right now but to give you a will be something you’ll want to gift your chronically late officemate and will only cost you around the price of lunch out in DC. More on this soon!)

What you are not seeing is my freakout while learning to use this software yesterday morning.  I was having my weekly check-in with Thea, my awesomely patient assistant, when I began trying to format my newsletter.  All of my carefully honed calm and maturity went down the drain as I frustratedly clicked around the site.  

My exterior frustration was “Why did they not think about making it all more user-friendly?” (Of course, what I meant was that I wanted the designers to keep in mind all of my unique preferences when thinking of a universal "user").

Under that was, “I don’t want to change.  I’m scared of moving forward.  I’m scared of everything these days.  I’m scared to keep my heart open because it hurts so bad.  I’m scared to feel so much.”

Obviously it wasn’t just about the software.  It’s just that it’s all so hard.  As I grow and endeavor deeper levels of relating, I am hurting people.  I look out into the world and see that in our attempts to grow as a collective, we are hurting each other.  

The beautiful Kelly at Om Weekly does a brave job articulating so much of this in her newsletter this week.  Please read her important post here.

Inside, I’m angry and I’m sad.  When I feel deeply into these emotions, it's like I am drowning in sensation.  My fear is that I’ll never break free from the depths.  We will never stop hurting each other.  Life will be painful forever.  It’s heavy and sobering to feel so much.

Yet I’m also optimistic.  I don’t know why exactly.  I just believe in people. I believe in the impulse of life that tells me we have to go through intensity in order to evolve. This optimism helps me to keep moving forward, to keep looking at how to best serve, and to keep taking care of myself.  It’s buoyant and energizing to feel so hopeful.

What I’m learning is that it’s tricky to balance those two.  It’s challenging to be so sobered by life and yet still be hopeful.  Staying connected to the depths of pain while simultaneously moving forward into healing takes immense energy and fierce compassion.  And I'm finding it's really easy to get fatigued in the process.  

Last week I talked to my very wise teacher Diane.  Within so much suffering, moving forward with my daily tasks and self-care felt herculean.  I asked her if it would always hurt this much to care and still keep working at the same time.  “Yes,” she said.  “But a broken heart is an open heart.”

I love wise-sounding concepts like staying open-hearted yet always want tangible practices to support these big ideas.  Thinking of this, I began typing up my favorite ways to stay vital during draining times.  

After a couple of hours, I realized I was really challenged by the task.  As much as we need to discuss compassion fatigue, this is a sensitive topic.  I want to take another week to write about it in a way that feels true to me and hopefully helpful to others.  

Next week I will share Part II of this newsletter with my five practices that help me to stay open-hearted and optimistically moving forward within immense broken-heartedness.

In the meantime, I want to ask you how you’ve been caring for yourself within these emotionally stressful last few weeks or other times in your life that required intense compassion.  I'd be so honored to read them. Next week I’d love to share a few of your responses so we can all keep learning from each other here.  

Farewell for now and stay tuned for next week.  I’ll leave us on this wise comment from my dear client Colby.  She posted on the Beautiful Life Alumni Forum the morning after the Dallas shooting and I was really taken by the caring and her self-care in her words.  I thought we could all learn from her example as we practice that tricky balance for ourselves. 

“It's been a heavy few days for me. I've felt both really weighed down emotionally by all of the hurt going on in the world and at the same time very vata and up in my head. My body chose to allow myself to feel all of the sadness yesterday and then to have a really nice long talk with my partner about things as we made dinner together. I prayed and meditated and sent love into the world, put on some lavender oil, did legs up the wall and got a good nights sleep. This evening I'm going to go to yoga and a community dialogue, because of the things I know for sure, one of them is that sitting and talking in circles is deeply powerful.”