The words “Compassion Fatigue” don’t quite sound the way it feels. It feels much deeper than fatigue and it’s not just compassion they are tired of. They are tired of being angry, frustrated, sad, and exhausted. I mean really?! When does the bullshit end? What has to happen for it all to just be nourishing again.
This is my opinion about why I think it’s so hard for many caregivers to feel nourished. Please know, I am generalizing here. I am taking liberties with some broad sweeping strokes here but it comes with about a year of building trust, creating connection, and cracking through some of the toughest exteriors to formulate.
In my humble experience, The caregiver’s heart reminds me of a pomegranate.
They are these stoic, well held together packages. They have this smooth but sometimes bumpy exterior that makes them so difficult to know just how ‘done’ they are. They have been trained for years to keep the exterior valiant. They are tenacious, they can survive the bumps and grinds, and very rarely can we see the inside damage through an unrelenting exterior. They hold well. They are graceful and let’s be honest, underappreciated.
They have learned to keep it all in. They have learned that not many ‘get it’ or ‘want to get it’ – and that fucking hurts. It’s easier to carry just the one burden than also have to carry the burden of the nonchalant public. Simple pep talk statement sting deeply:
“You knew what you were getting into”
“Why don’t you just quit?”
They shut it down because they don’t want to crack. They are afraid of what might spill out. They wouldn’t want you to really hear what they have witnessed. Privacy and confidentiality are core to every Nurse. They have built a well-controlled environment where they keep everything nicely locked away for safekeeping. Giving up this control, opening this pandora’s box, cracking this well-held skin, well that just is not an option.
There is only so much one person can hold onto and if they are so filled with the heartbreak for their profession, the people they couldn’t save, the exhaustion, the anger, the frustration, I simply want to know where the room for love, worthiness and boundaries exist?
Where does the nourishment live?
This polished exterior is holding onto too much and if you are lucky, you find a few that are willing to slowly and gently crack that ruby red tough exterior and show you a gift that is beyond comprehension. A gift that just continues to give inside all of their folds, in the pithy middles, and sometimes just their under the skin. Jewels. Beautiful jewels of tender love filled with sometimes bitter cores that shine nonetheless.
If you crack too harshly – you will inevitably end up with red juice staining your clothes forever. But if you take your time, sit with these whole beauties and gently coax the skin back, you are able to witness a box of shining jewels all individually held. A century of wisdom, of truth, of humanness…all there, safely held. Only a caregiver’s heart would be able to hold these stories as beautifully and safely as they do.
But the stories they are now holding are frankly, too much. They are not seeding compassion. They are stagnated bitter cores. The compassion that created the jewels that spawn the burst of passion and purpose has been dried and is now replaced with ‘cover your ass’ audits, protocols, disconnection, and isolation. What once fed these fruits: touch, gentleness, connection, and time – have all been spread across too many patients/residents over 6 double shifts in one week.
Supporting them is hard. It’s hard for them to know what they need when they aren’t used to giving to themselves. They don’t want to be a burden, they find their worth is only in the quality of care they can provide for others. But we need them to know we love them, that THEY matter. That their hearts need saving too. That they are worth every second of care we can provide. Sitting silently, sending love notes, simply listening.
They deserve the gentleness of days to remind them of their beautiful jeweled heart and the stories that only feel safe with them. When they are pressed to share these stories, they know the gifts and the burdens they are being asked to give and it often seems impossible. After all, what keeps the pomegranate together if not for the thick skin and pithy cushions?
The heart of a caregiver is worth our time. They are worthy of connection. They are worth carrying hard stories for. But be gentle, soak that rough exterior with gentle whispers and the warmth of your skin. Should you be so lucky as to peel a small corner back, you will be gifted with the most exquisite beauty you will ever be lucky to see.