I Couldn't Care Less: Compassion Fatigue

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Compassion Fatigure

Update: I went for my interview day on Tuesday. I think it went quite well. I shamelessly flattered one of the girls on my floor by telling her that she didn't look three months pregnant1 and managed not to break anything or cause irreparable chaos. On the other hand, I raised the issue of my phone again. Not with the store manager, who I had met last time, but with the floor manager. No, I can't carry my phone with me. Right… This could be a problem, but well, I'll look into beepers. In the meantime…

I woke up yesterday to the news that refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria were thought to number two million, and that it was the biggest humanitarian crisis in history. Which of course is terrible, an awful lot of people and an awful lot of suffering. I'm delighted that my Government voted against military action in Syria. I'm only a layman, of course, but I don't look at Syria right now and think ‘you know what this needs? More missiles'. But beyond that lies a problem that I wanted to mention in a more low key sort of way anyway. A writer called Douglas Adams (some of you may have heard of him) posited a theory about the anxiety of modern living. His theory was that in days when you lived in your village/town/city and that was where you lived always, you knew everyone, and the news you knew concerned the people you knew. When something bad happened in this world, you could engage with it, go and help, or whatever. Hearing the news of the crisis in Syria, you feel the anxiety, you fell the concern for the people of Syria, but what can you do? Yes, I know, some people would join the Red Cross and head straight out there to hand out food parcels. Well done to you guys, the world functions better for having you in it. But for the rest of us, all we can do is watch the news, maybe watch the real truth documentary or the current affairs investigation to feel as if we have a handle on exactly what is going on, perhaps donate some money – if we can stretch to it at the moment – to the Red Cross, worry, and then get on with our lives. This, DNA suggests, creates greater stress amongst the world today. Suggesting an answer, of course, is easier said than done.

The syndrome of being over burdened with worries you had no control over was dubbed ‘compassion fatigue' but today I am nicking it. I get compassion fatigue just caring for one person, especially when that one person is the other half of my relationship. Seriously, caring is exhausting. Not just physically. I think I have probably talked a bit about this before, but there are many elements of caring that drain the mental resources. Quite apart from the stress and anxiety, the sense of expectation and the burden that – much as you deny it – the role places on you there are additional factors. Caring radically shifts the fundamental balance of your relationship. It places strains on both parties, with you struggling to find time for yourself, find time to complete your caring role and find time to maintain the relationship with that person in something like a normal way. They have to reconcile that they are limited in the extent to which they can contribute to the relationship, that they are arguably more dependent on them than they are on you, and on the attendant worries and pressures the need for them to be cared for places on you. You have to adjust to the fact that being the caring one doesn't make you invincible, and that them being the one who needs care doesn't make them so fragile that they can never support you to any extent.

So blah. And on top of all that, there is the business of being the sort of person who is a carer. Maybe it's just me (although I doubt it) but although I only formally care for my wife, I worry about everyone even vaguely within my sphere of knowledge. On the whole, I think this is a good way to be, although it is also a way to be that sometimes makes people tell you to toddle off2 and stop fussing over them all the time, they're fine, okay? It can be clingy and oppressive and smothering but to me it's exhausting. So, look, I was wondering – would everyone else mind taking some of the slack? After the Red Cross people, we're the B-Team guys, just put a little money in the pot.

Articles by benjaminpmoore Archive


09.09.13 Front Page

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1In reality, I have no idea what three months pregnant is supposed to look like. I can't judge their ages when they're out, for crying out loud.2Editor's apologies: the Filtherr won't let you say that word, Ben.

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