Monday, February 2, 2015

Warning: Fatigue

Great 4th quarter at Super Bowl last night.  Here I went to bed after the 3rd quarter thinking the Seattle Seahawks had it in the bag.
Fatigue being on my mind, I awoke at 3 a.m. with the curious phrase 'compassion fatigue'.  I was curious about the end of the game, too, but turned over instead.  So, this morning, after reading what I'd missed in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, I looked up 'compassion fatigue' .  Here's what I found in an article 

Quotes are in bold type.

Compassion fatigue is a repeated inability to alleviate suffering.

In a 24/7/365 setting.  Like when you are responsible for taking care of an elderly parent, or a chronically or terminally ill spouse or child, and are wildly unsuccessful.   Or you are responsible for a physically or mentally ill or addicted parent and you're their kid and unless you coddle them they aren't going to make supper for you.

Caregivers who suffer from compassion fatigue may actually justify experiencing the symptoms as part of the act of, or “cost” of, caring.

The symptoms:
  • Empathy depletion and, ultimately, apathy
  • The very essence of humanity is [then] diminished
I'm seeing compassion fatigue in my brother and his wife care taking my dad.  Me?  If the responsibility for his care had fallen to me, I couldn't have done it.  I would have farmed out it to others in 8 hour shifts.  As for the little girl in me who took care of her parents in a wildly unsuccessful way?  Free at last!

The antidote:

  Good morning  
  I hope you're happy with the way things turned out!  
  Have a wonderful day  


  1. Is that why we feel a certain relief, along with the grief, when the person we have taken care of passes? We seem to feel guilt instead. It scared me the last two years Fred was alive--waking up in the middle of the night to make sure he was still breathing. Checking on him several times a day to see if he "looked" all right. Making sure everything was ready and on hand so when he tired to go into a diabetic coma, I was prepared. I have to admit, I felt a certain relief when it was all over. No more being constantly on guard and prepared for any emergency.

    1. I was wondering, too, if what I felt with Ev was compassion fatigue, because it sounds like what you experienced with Fred - waiting for the other shoe to drop, and trying to be prepared. There was that giant exhale along with grief at the end. But I don't think so.

      My sense is what we had was caregiver fatigue, emotionally draining, but not emotionally deadening. Our compassion was pretty well received and we got to feel that satisfying loop of love back to us. With compassion fatigue it's like we give our empathy and compassion but it hits a black hole. It gets sucked in by that person. Our compassion adds up to - nothing. First we feel helpless, so iwe do more, care more, and do more, and care more. Finally something in us snaps, and we lose faith that compassion has any power or value at all.

      I believe God was telling me to trust compassion now. Not with black holes, though LOL

  2. Interesting phase---compassion fatigue. I've never heard it before. For me, I can't say the phase applies to me or my care-giving years. Although I knew that Don would never get better after his stroke I always felt I was making a huge difference in the quality of the life he had left---those 12 years. Same with the five years that led up to my dad dying, I made a difference. Yes, plain old caregiver fatigue was real. It was hard physically and emotionally but I've never experienced the apathy to the suffering of others or the diminished ability to care. In fact, I think I feel it too much and that's why I tune out the world from time to time. To me, "compassion fatigue" just sounds like a repacking of caregiver fatigue, maybe to get people to pay attention because---let's face it---the only ones who actually care about caregiver fatigue are the caregivers themselves. Others can look at it like it's a choice and often times it's not. It's easy to say put someone in a nursing home but the quality of a spouse's entire future is effected by the financial drain and adult children aren't always willing to let a family farm, for example, be used up to pay for nursing home care. This is a topic with a thousand moving parts.

    1. I've experienced both kinds of fatigue. Even though I wanted to send Ev off when he was being a pain in the ass, I knew I was making a huge difference in the quality of his life and at the end I felt warmly satisfied. So I call this garden variety caregiver fatigue.

      Compassion fatigue I've experienced twice, and it is harmful to one's soul, not only one's heart and body. My brother is feeling it. I'm seeing how heartbroken he is when all his compassion and solid gold care is treated with disdain. Luckily he's healthy enough to keep his head on his shoulders and realize Dad is the problem, not him. So he knows when to say NO.

      Financial considerations are why I put up with compassion abuse (that's what it really is) twice. I'm saying no way will I do it a third time. I am doing my darnedest to help him through this : -)

    2. What you said about your brother's care being treated with disdain, presumably by your dad is a HUGH factor in how it breaks down the caregiver. He is going to need a lot of support when your dad is gone...I know that seems strange but I firmly believe a person in his position holds on by sheer willpower and when it's over they take the time to break down.

    3. That's a really good point. Life won't magically return to normal when it's over.