As you know, last year I took some time away from work on stress and loss leave. I wanted to elaborate a wee bit further on what I found and experienced at the bottom of that pile of sadness, as I know its something that’s just around the corner at any given moment being in this field of work.

I mean yes, a big part of it was grief in its purest form. The utter burn of losing someone that meant so very much to me and who honestly was responsible for big parts of who I am today. It was a hard time and something I am still working through, but heres the thing…

I don’t think it would have felt as much like a collapsing tenement building if I wasn’t already burnt out and exhausted. It was like the house was already on fire and the news of losing someone important was a douse of gasoline to the flames.

I know there is never a perfect time for bad moments, moments of loss or hurt or despair, to occur. There is never an apt time, I get that.

And it got me digging, trying to figure out exactly why the house was burning so rampantly.

Working in Mental Health & Substance use is challenging at times, but I never thought about the long term effect of such whole hearted and empathic work. Or at least I never created a mindful space for it.

You know how they talk about long Covid? Well, its kinda like that for me, a kind of long burn out – Compassion Fatigue.

For me its the long term impact of supporting others.

I remember it so vividly when I was growing up, I used to cry at the news when it lit up the tv around dinner time.

I used to break my heart when friends or family members were going through tough times.

Those wee adverts asking you to sponsor an orphan? Heart. Strings. Tugged.

Now a lot of people would say thats a symptom of being an empathic being and I agree, but what I didn’t plan for was how greatly that trait would be impacted in this line of work.

Surely if its my souls desire to support and encourage others, then my heart will be dancing, not crying?


The desire to support and encourage also comes with the desire to relieve another’s suffering, which in turn weighs one down with shared trauma, a somewhat secondary traumatic stress if you will.

And its such a gradual, yet expensive cost of caring so deeply. . it is literally, for me, the slow build up of and to burnout. To a point of completely and utterly checking out of caring, and that is the furthest from who I want to be.

I want to care, to love, to support. . to offer all the parts of me that compliment others progress and ability to thrive. To show up every day with raw energy, to be accepted and received as needed.

But by the end of last year my cup was completely empty. I couldn’t show myself an ounce of compassion let alone anyone else.

I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I began disconnecting and isolating, with no real sense of meaning or purpose.

And I was very aware that this wasn’t a regular Bipolar depressive episode. I felt like this sadness and exhaustion was shaking my core values without exactly telling me how or why.

Looking back, I left it a bit late to make the changes that could have helped. I sulked around with it for a few months. I lay in a ball on the floor crying, great salty tears of pain made up of the great salty tears of all the trauma I had heard of, or shared space with over that last year.

It was an amalgamation of sights, sounds and feels. The very sensory overload that I remember from being 11 years old and thinking it was my job to save the world and everyone in it who was hurting from one thing or another.

But thats just it, I’m not here to save anyone. Not even myself. I am here to walk alongside life in all its forms. To soak up the experiences good and bad. Not letting them consume me, but instead appreciating the full body tingle of the emotions they bring, whilst moving toward a new meaning from it all.

I’m hoping this awareness is a step closer to avoiding. . ok well not avoiding, but better managing Compassion Fatigue in the future.

I’m hoping I can be more mindful of the signs, and more proactive before those signs even occur.

Have you experienced Compassion Fatigue? How did it feel for you? Do you have any tips on preventing the low moments of empathic work?

Love xo

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