Drain Less, Replenish More: Staving off Compassion Fatigue

You open yourself up to the pain of others, in order to be a true companion for them, a comforting presence in the middle of a terrible experience. You can tell it helps them, sometimes, to share their pain with you – someone who understands and cares. And as you share of yourself so generously with more and more people, you find that it is taking a toll on you. It is exhausting to experience so much secondhand suffering. It is draining. It sucks the color out of your own life, leaves you depleted, less able to connect with the next person and to enjoy your own life.

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Natural Causes

falconMeandering in my neighborhood park, I notice a bird flapping around a squirrel that is clinging to a tree trunk . The bird is about the same size as the squirrel, maybe a little smaller, so at first it seems like an unlikely cross-species game of tag. The bird swoops around the squirrel, who darts around the trunk. The bird settles on a branch of the same tree, and the two stare at each other, unmoving. Then the dance repeats. I have seen squirrels chase one another–sometimes it feels like play, sometimes like aggressive territoriality–but this has an altogether different feel. There is a sense of urgency here, of desperation. And suddenly I realize that the bird is a falcon. It wants to eat the squirrel.

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Praying in Philadelphia

2015-08-23 14.21.22Shortly after my surprise encounter with Lee and his fiance, Hillary Emails me to tell me that they’re planning a surprise birthday party for Lee. I’m invited, but there’s bigger news: She asks if I can be the decoy, to lure him out of the house while she’s preparing. This is all to take place on the following Sunday, at the end of the weekend I was planning on spending in DC, catching up with friends. I consider as I squint at the laptop, too late at night in the pink bedroom in which I’m staying. Doing this will require being back pretty early, by 1pm or so, which would mean leaving DC fairly early. But why not – how often do I get asked to help conspire for the benefit of anyone’s surprise birthday party? It feels like a pleasantly intimate request, one that instantly turns me into a trusted friend. I reply to tell her I do it, and coordinate the whole thing with Lee by Email. Lee agrees to meet me at 30th Street Station when I get back from Philadelphia, and the plan is in motion.

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