Compassion Fatigue Flare Up

Compassion fatigue. I had heard the term before, but never quite fully resonated or understood it – at least, not like I have in the recent months.

The past several months have been somewhat of a blur. Winter passed by me quickly as I had the role of caretaker for a family member who had a severe medical emergency back in November. My health seemed to do okay during that time, including my skin. Seemed being the keyword, though. My life had entirely turned upside down and I became a full time caregiver overnight. Thankfully, due to my past CNA training, I think it came more naturally to me than it would for many people. That certainly didn’t make it any easier, though.

How did my self-care routines change?

Understandably, my entire daily routine, including all of my self-care methods shifted, as I had to take care of someone else. I didn’t exactly have much time for myself - if any. This means I stopped my daily yoga, daily meditation, couldn’t get out for walks in nature, and couldn’t do much of my work either. All of the things that are typically priority for my healing and my skin came to an abrupt stop.

What were the consequences of pushing myself?

As my family member started to improve over the past month or so, my health started to fall apart. My skin abruptly started to flare up, and my mental and emotional health began to spiral downwards. I felt numb, empty, completely drained of everything I had.

For a couple of weeks, I couldn’t - or didn’t want to - even admit to myself how depressed I had gotten. I told my friends and those around me I was experiencing burnout, but this was even beyond that. That’s when someone mentioned compassion fatigue to me and reminded me of the term. As I read more about it, I realized that is exactly what I was experiencing. Every single symptom matched up. I was blown away.

What is compassion fatigue?

According to Psychology Today, "Historian Samuel Moyn has said, 'Compassion fatigue is as old as compassion,' but the term was coined by historian Carla Joinson in 1992, and further defined and researched by psychologist Charles Figley, who describes it as 'a state of exhaustion and dysfunction, biologically, physiologically and emotionally, as a result of prolonged exposure to compassion stress.'”1

How did I react to it?

While reading more, I allowed myself to soften into it a bit. This allowed me to slowly come into acceptance. I sat in my room that day, crying for a while. Finally, I was feeling something. It was painful, but better than not feeling anything at all and feeling so empty like I had been. I decided it was time to admit to myself and my loved ones that I was experiencing this. I made the choice to allow myself to feel it, instead of continuing to resist it like I had been. After all, I had been through something extremely shocking and difficult over the past few months. It’s no surprise my body finally needed to let it out - both through my skin, as well as emotionally. After we are in fight or flight survival mode for a while, our body has to express what it needs to once it feels safe enough to. I knew the best thing I could do for myself and my skin was just to allow that to happen.

How are my eczema and mental health doing now?

Today, I’m still dealing with the flare up, as the seasonal changes occur as well – which tends to be another trigger for me. Although not quite taking up all my time anymore, I am still a caregiver too. Slowly though, I have started incorporating my daily self-care routines back into my life, one by one. It has certainly been yet another lesson in balance and self-care, as well as patience and surrender.

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