By Keri-Lee Griffiths and first published on her site.
The idea of being so tired of caring that you just stop? It’s hard for me to fathom. Well, usually it is, but I think I might be feeling something close to it. I’m straddling the line. Two toes on my left foot have crossed over, and they’re testing the water. It’s a bit cold, there might be a few leeches, but it does feel refreshing.
It also feels kind of— what’s the word— scary?
We’ve all sacrificed a lot over the last year and a half. Time away from family, isolated in our homes, lost jobs, missed school, having to wear a damn mask every time we leave the house. It’s been a lot, and we’re constantly asked to do more. Which most of us do because we acknowledge a simple truth. We’re a part of a community, and that means we look out for each other.
More than that, we protect the most vulnerable people because every life in our corners of society is precious, needed, and valued. We follow the rules, get our shots, and hope beyond hope that soon this will end. We do the right thing, not the easy thing because we give a f**k.
But there are the special few who’d rather scream about their God-given rights than love their neighbour. They go out of their way to dismantle the cornerstones that all communities are built on. Instead of choosing compassion, kindness, and basic human decency? They choose selfishness, personal comfort, and to hell with anyone who disagrees.
Fine, I’ve dipped more than a couple of toes into the compassion fatigue pool. We’ve gotten so close to zeroing out our numbers, but then they spike. One group is driving the spikes and sending us back into the dark ages.
Oo, there’s a bubble of anger in my chest, my fist clenched, and arg! The frustration is overwhelming.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that’s fed up. There’s even a tiny voice in the back of my head that’s hoping they get sick enough to fear for their lives. That voice is horrible, evil, and it can shut the hell up. What kind of person wishes someone else pain and suffering? Even if they’re bringing it on themselves and dragging us down with them.
You deserve…No! We’re not doing that.
Perhaps I’m feeling a bit depleted in the compassion department. It’s new, strange, and I don’t think I like it very much. I’ve often wished I could care a little less, be less sensitive, and empathic. I’ve echoed the voices that have told me to toughen up because life would be more manageable if I didn’t feel everything so acutely.
But this? Isn’t this a step too far?
Last week, I experienced compassion fatigue from the other side of the equation. I started feeling ill. Sore throat, headache, muscle ache, and the kind of exhaustion that can only mean one thing. I did it; I got sick.
I didn’t think that I had THEE virus. I’m fully vaccinated, and I’ve been careful. I haven’t, to my knowledge, come in contact with an infected person. It wasn’t…you know.
The most likely culprit? We’ve had a lot of smoke from the wildfires, and that does a number on my lungs. They’re scarred from too many infections, medication side effects, and treatments that saved my life. On top of the decreased lung function, I also have a compromised immune system from a kidney transplant. (Yes, I’m a mess).
Add smoke, extreme fluctuations in weather, and I’m all but guaranteed a reunion with my old nemesis, bronchitis. However, we’re still living in a pandoodle so, I got tested. It’s always better to play it safe with infectious diseases. The last thing I want to do is become an outbreak monkey. As cute as they are, monkeys have no place in an industrialized community.
I went to the drive-through testing site and got in line. It wasn’t busy, thank goodness, so I thought it would be a chill experience. The last time I got tested, there was a long line-up, and the medical team was swamped. Still, they were kind and caring. They were gentle, took time to explain the procedure and offered words of encouragement.
If a team under pressure can find an ounce of compassion for the sick and scared? Surely this would be the same, right? There was one car in front of me and one behind. There wasn’t a rush and no clear signs of what was about to happen.
Before I continue, let me make one thing very clear. This isn’t criticism, anger, frustration, or even hate. What happened next was a prime example of compassion fatigue. These people have spent the last year taking care of others. They’ve risked their lives to do a thankless job. They’ve worked under extreme conditions for way too long, and there’s no sign of it easing up.
If it was me? I would be at the end of my rope, and it would’ve snapped long ago. It’s a job I couldn’t do because I don’t have the strength for it. They are remarkable, extraordinary human beings who’ve earned our gratitude and respect.
If you get a chance to thank a front-line worker, do it. God knows they deserve a hell of a lot more, but gratitude might be all we have to give. Thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do. You’re a legend and a hero.
My turn came, and one worker walked up to my window. They asked if I’d done the test before. I barely got the words, nose swab, out of my mouth when he cut me off, “No, you haven’t. Why can’t people just say that?” They said with a bite of frustration.
Um, last time I had it done, there was one way to do it. Now there’s another. How am I supposed to know what you do? I’m not in the medical field. Why would I need to know how it’s done? Geez, take it easy.
Of course, I didn’t say that out loud, and they didn’t give me a chance to say anything else. They tossed a testing kick through my window and told me fill out the paperwork. They pointed me to a parking spot along a fence and sent me on my way.
I opened the testing kit, filled out the paperwork, and glanced over the instructions. It wasn’t overly complicated, but it wasn’t clear. My mind was foggy, my head hurt, and I probably shouldn’t have been driving. Now I have to self-administer a medical test? Brilliant. Wonderful. I got out of my pyjamas for this?
Of course, there was no one to help, and I couldn’t get out of my car because, well, outbreak monkey. So, I shook my head to dislodge the fog and figured it out. Did I do it right? I don’t know, but I did something. As I was driving to the drop-off spot, I heard the nurses complaining that people are stupid. What’s so hard to understand? It’s just a small test. What’s wrong with them?
By this point, I was grumpy on top of being sick, and my frustration was simmering into anger. I wasn’t scared that I had a potentially deadly virus. I wasn’t fearing for my health or life. This was a precaution and a civic duty, but what about the people who are sick and afraid? This is the level of care they receive? The compassion? The kindness?
For a brief moment, I thought about saying something, but then I looked into their eyes. These people were exhausted, and they’d clearly expended every once of compassion they possessed. They had given it their all, and now they had no more f**ks to give.
Caring can be difficult, and that’s especially true when no one else is stepping up. When you’re the only one standing there with your heart wide open? Risking your life for others? It takes so much energy to consistently show up, and that’s what they’ve been doing.
The obvious question is, what do we do when the energy runs out?
Isn’t asking for sustained compassion, at this level, too much to expect? Not just for front-line workers but for all of us. We’re all tired. We’re all running on empty or close to it, and look how much further we have to go. How do we get there if we’ve depleted this natural resource?
And this is where I stare at the blinking cursor four an hour because I asked a question I can’t answer.
Okay, what if compassion wasn’t a solo sport but a team effort? The strongest players are on the field, and their teammates rest. When one gets tired, they tap out, and someone from the bench takes over. We rotate in and out, so one person doesn’t have to carry the whole game. You won’t get too tired because someone will be there to take over.
What if compassion becomes a community project? Could it work, or is it a silly thought from a foggy brain? Perhaps it’s simply wishful thinking, but imagine what would happen if we worked together instead of against each other. A silly little thought, perhaps.
Oh, my test was negative. I’m regular sick so, I’m going to make a cup of tea and watch a movie. Take care of yourself, yeah? Rest up, give your mental health a break, and we’ll get through this together.
Sept 6, 2021