[22 February, 2011]

if the sun don't come

Clarity about my life only happens in little snippets these days.

Because I am burnt out. Really really burnt out. I don't talk, write, or think anymore. Or, let me rephrase: of course, all I do day in and day out is listen, talk, write, and think. But I can no longer do it for myself.

I now know that compassion fatigue is a real thing. It happens when there is just too much crap (i.e., terrifying, heartbreaking feelings and information about humanity) poured (people are there for a service) on me (my heart, my soul, my brain, my mind, my limbs, whatever other parts make me a me), and not enough support (systemically, logistically, personally) to hold it all together. So I've become tired and apathetic, like every other beginning therapist. Talking about a murder-suicide of your close friends who weren't found for 10 days after the deed? Yup, I know, the world is indeed a horrible place. And there is not a whole lot I can do about that*.

A professor described my practicum experience as a battle field. Which is such a lovely picture, no? Every hour we go into our rooms with clients to be wounded, slashed, and assaulted**. We come out battered and bleeding, sometimes contaminating the spaces of others. We are truly in the trenches of our work here and we are barely armed. The bandages in county-funded community mental health agencies are few.

However, I do notice that outside of the battle field, things seem more feasible. When I rest a bit and cease being a robot, I am a lot more aware of my reactions to things and people. And I have many more coping skills. So I guess, as trite as it may seem, whatever doesn't kill you, really does make you stronger. So hopefully your therapist really is a hunk of emotional steel. Wrapped in an empathetic bubble dress with a soft, comforting smile, of course.

* I can help people process through and eventually come to terms with this set of events.

** Not by any malice of our clients, of course, but by the very virtue of therapy. The stories, situations, circumstances, and emotions we hear and experience hurt us, too. But we are there to think about and digest all of that sensory information, and present it back in some manageable way. Helping clients understand themselves by understanding our experiences with the clients is the gist of a lot of the work. And that takes a lot of feeling and thinking. To the point that sometimes I forget to (or cannot/will not/better not) feel and think about my own emotions in the rest of life.

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