Caregiver Alert: Are you experiencing “Compassion Fatigue?”

splatterDid you know that the feeling of anger, poor self-care, substance abuse, and hopelessness could be caused by “Compassion Fatigue?”

Today, I heard Stephanie Chong, LCSW-C discuss this term. I immediately felt a bit of relief knowing that it’s quite common within the caregiving industry.

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. That is a very basic definition and Stephanie went on to discuss what this fatigue can lead to which includes symptoms of isolation, preoccupation, apathy, substance abuse, poor self-care, hopelessness, physical and even mental exhaustion. Now that I’m in about my 5th year of being the primary adult caregiver to two, then one parent, I’m concerned I am exhibiting some of the symptoms.

While I don’t feel less compassion to my mom or those who care for her, I’m feeling more anger around the need to constantly provide those in her care circle with insight into how my mom wanted to live out her final years. Because the job for caring for others can cause both compassion fatigue and burnout, there is a steady stream of new faces over the course of a year that help care for mom.

My last post “When More Translates to More Options for Failure” sure sounded a bit hopeless. Many of you have helped turn this into a digital caregiver support group for me. Thank you readers and comment-ers alike! Keep it coming.

What has been weighing on me is the constant need to advocate for my mom. I feel like I’m constantly telling a new member of her care team that mom wants to be happy and comfortable, but doesn’t want measures taken to extend her life. It gets uncomfortable when I need to follow-up with specific things to not do for mom, but also make sure they know I appreciate their help.

My mom was quite specific about not wanting to be spoon fed. Telling someone the thing they are doing as an act of care, is not what my mom wishes is painful to both of us in the conversation. While I don’t want to have the conversation one more time, I know I will need to because it is what my mom wanted. I need to be her advocate.

But it’s painful and I’m tired of having the conversation. The last time it happened I didn’t say anything. I started to doubt myself and wondered if I need to let them feed her because she hungry. However, she is totally capable of feeding herself.

I’ve used quite a few of the healthy coping mechanisms. But now that I have an awareness of this I also now have some other tools to help me the next time I need to have the strength to ensure mom’s wishes are being fulfilled. Soothed.

4 thoughts on “Caregiver Alert: Are you experiencing “Compassion Fatigue?”

  1. This must be so draining but advocating for your mum is the right thing to do. I continually have to assert that Maureen wants us to do things as a couple in normal circles and so do I!. Neither of see the benefit of going to activities aimed at those with the condition and their Care Partners. Dementia is not the bubonic plague so why isolate people?

  2. I can totally understand how ‘compassion fatigue’ arises. Like you, I had no less compassion for my dad but I could become totally enraged by the actions of those who were supposed to be providing support. And nursing staff in hospital. I KNOW they genuinely do care but it always seemed to be caring on their terms, not dad’s. In hospital someone fills in his menu chart. They decide because he is old and has dementia he can’t make choices so they ask, ‘would you like…?’ Dad, nods, says yes so they put him down for jelly which he hates – preceded by liver which he also hates then they tell me he hasn’t much of an appetite because he didn’t eat everything. What really annoyed me about this was that we’d spent hours filling in his ‘This is Me’ document which lists foods he dislikes and foods he likes.
    And, unfortunately, I become sarcastic with the staff which does not help. I’m probably on a hate file somewhere and when I have to go into hospital it will be payback time.
    Goodness, didn’t mean to go on at such length. I’m supposed to be doing my own blog post tonight but it’s going to be tomorrow now.
    Find every technique you can which helps you and keep battling on on behalf of your mum.

      1. Here’s the link if you want to take a look:
        I started writing it when his wife left him and I moved in with my father. I began with the back story and he died before I’d caught up to the present. I stopped for a while but a few people asked me to carry on so I thought I would. I’m planning to use the blog material as part of a book.

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