D.C.

In a heartbeat, three simple words etched themselves on my tongue

Here’s another poem that I had written just slightly earlier than “That Night” on the opposite side of the same piece of scrap paper.


D.C.



I miss sitting with you.

I remember that day, staring at the rushing Potomac before us
And how your head was in my lap.
We were surrounded by history and new experiences,
But all I could think about was you, just you.

In a heartbeat, three simple words etched themselves on my tongue
And seared the back of my throat
And crushed my chest from the inside.
I opened my mouth and said nothing.

I often wonder if I had said what I was feeling in that moment,
Would everything be different now?
Would this aching core of mine be threatening
To tear me apart with its slashing claws and gnashing teeth?

All these months later, I am stuck once more.
I keep trying to run, trying to fly,
But your gravitational pull is too strong
For me to even leave the ground.

Am I trapped by your will or my own?

Your birthday forces fresh blood
Out of the wounds you inflicted.
How can I put into words how important you are to me
Without being reduced to tears?

So again, I stay silent,
And again, I am filled with what-ifs.


Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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A Child’s Fantasy

In air thick with haze,
She wakes to a maze

When I saw that this week’s competition for Penable was about fantasy, I wasn’t sure if I should enter. Until now, I had never written poetry that would fall into the category of fantasy, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to come up with any ideas. I’m so glad that I gave it a shot! This poem is a little different from what I normally write, but I really enjoyed doing it. Thanks Midnightlion for encouraging me to enter!

A Child’s Fantasy

In air thick with haze,
She wakes to a maze,
At the end, a green hedge with a door in.

She picks correct paths
With ease, then she laughs.
This silly place–to her, it is foreign.

Stepping through the door,
She sees even more
Of the land and the creatures upon it:

Both fairy and beast
Trolls and sages–the least
Of which speak in great rhymes like a sonnet.

With hope for adventure
She asks will they send her
On a quest that she may soon embark?

Then forward step two,
These odd creatures who
Know a task that’s both tricky and dark.

This smooth-talking frog
And bespectacled dog,
Tell of a prince who needs saving.

So, she runs through the world–
That sly, clever girl–
While cliff walls all around her are caving.

She is stopped by a knight
Who dares her to a fight
When she carelessly tramples his garden,

But she lacks any swords,
So his request, she ignores,
And decides she will instead outsmart him.

She tells riddles and rhymes
Of both night and daytime,
And apologizes for her poor introduction.

Thrilled by her charm and wit,
The knight chooses to admit
That a prince has been trapped in his dungeon.

She asks for permission
To complete her sole mission
And take the prince out of that dark place.

Though knowing the danger,
The knight obliges the stranger,
A frightened look crossing his tan face.

She strides through the hallways,
Not scared, just as always,
And finds the prince trapped in that prison.

She undoes his cuffs,
And the prince huffs and puffs.
He then tells her his bad premonitions.

But she saved the dear prince
From the dungeon, hence
She does think that the hard part is over.

Then, a dragon appears,
And it fills her with fear
Of consequence really quite sober.

The winged figure ascends;
Its talons put to an end
Her hour spent thinking and scheming.

Her eyes open to Teacher–
Not some terrible creature–
Who then tells her, “No more day dreaming!”




Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Breathe In, Breathe Out

I place one foot in front of the other.

My heart beats rhythmically.
My hands rest delicately at my sides.
My feet are planted firmly on the ground.
Breathe in, breathe out.

The path under me is a beige concrete.
It extends infinitely in front of me.
Grass borders either side of it.
Breathe in, breathe out.

I place one foot in front of the other.
My legs lead me forward down my path, past neighbors’ houses.
I have no destination, only a desire for a journey.
Breathe in, breathe out.

I encounter very few people on my walk.
Most of the neighborhood is wisely under a semi-lock-down.
The people I do pass give me a wide berth, and I do the same to them.
Breathe in, breathe out.

The tulips and daffodils are about to bloom.
I can see their green tendrils poking through the dirt.
Spring will soon begin, but for now, I live in winter.
Breathe in, breathe out.

The rain from last night leaves puddles on the sidewalk.
I pay attention and make sure to step around them.
Those tulips and daffodils surely needed that rain.
Breathe in, breathe out.

My journey carries me home.
I am back at my warm apartment, on my comfortable couch.
The keys of my laptop click softly as I touch them.
Breathe in, breathe out.

The world is in chaos and I am too,
but I choose, in this moment,
to reflect on my path and to be at peace.
Breathe in, breathe out.

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That Night

You say that I’m pretty,
But I learned long ago not to accept your drunk compliments.

Photo by Arun Thomas from Pexels

I found a poem that I wrote on a piece of scrap paper several years ago, and I wanted to share it with all of you!

I wrote this poem as a way to process the emotions that I was dealing with when the guy who had broken up with me two months prior called me on video chat in the middle of the night. Dealing with an inability to say “no,” my genuine fear about his safety, and the complicated nature of our exes-but-best-friends relationship, I probably didn’t handle this night as well as I could have. Looking back on this experience, I have several notes for myself. For one, I didn’t owe him my time if he was genuinely making me feel uncomfortable. For two, he probably wasn’t in as much danger as I thought he was.

Since writing these verses, I like to hope that I’ve improved my poetic abilities. If I have, it’s all thanks to time, reading more poetry, and additional experience with writing. If I haven’t then, well, I guess I was just doomed to backslide. Either way, I left the poem mostly unedited because it came from such a raw place, and I didn’t want to lose that by fussing with it. So, without further ado, here’s the poem:

That Night

My heart beats faintly
Threatening to end this life,
To finish the work that you began.
It’s too slow, and I am stuck once again
With all my wordless forevers unable to break free.

You’re drunk, and I’m the person you call.
You list your plans for the next year.
You rip my heart out with that litany
Because I know when you say you want to do these things
You don’t mean that you want to do them with me.

You say that I’m pretty,
But I learned long ago not to accept your drunk compliments.

I mutter out a halfhearted thank you in return.

I keep you with me because you drank way too much,
And I’m afraid that something might happen to you
If I dare to hang up.

It takes hours, but you finally sober up enough
That I am no longer worried about your life.
I finally ask you the question
That has been gnawing at me all night:
“Why am I your go-to drunk conversation person?”

“Because,” you answer,
“you are my person.”

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Understanding Compassion Fatigue

People suffering from compassion fatigue may find it difficult to feel compassion toward the people they work with, despite their role demanding it.

Image by skeeze from Pixabay

I knew many education majors during college–in fact, I was one. I had the opportunity to see first-hand what a 4-year education program at a university looks like, and I also got to see what types of people would choose to enter such a program.

Everyone I met in the program was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. They genuinely loved instruction and they viewed their current and future students as whole people with their own struggles and dreams. These future teachers cared deeply, not just about the educational system, but about the individuals being educated by that system. They all had a passion for the job. During out final year in college, our cohort made shirts that read on the back “Teaching: we’re not in it for the income; we’re in it for the outcome.” Everyone in that cohort was an embodiment of that saying. In all four years, I did not meet a single person who seemed like they would make an uncaring, uncommitted teacher.

And yet, many people have had teachers who seemed uncaring. I’ve had teachers who seemed uncaring.

Why does such a disconnect exist?

I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps the students’ perspectives are just skewed. Perhaps there is a generational difference such that the people entering the education field now think of it as a lifestyle, while more teachers from previous generations considered it more as a job. Or perhaps the group of education majors that I was surrounded by in college was just extraordinarily compassionate.

None of these explanations fully satisfy me.

So what else could explain the difference between the people majoring in education who seem eager and willing to help and the percentage of working teachers who seem cold and bitter? And, even more importantly, how can we keep these bright-eyed and bushy-tailed future educators from losing that passion for their work?

What is Compassion Fatigue?

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

Simply put, compassion fatigue describes a condition in which a person in a caring role becomes exhausted, both mentally and physically, due to their exposure to others’ traumatic experiences. People suffering from compassion fatigue may find it difficult to feel compassion toward the people they work with, despite their role demanding it. Additionally, they feel drained by the demands of that caring role. Therefore, those experiencing compassion fatigue suffer in their caring role, and that suffering can also bleed into their personal lives.

Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout

While some literature still conflates compassion fatigue and burnout, many researchers use the terms to describe two separate phenomena. Compassion fatigue may appear suddenly after an exposure to secondary trauma, whereas burnout builds over time and has a much slower onset. Compassion fatigue can therefore be described as “unpredictable” whereas burnout can be described as “predictable” (American Bar Association, 2017). Additionally, compassion fatigue is more likely to be treatable, while burnout may require a temporary or permanent break from the type of role that caused it (Good Therapy, 2020).

Careers and Compassion Fatigue

There is both anecdotal evidence and studies to support the idea that teachers, especially those who deal with traumatized or otherwise disadvantaged students, may develop compassion fatigue within their careers, but teachers are far from the only ones to experience this condition. Anyone who spends a significant portion of their job caring for others is a potential victim of compassion fatigue.

Other professionals who may develop compassion fatigue include but are not limited to:

  • therapists
  • social workers
  • medical professionals (including doctors, nurses, nursing home staff, etc.)
  • veterinarians and others working in animal care
  • police officers
  • counselors

It is important to note that, though much of the literature surrounding compassion fatigue focuses on people in caring professions, volunteers and others who make systematic caring a large part of their lives can also be affected. As noted in a 2019 paper by Gorski, Lopresti-Goodman, and Rising about activist burnout in the animal care field, additional research which separates professionals in caring industries and volunteers in such industries is needed. Even if one’s job is not within a field typically associated with compassion fatigue, it is still possible to develop the condition. Thus, anyone who takes on a compassion-heavy role in their lives should be aware of compassion fatigue, monitor for its symptoms, and take steps for its prevention.

Compassion Fatigue Symptoms

  • exhaustion (including physical, mental, and emotional)
  • insomnia
  • changes to appetite
  • depersonalization
  • increased anger, frustration, or irritability toward others
  • inward frustration
  • hopelessness
  • trouble concentrating
  • disconnection from relationships
  • feelings of inadequacy or loss of meaning within the caring role

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy, The American Institute of Stress, The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland


How to Prevent Compassion Fatigue

  • journal
  • talk about stress with a trusted person
  • seek therapy if necessary
  • take breaks from the work
  • take time to do other activities that you enjoy (“me” time)
  • avoid additional stress as much as possible
  • keep routines (for exercise, sleep, etc.)

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy, Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland, and Pfifferling & Gilley


How to Treat Compassion Fatigue

The treatment of compassion fatigue looks very similar to its prevention. The maintenance of these activities can help avert a relapse.

  • talk about emotions with a therapist
  • reach out to support networks
  • develop hobbies away from work
  • learn to say “no” and prioritize your own mental health
  • develop an exercise habit
  • prioritize sleep
  • develop self-care routines

List compiled using resources from Good Therapy and Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland


Some Final Words

Compassion fatigue is sneaky since it affects people who are accustomed to caring for others and asking for little in return. As more research emerges about this condition, we better understand its effects on individuals and the industries in which they work as well as what works to prevent its onset.

If I learned anything from writing this post, it’s that you should express your feelings in a productive way, whether that’s through journaling, creating a blog (hey!), or talking to a friend, family member, boss, or therapist. From personal experience, this advice holds true for anyone, but it is especially important for people who spend large amounts of time in compassionate roles.

In spite of all this research about the detrimental effects of compassion fatigue, I still firmly believe that compassion is worth it. Empathizing and showing compassion can increase one’s own feelings of self-worth, not to mention make profound impacts on others. My purpose for writing this was to increase awareness about this issue as it is an important piece of the puzzle when discussing kindness, empathy, and compassion (as I hope to do more in the future). I did not intend to frighten anyone. (Boo! Okay, this time I did intend to frighten you guys.) In other words, don’t let this blog post deter you from doing good in the world. Just be sure to check in with yourself regularly and be willing to prioritize your mental health for your own sake and for the sake of those you are helping.

Be kind to other people, y’all. And be kind to yourself.


References

American Bar Association. (2017, August 23). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/compassion_fatigue/

Good Therapy. (2020, February 10). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/compassion-fatigue

Gorski, P., Lopresti-Goodman, S., & Rising, D. (2018). “Nobody’s paying me to cry”: the causes of activist burnout in United States animal rights activists. Social Movement Studies18(3), 364–380. doi: 10.1080/14742837.2018.1561260 (can be found at http://edchange.org/publications/activist-burnout-animal-rights-liberation.pdf)

Pfifferling, J.-H., & Gilley, K. (2000, April 1). Overcoming Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/fpm/2000/0400/p39.html

Room 241: A Blog by Concordia University-Portland. (2020, January 15). Self Care for Teachers Who Educate Traumatized Students. Retrieved from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/classroom-resources/self-care-for-teachers/

The American Institute of Stress. (2017, January 4). Compassion Fatigue. Retrieved from https://www.stress.org/military/for-practitionersleaders/compassion-fatigue

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2018, March 27). Introduction. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/trauma-informed-care/secondary-traumatic-stress/introduction


Additional Resources About Compassion Fatigue

One teacher’s experience with compassion fatigue: https://medium.com/the-ascent/i-am-a-teacher-and-have-compassion-fatigue-f469c4a43182

PowerPoint from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration about compassion fatigue and self-care: https://integration.samhsa.gov/pbhci-learning-community/Compassion_Fatigue_Office_Hours.pdf

Blog post about vegan burnout: https://www.plantbasednews.org/opinion/vegan-activist-burnout-animals-agony-broke-me

Article from the Association for Supervision and Curricular Development about compassion fatigue in the education profession: http://www.ascd.org/ascd-express/vol11/1118-sizemore.aspx