I know you are all used to my funny-lighthearted blog pieces. Today's blog however, is dedicated to my fellow co-workers in the animal rescue field. Those who are still with us and those who took their lives because of Compassion Fatigue. Consider reading this piece and think of it as a rare glimpse into a part of my life others never see.
Compassion Fatigue is very real and people are taking their lives because of it. As an animal rescue worker, I want to help rescuers identify Compassion Fatigue, raise awareness of how dangerous it is, and the steps you can take to save yourself, a colleague, or a loved one. I also want to bring awareness to those who are not in the animal rescue field; I’d like to explain things that you can do to help because you might just be the only one that recognizes the signs.
Some signs of Compassion Fatigue are chronic physical exhaustion, depersonalization (detaching from yourself), irritability, self contempt, guilt, weight loss, headaches, difficulty sleeping, isolation, unwanted thoughts or flashbacks, sarcasm, your humor becomes somewhat disturbing, you begin to feel that what you’re doing doesn’t matter, or you’ve picked up some self destructive habits. Compassion Fatigue is NOT PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but you do start to take on some of its symptoms.
This is not to say that Compassion Fatigue only happens in the animal care field. Compassion Fatigue is found in all areas of care taking, like nursing home care, cancer patient care, veterinarians, school teachers and many more. In this blog and those to come, I’ll be focusing on animal rescue workers and the affect Compassion Fatigue has on them. Keep in mind, Compassion Fatigue doesn’t just affect that person, it affects their family, friends, coworkers, and more; they just don’t realize what it is.
It is detrimental to catch these signs before it’s too late.
Today’s blog will focus on one way to protect yourself from becoming overwhelmed and lost in the madness before you even start.
We will be focusing on boundaries.
Setting boundaries not only keeps the work from bombarding you with pressure and uncertainty, it also helps you learn your limits. We all have limits, no matter what anyone says. No matter what you think- you cannot take on the world, especially by yourself. Not in this field.
You have to know your boundaries and your limits, learning on the fly in this field could be deadly for some. For example, which field would you handle better? Fostering healthy animals, fostering sick or injured animals, doing fospice (Fostering a hospice animal- one that is currently at the end stages of life), or could you do field work? There are many varieties of field work, which range from going out to capture stray cats for spay/neuter and then releasing them back or at the opposite end of the spectrum, going to devastated areas to rescue animals left behind.
Keep in mind, not all rescues have all of these areas. I work for a No Kill Community shelter, which means- no matter the case, they don’t put an animal down unless they have to. If it’s been abused and it is aggressive, they try to rehabilitate it. If it has an illness that will eventually be fatal but still has a good quality of life (with medications usually), they don’t put that animal down to make space. Instead, they send it to a foster home equipped to care for that animal until the time comes. If a natural disaster happens, they don’t euthanize the animals to evacuate- they send them to foster homes ready to give up space until the disaster is over. They also go into communities that do have to do this, empty their shelters and bring them here to save lives.
It isn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but they do it, for the animals. In situations like these, this is where you make your choice. What can you handle?
It’s okay to say no and it’s okay to be afraid.
But what if you’re already in a field you cannot cope with, what do you do then? Talk to someone, your manager, your friends or coworkers; let someone know what’s going on. Taking yourself out of the situation is the best thing you can do for you, let another volunteer take your place. There is no shame in taking a step back to regroup- in the long run it is better for everyone; including the animals.
Learning what you can and cannot mentally cope with is imperative. That’s your first step. Talking to someone is equally important. You’re not alone, you’re not at fault, you’re human- doing the best you can do with what you’ve been given.
This very brief example is one of many to come. If you have questions or areas you’d like to see covered in this series, please comment below. Join me March 24th for the next Compassion Fatigue discussion.
If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please speak up. Know that you’re not alone.
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255