When you are in the fire service for a long time (or any other profession that requires you to care for others on a continual basis), you may find that your reserve for compassion has all but dried up. I see a lot of people in the fire service write it off jokingly as "not having a soul" or making statements like "dark humor makes it so I can do this job". In reality, those of us in a care-based profession fought hard to get here because we want to show compassion to others. We had a plan and we took the steps necessary to make our dream of helping people come true.
We are being hit hard in the fire service when it comes to mental wellness. We see a lot of things that other people wouldn't normally see. Not only do we see them, but we are responsible to do what's in our ability to remedy the situation and provide some semblance of stabilization and mitigation. We are the ones relied upon. But who do we rely upon? And are we self-aware enough to know when we need help?
"Life is not merely to be alive, but to be well." - Marcus Valerius Martial
We can't go through the process of what we do and simply "do our best", we need to BE WELL. We are integrated beings. We are comprised of body, mind, and spirit and what we do relies on each of those parts of us. We enjoy helping those in need and providing victims with the compassion that they might not otherwise get, but do we practice self-compassion? Do we give ourselves a break? I'm not talking about going out to the bar and letting loose the night after our shift. I'm talking about taking the time to sit down and evaluate how you are doing and if there is something that you are struggling with. Then, providing yourself with a resource or seeking out someone to help you with that issue. In a selfless profession, we sometimes need to be "selfish" in taking time for ourselves. If we don't, we may be compounding the effects of "compassion fatigue".
What is "Compassion Fatigue"?
"Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people (or animals) in distress, it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress on the helper."
- Dr. Charles Figley
Professor, Paul Henry Kurzweg Distinguished Chair
Director, Tulane Traumatology Institute
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
When we focus on others without giving ourselves due regard, destructive behavior can manifest. Apathy, isolation, substance abuse, bottled up emotions are all some of the symptoms that may be present. In order to do our jobs effectively, we need to make sure we are in the best shape to do so, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Please click this link to identify all the symptoms associated with Compassion Fatigue and learn of the ways to manage its symptoms. When everyone is asking something of us, we become depleted and not ourselves. We were hired because of who we are. If who we are is depleted continually, then we fail to be who we are. This kind of healing starts from the inside and works its way out. Please take a moment to ask yourself if there's something that you're struggling with. Identifying that you are suffering from compassion fatigue and need a break is the first step.
If we don't fill ourselves up with what it is that we need, then we will have nothing left to give others.
As always, please share and comment. I LOVE a good dialogue and hope you gained some value in reading this post. Be hard to kill out there!