I was fortunate enough to participate in a Resiliency Course today facilitated by the Tema Conter Memorial Trust. The day was educational and inspiring, and filled with amazing fellow paramedics from across Canada. Dr. Jeff Morley (also a retired RCMP officer) discussed topics such as; primary and secondary trauma, organizational stress, involuntary emotions and stigma reduction, to name a few. I am always so excited to learn about different mental illness recovery techniques, and the latest evidence based findings with regards to diagnosing mental illnesses, and today, as I had expected, we chatted about all of these things to my delight. But I must confess, for all of my love of medicine and research, I am even more intrigued to listen to other people’s thoughts about something that appears to be quite self-explanatory called ‘compassion fatigue‘.
Why does this interest me so much? Well, because I thought I severely suffered from this condition a year and a half ago to the point of not ever wanting to put a paramedic uniform on again because it reminded me of how ‘caring hurt me’, until one faithful day I learned what the true definition of compassion is, and realized that I never really had a problem with caring at all!
According to a very wise teacher, I learned that compassion can never hurt. Compassion is the act of wishing the best for someone…that’s it…that’s all – And when I really though about this, being a paramedic never made me have a problem with that, ever. What DID hurt me was my attachment to what happened BEYOND that wish. Allow me to elaborate…
What truly hurt me as a paramedic was when I became sad because that wish wasn’t fulfilled, and subconsciously I felt like my compassion was wasted. What fatigued me was that no matter how strong my wish was to see someone well, the result of the actions I made in my best efforts to help, was never in MY hands in the first place. And what hurt me THE MOST, was not realizing how ATTACHED I was to those wishes not coming true.
My ability to realize that all the compassion I could muster up would never alter the universe’s ultimate say on any act of kindness’ end result, not only renewed my love of being a paramedic again, it also changed the way I look at LIFE! I’m a caring person, I always try my best to help under the circumstances I’m presented with…and when things don’t go according to my wish for them to go well, it’s out of my hands. No need for attachment to the result…because THAT is what leads to fatigue. Deep down my compassion for people never changed. I just got tired of seeing sadness and pain.
So leave it to me to politely challenge a name given to a condition that was created by many highly educated and accomplished psychological experts! (My sister in law Mandy, wouldn’t be surprised…lol). But I feel that by naming this condition ‘attachment fatigue’, compassion will once again be allowed to represent all of the light and joy it is intended to.