compassion fatigue: a personal case study

my sister is in the midst of recovering from a surgery with a decent recovery time — about 6 weeks.

we’re about a week in, and already, i feel the compassion fatigue setting in.

i am struggling to be present for both her physical and emotional needs.

today she has been doing something i now realize is a pet peeve of mine: pouting. in her defense, it’s for totally valid reasons: she’s in constant discomfort and consistent pain. her body is totally out of whack with all kinds of weird sensations and aches arising in it.

and i know exactly what she wants — for me to go “poor baby,” wrapping my arms around her, holding her, rubbing her hair, telling her everything’s going to be okay.

the thing about being a highly empathetic is you understand on a visceral level the exact ways you’re disappointing people.

and ya, it sucks, because i just can’t give it to her. i myself am recovering from being sick, and i can feel the fatigue and exhaustion continuing to reside in my body.

i can offer the love language of acts of service but less so quality time and physical touch.

i’m tapped.

being a caretaker feels like work, and on top of that, i’m not accustomed to spending so much time with someone else.

i’m used to spending 8 hours of my day alone – solitude that makes me a much more pleasant person outside of it.

and the thing is, she deserves compassion. she deserves all the comfort she craves. but i can’t be the one to offer it to her. and it fucking sucks.

and on top of my inability to satisfy her in this way, i find myself getting annoyed, resentful at her ploys for sympathy: the groans and moans and whimpers. it fucking grates on me, makes me even less inclined to be any source of comfort beyond meeting her physical needs.

so ya, compassion fatigue.

in a previous iterations of my self, i would be beating myself up for not being a better bodhisattva. for not finding the willpower and willingness to give her the nurturance she needs.

but at this point in my life, i’m much more willing to accept my limitations. to accept the fact that i, one person, will not meet all of her needs.

and although the guilt is very real, it’s not my fault. the expectation for one person to meet the needs of what was once the role of a community is a failing of modern society.

she deserves a parent, a friend, an elder, a spiritual leader, a peer, etc who can offer her that which i cannot. but instead, due to present conditions, she has emotional needs and desires that will simply go unmet.

and i don’t know if i mentioned it yet, but it fucking sucks.

but i just can’t beat myself up for not being her everything.

i mean, i’m pretty much writing this to lighten my conscience, so clearly there is residual guilt i’m working through in real time.

but the thing is: i’ve walked the path of denying my limits, my needs, my boundaries, and it has led me to bad places. ones that ultimately made me unhelpful to everyone in my life, unable to show up for anyone.

so maybe more than anything i am sad. sad for her and for everyone in a similar position. and i wish i had a solution. but community isn’t built in a day, and it’s generally hard to come by these days.

so what option do we have but to accept things as they are?

but man, it really does break my heart. i so wish i could be that for her. and i’m also so relieved that i can give myself permission not to be.

i know what it feels like to feel like shit and to just want to be held and cared for and to not have it. it’s a hard place to be.

and it breaks my heart…

it breaks my fucking heart.

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