I was browsing through a bookshop, one of my favourite things to do. My eyes washed over the colours and letters, excitedly jumping from title to title, trying to sense the right one for this moment. I came to a book by Malala Yousafzai called ‘We are displaced’….As I read the title, I felt myself retracting and walking away even though its a book I would usually be interested in.
What happened was that as I read the words in the title, I could already feel the heaviness and the pain in those words. And I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t have the space for it within myself.
You see, I use up most of my empathy and emotions for work. I never thought there could be a limit to empathy but I have discovered it! It exists. People working with tragedy and trauma experience something that is not talked about enough; this is called compassion fatigue. I remember when I first read these words in an article and, without even reading on to understand the explanation, I felt immediately understood. Compassion fatigue – I get it! It hurts to feel for others. It hurts to witness, share and carry their pain. It hurts to be the one to support them through injustices and feel helpless. Even if its not happening to me, it hurts me regardless.
When I first starting working with this, I was not prepared in any way. I felt like a wave of despair dragged me down and I had to struggle to stay alive (while never waivering from keeping others afloat). It took me a while to figure out that working with children, the most innocent souls, who have to live injustice daily takes a toll on us adults too. Its a whole new world, one that only other people who touch trauma on the daily as part of their job can understand. I always think of medical emergency personnel – they are with people in some of the worst moments of their lives or at the end of their lives. Where does that impact go? We are human first and foremost, we understand each other on the most fundamental level and we are naturally wired to care. It takes a whole new set of very particular coping skills and consistent support to survive. And scars are part of the job.
Some people may say I am ‘too’ sensitive. But I believe most humans are naturally sensitive – there are just people who are less self-aware and those who build coping strategies that keep them safe and numb.
I choose to do none. I choose to be empathic. I choose to remain feeling because if I become numb, I can be of no help to those who need their pain to be witnessed, acknowledged and seen.
So the need for lightness is big in my life. In the books and movies I choose to my life outside of work to the relationships I choose to engage in, I need lightness. No capacity for toxicity or drama. No tolerance for extra dosages of other’s pain and needs outside of what I already give out 40 hours a week. What I need to take care of myself is this; Simplicty, plain, uncomplicated peace. This I usually find in solitude and with a few close heart friends and some special children in my life. It may not be a long-term life plan but its what I need right now. Lightness. To survive.