SMILE THE WHILE – my postcard from the edge

I am ready, sitting here with my morning Chai.  I’m still wearing my bed head.  It brought me luck yesterday.  We, the Chinese, are very superstitious.  The Mad Hatter in me has helped me to rant and chatter – to let loose.

Today, I am going to be brave.  I am going into that one-inch picture frame that Anne Lamott speaks of.  I am going to look at my life when I was a nurse.

Yesterday I came upon a blog about the death of Sophie Yin, a 48 year old veterinarian who died of a suicide.  Was the death a result of compassion fatigue?  That is the question.  More importantly, what is compassion fatigue?  Here’s what wikipedia says:

Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary traumatic stress (STS), is a condition characterized by a gradual lessening of compassion over time. It is common among individuals that work directly with trauma victims such as nurses, psychologists, and first responders. It was first diagnosed in nurses in the 1950s. Sufferers can exhibit several symptoms including hopelessness, a decrease in experiences of pleasure, constant stress and anxiety, sleeplessness or nightmares, and a pervasive negative attitude. This can have detrimental effects on individuals, both professionally and personally, including a decrease in productivity, the inability to focus, and the development of new feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.[1

I have already recognized and acknowledged that I might am a sufferer. I am sure that I am not the only one among our staff.  As I look at the long list of symptoms in individuals and organizations on the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, I’m nodding my head and going uh huh, uh huh.

meIt was a bit of a surprise to me that I didn’t ‘fall apart’ till after I had retired.  I had no time while I was still working.  The show had to go on.  The tread mill ground on ever so steadily.  I HAD to perform, however broken I was. There was always tape to bind me up.  See!  Smile the while….

I was prepared for this business of ‘retirement’, or so I thought.  I knew there would be an adjustment period.  But after a few weeks, a month, I would be basking in the land of the happily ‘retired’.

How naive I was!  The ‘breakdowns’ that I never had time for found time and me.  Anxiety claimed me.  Life became HARD.  And I didn’t know how to explain it – to anyone, including myself.  There was always that STRESS theory.  Who wouldn’t be stressed after being immersed in saving lives and slinging bedpans for over 30 years?  30 years of STAT, Code Blues, ringing call lights, patient abuse, doctor abuse, managerial abuse, 12 hour shifts, night shifts, day shifts…..Or so it seemed.

Am I ranting?  So sorry!

I had not understood stress at all.  I had been asleep behind the wheel all those years.  My post retirement meltdown was probably the best thing that happened to me.  I finally understood.  It stopped me cold.  I had no more emergencies nor Code Blues to run to.  No one to rescue but myself.  I had to get out of the fire.

The stress had been built up over the years of caring.  I had lost sight of myself, always looking outward at others’ needs.  I felt others’ pain but numbed my own, as if I was not worthy of my own concern.  It was not good.  I prided myself on how much I can handle, how little sleep I needed.  How foolish I was!


I’m losing my concentration.  My right brain is clamouring at me.  I feel my dendrites rising on end.  Perhaps it’s best I close off.  Tomorrow is another day.  With a fresh left brain I might be able to talk about my year of recovery.  Till then – smile the while, but care for yourself.

About hafong

Hello! My name is (Leung) Hafong alias Lily Leung. You always say the last name first….that is the Chinese way. That is my partner lurking behind me. Since this is my blog, I won’t mention his name. But this is a rather cool picture. You see me and yet you don’t…sort of the way I feel about myself most of my life. So this blog is a self-exploration, an archeology dig of some sort. My tools…..words of a thousand or so at a sitting. I will try for that.
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2 Responses to SMILE THE WHILE – my postcard from the edge

  1. It can be easy to understand why those in the caring professions or those who are caregivers suffer from compassion fatigue. Even those with caring spirits can suffer, too, with need to take care of ourselves and refill the tank.

  2. Thanks for sharing and enlightening us. I’ve never heard of compassion fatigue. Pray that you can be well and take care of yourself. God bless.

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