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The Importance of Recognizing Compassion Fatigue

Dec 20, 2021 07:00AM ● By Med Magazine

Kim’s work feeding hospital patients is rewarding but also comes with challenges. During her 12-hour shifts, she averages about nine miles of walking. 

“We’re very busy; everyone is having a hard time with staffing right now,” Kim says. “We can’t go into COVID-19 rooms, but it’s all around us while we’re working.”

In addition to her hospital work, Kim cares for her mother, one of her sisters, and her son, who struggles with addiction and lives out of state. On a particularly difficult day in early 2021, Kim was talking to her counselor about her son’s behavior. 

“I was just so baffled," she says. "As far as I knew, we were very close. I couldn’t figure out why he was pushing the people he loves away.”

After wondering aloud if she should attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to hear different perspectives, Kim’s counselor recommended she call Face It TOGETHER, an addiction wellness nonprofit, and ask about their support for family members. 

Face It TOGETHER offers professional peer coaching to those impacted by addiction, including loved ones. As a healthcare employee, Kim qualified for free peer support through a South Dakota grant.

One of Kim’s most significant takeaways from coaching came after completing an assessment designed for loved ones.

“My coach told me I was struggling with compassion fatigue. I thought, ‘That’s exactly it. I’ve never been able to put it into words before,’” she says.

Between work and family, Kim was overwhelmed by her caregiver responsibilities. She had recognized the times when she was irritable or stressed but didn’t have the words to explain what she was dealing with.

“Being able to put a name to it was so helpful. I was suffering from compassion fatigue,” she says. “You want to help, but there’s only so much of yourself you can give away."

Prioritizing self-care remains difficult for Kim. On her days off, she takes long walks to relieve stress. 

“Walking gives me time to be by myself and get my head back together,” she says. “But I always have a hard time answering that question, ‘What do you do for yourself?’” 

Kim’s coach at Face It TOGETHER is a peer who struggled with the addictions of two of her sons.

“(Peer coaches) have gone through a lot of the same experiences. They’re talking from life experiences; they’re not so clinical,” Kim says. “I definitely think it’s worth reaching out. If nothing else, to have someone listen to you who’s gone through it themselves.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by substance use, either personally or as a loved one, please reach out for help. Face It TOGETHER peer coaching is evidence-based, confidential and available to anyone impacted by addiction. Free support is available for healthcare workers and others impacted by COVID-19. Learn more at wefaceittogether.org or by calling (855) 539-9375.