Last week at work was hard.
By the time I hit Friday morning I was burned out, tired, and OVER it. Stress levels weren’t high, it was the intensity of the way I have needed to work over the past two weeks.
I knew when I went to the grocery store and found myself wanting to boot a woman out of the aisle for hogging space with her cart and her butt, that I was in dire need of down time.
Upon self examination, I came up with this:
It wasn’t the volume of the work I had done over the past weeks although that was an important factor, it was the need to be present through so many journeys that had tired me. (That, and a particularly manic work mate.)
I’m not moaning here about counselling, but I am saying that the requirements of presence and attending drains over time.
As a Hospice counsellor, I deal with patients who are on their final journey of life, and all that means, plus I deal with their families. Each person requires an individual approach. I deal with patient’s friends. I talk to their nurses. I call their spiritual advisors. Mostly, I sit with them and listen to their stories, their struggles, their joys and their sadness. It is a privileged and sacred position, don’t get me wrong, but there are times when the stories stack up and the emotions fill up, and I feel drained and dessicated. It’s my staying power that allows non spoken and spoken things to bubble to the surface.
Counselling isn’t rocket science. I liken it to a glass of water packed with ice cubes. I gently shake the glass then wait to see which ice cube pops to the surface. Sometimes it’s a small cube, sometimes, it’s huge. When two pop up at the same time, it’s knowing which one to pick. It’s the look on a face, the twitch of a mouth, the movement of hands, the catch in the voice, the unseen presence in the room. It’s the quiet movement of spirit within me that whispers, ‘ask about this.’
I listen to story and intuit what isn’t being said as well as what is.
My job is sometimes to voice for the patient or family member the issue that hasn’t been spoken, to drag it into the room like a giant elephant that has silently been living between them for months.
It’s work that requires constant vigilance. Thinking about dinner, or wishing the person would get to the point can pre-empt an important message.
Even in a delusional patient, their delusions have meaning. It’s listening to what they imagine is going on that yields clues.
When I have a few patients in one day, that’s a lot of presence.
Every counsellor in the world will know what I mean.
This week it got me. I’d missed supervison, my opportunity to offload, and I’d been running hard. As one of my astute colleagues said in a Multi-disciplinary team meeting, ‘I have two words for you guys! Compassion fatigue.’
She was right.
The spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.
Thankfully, this weekend, I went to my beauty therapist and hairdresser for a few hours of mental health time, and this weekend has been total down time.
Tomorrow is another down day, and I hope by Tuesday I’ll be feeling refreshed.