Friday, June 4, 2010

Compassion fatigue

AP photo/Charlie Riedel
I watched the news last night and felt myself feeling sick over the oiled birds that were dead or dying from being covered with oil.  I didn't feel anger but so much compassion for them and for all the other parts of the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico.  I see the frustration on the faces of the people.  And I'm reading the reports that forecast the vast oil slick will move around the tip of Florida, after trashing the reefs along the Keys, and move up the southeastern US.

But what really struck me were those helpless birds--unable to move, simply trying to fly.  This oil pumping into the Gulf makes me feel defeated.  Granted, it has been a rough week.  But there is something about seeing the birds that made me realize just how much we have messed up this Earth.  We have ripped down old growth forests to make houses and put down asphalt. We have littered beaches.  We have destroyed wetlands because they were "worthless".  And now we have unleashed the worst ecological disaster the country has ever had.  In short, we have shit our own bed and will have to lie in it.

I am realizing that all the work that I have done and many others is meaningless because we can't keep up or combat the tide of humanity that wants to foul things.  The entire scope of the oil spill is hard to take in.  And I've come to the realization that my compassion is suffering from fatigue.  Granted, this has been a week where emotions have been raw.  But the feeling of total helplessness as I watch the underwater cam showing oil gushing forth has given way to resignation and self-preservation through disconnection.  Maybe that's what the constant bombardment of all things terrible on the news does--it wears us out and numbs us because the problem is so overwhelming that we feel completely powerless.  And so compassion fatigue sets in.

Until I saw those birds. And their helpless plight brought back how precious life is.  Every creature, every part of the ecosystem,  deserves better than we give it.  And we ourselves deserve better than what we are doing to each other. 


  1. Sorry to hear this is weighing on you Syd.
    I think that once we become sensitized because we are practicing along spiritual lines, that more stuff enters our radar. I think it is normal to pick up on collective dismay and depression in response to widely perceived difficulties. It's like we have grown long antennae that reaches into the collective mood. Being sensitized can be very tiring as we can pick up on so much. when I am surrounded by negativity, I make sure to get more rest than usual to compensate for the draining effect of all the negativity. (Energy vampires) it also helps to eat well and exercise. & drink plenty of water.
    Even without that, it is hardly surprising that someone who knows as much as you about marine issues should feel uniquely affected by the oil spill. I take refuge in Ken Wilbers approach (Hurts you more bothers you less) of balancing between relative and absolute reality. relative/conditioned reality can seem unbearable without taking refuge in absolute/unconditioned reality. so I need a bit of both. (apologies for jargon!) you definitely had a tough week, so I hope you get lots of rest this weekend and get some time to think things through, or not think at all. whichever seems best.
    at 4.43mins Hurts you more, Bothers You Less

  2. The depth and breadth of all that is wrong can easily overwhelm us. It strikes me as natural for you in particular to be deeply affected by the incredible disaster. You know in such great detail what is being destroyed. Your grief is healthy, even if the ecosystem is not.
    The Creator grieves too, I think, as we muck up this beautiful earth. I take refuge in believing that the Creator's magnificence is indestructible, however. In fire-devastated Big Sur, for example, regrowth is everywhere.
    The Creator hasn't abandoned his world.

  3. Wow - - - I was going to respond to this heartbreaking article you wrote with, "I can identify with compassion fatigue; however, I am feeling the overwhelming grief of loss in the powerlessness of inability to correct a problem." - - - And, then I re-read Irish's comment, and am so grateful that another spiritual being has processed the grief I feel. She's right - - - rest helps, detachment into a happier arena also helps - - - it is not denial or neglect; it's just a means of healing a hurting soul. Thanks, Syd, Thank you, too, Irish.

    Anonymous #1

  4. I saw a photo of an oil-covered bird in the paper this morning, and had the same reaction. It is hard to take it all in, but this hit me at an emotional level.

    So did the news that oil was seen not far off the coast of Pensacola Beach. I was stationed in Pensacola in the Navy and remember how beautiful those beaches were. Now, this had affected a part of my history, and it felt personal.

  5. I can't even watch the news anymore. It just makes me feel depressed and helpless. The only thing that gives me any sort of hope is friends out there, like you, who feel the same way I do. I know all of humanity is not bad and greedy.

    Love you much, buddy.


  6. Anger compassion and helplessness are all emotions I wade through as it concerns this mess in the gulf.

    Myself, I live right smack in the middle of the country in KS. The beaches, wildlife and the sea's are a treat for us. We go to visit and come back refreshed. This has been taken away.

    I had no idea we were drilling in water a mile deep. I'm sorry but my first reaction was WTF. We "need" this stuff so bad that we risk an entire way of life to get oil?

    Come on people, $4 a gallon gas can't be worth this. For the money spent on this disaster what could we have done to further our efforts to alternative energy?

    "It's just a few birds, turtles and some grass." I'm just waiting to hear this quote from the drill baby drill crowd.

    We are not an island unto ourselves. The US must recognize that we are a part of a global community and global environment, let's act like it.

  7. this oil spill is so tragic. that picture of the bird is just heartbreaking.

  8. it does weight heavy on our compassion...your final statement sums it up well...but it has to start somewhere...

  9. Is this something I accept, or dare I believe I can change it? Grant me some wisdom here, God--it is Your world, too!

  10. It's so easy to find negativity in the world, isn't it? I finally had to get in a place where I won't put my hope in this world. It 's a decision I made to look for the good instead of focusing on the bad.
    There are many disasters and trageties in this life...not letting it rent space in my head is a full time job I owe to myself.
    My insurance against depression.
    I hope you feel better soon.

  11. I think it's healthy to some degree to detach from this. I feel so powerless when I hear the updates about this story. I know there is nothing I can do about it, that I'm powerless and I just hope for the best. My father spent some time stationed in Pensacola, and I have friends in the Florida Keys who won't be fishing because of this. I can't do anything though, and when I see the wildlife I want to cry.
    I wonder if the government and BP execs will use this oil spill as an excuse to drill in Alaska and the Arctic even more. Obviously ocean drilling isn't safe, so I wonder if they will look at that.
    Meanwhile solar and wind-powered debates continue locally.

  12. I feel you. Seeing a bird try to fly that can't is especially awful, for some reaon.

  13. my heart is shattered about this, just absolutely shattered.

  14. I cannot begin to understand the whole thing, I hate to think of it... I have to...HAVE TO... believe that this too will be overcome in time and love and prayer.

    I can't imagine a world that isn't a part of God and his love... what I have seen is a lot of people banding together to bring help and healing... which is the good that comes...

  15. And they keep trying to tell us the oil isn't that bad, because it is a natural gunk of fossilized ancient plant-matter... yeah RIGHT!!

  16. My hubby and I have been tracking the oil leak online from the first day. It is difficult not to become depressed about the animals who will die and the people who will be sick. It has already started but it is nothing to what will be happening. I have no good news or any way to cheer you up. It is what it is. It is beyond disaster.

  17. It is very sad to see a bird covered in oil trying to fly. Not to be morbid, but I wonder if they showed an abused child trying to feed himself with an arm that was broken by his parent if the abuse humans inflict on one another would get the attention it deserves, too...just saying.

  18. This post belongs in an article in newspapers and magazines across the world,Syd.It hit me straight in the spirit of humanity and the total feeling of helplessness.(Hugs)

    Let's all hope that the powerlessness we are feeling and the anger-will eventually turn into pro-activity to help clean up and voice our concerns for tougher regulations with offshore oil drilling.


  19. I also can't watch the news anymore, it just is too heavy for me right now. I had to quit watching that oil spill out from the ground, it just sucked the air out of me. God help us.

  20. i have not stopped looking at the news, i feel like i have been asleep for 15 years. today i am awake and this is my earth, my world. yes it sickens me to my core, but i will not close my eyes to the world again. it is much bigger than you or me. when i get negative and tired, i look at heartwarming things like the little boy who got his last wish to go to sea world. or the outpouring of support a family gets when tragedy hits. it is during these times we need to come together as a community and be heard. this country is the only country in the world where we can band together and we can make a difference. i don't know what i can do about this so i read and i hope that something will bring hope to stop this. there are other things right here where i am at that i can be of service and i do that. in iran they are not even aloud to use the internet. in saigon a rebel leader was shot in the head while talking to reporters. in mexico the natives there were burned out of their homes just for being alive. there is hope in this country we just have to stop listening to the rhetoric and ask ourselves what can i do to make this a better place. and get busy. today i have a garden that helps the environment and no pesticides. i am considering hoarding rain in barrels for drinking water. we should demand that the book 'who killed the electric car?' be read by every person in the country. there is so much we can do and we sometimes just get stuck focusing on what we are powerless against. and sometimes we just need to laugh. i hope you get a laugh soon.

  21. The past couple weeks the oil spill has been weighing heavily on me, always in the back of my mind.
    The same questions I'm sure other's have fill my head.
    I've seen the pelicans weighed down by the muck and that live footage of the leak...
    The helpless animals depress me, the loss of animal's lives, the loss of work for the fishermen, the loss of tourism for our state, all this on top of the economy. Ah, AND, reported tonight regarding 500 birds found dead and the CEO of BP said, "There was no reason to believe all of them were because of the oil."... WHAT???!!!
    Sorry this comment isn't helpful to uplift your spirits... no experience, strength or hope regarding this one... I just can't get over it myself...
    But I can send you a big (((hug))) from across the state.

  22. Only after the last Tree has been cut down.
    Only after the last River has been poisoned.
    Only after the last Fish has been caught
    Only then will they realize money cannot be eaten.
    Cherokee Tsalagi Prophecy

    Someone else posted this, and I haven't heard it before, so thought I would pass it on.

  23. I always thought that a nuclear disaster was the greatest threat to humanity. I have never ever imagined it would be this...

  24. Its a tough situation Syd thats for sure. I guess its what happens when man gets beyond himself. Take care of your self and your loved ones.

  25. Take heart Syd - I just KNOW that you have made a difference. This disaster is proving too big for anyone to deal with and I am praying to my Higher Power to take it out of our hands.

    On a positive note on man's relationship with nature, please Google this short, amazing clip 'Damian Aspinall reunited with gorilla'. It touched me to the quick!

    God Bless.

  26. When I get overwhelmed and frightened my AlAnon sponsor usually tells me to keep the focus on myself today. One of the first questions she ever asked me 12 years ago was, "How are you going to take care of yourself today?" Back then, I had few answers... I was so focused on everyone and everything else around me.

    This disaster is something else. It demands attention and needs to be dealt with... But I can't solve it with my grief and worry. Maybe the best I can do today is to write or call my senators and representative and demand that we end our addiction to fossil fuels. It IS an addiction--a compulsive use despite grave harm. ... And also pray for the people directly involved.

    And then pay attention to what I have on my plate for today: my husband is out of town; I need to shuttle my son to soccer and back, and be PRESENT during his game, rather than worrying about the disasters out there. The kid is like a sponge--he absorbs whatever attitude I send out, and if I send out fear and apprehension, that's what he learns is the appropriate response to life's challenges--fear and apprehension. He teaches me so much all the time... with every good wish, --G

  27. I have not been able to watch the coverage, it is beyond upsetting. When I do think of it though, is every time I get in the car, everytime I bring another plastic item into the house or throw one out.

    This thing is dangerously close to a dear little island where I spent much of my life. It is dangerously close to everyone on the planet.

    How can a pelican feed itself if it cannot fly?

    When the G20 and G8 starts here in a few weeks, will this even be on their agenda?

    We have to change our ways. And soon.

  28. I've stopped watching TV because the news from the Gulf sickens and disheartens me. I feel as if my heart is breaking, especially when I see the oil covered birds or the oil covered grasses, wetlands and beaches or hear the agony and despair of the people who live on the Gulf and make a living from the sea. The sense of being overwhelmed and powerless is palpable, painful, and I well understand the term 'compassion fatigue.' I also agree that as a People, we have Shit the Bed.

    The tiny, insignificant little things I've done to express my pain don't help much overall but I'm finding it's better than nothing. Boycott BP, signing petitions against Big Oil or calling for responsible drilling, changing my phone service from a company that spends a huge amount to back Big Oil & offshore drilling to a service that is against Big Oil interest and backs sustainability and protection of our Environment, letting my Congressperson and Senator know my thoughts and feelings -- taking some kind of action-- helps a little but overall, not much.

    What has helped ease my fatigue a little this morning is coming to this page and discovering I'm not alone in my thoughts and feelings.

    All week a quote I remember from long ago, from the cartoon character Pogo has been at the front of my mind.

    "We have met the enemy and it is Us."

  29. I don't think we realize just how this is going to alter our future, fundamentally. How it alters it is up to the powers that be. I pray they make the right choices and that our humanity-collective learns this time. I am just sick about it all.


  30. "we have shit our own bed and will have to lie in it"

    that's about how I feel about all this too Syd.

  31. The depth of the sadness in this world is overwhelming to me, so I choose to deal with that which God brings into my sphere. Because of this I stopped listening to talking heads, other people's opinions, and try to be the change I would like to see the world. That's a lot of work for me. I, too, am so sad to see other living things suffer because of our stupid reasoning.

  32. Syd, to be honest I haven't known what to think other than to feel illness about the entire Gulf situation. I'll pray for you, that you might find peace somehow.

  33. I cannot bear to look at the pictures/videos, but I feel obligated to, as a member of society who consumes products and participates in the rat race driving the machine of progress and, ultimately destruction.


    I am a bird/nature lover who sits by the river nightly, watching blue herons and muskrats (as a matter of fact, I just got back from doing that very thing). They are like familiar friends and my heart aches when creatures are at our mercy and helpless.


Let me know what you think. I like reading what you have to say.