Last week was a rough one for pets. Between a devastating kennel fire in one of the Chicago suburbs and furloughed government workers having to line up for supplies to feed their animals, just about everyone in our extended pet community knows someone who has been hit hard by sad circumstances.
When the average person thinks of compassion fatigue, it’s mostly in connection with animal rescue workers or veterinarians. But that’s not the only at-risk group – pet care professionals like walkers or groomers can be deeply affected by compassion fatigue as well. The word “care” is right there in the job description, and you can’t just turn that off because it’s a paid job and the animals you work with have safe and comfortable homes.
I don’t talk about this a lot, but one of the main reasons I ended up selling my first pet care company is because of compassion fatigue. After years of caring for thousands of pets (and their humans) and hiring (and caring for) hundreds of employees, I was exhausted beyond my ability to recover.
So I took stock of my options, thought about what I wanted to do next, sold my business, and moved to Arizona to become a dog trainer. That extended period of education gave me the space to recuperate both mentally and physically, and recharge for my next challenge.
Moving across the country may seem like a fairly extreme reaction, but it was what I needed to do at the time to level up my skill set. As importantly, it gave me permission to focus on caring only for myself for a while (though I did take my two dogs and my African Grey with me).
That’s a roundabout way of saying one very important thing – it’s okay to be selfish. You NEED to be selfish, from time to time, because if you aren’t well you can’t help anyone else. You know the adage about putting the oxygen mask on yourself before assisting others? It’s the perfect metaphor. You don’t get extra karma points for working yourself into a hospital bed.
So do this – when it all gets to be too much for you, stop. Stop looking at social media. Stop volunteering to pick up the slack for everyone else. Stop working that extra hour on Friday nights. Just – stop.
Then breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Call a friend and go out for a drink. Block off the weekend to Netflix and chill. Ask for help if you need it. No one expects you to be superwoman (or -man). Take good care of the amazing, lovely, wonderful, compassionate human that you are, and remember that cultivating kindness to yourself is the best way to pass it along to another living being.