Compassion Fatigue: It’s All Just Becoming a Bit Much

Someone asked me not too long ago whether I consider myself an activist. It was asked in such a harmless way but sent me down a spiral. If I say yes, what do I have to show for it? In an age where we can share infographics online educating others and providing financial support with the click of a button, I’m somehow left feeling like that’s not enough.

I’m going to be honest with you, I’ve been staring at my writing deadlines and a blank word document for too long. It’s not the writing that’s the issue, but picking a topic is. I’m exhausted and have reached a state of emotional burnout. It feels like I’ve given out so many little parts of myself to be on top of the issues that I have nothing for myself. Not only that, but they always come back without having borne fruit. Rinse and repeat  and you have someone exhausted.

 I’m not ashamed to admit that as someone who has been an avid supporter of Palestine and against the occupation, I’ve felt hopeless and angry and given up on the cause more times than I’d like to admit, only to find myself riled up and ready to rejoin the cause a few months later. Unbeknownst to me, this was all compassion fatigue. Merriam-Webster describes it as “apathy or indifference toward the suffering of others as the result of overexposure to tragic news stories and images and the subsequent appeals for assistance”.[mfn] I know that I’m in a privileged position, but I don’t think I’m alone in this and it’s seeping into other aspects of my life. 

Good news and bad news have all just mushed together into a big blur of news and honestly, neither of the two have really been moving me or eliciting a reaction in me. My empathy battery is empty and that’s a very difficult thing to admit but is honestly a side effect of spending every waking moment being bombarded by information. The more ‘click-baity’ something is and the better it is at capturing our attention, the more its’ rewarded. I’m afraid my feeble human brain can’t compete. The ongoing pandemic has not made it any easier and only adds to the hopelessness many of us are feeling right now. Mentally I’m stuck in early 2020 and the past few years have honestly been a blur.

via GIPHY

Compassion fatigue is well known in the medical community, especially for people working as caregivers. My job isn’t as harrowing, I’m a writer but I feel it all the same. There’s a sticky note on the wall by my desk that says “BE AN ACTIVIST”. It’s been there so long I hardly see it anymore, and I worry sometimes that I’ve outpaced my outrage. 

Advert-supported media survives on attention, every news alert is more graphic than the one that came before it, especially when it comes to coverage in the global south, where black and brown bodies are plastered on all of our screens. More graphic isn’t necessarily better, but our news cycle doesn’t seem to have room for nuance or complexity, just shocking images and headlines that become formulaic over time. 

You can’t open a new tab without violent images thrown your way, any logical person would then ask, ‘Hey Hanley, why don’t you just disable that feature?’. That sounds like a simple enough expectation but I’m stuck in a loop of wanting to be informed so those stories don’t become another statistic but also wanting to protect my peace. Something isn’t clicking because this isn’t how it should be feeling at all. 

All this to say, I’m tired, with every fibre of my being I’m tired. Something has got to give because I’m tired of screaming at the top of my lungs about issues like climate change, wondering what to do while drinking iced coffee through a melting paper straw. 

Footnotes

  1. “Definition of COMPASSION FATIGUE,” Merriam-Webster.com, 2019, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compassion%20fatigue.