Posted by Jim Garrett
The dynamic Juliette, a product of London, England and resident of Pagosa Springs, possesses a wealth of diverse experience ranging from a teenaged stint as a Playboy Bunny, to airplane pilot and “master flight instructor,” to Emmy winner, and horsewoman.   But it’s the little-known syndrome of “compassion fatigue,” which she describes as common to many as an overlooked part of the daily routine of those helping care for others, that consumes her.
Discovery of the syndrome Juliette attributed to Dr. Charles Figley, whom she said recognized that care-givers for victims of post-traumatic stress disorder often began to display the symptoms of their patients.  In essence, it seems, the stress of giving care to those chronically afflicted wears away at the lives of the compassionate, to the point they are correspondingly diminished and impaired too.
She gave an example from her own life: having become so immersed in the care of her aged mother that from her home in the US, she took on responsibilities as broad as even ordering her mother’s groceries to be delivered from the neighborhood store in London.  Her mother became dependent on Juliette’s constant support, and harped on complaints of perceived abandonment frequently even threatening suicide, to the point, she said that “it sucked the life out of me.”
Anyone, Juliette suggested, who takes on the care of an elderly parent, a special needs child, a chronically ill or substance abusing family member, can find themselves completely absorbed in the life of the needy subject.  It “can be a killer,” she said, if the assumed responsibility reaches the magnitude that it leads to disregard of self.  According to the World Health Organization, she recounted, depression is a major health issue in the United States, claiming more victims than heart disease.
Care-givers need to know how to “just say no,” she suggested, lest they lose touch with themselves, become indifferent to their own interests, and bottle up frustration to the point that it may erupt in episodes like “road rage.”  While few would be likely to describe themselves as the most important thing in their own life, and eyebrows would be raised if one did, nonetheless, it may be a fact – if you aren’t healthy yourself, Juliette asked, what good can you be for others?
So what can revitalize one from compassion fatigue and produce compassion renewal?  By all means, Juliette suggested, give help to others, but include something for yourself too in your life.  Take on interests and challenges that inspire you, even if they may seem daunting – such as she did in deciding at 45 to learn to fly, and then advancing to a high level in flight instruction.  (Referring to the Destination Imagination team, that had taken on the big goal of raising $7000 in 11 days, Julliette said, “You remind me of me. . . .  You’ll make it.”)
And, how can you help if you recognize compassion fatigue in others, she asked?  It requires discretion she suggested: don’t just challenge with comments like, “you don’t look well,” but think of the right approach.  Perhaps invite the diminished friend to join in some socializing or a favorite activity, and be persistent to the point of emphasizing his or her participation has importance to you.  Plant the seed, she said.  And if necessary, trick ‘em.