I had driven for two hours to join the hundreds of people who had gathered on previous days, and as I approached the event, all I wanted was a nap.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see people or that I was dreading another presentation. It was simply that I had been feeling sick off and on over the last couple of weeks, and as I headed into the hot desert climate, I was sure that I was going to sweat into a coughing puddle right on the front seat of my car. The good news is that I didn’t melt. I may have been so delirious that I walked into the men’s restroom (sorry about that, sir. I can assure you that we were equally mortified), but after I got some water and checked in with the team, I began to relax a little more into my process of preparation.
This was a new event for me, and it was the first time I had presented this material to this population, so I was excited but also keenly aware that it was the last spot of a two-day conference. Even as I was looking for my parking space, I saw people packing up and leaving the event, giving me a taste of the feeling of exhaustion that I was about to feel emanating from people in the conference center.
Because it’s been a hard couple of years, y’all.
I know people have had different experiences of direct and indirect impacts from the pandemic and all of the other hard things that have been occurring across the county recently, so I’m not going to assume anything about how you are doing right now, EXCEPT I have been engaging with so many of you since March 13, 2020, and let me tell you….
You’re probably not okay.
I mean, you, as a person, are wonderful, but you are probably not doing 100% okay.
The issue is that we cannot heal from trauma while we are still in the midst of the experience. I know that’s pushing on some people’s belief structures, but we know that when there is a pattern of trauma or fear response that is well-developed because of chronic stress exposure, getting to holistic growth is nigh impossible. Why is that?
Because our hypervigilance and survival strategies will be so ready to fire when there is stress that what might typically be experienced as pressure that creates growth will instead trigger the cortisol release and excitatory chemical process that moves a person’s brain and body into fight, flight, or freeze. When we are in that downstairs space, there is no pathway to our thinking brain – all processing power and energy has been co-opted by our “do not die or come to harm” biological imperative.
I’ve been witnessing (and experiencing myself, at times) that there hasn’t been enough recovery time in the last months to be able to regulate and repair fully, at least for many of the people I regularly encounter and serve. Without that opportunity to calm and make meaning of the hard things that have occurred, the next stress cycle will sometimes come before our inhibitory systems can provide what we need to problem-solve.
When I walked into the presentation space and started to greet people, I saw this same pattern in this room full of caregivers who were weary and ready to experience a moment of respite. Luckily, I was there for that reason and had the honor and pleasure of sharing some information and hope for a future with more capacity for rest, health, and compassion.
While the event went well, and I enjoyed my time with all of the attendees and participants, surprisingly, it wasn’t the presentation that was the day’s highlight for me.
The most important thing I could do that day was to tell and show people a truth that they seldom are told; they were worth the time.
We’ve all been there. We have a task that we have to complete in a professional workspace, and when we are done, there is a pressing matter that we have to attend to, and then another, and the pattern continues. Or maybe we are the person who wants to share something or connect with the person who has a never-ending list of “to-dos.” Either way, we have repeatedly felt the tension of task vs. relationship in our human interactions.
In this case, I was the person who had traveled to present, who wasn’t feeling well, who had another two or more hour drive back, and hadn’t eaten, so when people began to walk toward me after the presentation, they were generally prepared for me to quickly answer them and move on to the next thing that I had to do.
I know this because I kept hearing, “I know you are so busy,” or “I’m sorry to take up so much of your time,” or, “it’s probably too much to ask, but….”
And each time, I would look that person in the eyes and say, “you are worth my time.”
Some people had to hear me say it more than once, and most looked back with tears in their eyes, but not one of them was expecting to hear that truth about themselves.
Being able to witness the absorption of those words and the impact that it made on people as they were seen, heard, and valued gave me what I needed to start home knowing that my contribution to the world that day wasn’t measured in the number of attendees or sign-ups that followed, but because on that day, I got something right.
I had a feeling that talking about compassion fatigue with a group of people who care about others might mean that I would need to create margin in the experience. It did.
Luckily, I had asked for support from my amazing team to help me create space for people – to give me the permission to be present and available to hear and see – to give me the capacity to spend my energy holding hard experiences and expressions.
Their generosity allowed me to be abundant in my response to those who needed my time and attention.
So what does this mean?
It means that:
- None of us can do this on our own. We have to do this together.
- We all need to find ways to create margin in our lives so that our compassion and presence can flow freely.
- No one is more valuable than anyone else, regardless of what role they play or if their name is on a program or not.
- We’re still in the process of heading toward recovery, friends – please be gracious toward yourself and others when you need to create healthy boundaries or expectations.
And lastly, if no one has told you today, your presence matters. Not what you do, but just you, as you, are worthy of unconditional positive regard.