Social media is a miracle. I meet new friends and stay connected with old ones. I can keep my finger on the pulse of inspiration in our world. There are pictures of puppies and foals and yes, those people who knit for their chickens. So much community to love.
But this week Facebook has sucked the life out of me. Maybe your page looks like mine lately: Emaciated cats with snotty eyes. Old horses at kill lots. Mustangs being chased to death by helicopters. A photo of the second corgi recently, shot to death by some jerk who thinks his right to bear arms includes shooting a neighbor’s dog in their own yard. And then we are still reeling from the Black Forest Horse Abuse case, the number is up to 17 dead and decomposed on the ground.
There was a golden moment that a lot of us stood up, joined voices, and the equine survivors got help. We felt powerful – we were heard and things happened. Then before I caught my breath, it seemed that another 200 desperate stories screamed for my attention. Sometimes I had to discipline myself to not look at the photos. The hard part of being a 60-year-old horse-crazy girl is staying positive.
There is a name for this feeling of tired overwhelm: Compassion Fatigue. It is commonly thought of in terms of human care givers and health care workers, but this week I read a great blog (link here) about the same stress in the animal welfare community. High time.
Compassion Fatigue symptoms include depression that sometimes leads to suicide. Is that serious enough? The world lost a wonderful veterinarian and animal advocate last week. Dr. Sonja Yin is mourned by everyone who believes in force-free training. And October is National Depression Awareness Month.
Disclaimer: I have it easy. I don’t work full-time in the front lines of rescue. I’m not a vet or a vet tech. I’m lucky; I get inspired by my clients trying to help their horses and I have a good friend who listens when I need to rant. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burro routinely lays his head on my chest to check my blood pressure. I repeat, I have it easy.
Maybe this Facebook Flu I feel sometimes is a lesser relative of Compassion Fatigue, it’s more like Compassion Whininess. Do you get it, too? It’s a slap on the wrist for being aware of the plight of PMU foals or the media stereotyping of some dog breeds, like aversion therapy for caring.
Maybe we should develop a kind of soft spot for depression, too. Chronic or situational, depression needs our attention and concern as well, if we are going to keep giving our attention to animal welfare issues. We need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of the animals that need us.
And who better than us not-quite Compassion Fatigue-ers to encourage and support the animal welfare workers? We understand a small corner of it. It is always in our periphery.
Have you thanked your veterinarian lately? I have had too many midnight, ground blizzard emergency calls to even pretend there is any romance in that occupation. Sometimes the front desk calls to tell me my vet will be late because of an emergency call. I behave especially graciously, however inconvenienced I am. I know others are dealing with bigger challenges than getting spring shots. Being patient is like investing in future karma.
The only animal welfare work more stressful that the veterinarian’s might be rescue work. They get lots of late night calls threatening to ‘put down’ an animal if it isn’t immediately picked up. It’s almost like a ransom call with a death threat. Then there is the daily work to mend broken animals while wading through the sludge of humankind, and the cherry on top is having to keep an eye on the budget and often ask the public for money. This is, of course, the same public whose Facebook page looks as grizzly as mine.
This is what is easy to forget… this is the most important thing: We all need to stay vulnerable. We need to keep prying our bruised hearts open. We can’t turn into those people who page by pleas for help to get the posts on horoscopes and celebrity gossip. Our vulnerability is our greatest strength. It is the part of us that makes us good riders and kind friends and strong advocates for animals who can not speak for themselves. We have to protect the compassionate part of us.
So when I was feeling a bit heart-sore last week, I took my own advice. I went for a massage. It was wonderful; she worked the starving horses out of my tight shoulders, she loosened my calf and thigh muscles that have held my stand against animal suffering. I felt nurtured and restored.
Leaving, I stopped at the end of the driveway and saw three horses galloping down the road towards a busy street. In a blink, a woman in flip-flops with a grain bag and a handful of halters leaped into my truck and we were off in pursuit. Predictably, I reminded the woman to breathe.
By the time we caught them, with the help of other random horsepeople, I was late to my next lesson. No worries though, my clients hope for the same help when they need it. We are good people who care about animals.
With a special wish for peace and healing for all the hard-working animal welfare workers around the world: Ask for help when you need it, take good care of your soft heart, and know we have your back. Most of all, thank you.
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.