A new name for an old ailment. It’s when caregivers run out of steam. It’s when fatigue overwhelms enthusiasm. It’s when compassion faulters. It’s the one thing I expected would never happen to me, because I’m full of boundless energy and compassion for animals. When it happened, it knocked me on my backside. That’s where I’m at. On my backside, with the wind knocked out of me, stunned with disbelief that this has happened. Taking care of pets does take a toll on a pet sitter, both physically and emotionally, but it’s what we do. However, no one told me about the emotional impact (and this is true to the definition of the word…impact…think getting punched in the stomach) the clients would have on me, emotionally and mentally. Clients rely on me to be stoic when faced with great emotional turmoil. They expect me to be strong, especially when they can’t be. They turn to me for advice on everything from what to feed their pets to when it’s time to put them down. I’ve been with client’s pets when they take their last breath and every time I cry; you know that uncontrollable sobbing that is gut wrenching and ugly? Yep, that’s what I do; every time. My clients don’t see that. The veterinarians and their techs do, but the clients remain blissfully unaware of how much of an emotional impact that has on me. And it doesn’t stop. The last 6 months have been awful. My service has lost more pets in the last 6 months than in my entire career put together. Each one of them I loved, cared for and cried about when we lost them. By the end of April, I was tired. By the middle of May, I was aggravated. By the beginning of June I knew I was done. When the downslide started I thought it was a simple case of burnout, easily fixed with some time off. However, there wasn’t any way to get time off. I love that my clients need me, but a few of them just refuse to let me take time off. I battled for a weekend off and finally got one. I turned off the phone and tried to enjoy the weekend. It wasn’t enough. The downslide had started, and, like anything that starts to go down, it continued and got worse, going faster and faster. I couldn’t keep the pace and keep myself in check. I knew I was in trouble. I started to do some research about burnout and soon discovered that what I was experiencing was far worse than a simple case of burnout. I learned I have Compassion Fatigue. To me, those words were dooming. It meant that the best of me; the part of me that made me good at my job; the part of me that had so much passion for my pets was gone. Not just burnt out but gone. I panicked. How could I continue to service my client’s pets when I had lost my passion? I felt like I was lying to them. The last straw, for me, was doing hospice care for a client’s pet for a week, all the while knowing the exact date and time the dog would lose her life. It was one of the most distressing things I’ve ever gone through, especially the last visit. I have flashbacks now. I also lost my own personal cat during this time, a cat I had hand raised from 2 weeks old. He died of heart failure, but I missed his symptoms and it was far too late when I realized he was sick. I have flashbacks of this as well. Nightmares. Fear. Anquish. Guilt. Waves of nausea. (Yep, physical symptoms are part of the deal with this). Headaches. Insomnia. Helplessness. Anger. I can’t even describe how these feelings rush in and over take me with no warning. Then, I find myself lost in whatever thought, vision, feeling or physical symptom that has assaulted me and I will literally shake my head trying to get it to stop. It’s distressing. Then, found out that a friend of mine lost a friend of hers to suicide due to Compassion Fatigue. It’s time to take action, get better, rest, deal with it and then fight back. This distressing ailment is a real as PTSD in soldiers. It’s as real as depression and heart disease. It’s not something to take lightly because it’s a beast and it doesn’t want to let go. It likes to torment and taunt it’s victims. I think that if one doesn’t know what they are dealing with, this beast will do serious damage to a person. So, I’ve decided to speak out and share my journey. This is not my style at all, but with health care professionals unsure of how to help with it, I figured this is the next best thing. A pill will not restore my compassion and neither will a psychologist. The words need to come out. Experiences need to be shared. While I heal, I wont pet sit or walk dogs. They deserve my best, and right now they wouldn’t get it. A few experts say it wont take long, another couple said a year or 2. I guess I’ll know when it’s time. But, for now, I rest, I write and I discover where my passion and joy went and I fight with the beast that stole it from me. I also urge any pet care professional who even thinks they are suffering from Compassion Fatigue to do some research. I know that I’m not the only one.