Compassion fatigue.

One month ago, gripped by the harrowing statistics regarding children in foster care, I wrote this on Day One:

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month. Each day of this month, For The Children, I will say something about “The New Epidemic.”

Why “new?” — because with COVID-19 reports of child abuse has dropped. Why has it dropped? — because mandated reporters (teachers, pediatricians, coaches) with their eagle-eyes, aren’t able to see the kids. They can’t see the bruises or the dissociation or the trembling. 

On average, 5 children die every day from child abuse. Because of COVID-19, that average is on the rise. 

Incidents of sexual abuse are also on the rise. For the first time ever, over half of the visitors to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were minors. Of those who called with concerns related to the COVID-19, 79% said they were living with their perpetrator.

I’m writing today to raise awareness. I will write every day this month.

For them. 

Writing is hard. You probably know what I mean. But writing about this new epidemic wasn’t hard. The words rolled off my fingers. There was a crisis. So I wrote about the problem on day two or day three

But it got harder. Because every morning I receive an email from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And the email lists news stories about child welfare. And I read about how – all across the country, and the world – children were suffering, in unprecedented ways. Sexual abuse and I thought of what it must feel like to be locked in an apartment for months with your abuser. I thought about the children I’ve met.

Compassion fatigue.

And all you’d see on the news is COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19 but noting – zero – on those who live in the shadows. Children. Minor children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. These ones not suffering from the virus, per se, but from something I believe to be far more dangerous: family-induced childhood trauma.

Writing about the children wasn’t a too much problem on day four or five, which I titled Urgent Versus Urgent.

***

In January, I visited my psychologist for the first time in over a year. I felt I was dealing with symptoms of depression. Everything in my personal life was flourishing. 

At RFK, our work was expanding to new states and new countries. 

There was no “reason” for the depression. But something was up. Have you ever felt that way? You just now something’s wrong but everything in your life is going really well?

She introduced me to the term, compassion fatigue — a disorder known to those who work with ailing populations:

Those who have experienced compassion fatigue describe it as being sucked into a vortex that pulls them slowly downward. They have no idea how to stop the downward spiral, so they do what they’ve done since medical school: They work harder and continue to give to others until they’re completely tapped out.

I had a name for the symptoms. Always a good first step. I soon went to the literature, working on self-care and awareness. More yoga and prayer and exercise.

I began feeling better.

Then COVID-19 hit the headlines I wrote about maybe being stuck in DC with Coronavirus. After 5 days, quarantined to a hotel room, I returned home. 

Work intensified. We developed new programing. How do we reach these children? Who will help them in this time of crisis?

***

When I interviewed for this role, during one of the many interviews, I was asked, “What do you believe to be your greatest strength with respect to this role?” Without hesitation, I responded, “compassion.”

This is weird to write. I’m just helping it real. I feel the pain of others. Many who know me know this aloof kind of logical socially awkward introvert. But that’s just my exterior. It’s my personality. Inside of that exterior — I feel the pain of others. Literally. Somewhere in my chest. Especially when the pain is the pain of a child. I don’t know why. It could be because of what happened when I was a child, but I’m not ready to write about that. Maybe you feel the pain of others, too.

***

I remained connected to our RFK chapters and to HHS. Our RFK team began working on a national partnership to help the new emergency first responders: social workers. 

I wrote on days six and seven and eight. It was getting harder. 

Day 10, the entirety of my post read, “I can’t write about the pain. Goodnight.”

Compassion fatigue.

Day 11:

I don’t want to read it, anymore. 

The morning reports. About the children. Not your loved and sheltered and guided ones. 

The millions shacked up with torture. Torture. In America. COVID-19 makes them illusive to the press. Who talks about them. No mandated reporters to help. 

I feel for the homeless; I fear more for children of rampant neglect, abuse, abandonment, far more. 

Children. 

They will end up incarcerated unless we act. 

Unless we act. 

We can act.

I didn’t write again until May 17, day 17. Then day 19. Then day 24.

Today is the 31st. Last day of National Foster Care Awareness Month.

Last post for the month.

I will keep speaking and writing because the children are still at home and there will be a flood of new abuse reports in the upcoming months.

But will probably take a break.

Because compassion fatigue.