"I used to care, but now I take a pill for that."
I recently had a heart to heart talk with a very dear friend who is burnt out. He's been involved in the AIDS Industry for a long time and has had enough. I know what that is. I burnt out long ago, but somehow manage to continue working part time, even though I have a waning interest and energy.
It's not that I don't care. I do. But somehow the "movement that eats its young" has sapped me. I see it in a lot of people and in agencies and in endeavours that seem to be grasping at straws. We're tired and a lot of good ideas are being buried in the branding and slogans and increasingly politicized jargon and acronyms that separate us from something more meaningful.
Perhaps it's me. Perhaps I'm just too old, too white, too gay, too "cis", too European, too apolitical to be involved any longer. Perhaps it's just time to go away. Send me off on an ice flow, or leave me to perish in the desert. I've lost motivation and the will to do more than I must. There's a sad bleakness to that. I haven't got two creative pennies to rub together anymore.
Statistically, social workers (and here I include support people in non-profits) are prone to suffer from Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS). By working with people who have chaotic and stressful lives, we become empathetic (a good quality), and absorb the pain psychically. So being empathetic turns out to be the very thing that makes me fragile.
I've been involved in HIV in one way or another for close to 30 years. That's a long time. A long time from the dark days and death into this brave new world where meds allow us to become cranky, old people. I feel a widening gap between me and the work. I feel a chasm some days with the people I am to support.
Some days I simply hate people. And especially people with AIDS and AIDS groups, and AIDS-speak and AIDS-sympathy and AIDS, AIDS, AIDS...
It's difficult enough living with the virus but I wonder that when we work in the Industry, when we are constantly exposed to the troubles of it all and when we need to learn more about it, that some of us become saturated to the point where the sponge simply leaks onto the counter. There isn't room for anything more.
We shut down; or we self-medicate - or both.
We batter our heads against the brick wall of burnout hoping that this time the bricks will be soft and we won't be hurt. But each time I smash my head against the wall, I'm simply reminded that there is a definition of insanity and I, in fact, need to be locked in a padded room.
Compassion has a life span, and paycheques don't bring light to the darkness when there's seems to be no light left anymore.