I'm Dr. Edward Smith and I have a compelling story to tell. Caregiving is hazardous to your health. Hazardous because if we don't take care of ourselves we wind up with either with compassion fatigue or burnout.
I know this to be true because it happened to me, but yet all caregivers struggle we all struggle with the three cultural taboos that prevent us in developing skills of self-care.
Who are the caregivers? We all are. For at the heart of being human is the capacity to care, to reach out to others, and to explore the relationships we build.
"Who am I?" Jean Val Jean struggles to answer in "Les Misérables." He comes to realize his true identity is made from his life's experiences, one of which was to be unjustly condemned for stealing a loaf of bread and sent to prison. The ancients of years ago, would have called him a wounded healer, one who is not perfect, one who recognizes limitations and his humanity, one who is comfortable in his own skin with limitations and woundedness.
At eighteen years of age I travelled across the country from New Jersey to California to join the Hospitaller Brothers of St. John of God. Little did I know at that time, that I carried with me the symptoms of post traumatic stress that would develop into compassion fatigue and burnout twenty years later.
“Who am I?” I ask myself, who as a caregiver for over forty years as a registered nurse, chaplain, pastoral counselor and executive leader? Reflection led me to realize I am more than a survivor of PTSD, Compassion Fatigue, and Burnout. Survivor implies having lived through some traumatic events. Living through them implies making choices to move forward, to seek opportunities for growth, to choose life. One of which was to leave the community of Brothers whose experience shaped my life. Life as a caregiver does not stand alone but is a summary of many stories and people I have encountered. Stories that are heroic and often ordinary. Stories of joy and suffering. I attribute my expertise and wisdom from what I learned from those at the bedside, in the conference room, and the community.
Life as a caregiver has helped me become the person I am today. In my reaching out to those who were suffering, I found that they were an agent of healing for me. These lessons taught me the difference between doing sacred and godly work as a caregiver. I am not invincible. I had to learn the hard way the value of setting appropriate boundaries and the need for self-care. Through the compassion of a skillful counselor, I soon learned how to build the skills of compassion resilience. I learned that I am a wounded healer. I learned that understanding my woundedness helps me to be hospitable to the woundedness of another which has led me to become an author, speaker and a coach for caregivers.