Mental Health: Mental Illness + Disaster Fatigue = Stagnation on ‘Roids

Coming at you live from a bad day. I slept for 12 hours, too exhausted to get up when my alarm went off after the generous, allotted ten. Could-barely-lift-my-head-exhausted. My contact case, typically in the bathroom drawer, was on my nightstand when I woke, indicating some type of night time ~activity~ AKA sleepwalking. I assume moving around unconsciously contributes to what seems like unqualified exhaustion, but why the hell am I on the move in the middle of the night? I don’t think risk of night rearrangement of toiletries is on ashwaghanda’s side effect list.

I’m so upset and feel so helpless about what’s going on in our world. I thought the mildness of New York’s last winter was a fluke, but I haven’t seen any snow in the forecast. Even when there is a rare flurry, it’s been too warm to stick. In Australia, 500,000,000 animals are suspected dead as of two days ago, and I can’t bring myself to google current numbers. The ecosystem is up in flames, and we’ve got an evil Twitter tyrant wiping out an evil military tyrant, causing the populations of their respective countries, America and Iran, to spiral into a hole of fear, worry, anxiety, and devastation as we collectively presuppose the unrest to come. People, often low-income, choice-less people, will die because idiots are at the helms.

I was emailing with an Iranian friend, checking in on her and her loved ones given the latest. While she and I go to school together in NYC and she and her husband are currently in Dubai (where they live), her parents and family are in her homeland, Iran, and these are just regular people subject to the whims of a violent general like Americans are regular people subject to the whims of the erratic star of The Apprentice.

All over social media are horrific images of what’s happening in Australia and begs for money to help the country stop the destruction, somehow, and salvage what they can. My $5 feels like a drop in a bucket that couldn’t extinguish a single match. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, sitting on an estate of billions of dollars, sent their thoughts and prayers.

As a privileged white lady, I have the luxury of logging off all social media / internet for a day, or a week, or whatever, and my world seems unchanged. I know that if I do something like that disconnection, though, I won’t forget that the chaos is still seething beyond my bubble, that the skin of my safe cocoon isn’t and wasn’t ever as thick as I thought. It’s all connected, and it all matters.

Political, environmental, or even just compassion fatigue paired with the spoils of mental illness is a real doozy. I crawled out of bed and the sun started going down in every sense, orbitally, mentally, emotionally, motivationally. It’s hard for me to sit here and write out this worry and devastation and, again, I’m privileged that I’m able to even process and record feelings while so many others are in survival mode.

It’s come to the point that sitting still makes me a part of the problem.

But, I’m mentally gridlocked, and a helpless, infuriating stagnation has descended upon my days. It makes me want to go back to bed, but I’ve got a book to write. We’ve got a world to fix. I’ve got an in-laws’ house to move out of. I’ve got a carbon footprint to offset. I’ve got golden retrievers from the Yulin meat festival to rescue. I’ve got word impeccability to employ and practice. I’ve got guilt about my homeless brother to carry. I’ve got black Americans to champion. I’ve got the exhaustion of feeling like an ant pushing a rock uphill to overcome. I’ve got the worry and very real consideration of whether it’s a good idea to bring a baby into this world to ponder. I’ve got people in my life who don’t think climate change is real, or believe it’s simply biblical destiny and are complacent. I’ve got the reputation of being alarmist, of being too sensitive, of being a snowflake. I’ve got major depressive disorder and anxiety disorder. I’ve got too many plastic bags, too many things I feel guilty about dropping into a landfill-bound trash bag day after day. I’ve got the knowledge that the U.S. military does not properly re-assimilate or care for veterans, resulting in proportionally more deaths by suicide, and I have guilt that the people who read this for mental illness knowledge, community, or solace are getting none of those things today because I’m having a crisis.

And I’m one of the lucky ones.

There are days when I don’t know where to turn, how to cope, or how to move forward. Today is one of those days. Today I feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

I just finished reading Lindy West’s The Witches are Coming, and near the end she addresses this very fatigue with a droplet of hope in regards to all the exhausting current issues we face.

Build it into your day. Every day you call. Every day you write a letter. Every march you march. Tax yourself. Protect your community. If you’re waiting for a grown-up to come fix it, stop. Be your own grown-up. Be your own president.


“…this world is beautiful and worth saving. Do not despair. Despair is the death of action. Go, act, fight.”

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West, p. 231

There is always a day, crystalline, tantalizing, diminishing behind us, that was just before the point of no return. When we knew, but we didn’t act. If only we could go back. Well, today is that day. Tomorrow is that day.

The Witches are Coming by Lindy West, p. 257

I’m surrounded by rich, white people. I am a rich, white people. My surroundings are disillusioned and inappropriately calm, and I do not accept it. Sometimes I need a day to grapple with both my own demons and current events, and while today is that day, tomorrow is another, another chance to restart, redirect, recalibrate, refresh the fuel to fight.

cousins @ 2017 DC Women’s March

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Productivity
Mental Health: Suicide Looming
Mental Health: Spiral

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Mental Health: Compassion Fatigue and Hyper-Empathy

Rick is annoyed that I’m self-diagnosing myself again, but I can’t help it. I was listening to a podcast* while getting ready for bed the other night when I burst out of the bathroom to enthusiastically announce my discovery to Rick: “Hey! I have compassion fatigue and hyper-empathy!” Did I mention I get into bed about 1:00am? Poor Rick, all he wanted was to fall asleep listening to inspiring football stories on YouTube. I just get so excited when I gain language for something I’ve been experiencing and unable to accurately put into words for years, especially as a writer. It was like the time I discovered “dual diagnosis” and “co-occurrence” to describe mental illness + addiction. Revelatory.

This study discusses compassion fatigue due to the overwhelming nature of social problems that leads to burnout. It’s from 1996 and is still relevant. The fact that this is a thing shouldn’t be surprising, taking into account the stressful existence of a 24-hour news cycle. Something else that will likely be to no one’s surprise: compassion fatigue is often experienced by social workers, hospice workers, nurses, and psychiatrists. Guess what I’m talking about next week with my psych?! Cause now I’m worried about him.

I worry about government corruption, our oceans and forests, people without quality / accessible medical care, those assholes at Texas A&M who give golden retrievers M.S. so they can do tests on them, violence against women all over the world, whether people next to me are comfortable and me thinking Did I hurt their feelings? over and over, whether the person on the subway next to me has enough personal space and then arranging myself so none of my belongings are in it**, whales in captivity not getting to swim long distances with their family members, the whale pup at SeaWorld who got taken away from its mom who then just sank to the bottom of her tank and audibly cried for days, whether the man running the newsstand downstairs is happy, the time I saw $20 fall out of someone’s pocket in high school and instead of returning it I kept it and now imagine them not eating for days because of me, racial justice and reparations, the guy in front of the subway stairs who’s leg is rotting off (so I called 911), gay people who aren’t included or treated with respect while I get to go off and marry Rick no problem and am even celebrated for it, hurting the feelings of the employees at Jersey Mike’s when I parked in front of their store only to walk next door to the taco shop, that time ten years ago when my dad called me because he hadn’t talked to me that day and I responded “Do we have to talk every day?”, gentle pigs and cows getting shot in the head for unnecessary human food, forgetting to send a gift or thank you note, not saying thank you enough in general, whether or not my parents are okay, whether or not my parents know how grateful I am, whether or not my golden retrievers are dehydrated or hungry or hot or sad or in pain because they can’t talk and tell me, whether I’ve signed enough petitions and done enough to effect policy change, it goes on and on and on.

I worry about people, animals, our planet, and whether I’ve upset anyone CON. STANT. LY. Like a tick, I feel the overwhelming need to interject to apologize or explain long after everyone’s forgotten about what I’m even talking about. I cannot focus until I clear the air of things perhaps only taking place in my brain.

My parents joke that I sleep so much because I’m emotionally exhausted at the end of each day. I chew through mouth guards, subconsciously toiling away about all the problems in the world, real or imagined. To remedy, I try not to feel bad about having a cocktail and turning my brain off to watch Real Housewives of Atlanta and Beverly Hills. In the podcast* they call this type of activity “babysitting your brain.” You know, just let my brain sit over there for a while. Meanwhile I’ll be over here, strong cape cod in hand, in case it needs me.

Fun fact: hyper-empathy and compassion fatigue can be linked to borderline personality disorder. 🎶 Learn something new every daAaAaAy 🎶

Does anyone else suffer from hyper-empathy or compassion fatigue? Do tell. Revisiting all of my pet worries was extremely tiring to write, so I’m gonna go sleep for three days straight, now.

*Listen to “Too Much Empathy” from the podcast Stuff Mom Never Told You here.

**The other day I sat on the subway and the man next to me elbowed me twice in the side and, without looking at me, said “move over, you got all that space.” There were several inches between us, our bodies weren’t touching, and someone else’s stuff was on the other side of me. I am so conscious of other people’s space that I went home and burst into tears and told Rick I’d never be enough. Poor Rick 2: Electric Boogaloo.

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If you or someone you know needs help right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.