Receiving compassion

Our DPSN theme for May is “compassion”.  Compassion can be defined as empathy or concern for others, particularly when they are struggling.  This month we asked our bloggers to share their thoughts on compassion – on how they might be compassionate to others, to themselves, or how they feel compassion affects their lives.  We’d like to hear your views too, so let us know in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.

I suppose you could say I’ve had a bit of a rough start to the year.  Some stomach issues which started just before Christmas 2017 cumulated in finding out I had acute cholecystitis – a condition where gallstones had blocked my bile duct, causing inflammation and a host of other more serious health risks.  I had to have a cholecystectomy (surgery to have my gallbladder removed) urgently, exactly one week before going on a three week holiday in Vietnam!

The good news is that I made it on that holiday and had a wonderful time…only to catch the worst flu I’ve had in years at the end of the trip, and spent a full two weeks in bed on a variety of antibiotics trying to get rid of the chest/throat/sinus infections it caused.  My partner also came down with the same virus, so we were languishing together. Then our poor wee rescue cat managed to get an infected abscess from fighting with the neighbours moggy, meaning all three of us in the household were on antibiotics at once!

Other things have happened too that have been hard, apart from the injuries and illnesses.  My lovely Great Aunt passed away while I was overseas, thankfully after living a full and wonderful life but I was still sad I couldn’t make it to her funeral.  Another wonderful woman I used to work with also passed away, only in her 50s and a matter of weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

And finally, I’ve been dealing with an incredibly stressful situation at work since I returned, which resulted in many sleepless nights.

Now I’m very aware that other people have had worst times than me this year – the recent storms and households without power or hot water come to mind.  And I’m not usually someone who likes to complain a lot, as I know that life has its ups and downs and relatively speaking, things could be a lot worse.

What has really struck me in dealing with all of these things, is how wonderfully compassionate everyone has been around me.  Even though my surgery was relatively common and safe, I still found it really scary. But everyone around me – my friends and family, people at work, the DPSN crew and even all the doctors, nurses and staff involved – were super kind and understanding of my anxiety.  No one minimised my emotional experience, but rather provided lots of validation and reassurance, which I really appreciated.

Same thing with the household being sick.  There were no issues with me taking the extra time off work, even though I just had three weeks off to travel.  Everyone gave me loads of sympathy, both for the humans in the household as well as for our poor sick kitty. And let me tell you, keeping a cat inside and feeding it antibiotics while you have the flu yourself is no walk in the park!

I’ve had lots of lovely conversations with family and friends about my Aunt and co-worker, which always feels good during a time of grieving.

When I finally addressed the situation at work, again I received loads of validation and support.  There was no “we don’t believe you” or “you need to deal with it yourself”. Rather I got “we’re really sorry you had this experience” and “what can we do differently that would help?”  I now have options and access to supports that I never had in the situation before.

And I did manage to go on that holiday!  We had an amazing trip, and I was also blown away by the compassion of the people in a country which has been through multiple, horrific wars and tragedies.  Every single Vietnamese person I met was kind, humble, welcoming, strongly anti-violent, unrelentingly optimistic and focussed on coming together to build a brighter future for their country.  I know that I may have only seen a “tourist’s” view, but their attitudes felt authentic. It really was inspiring to see the power of compassion and connection uplifting a whole country out of such a long and difficult history.

I’ve talked before about the importance of self-compassion (something I work on every day) and one of the core values of my work as a therapist is of course compassion towards others.  But I don’t often think about compassion that others show me – maybe because (like many Kiwis) I try to put on that brave face and tough it out!

I’ve had a rough time this year, and I haven’t tried to hide that.  And I am grateful to have be carried through so far by the compassion of those around me.

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