When I first heard about the Atlanta shooting, I was numb. Honestly, I hardly felt anything. I knew I was supposed to feel sad and angry like my other Asian peers, but my emotions were not there. Eight dead, six being Asian Americans. A white shooter who “was having a bad day.” Uncertainty whether it was truly a racialized hate crime. It was the same narrative being played out, every time. In a system that prioritizes whiteness, white male perpetrators are humanized while people of color are cast as accidental victims, villains, or extras. George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Isla Vista, and many more. In 2020 alone, there were over 600 mass shootings in the United States. Another shooting was so typical of America, so I shrugged it off.
There are levels of compassion and interest that one can invest in. Personally, I care deeply about my family, friends, and students in their well-being, health, and education. Those are the interpersonal causes that I invest my time, energy, and love in. Then there are the external organizations and campaigns that the world beseeches me to care about - climate change, police brutality, the disproportionate rates of incarceration of people of color, the excessive number of untested rape kits waiting years for a fair trial, the failing healthcare system that uses chronic conditions as a means of profit, the burdened education system, the crumbling foundation of truth and democracy, and the ongoing devastating persecution of the Rohingya people. Of course, there are more that I care about, but I am limited in space, time, and compassion, unfortunately. Like Anna Akana says, “You can’t care about everything.”
Admittedly, I was experiencing compassion fatigue. But I wanted to care. I wanted to educate myself more. These were immigrant, Asian women working hard to make a better life for themselves and their family and yet, life ended prematurely for them. Just like my mother who died from a preventable breast cancer diagnosis. So I read news articles, circulated through my Facebook groups related to various Asian orgs, and listened to podcasts videos that condemned anti-Asian violence and hate. I created a lesson plan to inform my fourth-grade students about the historical struggles of Asian Americans and how to combat anti-Asian sentiment to become an ally. I am often their first encounter with an Asian person.
I taught them the history. The model minority myth. The humanization of those who died. As desensitized as I was, I wanted my students to feel the humanity of these Asian American women who lost their lives when they did not need to.
From personal posts and GoFundMe pages*, I learned how Xiaojie “Emily” Tran would have had a strawberry cream cake for her 50th birthday if she had lived another day. Hyun Jung Kim’s son posted how he lost his mother, his closest confidant, and needed to figure out finances. It was when I saw how tens of thousands of people had donated to raise 2.5 million dollars for his family that melted my fatigue. When I saw the immense support from others who, not only said they cared but put their money where their mouth was, made me feel a glimmer of hope. While we can never bring back the lives of those eight killed, we can prevent more from happening if we break the silence, gather together in solidarity, and tear out the roots of racial discrimination.
Compassion fatigue is real, so process things at your own pace. While compassion is not a zero sum game, we all have a limited, albeit renewable, source of it. Support the causes that are most important to you, while supporting yourself.
If you are like me and are realizing the symptoms of compassion fatigue, it’s important to look out for those signs which include**:
Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
Feelings of self-contempt
Poor job satisfaction
In a world riddled with stories of inequity and injustice, it can be difficult to be aware that we have compassion fatigue because it is our “normal” or standard way of operating in order to go about our daily lives. In order to treat compassion fatigue, some helpful actions to take are:
Talking about feelings with a trusted person and/or a mental health professional.
Learning more about compassion fatigue and how it affects people.
Making a commitment to regularly exercise.
Developing a healthy diet.
Getting restful sleep.
Developing hobbies different from work.
Developing positive coping strategies.
Reaching out to support groups and networks.
I know most of it sounds like self-care. And it is. Before we can care about the world around us, we must first care about ourselves and be compassionate about our needs before we can take care of others. For myself, the treatment is an ongoing process in which I am taking steps to disconnect from the news and reconnect with fulfilling activities. Whether that care takes the form of sleeping more, attending more writing sessions with MindTerra, or talking with your support networks more, I hope you find the time and energy to renew that hope for a better, just world.
* If you have the financial resources and would like to support those in the AAPI community, Sabrina recommends looking at Hate Is a Virus, Stop AAPI Hate, and Red Canary Song. If you have the mental and emotional capacity, you can also help by listening and educating yourself.
**Source: Good Therapy
Sabrina Lee is a Writing Veranda host and facilitator at MindTerra. She is passionate about community-oriented social justice and change and equity for all intersectional identities. When she’s not writing articles or teaching elementary school children, she is reading, baking, running, listening to political comedy, and chatting with friends.