Compartmentalization. It’s a big word for a bigger concept. We all have the ability to varying degrees to create divisions between different aspects—or more specifically, the demands—of our lives. It’s necessary to be able to handle multiple tasks at the same time while still being fully in the moment for each one in turn.
Having been a teacher for over half my life, I certainly saw how educators must have this ability to a heightened degree. On a daily, hourly, even minute-by-minute basis, we are called upon to respond to individual students, fully engaged in their needs while putting somewhat to the side all the other concerns of the moment. The best teachers become masters at this. Students feel they are heard and the environment maintains balance.
A close relative is a veterinarian, which role similarly demands that she can switch back and forth between patients and their owners rapidly, efficiently, without showing the strains of the day, much less any stresses in her own personal life. Since she is an emergency hospital veterinarian, every situation requires not only her full attention and skills, but also her ability to create a stable environment in what could easily become chaotic.
Her all-too-common reality is to have to give hard diagnoses to owners one after another, and on this occasion, concerning no fewer than ten patients. When on her eleventh one, the patient’s owner challenged the vet that she could have broken the bad news more sensitively. The vet herself knows that perhaps on another day with only maybe six hard cases, she could have, should have.
But she knows it is unprofessional to let this eleventh patient know of the kind of night it had been, even that she had just come from an euthanasia of someone’s beloved pet. She cannot, must not let that reality creep into her justifying her slip in bedside manner. Oh, and she can’t say that her fellow vet’s husband had just been killed in an accident for which everyone in the hospital was not only broken hearted, but all were working extra shifts to cover for the grieving widow’s absence. All in a day’s, or—in her case—night’s work. Her shifts are already 12-15 hours long so there’s a lot of pressure as she is the only doc on during the overnight shift.
I’m sure we can all think of many jobs that require that we are efficient at compartmentalizing. The point is, by putting things or events behind walls, a couple of things occur. First and foremost, those events and the worker’s relationships, emotions they’ve had in sorting everything out still are there in the mind – perhaps even the heart and spirit. These things did not go away when the wall was raised, and, being bottled up as it were, they can build up to create a break down of the basically strong person. It all can become overwhelming, especially for those professionals who deal in life and death actions. A close nurse friend has shared her experiences—without names, of course—expressing her anxiety and even self-doubt that can cloud her self worth.
The second, and perhaps potentially even more devastating, result of practicing tucking away stressful situations, is that the individual must—for survival—build walls between his or her mind and emotions and the demands of their professions. Most would say that these walls affect even their personal relationships.
So, the very solution is thwarted by the wall building. What is needed is to “get it off their chests,” relieve the pressure. Of course, all are aware it has to be an anonymous revelation as there are confidentiality rules that must apply in every walk of life. This law, however, must not keep the sufferer from having the opportunity to bare her soul.
Some—perhaps many—share with a significant other and get assurances that restore equilibrium to self worth. Even so, there is a point of overload for our loved ones and those relationships could be strained.
Is there a solution, a win-win? Actually there are many, but some require more finesse than others. I was recently told there is an online support group for veterinarians, doctors and other health practicioners. I would hope that other equally distressed professionals have begun similar support groups, whether in person or online.
Some might find it difficult to share with others, ostensibly strangers. For those, as well as for any of us in need of any kind of support, there is always journaling. Does it help? I believe so. It doesn’t have to even be coherent, certainly not meant for anyone else’s eyes, but pressure gets released with the sharing.
The best scenario for release and restoration is to journal, share some with a significant other, but save the guts and gore to talk with colleagues. Be careful, however, as there is a reason for doing this on restricted sites, and then not to release so much angst as to add to that of fellow professionals.
For me, the first line of action after experiencing trying events, or even on bad days, is to surrender it to the Lord. “His yoke is easy, his burden is light.” He just wants us to release it all to Him. His eternal shoulders are purposely built to carry these deep emotional burdens. Then I pray for His “peace that is beyond our understanding” to fill my soul. It is truly a miracle to feel the heaviness lift.
The Bible talks of not letting the sun go down on our anger; it also applies to angst. After all, we are basically angry about the circumstance that has us so upset. My theory is that unresolved injury—angst—sinks deeper into our consciousness as we sleep. In the words of a popular Disney movie, Frozen, just let it go – every day. Build up is never a healthy thing.
There will be heavy situations occurring in our lives regardless of our occupations. The goal is to learn how to keep our souls free and clear as we go. Our emotions tell us to hold on tighter when things get tough. Remember that a clenched fist can’t receive. We release the power of our problems by first surrendering them to God, then do what we can to comfort one another. The goal is to not allow the disasters in our lives to lurk behind walls allowing us to close ourselves off to our fellow man and our God.
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