ASK DENISE: Nurse getting tired of caring for people, but no one caring for her

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Editor’s note: Writer’s answers do not reflect those of the Mitchell News-Journal and are not meant to replace medical or mental health care.


Dear Denise: I am a nurse who works at a large medical center out of town. We are busy, and I deal with people every day who are suffering from possibly terminal illnesses. I also am a single mom of two grade-school aged children. 

This past week, as I was getting ready for work, my beloved dog had a seizure and had to be rushed to the vet. I was about a half-hour late for work. A patient I see weekly to draw her blood had been waiting for me. She was upset because she had been kept waiting. I apologized and explained to her what happened. She brushed it off like my issue was nothing and, in so many words, said it didn’t matter. I felt myself getting very upset. I am just getting tired of caring for people day in and out, and no one ever caring for me. 

Is this wrong? I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

Dear Reader: You may be beginning to feel the signs of “compassion fatigue.” Compassion fatigue is different from burnout because compassion fatigue is an emotional and physical burden created by the trauma of helping others in distress, and burnout results from the stresses in the work environment. 

Compassion fatigue is also sometimes called “Secondary Trauma Syndrome.” Those of us in the caring professions – medical personnel, therapists, social workers, EMTs and animal rescue groups, to name a few – are at great risk of this problem. We work day in and out, absorbing the trauma of those we care for and often neglect our own needs. After a while, if we aren’t exercising good self-care, we become “filled up.”

Imagine for a second a standard sponge. While it is dry, it can absorb quite a bit of water. But once it gets saturated, it can’t mop up another drop. If you want to continue using that sponge, you need to wring out the excess water. Apply that same policy for yourself. Be aware of what your body is telling you instead of ignoring it, hoping it will go away. Schedule time every week just for you. Have someone you can vent to, whether it is a friend or a professional. Take some time off if possible. Set boundaries and leave work at work. 

Most of all, accept that you are one person doing the best that you can, and there is no way you are going to make everyone happy all the time. 

So, make yourself a priority, since you are not any good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself.


Dear Denise: I am an older woman, and I have always worn my hair long. I keep the ends trimmed and neat. My friends are all telling me I am too old to have long hair and I should cut it short. 

At what age do you think a woman should cut her hair short?

Dear Reader: A woman should cut her hair when she wants it short, and not before.


Denise Harrison is a Licensed Counselor in Spruce Pine. Send questions to or call and leave a message at 828-467-0037. Submissions are anonymous.

The MItchell News

Mailing Address: PO Box 339 
Spruce Pine, NC 28777 
Phone: 828-765-7169
Fax: 828-765-1616