I know we get used to what we expose ourselves to - whatever it is that we are regularly around, we become desensitized to. During the summers I spent working at a camp for kids with disabilities, I didn't think a thing of sleeping without air-conditioning, changing diapers, cleaning up puke, or pushing wheelchairs over rough, hilly terrain ... all in muggy, southern Missouri weather. Now that sort of sounds impossible. Or at least miserable.
I never really cared for my 1 hour and 45 minute commute (one-way) that I drove 3 days a week in the year after I graduated from grad school, but I got desensitized to that, too. I knew that I would listen to NPR for the first 25 minutes, pull off the highway for coffee (once a week I treated myself to a Panera bagel, too), then start a Mark Driscoll or Matt Chandler podcast. By the time the sermon I was listening to ended I would be about 20-30 minutes away from work and I would spend the remainder of the drive listening to my "Conquer the Day" playlist that I made to help me get my game face on for a full day at a job I didn't like. It was not a fun routine, but it's just what I did and I got used to it.
For a year and a half before Liam was born I worked as the full-time therapist at the advocacy center where I now see clients on a contract basis, just two days a week. When I was working full-time there were days when I recognized that I might be getting a bit overloaded with trauma, but for the most part, I got desensitized to that, too. It's been nearly a year since I quit working full-time. I didn't work at all for 3 months after Liam was born, and then I sort of eased my way back in to working part-time. I have felt the difference that it makes, having more days in a week that I am NOT confronted with trauma than days that I am. It's pretty nice. A weird thing about desensitization, though, is that it usually reverses itself when you remove yourself from the stimulus.
I didn't realize how much more sensitive I have become, again, to trauma in the past 11 months until this week. Monday I worked, as I always do; and then on Tuesday, Josh, Liam and I drove down to Little Rock so I could attend a two-day conference on a model of therapy that focuses on trauma. The conference was great, but apparently my little mind and heart have pretty well adjusted to a schedule of Monday=trauma, Tuesday-Thursday=fun with my son & friends, Friday=trauma, Saturday-Sunday=family days. I discovered last night that my threshold for the amount of trauma I can handle has dropped considerably. I do okay with my usual two days, but four is just too much now. Last night I awoke numerous times because of trauma-related dreams. None of them were super horrible or graphic ... just upsetting and heavy.
When I woke up this morning, feeling very tired and a little sad, I thought about what a gift it is, this ability to have bad dreams because of what I'm exposed to. I often worry that my outside-the-home work will make my heart irreparably calloused and crusty. I'm afraid that engaging in work that I do only because I care about it so much will end up causing me to stop being able to care. I'm not sure how it all works, but I'm glad that God somehow makes us tough enough to handle the work He gives us to do, but then can soften us anew when the protective shell doesn't need to be as thick.