After writing my last blog and creating the Facebook group Compassion Awareness for Animal Care Professionals I realised how much of a need to keep talking about and building awareness of Compassion Fatigue there was. So when IAATE (the International Association of Avian Trainers and Educators) put out a call for papers for their next conference I decided to submit an abstract entitled Compassion Fatigue – focusing on human welfare as well as animal welfare. What I did not expect to happen was for the abstract to be accepted and to be awarded a scholarship to attend and present at the IAATE conference which was being hosted in the Dominican Republic! Initially I was super excited and pleased that such an important topic was going to be talked about but the closer it got to the deadline of the paper submission the more nervous I got about the fact that it was going to be me presenting! Being so nervous and determined to get the paper perfect (which it isn’t!), I ended up submitting it a week late and then kept editing my presentation right up until the day before. Handing over the memory stick with my presentation on suddenly made it real. I was going to be standing on a podium in front of 60+ people the next day, opening up about mental health! To say I was terrified is an understatement.
Before I knew it the presentation before mine was happening and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. I didn’t listen to a word that was said and had to sit and focus on my breathing before I ended up running out of the room crying. Walking up to the podium I was a trembling mess and when my presentation started my voice kept breaking and the words came out all wrong. I felt like I had been talking for about 20 seconds before the 10 minutes left sign got held up to me and suddenly it was all over and there was a huge round of applause. I left the podium still shaking and sat back in my seat. Next was a break and I was being hugged, complimented and congratulated by so many lovely people. It took hours for the adrenaline to wear off but I eventually started to relax a little and we all celebrated the final day of presentations by having a night time swim in the ocean and dancing in the resorts discotheque.
The next day I still wasn’t really sure how I felt about my presentation but I continued to get compliments and thanked for talking about such an important topic. By the end of the last day I eventually felt pleased that I had presented and although I felt it could have gone better I realised that I had hopefully helped a few people.
I think the scariest thing during all of this was not being on stage talking about mental health and opening up about my own experiences to a room full of people, but being unsure of how the presentation was going to be received. There is still so much stigma around mental health and so little understanding about Compassion Fatigue that I was worried that it wouldn’t go down well. All I can say is a huge HUGE thank you to every single person that attended that conference and those gave me the support and courage to get up on that podium and say what needed to be said. IAATE are such an incredible community and they really made me feel like part of the family.
Also a massive thank you to all my friends, family and colleagues here in the UK that supported me and believed in me. I am writing this less than 24 hours after getting home and I realise now that it was an incredible experience and I feel proud of what I have achieved and I am excited for the future.
If you would like to read the paper I wrote then click here