the heavy weight of empathy

That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Empathy being a burden, or a heavy weight. Of course it isn’t – the world needs more of it. We as humans need more of it – for our fellow humans, for our animals, for our planet. It’s what separates us from our lower level animals. So how on earth could it be a burden?

For me, it isn’t usually. It’s one of the things I seem to have in abundance. And I am so very grateful for it, believe me. Having it means I’m not a narcissist. Good thing. It also means I can help others, I have a clearer window into the world of someone else’s pain or hurt; it means I can feel other people’s pain and excitement and unlimited emotions. 

Having it – I hope – means I am a better leader, auntie, partner, friend…all the endless things that I am. Having it makes me self-aware. It makes me laugh and cry and feel sad and reflect and learn and grow. 

So why is it a burden? As a Highly Sensitive Person I feel. A lot. Not just my own feelings, but I take on the feelings of others. In my case though, I’m not talking about anxiety. I am not anxious about things – I just feel them more intensely.

Recently I got some good news health results. Yippee for me – thank you Universe for all you moved around and schemed there for the lucky number to have my name on it. The professional person who shared my news with me seemed delighted to be the bearer of wonderful news. And then he also told me that I was the ONLY person that he had given good news to. That day was results day, he said and that means every other person who had gone before my allocated 15 minute slot had been told bad news. 

I felt the weight of that statement like a tonne of bricks. I felt the energy in the room that had all day held people and their loved ones hearing bad news about their health. I could feel them all floating quickly around me, darting left and right and over my head. In a panic and a frantic haze. I walked out after shaking his hand feeling overwhelmed. It’s a common thing feeling overwhelmed for me. I felt the pain of his job, I felt the heavy hearts of all the people who had left before me. I had to steady myself in the hallway as the tears very quickly sprung to my eyes. I took a moment. Then I walked into the waiting room – to a sea of faces that I immediately realised may not be as lucky as me. And I felt all of their fear and hurt and anger and sadness.

I stopped again on the way to the car, just to assess my own emotions. I had been given good news right? – So why was I feeling this confusion? This sadness, this tidal wave of emotion?

The feelings I could identify were relief, obviously. Then sadness, then guilt. I think there were dozens more that never made it to the surface.

I was still processing it all, hours later. Was I relieved? Of course I was. Was I worried about it? Not really. I have an incredibly positive disposition and I firmly believe the Universe looks after me. We had words earlier, she is on my side. I felt sucker punched. I felt the weight of the words that were spoken to me “You are the only patient I have seen today who I have given good news to”. This is the NHS. They have 15 minute slots. It was 3.15pm. That’s a lot of bad news.

So, when I talk about empathy and it’s weight and burden, this is what I mean. I am a sensitive person. Sometimes more than others. Sensitive people feel a lot more. We used to be told it was a bad thing to be so sensitive – and I used to believe it. I don’t any longer, that’s not my story and it’s not my voice. I feel more than a lot of people. I feel it like it happens to me. I pick it up, I carry it and it takes me a long while to sit with it, to soothe myself, to reassure myself and to say silent prayers for those who did get the bad news.

I live a life based on gratitude and today there are many millions of things I am grateful for. My health being the primary one. I’m also grateful that I am an empath. I live with an empath too – so you can imagine that car journey home, because he was in there with me and felt that whole wave of emotion, the same way I did. It can be fun in our house – we just pick our moments!

I would rather be an empath than not. I want to feel all the feels and I want to make sure that mine are spoken about, registered, spilled out of me and recognised. I am blessed with this gift. It can be a burden, but one I am happy to carry.

Ships. All the ships….

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about friendship. About how truly lovely it can be and how challenging, interesting and fun and 1000 other adjectives.Anam Cara

We were talking about the “rules” of friendships and how some of them differ drastically, just like the friends. How you can be friends with someone you never thought you would, how those people can change and grow, as we do and how at different times, friends become different things. The friend I was talking to is my sister.

I am so very blessed to be able to call both my siblings friends. I like them as people and I love them as siblings. They are pretty awesome in all they do and they enhance and enrich my life. I’ve got the funkiest 70 year old Mamma who is also a great friend of mine and who continues to disperse wisdom that sometimes saves me from myself. I have friends who are cousins, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces who I love and like and choose to have in my life. They are people I admire, people who have it mostly worked out and if they don’t – well, we travel that journey together.

The older we get, the more we tend to accumulate our friends. Albeit it, the rate of our new friendships may dwindle over the years as we become more discerning and a little pickier about who we choose to spend time with. I applaud people who continue to make new friends as they age, it becomes more difficult as we get more set in our ways. I’m fortunate enough to share my life every day with a great friend and a great love. I’ve made new friendships through him and some of those are strong bonds, as if they were my very own friends, and not an inherited set.

I am SO blessed to have the wonderful people in my life that I call friends. Writing this blog has made me reflect on all of them. There are lots. There are new friends who fill me with delight just being in their presence. Friends who came into my life and feel like they have always been there.  My friends sit in my head in a ring of concentric circles, the close inner ones and the further away outer ones who are no less meaningful, but the “rules” are somehow a bit different. (If you’re reading this, then of course you are on the inner circle! :)).

Quotes and songs abound about friends and no doubt those people were inspired by the special connections they had in their lives, as I do with mine. Friends come in so many shapes and sizes, with many needs, careers, lives and most delightful attributes. Friends can be siblings, parents, relatives, strangers, life-long friends, friends of friends and even ex-lovers. (The “rules” for these ones, are unique right? I’ve never been a believer that you can be friends with exes, but I’m open… and learning!).

I am friends with so many people who inspire me to be the best version of myself. Friends who live all over the world and who I may not see from one year to the next. I am friends with people I met on a life-changing experience who I continue to be in awe of, because they outshine all around them. I have friends who mean the world to me because they always have. One I inherited because our parents were friends. That particular friendship has grown of its own volition and strengthened with time to be one of the ones I treasure the most. One of the men I respect most.

I have a friend I thought I could NEVER be friends with when I first spoke to him on the phone. He subsequently moved in to live with me and he is one of the most treasured souls I know and my friendship with him is a privilege. Another man I have great respect for.

Some of my friends have had the most challenging years of their lives. Some have been struck with grief and sadness and such atrocities that no-one should ever be party to. Some soldiered through depression when very few people still understand it (WTF??) They are the ones that I feel closest to in times of duress. As a friend what is it you can do when you witness horrible things? You show up I guess and that doesn’t have to be a physical showing up. It’s a mental connection of some kind. It’s a continued connection. It’s an email or phone call or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram connection. It’s thinking of them and letting them know. Friends who can still be friends in these times are truly unique. They give back when all the life is being sucked out of them. I find they are incredible, caring souls and I am in awe of their spirit.

We are fortunate to have the use of technology which allows us to be more in touch than ever before. Is it the same? Does it count? It does for me. Words of encouragement, words of support mean the world to me. Questions about how are you doing? What did you get out of that experience, how was it for you if you like! They count. They matter. They make me feel cared for and important, which is just our basic human need fulfilled.

I am sure that my encouragement and support from afar are also important to my friends in duress. I hope that words of encouragement and support are graciously received in times of happiness too. There are so many shared experiences that I miss, living away from a lot of my friends, but it doesn’t mean I am any less happy or sad for them. Sometimes that’s when the distance feels the greatest.

I have friends who are making life changing decisions in the coming year. They are my special kind of heroes. Follow your bliss, do what you want to do and have the guts to do it, because you know in your heart it is right and true and may cause waves, but they are nothing you can’t handle. Hats off. Some have had changed forced upon them and shine like bright stars that I can only admire.

What is a True friend? I have true friends that I don’t speak to for months. I know that I could pick up the phone and call and be in their kitchen having a cuppa like nothing ever changed. Is that a true friend? I hope so, because my life is littered with those ones! I have friends I would die for, would kill for (only one there, so don’t be alarmed!) and who I also know would do the same thing for me. Not that that’s a measure of friendship. It’s swings and roundabouts with friends. Sometimes you are the leaner and sometimes you are the leanee. If we both had to lean at the same time, that would make for a very unstable grounding.

My strongest, most endearing friendship is with a woman who in many ways is similar to me, but in many ways very different. I love her like a sister and always have. From the first day I met her and we didn’t stop talking until the wee hours. Someone I would lay down my life for.

Friendships grow and change and they come in all forms. They are without judgement. That’s a very difficult one to hold onto, but that’s the absolute glue of a friendship.

They are the ships, true ships in our lives. Ones that move and change, ones that remain solid and steadfast, ones that were once something else and have morphed into a different ship. Friendships often pop up in my gratitude journal. There are boundless ones I am grateful for. Some of the most endearing friendships to me are those of people who worked for me and endured some pretty tough times to come out as friends on the other side is a blessing and an honour for me.

I hope there are no boundaries about how many friends you can have in the next version. I hope when I pop into the next life, nobody says – “Sorry, you were particularly greedy in your gathering of friends in this life, so we will have to limit you to 3”. I’d be lost.