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.

Rich and Privileged

We have a sign on the chalkboard in our kitchen that reads “Rich and Privileged” – and it has nothing to do with money....and it has nothing to do with money.

Let me clear something up. We are neither rich, nor privileged in the biblical sense. There is no old money in my family (in fact there is NO money in my family!) and there is no peerage status awaiting either of us.

I was at Tesco on a gorgeous sunny day recently, when I was greeted by some wonderful customer service. One of the men who worked there helped me with my groceries and took me to an empty register.  He didn’t have to do that, but was just being generous. When I got to the counter, I said to the woman who was serving me, “you poor thing, inside here with a jacket on, whilst the sun is shining outside”. She said to me “Oh, I’m not poor darling, not by any standards, I’m rich in SO many things!” She was Jamaican as I found out later, so you can imagine that statement just sounded so much more gorgeous with that beautiful accent!

I agreed with her and told her that there was a sign in my kitchen which has been in our house as long as we have, almost 4 years. This past year hasn’t been our best, certainly not financially and certainly as I haven’t worked for 3 months or more this year. Some of my friends have given me sympathy and are supportive and wonderfully empathetic. Of course it’s tougher living on one wage than it is on two, but good heavens, there are a few million people in the world worse off than me!

Every day of this wonderful life, I am grateful for everything I have. One of my favourite sayings is that I have two legs and I’m breathing, and that’s a jump on some. Every day that my feet hit the ground – well you know what they say – Any day above ground is a good one. I’m fortunate that I have this mindset. It hasn’t always been with me and there are some days it is tested. But I have so many living examples close to me of people who are worse off than me, that I am grateful, just grateful. (Comparing myself to others isn’t the sole purpose for feeling this way, I do still justify and have my own feelings; can recognise and appreciate them for what they are – for all the psychologists reading this!)

Apart from waking up with all my body working, including the breath part – seriously what else could be wrong? I’ve used applied this mindset lately more than ever during the time I have been looking for work. Every day I get up and think it is an opportunity to re-invent myself. Not that I hate the me I already have, but if you can, why not?

Every day I think there are people out there in recruitment land who haven’t heard of me, so it’s my job to change that. It’s a numbers game. I want to get back into something I haven’t done in a while, so I know it is going to take some time. I also haven’t done much Change stuff in the UK (which by the way recruiters, doesn’t actually mean I can’t do it!) I also don’t have a linear CV – it doesn’t read like a straight HR pattern, one HR role into the next.

I’ve been selected for my career roles because of my attitude. I’ve also succeeded at them because of this attitude and that’s a hard thing to put on a CV. I have won jobs due to my attitude and kept them because of the skills I have learned and applied. My old favourite saying “recruit for attitude, train for skill” gets tested when people only look at the skills side of the equation. Something wrong with that standard recruiting model perhaps?

So, given that I already think I’m streets ahead before I get out of bed, the rest of the day can only go well right? To be able to use the internet, make phone calls; to be able to read and write and cook my own food without hunting it; these are things we take for granted every day. In my world, we have smart phones, laptop’s notebooks, tablets – every imaginable way to make contact with people. I live in a city of more than 12.5 million people. A lot of us are out of work. However, a lot of us are far worse off than me.

I’ve always given thanks, way before Oprah made it trendy. I’m still not sure who I’m giving thanks to – (but that’s another post). I just believe we can be thankful for all the things we take for granted.  I won’t go into the people who inspire me every day, they know who they are. And there are millions of people I don’t know who inspire me every day. They aren’t the usual heroes of everyone else.

Even though I am a massive sports addict and I am convinced there is an athlete buried under here somewhere, sports people aren’t the ones who drive me. I’m not saying they aren’t inspiring, but I do get my inspiration from people who just have a great handle on the balance in their lives.

I get my inspiration from people who do jobs they hate, because there is a greater good; from people who have problems in their relationships and fight to keep going; from people who have made massive life decisions and have had massive life decisions thrust upon them. I get motivation from people who are the antithesis to all these things. If we can’t see the truth and beauty in other people, learn from them and adapt those lessons to ourselves, what on earth are we doing here?

Please don’t think I am a Pollyanna, I don’t “DO” this to win points or to write great blog posts! I am optimistic and I am positive – and yes, those two things are different. I believe we can always be more, and I believe we can learn all of these things. One of the remarkable books I have read in my life is Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman. To say it changed my life is an understatement.

We are 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it. It’s a choice. We choose our reactions, our mental state (mostly), our surroundings. If we don’t like it and it starts to go a bit off course, then we have the power to change it.

A recently appointed mentor of mine (although he may not yet know that!), recited a story to me about going to a circus as a young child. He watched the clown practice and practice and practice juggling. He got it right most of the time, and when he didn’t, nothing happened. No attitude, no despair, no reprimanding himself because he had got it wrong. He just kept going. What a gift, to have obstacles put in your way that will make you fail – and go on regardless.

In my rich and privileged life, I am taking the lessons from the clown and applying them, one day at a time.