Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thankful for a blessed curse

I am not talking about my menstrual cycle.

That is an annoyance and one that will, eventually, go away.  It is not a lifetime sentence.

But being an empathetic person is different.  It is both a gift and a curse.  I cannot imagine being any other way, and yet I often wish I could shrug it off as easily as a coat.

My best friend, K, and I used to have discussions in college about our tendency to overthink, which I now suspect is our shared tendency to both overthink and over feel.  It is exhausting.

I have said for many years that I catch people's emotions like a hooker catches the clap.  Having three children isn't easy for someone who has this tendency.  It's is like dodging emotional bullets all the time.  It feels like I have a harder time than many shaking emotions off.  (Of course, I don't know this for sure since I only have the misfortune of being inside my own head and not every other person's head.)

I suspect this is why I can't lose myself in movies and television the way other people can.  Seeing people emote on television is inviting more psychological bullets into my life for me to try to avoid.

One thing I wonder is whether my empathy spawns my anxiety or whether my anxiety spawns my empathy?  Perhaps they aren't related at all?  I don't know.  But I know for certain that fear is an emotion it takes weeks and weeks for me to work through.  I watched the films Melancholia and On the Beach (remake of 2000), and I still am not over them.

Reading is different for some reason.....maybe because it is imaginary and not in-my-face like television or real life.

As much as I hate being empathetic because of the emotional discomfort it causes me, it is also something I consider a gift.  Maybe I'm off my rocker about this, but I almost feel like people can sense it about me.  Kids, especially.  Maybe I am more obviously vulnerable than what I think I am.

I think my honesty is part of it.  I say what others think and are too uncomfortable to say themselves.  Is this empathy or stupidity?  Maybe both.

Every year around Thanksgiving, I try to think about all the things for which I am grateful, and there are many.  Most of them are things I didn't earn.  A family of origin that loved me and taught me responsibility and the value of learning.  A brain that works quickly and makes weird and wonderful connections.  A body that is mostly healthy with all appendages working up to this point.  A husband who values many of the same things I value and three healthy children to whom I am trying to instill those same values.

I despise sentimentality so it is in looking at my life that I acknowledge the burden of these things, too.  The brain that works quickly is also the brain that worries and has caused me pain with its over-empathizing.  The relationships that are well worth it but also, at times, the cause of much worry and anger and frustration.  The mostly healthy body that also currently has laryngitis and nighttime coughing fits that are interrupting my sleep.

These are not overwhelming burdens.  They can barely be considered burdens in the grand continuum of burdens, really.

But in my empathizing heart today, I am with those who have lost mothers and fathers and siblings and children, with those who fear what may come politically, with those whose financial burdens seem insurmountable, with those whose lives are chaotic, with those who learn frustratingly slowly, with those whose emotions they cannot control, with those who lack friendship.

My empathy forces some of the joy out of my personal thankfulness---the darkness and the light combined. 

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