Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Trouble With Being An Empathetic Person

I am an extremely empathetic person. I mean that in the true sense of the word. I physically, emotionally, mentally feel for others in a way that can be detrimental to my health. So I understand people. Intuitively. I don't have to make an effort, it just happens. Someone speaks badly to me? They must have had a bad day. Someone does something that hurts me? They weren't trying to, I know they're really a good person. Someone need me to do something for them? Wouldn't I want the help if I asked for it? Dog has an accident? Well, I mean, if I could only get to a bathroom the few times a day that someone commanded I could, I'd be in trouble!

This way of feeling, of thinking, has its advantages of course. I'm always there to listen, to support, to help. I can often understand those who feel like nobody understands them. The ability to help others gives me a purpose. If there was such thing as a professional helper, it would probably be my ideal career. I don't have a ton of "skills" to offer the world per se, but the ability to help people allows me to give of myself what I can.

The trouble with being an empathetic person is that eventually, one of two things happen.You may give so much that you draw out what should have been for yourself in order to keep giving, and you collapse into yourself and withdraw quietly from the world except for to help people. Or you break. The next person who tries to take advantage of your understanding nature is going to endure the most out of proportion anger that they have ever seen. They are going to say something hurtful or speak in a tone you don't like and all hell will break loose. Because you just cannot give one more ounce. Sometimes, these two happen in conjunction. You try to keep drawing from yourself, but eventually, you can't. The only option you have is to fight back, and fight back you will.

And because everyone is so used to you being understanding and caring and giving, they don't understand what's happening. Unless they, too, are a truly empathetic person at their core, they don't see that you have no other choice but to recede or break. They don't understand why you "can't handle it". They don't see that your tears and frustration and anger at this one situation are not about that situation at all, but built up from weeks, months, maybe even years. They don't see that you have finally had enough. Nor do they understand when you completely withdraw. It confuses them to see this warm, loving, giving person completely turn in on themselves. They can't comprehend why someone who usually is so open suddenly folds in, placing a wall around themselves. So I will tell you: It is self-preservation. It is trying to save ourselves so that one day again soon, we can continue helping you.

When this happens, please do not push us beyond our means. It's not that we don't want to help, truly. It's that we cannot. And we won't be able to until we replenish for a bit. We are not selfish or self-serving or thoughtless or heartless. We empathetic people are drawn dry. This is all we can do. We are finally giving ourselves what we've always given you. Because we, too, deserve it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Depression Is...

Depression varies from person to person. It varies in severity and how the symptoms manifest. It varies in frequency and length. It varies from one bout to the next, even within the same person. So I can't tell you what depression is to everyone, all the time. But I can tell you what it is to me.

Depression is not seeing a reason to get out of bed.

Depression is crying all the time, even when you don't know "why".

Depression is feeling worthless and hopeless.

Depression is feeling like you are never enough.

Depression is feeling unable to enjoy even the most joy-filled ocassions.

Depression is feeling like you are going to be emotionally torn apart.

Depression is feeling constantly overwhelmed.

Depression is not being able to feel anything at all.

Depression is feeling hollow and empty.

Depression is feeling isolated and alone.

Depression is feeling like nobody understands you.

Depression is physically, mentally, and emotionally painful.

Depression is complete exhaustion all of the time.

Depression is putting on the mask and hiding behind a smile.

Depression is wanting to disappear.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why I'm Making A Concerted Effort For More Off-Screen Time

I realize the irony, writing a blog about how I'm going to be on my computer less. But I promise this is during my scheduled "screen time" (explained below).

First, let me say that I do value the convenience of the screen and the internet and the connectivity it gives us. I have friends half a world away, and it allows us to communicate without phone bills that ranges in the hundreds (also it allows me to not have to talk on the phone). So I'm not one of those "these kids these days and their Facebook" people. Not by a long stretch. But I have been noticing something. The more time I spend on the screen, the more I see the following effects:

  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Inability to focus
  • Neck/shoulder pain (from being hunched over some sort of electronic device, I presume)
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Anxiety/anger/frustration numerous other emotions that are triggered by posts/emails/etc
  • Exhaustion
  • Missing what's going on around me
  • Lack of connectivity with people (ironically)
  • Weight gain (yeah, not kidding, I'll attempt to explain this one)
  • The inability to not be on the screen in some form

    Now, many of these are part and parcel to my illnesses in some form. I have suffered from migraines as long as I can remember. I have MECFS so am often exhausted. I suffer from anxiety and a mood cycling disorder, so feeling overwhelmed, unfocused, and anxious is basically a daily occurrence. But I do feel that these are being enhanced by screen time - and to clarify, by screen time I mean anything that involves a screen, which includes social media, emails as two of the big "offenders", so to speak. I'm going to address these one by one, to try to explain as well as possible. 
    • Headaches/Migraines: First off, it's pretty common knowledge that staring at a screen for hours can cause headaches. To be honest staring at anything nonstop for hours probably would cause a headache. If a migraine is coming on, the light and the fine-tune focus of staring at words on a screen don't help alleviate it. 
    • Inability to focus: my senses are super sensitive to stimulation, so with numerous email accounts and social media accounts, jumping back and forth trying to give the right amount of time to everything is too much. It's like standing in the middle of Times Square on a Saturday night with every sound and light surrounding you, and having to focus on one particular thing. Eventually my brain gets overloaded and I can't focus on anything. 
    • Neck/shoulder pain: sitting in a chair all day is tough enough. So hunching over a computer at work all day, then going home to sit on the couch or in the car or wherever and hunch over my phone exacerbates it. This also doesn't help the headaches, by the way. 
    • Feeling overwhelmed: as I mentioned in "in-ability to focus" sometimes it all gets too much. It builds up, and I feel like I have to not only be continually checking everything that could possibly come through my screen, but understanding and responding to it. After a while, it becomes a blur and builds up and I break down. 
    • Anxiety/Anger/Frustration/emotion: You can only read so many emails and posts about everything that needed to be done yesterday and every disaster and everyone's differing opinions and everyone arguing about those differing opinions and everyone being angry at some person or group before you implode. Or at least that's the case for me. For someone who feels these emotions in such a raw, truly empathetic way, even when they aren't directed at me, it's too much. I start to break down. 
    • Exhaustion: All of the above - the overwhelmed, the inability to focus the emotion is draining. So is sitting staring a screen instead of moving. The whole inertia thing. Now sometimes, when I'm really battling illness, I need to sit back and relax an watch mindless tv. But I still don't need to be checking email every five minutes. In fact, then I especially don't need to be checking email every five minutes. 
    • Missing what's going on around me. This is pretty obvious. Looking intently at screen = not looking intently at surroundings. My brain tends to focus so fully on something to block out all of the other stimuli, which will otherwise distract me, that there are times where people have come up and been talking to me for five minutes before I actually hear them. Not because I'm intentionally not listening. But because in order for me to focus I need to block out everything else. That means you too. 
    • Lack of connectivity with people. See above. Missing real life conversations to read emails. Also, thinking 'I'll just message this person on Facebook to see how they are" instead of saying, "hey want to grab a coffee and catch up?" when they live two blocks away. It's way easier to type "we need to get together soon" than actually make the effort to do so. Times when I'm flaring up, it's helpful to have different ways of communicating. But for people nearby, I hate when I feel online replacing actually seeing them, when we're both up to it. 
    • Weight gain: While I'm sitting on email (not at work)/social media/whatever other screen, I could be doing something, anything, that didn't involve me sitting not moving for an hour or more. The ease of "experiencing" everything from my screen means I move less. Thus, weight gain. Again, when I'm especially ill, sometimes I just need to appreciate the connectivity and deal with the weight gain. But when I'm not, there's no need to be just looking at a friend's pictures of a hike or a visit to the local market or whatever it is, when I could actually be doing it myself. 
    • Inability to not be on the screen. To me, this may be the worst. It's become my go-to instinct to check my phone when there's literally any spare moment. No need to soak in my surroundings, or talk to someone near me or do something creative or just enjoy being silent for a moment. My phone is always there and waiting for me, even if I've just looked at it five minutes before. 
    To be clear, I'm not bashing email or social media or any other screen-related activity. There are a lot of areas in which it makes life easier, especially with a chronic illness where face to face isn't always a possibility, or when anxiety makes it too difficult to be around people. Plus, in theory, you can think about an email or post, and reply when you've formulated a good, clear response, instead of being caught off-guard as you might be on the phone or in-person. But that's if you can wait to reply, and I'm finding it more expected, by others and myself, that we get instant replies. There are days when I miss the old rotary phone on the wall (besides the talking on the phone part), where if you weren't home, someone just had to reach you at another time. You didn't have to feel guilty not being available 24/7. It was assumed you didn't sit by the phone all day every day waiting in case someone happened to call. And I think that is the key. It's nice to have the option to be on the screen, to connect with people electronically. But it shouldn't be compulsory, all the time, nonstop. We shouldn't have to feel guilty about spending time with friends and family, or even by ourselves, instead of being online, especially the evenings, weekends, holidays. It's funny, how so many people in my age group talk wistfully about the days when kids played outside instead of on their phones and ipads, and yet we ourselves often feel the urge to be connected nonstop. Quite frankly, I probably could benefit from playing outside more myself! 

    So I'm working on changing this for myself. I'll be checking emails and social media in chunks of time (especially when I'm not actually at the office, checking office email). I will have specific times devoted to each area that requires my electronic attention. And people understand that in any truly urgent/emergent situation, they can text me, or call me if absolutely necessary. Aside from these instances, the world will not stop if I don't check email for a couple of hours, or longer on the weekends/evenings, an that's reassuring. I'd never want to be in such a position that it did.