‘You may be good at your job but is your job good for you?’
Most people head off for a long walk when they have a concern to mull over, I head off on the yellow bicycle.
And I had pedalled many miles mulling over the above question (put to me by my wise daughter) before I reached a conclusion.
As a nurse my work involves ill people and I love taking care of them, helping to heal them, mend them.
But after each long day with them I am so emotionally drained that I can’t sleep.
I lie awake, well into the night, thinking about who I had cared for on that shift. Feeling their fear and fright and pain.
When I am eventually due my days off, usually after two or three twelve hour shifts, if anyone asks me to meet for coffee, I feel it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Couldn’t my family and friends see that I was emotionally spent? That I needed to withdraw from all human contact and build up my emotionally energy for the next round?
Why were they bothering me with such mundane things as coffee and chats? Could they not see I had bigger fish to fry?
‘But you hardly go anywhere anymore on your days off and you are getting worse about it’ My younger daughter proclaimed.
‘Yes I do and no I’m not’ I answered defensively.
When I thought about it, I saw that she was right and worse still what I did in my head and what I did in reality were very different. ‘Oh yes I would love to meet up’ I promised my friends.
‘Where, when?’ I would ask them enthusiastically and then pull out at the last minute using some pathetic excuse.
‘I’m just not good at going out anymore’ I told a close friend sadly ‘Maybe it’s an age thing’
‘Nobody will bother coming to your night out when you are leaving’ Someone once said to me crossly as once more I made my excuses for avoiding the christmas party.
I didn’t care.
In fact I would suit me just fine.
And so little by little I curled up inside and on the outside spent more and more of my free time alone, cycling, walking by the sea, exploring remote places.
Then, after a day or two or three on my own, I would return to my ward revived and ready to listen, reassure, maybe advise and put myself in their shoes again.
The answer hit me like a ton of bricks! (I had just come around a corner and had to duck to avoid a large branch of green and glossy leaves which were growing out across the laneway, nearly sweeping me off the yellow bicycle) As I stopped to remove leaves from my hair I realised what I was doing wrong.
I was putting myself in their shoes! Too much so.
I was literally becoming them. In my empathy I was feeling what they were feeling. fearing what they were fearing.
And I had developed no barriers by which to protect myself.
Along with my almost non existent social life, I was becoming sleep deprived and was overeating to try and keep my emotional energy levels up.
I don’t agree that labelling someone is the answer to anything. (we all have disorders of some kind to a certain extent) but I realised I needed some sort of a label to understand why I had such a high degree of empathy that I was literally allowing myself to become the person I was caring for and what I could do to protect myself.
I googled ‘Empath’ and there I was on Judith Orloff’s piece. ‘ http://www.drjudithorloff.com/Free-Articles/emotional-empath-EF.htm
I researched further.
I read the lists slowly, ticking ‘yes’ to nearly every trait.
And things began to make sense.
A colleague at work once mentioned that I thought too deeply about things, that I over analysed and was overly sensitive.
And I thought I made the decision not to own a TV because it would distract me from my art work and my writing! Now I realised it was also because I found violent, cruel or tragic scenes on the news too unbearable to watch and If I did I would put myself in the shoes of the violated to such a degree that I would vividly imagine it was myself or my family involved.
I noticed that loud noise upset me. I couldn’t talk to someone if the radio was on for example.
Strong smells especially chemical perfumes make me feel ill.
I found it hard to remain in crowds for long periods
I would always bring my own transport to a night out so that I could leave early if I began to feel uncomfortable.
I was highly attuned to how others were feeling, any confrontation between friends or family no matter how subtle made me uncomfortable and I would do anything to keep the peace.
Sometimes I felt I had a ‘tell me all about your woes’ sign written on my forehead as I was often approached by strangers who did just that.
And the worst thing of all I would get a feeling of dread and then I would hear about a major catastrophe.
In fairness to myself I had recognised some of these traits before and had made a half hearted attempt to move away from the kind of nursing that was draining me, but as time went by and there was no sign of any posting in any new area, I settled back into my old routine. Listening, feeling the emotions of others, reassuring, and of course putting my large feet in my patients sometimes dainty slippers.
(Then spending my days off nursing my own emotional exhaustion)
I find in life if you are patient, things usually fall into place when you least expect them.
One day a place became available on a simpler floor.
A floor where the patients were ‘well’ for the most part and came in for simple procedures like hernia repairs (instead of having half their lung removed or half their bowel excised) and went home the same day.
I was advised by my manager to go away for a day or two and think about taking up the new placement.
Instead I stood in front of her, shut my eyes for two seconds, then opened them again. ‘I have thought long and hard and I will take it’.
It was only when I headed off on the yellow bicycle that I took fright over the speediness of my decision.
But I knew if I had done as my manager bid, I may have over analyzed, felt guilty for letting down those sick people, lost courage and stayed where I was.
A farewell dinner was held for me.
To my surprise (and not as the cross person had predicted) many people turned up for it.
I was very touched.
At the end my manager presented me with some lovely gifts and made a speech.
Emotions ran high as, one by one, I hugged them all.
‘You’ll cry now’ One friend said, wiping her own eyes.
But I couldn’t rustle up a single tear
Did I not mention it?
When it comes to themselves, Empaths have little empathy.
I may have come across here as some kind of mad woman or someone who is trying to appear special. I’m not! In fact I am quite ordinary but am very relieved to find it so, as some of my traits worried me and infringed on my life. Now that I have become aware I can work on them! And so I head with optimism to the changes I am making. And if anyone out there thinks I am over analyzing my situation or the change I am making, then remember, I am an emotional empath and that’s what we do 🙂