I’m An Empath, So Why Can’t I Cut Myself Some Slack?

I’ve been really grumpy over the past few weeks. I can tell I’ve not been my usual happy-go-lucky self because I’ve seen that fear in the old man’s eyes each time we pass each other in the house, in response to which he has been uncommonly brave and accused me of “unreasonable behaviour” several times.

Photo by Dale de Vera on Unsplash

We’ve both been under pressure, having recently completed our fifteenth house move since we met. I won’t bore you with the details, but sadly the landlord of the lovely pad we moved into in March last year decided to sell it for silly money. Fortunately for us, our agents took on this cute little townhouse around the same time, and aside from a whining dog next door, blinds that bang, and ridiculous Sydney temperatures that turn our bedrooms into private saunas at night, we’re settling in really well. 🙂

I won’t lie, if I hadn’t been forced to work on the day of our move, I suspect that the house would already look like it had been professionally styled, at whatever the cost to my health. So it was fortunate, I suppose, that I had to leave the management to the old man – whose priorities seem to have been moving boxes of stuff we don’t use from one cage to another.

You see, what the move did highlight is how much pressure I put on myself to do everything perfectly

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself when, in general, I would describe myself as an empath to everyone else. I truly believe that my journey with Kurt has made me more compassionate towards the plight of those less fortunate. Furthermore, I like to think I’m a good person to have around in a crisis – if someone gets ill or is blindsided by something unexpected.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no saint, but I rarely judge others unless I am judged. For example, when I pass overweight people on my walks, I don’t judge them for their size. My default setting is to commend them internally for trying to change their lifestyle. It’s the same when I hear stories about the acts of the mentally ill or even paedophiles – I’m always trying to find reasons why they behaved that way or excuses for what they did.

I felt nothing but sadness for the plight of Joachim’s character in Joker, in spite of the way he handled his trauma

But strangely, I don’t seem to have those same reserves of empathy when it comes to myself. Like so many of us – on this endless treadmill in search of perfection – I never sit back and say ‘well done’ to me.

Each time I look back on what I’ve achieved, it seems insignificant – certainly not the sort of achievements that deserve a bottle of bubbly or a work jolly

Why is the expression ‘it’s the taking part that counts’ considered loser’s talk? Social media has pushed us all aspire to be what (perhaps) only the top 5% of people manage to achieve, i.e. public recognition for their success in some domain, and yet we choose to measure ourselves by these people – models, actresses, perfect mothers, successful career women – rather than “good” people.

The way the media handled Kobe Bryant’s death was a great example. Kobe was put on a pedestal while there was barely a mention about the other people in that helicopter, who presumably had successful lives and families that would miss them as well.

I’ll save the question of how we measure success for another day

But if you’d asked me ten years ago if I ever saw myself as a paid writer, I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here I am – achieving something I am hugely proud of and fulfilled by on a daily basis.

Needless to say, I had to reinvent myself AGAIN to do it – a problem many women face when they need a job that fits in with family and lifestyle and the reason the list of jobs on my resume reads like a Jill Of All Trades – most of which I have no real qualifications for. But luckily for me, I am good at being in the right place at the right time, I’m a great bullshitter, and (apparently), I look trustworthy.

I’m not sure why we feel the need to keep ramping up our personal goals without acknowledging the stepping stones we cross along the way? Small achievements are still achievements, aren’t they?

Over the past few months, I’ve lost nearly two kilos through sheer willpower. I’ve never felt as hangry in my life and I still can’t get into my old clothes, but I am achieving my goal – which is what I set out to do. So why aren’t I happy about it? Why do I always focus on the days that I gained weight rather than the ones when I lost? Why do I keep doing a job that I find stressful, particularly when I’m balancing it with Kurt’s needs, house moves and writing goals?

Have you done anything recently that you should have celebrated, but never got around to it?

There Is No Better Education In Love, Compassion And Empathy Than Having A Child With Special Needs

A few weeks ago we went to a fundraiser. It was a black tie event to raise money for the family of an old colleague of the old man’s whose son broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord in a freak rugby accident recently.

Alex Noble is their son’s name, and if anyone feels like funding a real cause, as opposed to other, less noble causes, please feel free – here is the link to his GoFundMe page.

At one point in the evening, Alex’s parents stood up on stage to tell us a little about his story, his progress, and their plans for the future – should they reach their target that night to secure the funds they need to renovate their house, meaning he can eventually come home.

“There’s not a lot of joy in my life right now, but there’s a lot of love,’ his mother said.

It was a comment that hit me hard, because albeit that in terms of bums on seats that night, there was a wonderful level of support in the room, as a mum who is also a part-time carer of an adult dependent, (as well as being a professional cynic), I did wonder how many guests would be there for the long-haul of Alex’s journey, once the glitter is swept away.

Many of the guests were close friends of the couple or friends of their son, so in some ways it felt almost voyeuristic to be there, to witness the pain and rawness caused by such a cruel twist of fate; to sense the fears that his family feel in terms of the uncertainty of Alex’s and their future.

When we plan our children, we never anticipate for one moment that things won’t work out like the parenting manuals told us they will, so I understand what Alex’s Mum was trying to say. I’ve felt that way many times with Kurt – because let’s not underestimate the devastation caused by mental illness or disability, either. Indeed, it was only a week before that I thought that we had lost our son?

Scratch the surface and there is heartache in every family. I can’t tell you the number of times people open up to me about siblings or relatives with mental health issues who have been hidden, the skeletons in their cupboards.

But Alex’s Mum was right about how adversity cultivates love. Because in return for the pain caused by our son’s neuro-diversity, we have been given an education in love, compassion and empathy, and we are better people for that. We are as proud of him as we are of NC – much to her horror. While his steps forward have been slower, they have been celebrated with the same enthusiasm as hers, and his progress has provided us with an invaluable insight into how society should be measuring success.

Admittedly, there have been times when there’s not been a lot of joy in caring for someone who may never get better, and I wouldn’t wish our experience or that of Alex and his parents on anyone. Before his accident, they would have been looking forward to the last chapter of their lives as independent once again, but the ramifications of his physical disability may be lifelong, and they will affect not only them, but his siblings, and possibly future generations of their family.

I’m glad that they feel loved and supported. I hate cliches, but shit like this does make you stronger, because you have no choice but to be strong. But as I said, there are hidden benefits to life’s knocks such as this. While they will have to reset their expectations of Alex, his milestones will be as meaningful as those of his siblings – if not more so. And though it may feel painful at the time, this tragedy will draw a line in the sand between their true friends and their fair weather friends, because they won’t have time for games.

But they will be tired all of the time and there will be days when they feel like they can’t go on and will question why me? So I suppose what I really want to say to all those parents battling through each day with kids with disabilities or dependencies, is that your joy may well be diminished, but like a flower in summer, your heart will be opened to maximum capacity.