It’s hard out there for an empath.

I always say that if I was an X-Men (X-Person?) my mutant ability would be empathy. This would be all kinds of suck in terms of a super power. Worse than that dude who is see-through and gross. Also, mine would probably be empathy and I’d get telepathy as a secondary mutation. Then I could feel and know how much it all sucks. Yay.

Let me back up and explain myself. I have what I tend to think of as hyper-empathy. I essentially take on the pain of others as my own. I have to be careful with what I read or see or get myself involved in. I have been known to burst into tears at the movies. Even ones that aren’t especially sad. Certain types of emotion or trauma are especially bad. Physical and sexual violence, particularly against women and children, are super red flags. I even have a hard time with humiliation. Even if I’m just reading about it in a story I advert my eyes and feel profoundly uncomfortable, as if I am the one being humiliated. Fandom has helpfully provided me with succinct language for this. These are “squicks” for me. Squicks are elements in a story (the term comes out of the fan fiction community) that you not only do not want to see/read about, but are often triggery in some way. Many of my triggers are triggers because I know intimately how it feels to be in that place. Humiliation isn’t theoretical to me.

When I was a child the world hurt so much that I eventually learned how to shut off my pain. I pushed it deep down inside where no one, not even me, could get at it. I took what was most vulnerable and put it away for safe keeping. I didn’t cry for years after that. Like from 8 to 15. I couldn’t. But there was a price paid. The pain was like a flood: you cut off one route, the water finds another place to go. So instead of tears, my chest would ache and I would get headaches.

I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered psychology as an elective. It was taught by one of the greatest human beings I have ever had the privilege to know: Mr. John Pickering. When I couldn’t take anymore of the pain of life, I confided in Mr. Pickering. I was a junior in high school and had been pretty suicidal for years at that point. He was the first person to tell me that I was innocent. That the things the world had done to me were not my fault. He also told me that my chest hurt because I suppressed my emotions. Not dealing with them was making me physically ill.

That was the start of my re-introduction to¬† my emotions. It took a long time. I thought that showing pain was showing weakness. People would certainly interpret it that way and take advantage. Not showing people how much they hurt me was the only weapon I had. Especially as a child. But as an adult I realized that it was a strength. It takes great courage to show the world your soft underbelly. But for me, there was again a price to be paid. Opening Pandora’s Box meant not ever being able to close it. I went from one extreme to the next. I have often longed for those days when I had the door to my heart tightly closed. I still feel shame when I am emotional. I get tired of not being like other people. It doesn’t help that I feel an obligation to witness the pain others. Too often we suffer in silence because no one cares to look. Too many others are also suffering. I feel like I must look, because someone has to. Pain and suffering should be acknowledged. If I can’t do anything else, I can at least bear witness.

You must wonder why someone who suffers from this would choose to engage themselves in the world in ways that are going to bring them in direct contact with suffering and pain. Or maybe why I would consider a vocation that will bring me in touch with much suffering. All I can say is that I feel a calling. Maybe some like me are put on this Earth for a reason. Is this my cross to bear? Perhaps. If so, I am going to carry it the best I can.

On a lighter note, I wish all these feels let me love easily. Especially romantically. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Other people seem to be able to love so easily, so quickly. I, on the other hand, seem to take an age to get to I “like like you.” I always joke about having Victorian sensibilities. I think part of this is not trusting that I can be liked back. I certainly have enough evidence to support this suspicion. I wonder if I am like the main character in the novel Beloved (by Toni Morrison). The main character is an ex-slave and has had more pain in her life than anyone should ever know. About loving she says that with each child she has she only loves it a little, so that when it is taken from her she’ll have a little love left over for the next one. In a college paper about the book, I directly quoted that. My professor remarked that this was the saddest thing he had ever heard. I understood what she meant.

You might be wondering what set all this off. Well, I was reading a story about women in India talking about not feeling safe from the threat of sexual assault. Someone in the comments said something assinine about Islam (at which point it was pointed out that the majority of Indians are NOT Muslim), then someone else posted a list of anti-woman quotes from famous Christian people in history. I was devastated by the amount of hatred and contempt in the words. That said, I’ve been emotionally raw all week, so maybe I just need to start taking my anti-depressants again.

I am watching Happy Feet 2 now. One of my very favorite movies. Dancing and singing penguins should definitely be an established form of therapy.