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Written By Aspen S., – Official Contributor of The Crowned Series

They say that empathy is the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing. Growing up, this was taught to us every time we were told to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. This always came naturally to me as I often felt as though I couldn’t fully help someone if I wasn’t sure where they were truly coming from. What they were thinking or feeling in that moment. I had to be present in the situation with them. 

In my youth, this often led to me being described as just being over sensitive as I would cry whenever someone else would cry. A sympathetic crier they would say. In my adolescence I was told that I was overreacting and the extreme emotional fatigue that I felt was linked to poor mental and physical health. I was told that sleep was the answer and I wouldn’t feel such a range of emotion. In adulthood, I was given the opportunity to unlearn all of those things that undermined what was actually going on.

 So, while yes, I am certainly an empathetic crier and will sob at the slightest drop of water from someone else’s eyes, the true feeling behind all of this is empathy. And as of recently I have been feeling all too empathetic, so much so that it had started to drain me of my own life force. 

I have chosen a career in Student Affairs and in doing so I have chosen a lifetime of providing solace to those in distress and those who find themselves need guidance as they develop along their own paths. I am privileged enough for people to share their stories with me and to trust me enough to ask me for advice. But to say that every day in an chose career path would be a lie. The truth is that some weeks are like last week. Last week, nothing was particularly different and yet I couldn’t find the motivation to get out of bed or to do simple tasks at work without crying. Even the thought of seeing my truly amazing colleagues or the many students whose work ethic and innovation keeps me in awe was enough to get me going. I was like a steam engine that truly lost its steam and from the outside looking in I’m sure it was crippling to watch.

But when I truly think back to last week it was much different than any other week. I had four students come to me with information linked to their personal lives that had truly rocked their worlds. And in turn, it truly rocked mine as well. I felt their pain as if it was my own and with each one a little part of me was slashed away. By the end of the week, I was the emotional version of raw skin and exposed bones and my emotional stability was on borrowed time.

Sadly, this was not the first time this has happened to me and I say with bittersweet confidence that it won’t be the last. So as I write this, I think about ways that I can shield my heart just a little bit without sacrificing the empathy that I know nothing but to give.  For people like me, spending quality time with loved ones can always be a game of jack in the box as I never know what that person may be feeling in the moment until it hits me. But at the same time, this quality time may be exactly the type of thing to recharge me. This past weekend I hosted a gift exchange with the student staff that I work with. Despite the piles of laundry that I had trailed around and overall chaos that ensued as a result of the week before, I didn’t want them to think poorly of me. So I found enough energy to attempt to decorate my apartment for the holidays and cook a slew of my favorite dishes. A few of them decorated my very naked Christmas tree (even Christmas couldn’t knock my distress on this one!) and the room was filled with music and laughter. It was by the far the happiest day that week and turned out to be exactly what I needed to start my ascent back to “normal”.  I kind of imagine it like the Monster’s Inc scream meter but with joy and happiness. It was finally starting to fill back up after being empty for so long.

The empathy that I feel for others influences the way that I feel in any given moment. It is my superpower but also my curse as my emotions change like the wind when I walk in a room full of people. But as I grow older I realize that it is neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s all I’ve ever known and I have been told that it is one of the reasons that people enjoy my company so much.  As someone who takes a long time to trust others, I think it is my way of exposing my heart to the world when I otherwise wouldn’t. As I go through life, I just need to make sure I do a better job of protecting that little beating gem of mine.

Aspen S., Official Contributor of The Crowned Series

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