Recently, I went to a funeral. Never a fun experience. However, this funeral like many I have been to, were funerals of people who I knew, but only distantly. I am not an emotional person by nature. Having a chronic disorder, it has always been a struggle between becoming emotionally numb and being an emotional basketcase. Doctors have often told me emotional outbreaks like crying cause stress and therefore, can cause a flare up (or exacerbate one). When you feel sick, you often feel emotional, but when those emotions might make you feel sicker, you learn to suppress them.
However, despite my lack of emotion when it comes to personal problems, at this funeral, I bawled. I could hardly contain myself. This often happens-I will start tearing up watching a sad story on the news about a person I do not even know. It is that moment when I realize another person is suffering that it really hits me. I want more than anything in the world to take them away from the pain.
Now, I am not saying any of this to prove how great of a person I am. I am a good person, but I have my fair share of imperfections like everyone. For example, I have anger problems that I struggle with every day. It is a part of myself that I do not necessarily like and am working to change. The reason I am writing about this today is it was a moment of realization for me. I separate my own problems from myself to the extent that I do not feel emotional, but with others, I take their feelings and hold them close to my heart. Their emotions become my emotions.
I may do it as a coping mechanism–my own emotions may be too scary so I use others to fill the void. Regardless of the reason, I think there is a good result. Through my disorder, I have become a more empathetic person. Empathy was once explained to me as distinctly different from sympathy. Sympathy is feeling bad for a person. The term “feeling bad” puts the person below yourself, looking down on them. Empathy is putting yourself in the person’s shoes, feeling connected with them on an equal level. If there is one thing I can relate to, it is pain, whether physical or emotional. I have stretched that ability to relate throughout my life into my relationships, my career, my lifestyle and my morals. I think this ability to empathize has made my life significantly better and allowed me to dig myself out of a place of self-pity.
Whether you live with a chronic disorder or are the parent of a child with one, embrace that ability to be empathetic. We need more empathetic people in the world. Let it be one of the characteristics you learn to love about yourself because as we all know, many days, we struggle to find those. Spread happiness and kindness because you have a special ability to do so. Everyone has their story; for those of us who struggle from an FOD or another chronic disorder, we know how complex and difficult that story can be under the sometimes deceiving exterior.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” –Ian Maclaren