Lately a lot of heartbreak has been making it’s way into my life. It’s not my heartbreak, it belongs to other people, but it meanders into my life all the same. I’m not seeking it out, it just ends up in my FB feed or on blogs I read and I inevitably take it in. (There were times, after my loss and after our diagnoses, when I did seek out stories of loss and suffering, but not now)
And more and more, I’m realizing that I’m not sure how to feel. About any of it.
I’ve always been a very empathetic person. My mom has told me, on more than one occasion, that I used to cry when the other kids at preschool did. I was always the first one to run over and try to comfort a sad or angry or upset classmate, but usually their reactions would overwhelm me and I’d end up crying harder than they were.
Not a whole lot has changed since then.
I cry for other people a lot. I cry for the couple in the viral FB video who suffered five miscarriages and gave up on starting a family before a friend (the one making the video) offered to be their surrogate and got pregnant with their twins. I cry for the woman who lost her 3.5-year-old son to leukemia and is now living the rest of her life with no living children (How? Just… how?) I cry for some of the bloggers I follow and the unimaginable heartbreak they face each and every day.
I read their stories and my heart fills with sadness. And then I’m not sure what to do.
Sometimes that errant emotion transforms into anxiety, that it could happen to me. Sometimes it morphs into anger at the unfairness of everything. Sometimes it just quiets into a dull ache that follows me through the rest of my day. More often than not is just settles into a general malaise that coats the entirety of my life.
I’m 33 years old, am I ever going to understand how to incorporate other peoples’ sadness into my own experience, without letting their suffering dictate my mental and emotional wellbeing? Empathy is a good thing–a necessary thing–but it shouldn’t cause you lasting, irrevocable pain.
For a long time I allowed people’s tragedy to feed my own fear. My empathy (if it could be called that) was all wrapped up in how scared I was for the same thing to happen to me. I’m mostly past that now. I have those moments, when–as I put myself in someone’s shoes to try to understand what she is going through–my fear of losing what they have lost overpowers any consideration of what they might be feeling. Now it’s more that I can imagine how devastated they might be, and knowing someone in the world feels that level of pain, devastates me.
I sense that I’m trying to counteract this devastation with a wall of stoic acceptance, but I worry that will quickly solidify into indifference. So many sad things have come across my “desk” in the past few weeks that I don’t even let myself register them anymore. I don’t let myself feel. And while it’s a relief not to take on all that sadness, it worries me. My ability to empathize has always been one of my cornerstone qualities. It makes me who I am. If I have to desensitize it, just to live my life, who will I end up being?
All this is just a long convoluted way to say, I don’t know how to process all the loss I see in the world, or how to reconcile what others don’t have, with all that I do have. And I’m not sure I ever will.
Are you greatly affected by other people’s tragedy? How do you incorporate their stories into your own?