I was in my 40s by the time I realized the average person doesn’t feel things like I do — not even close. Up until then, I always just assumed that when people were around someone who was feeling some sad or angry or even extremely happy, they felt that shit too.
I’m not talking about how it’s sad to be around someone who’s sad or how it can pick you up if you’re around someone who’s happy. I’m talking about feeling deep in your soul the exact same pain another person is feeling as if you, yourself, were feeling it.
I never knew how to describe it, but it happened again tonight. It happens all the time, so tonight isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It’s just another night. My wife gave my younger son, Jonah, a gift yesterday to thank him for helping take care of her while she is recovering from foot surgery. It’s a little book lamp shaped like a snitch from the world of Harry Potter.
For the uninitiated, a snitch is a little golden ball with wings. Well, the day after receiving the gift, one of the wings broke and was barely dangling. Jonah tried to glue it on. Hot glue. Super glue. Nothing worked.
And I felt that. I felt his sadness and his disappointment. I’m a 47-year-old man and I’m feeling the exact emotions of a 12-year-old. That’s a problem.
For so, so many years, I wondered why other people seemed to be so much better able to deal the intensity of things like this than I was. But that’s not the type of question you ask of people. It’s not really even the type of question you can put into words.
Then, sometime in the middle of the last decade, someone told me: “John. You’re an empath. And a really strong empath.”
An excuse me? A what?
I spent the next few months learning about empaths. It was like reading my biography. How empaths feel things others feel. How empaths attract people, even total strangers, who offload their problems on them. (Side note: My most recent example of this is a woman working at a cleaners who detailed her horrible day and challenging life — unprompted, mind you — while I was just trying to pick up some dress pants upon which I’d accidentally poured honey.) How the general energy of your household or community or society can weigh them down. (Side note No. 2: Imagine what a global pandemic does to us weirdos.)
There’s so much in the empath literature about shielding — things we can do to keep other’s shit off of us. It’s basically the idea of creating a cocoon around yourself or turning the volume down from 11 to, say, 4. The problem I was having — and still have — is a lot of that doesn’t work for me. I don’t appear to be a good caterpillar, and my volume knob seems to have been snapped off set at 15.
Oh, there are some things that most definitely work. But they’re not exactly healthy. Whiskey can work wonders for a while. So does chasing after experiences that create a good little happy-chemical hit. Both lead to dark, dark places, I’ve learned.
The reality is, the world is not a happy place. Different spiritualities will try to tell you that it is — or at least that that’s the stuff on which you need to focus. For me, that’s like trying to focus on the lone surviving blade of grass in an entire city that’s been leveled by bombs. Sure, it’s there, but will you just freaking zoom out a bit and take a look around!?!? Human beings — supposedly the only fully self-aware and truly intelligent species out there –are also the only species that hurts others for sport and not survival. I’m pretty sure there’s a lesson in that for those who cling to a higher power that supposedly thinks we’re something special.
So I struggle with the onslaught of these feelings and emotions. Some days — some weeks — it is just relentless. And we haven’t even gotten to the part where we consider the emotions I experience for myself and my own life situations. I seem to be hardwired to feel those pretty damn spectacularly too.
I find some comfort around people on the same end of the Weird Spectrum I inhabit. But even then, not only do I feel them but also all the other thems they themselves are carrying around and trying unsuccessfully to shield.
Listen. I get it. This is all some pretty woo-woo shit. We’re taught from an early age we have five senses, which appears to me to be a big factor in why there are so many of us weirdos. Were we taught earlier that the stuff we feel is a form of a sixth (and seventh and eighth) sense, perhaps we’d be more mainstream and be equipped with better tools to deal with this from a younger age.
Because now I’m trying to not only overcome the reality of being an empath but decades of conditioning that defined for me what “normal” was and what men are and aren’t supposed to be.
So where do I turn to figure all this shit out and live the rest of my life with more serenity than I’ve had during the first part?
I’m open to suggestions.
More From ‘Wrestling With Myself’
One of the great paradoxes COVID revealed in the human animal is how much we need each other while we simultaneously can’t stand to be around each other for long periods of time. Stay-at-home orders booted us from our familiar social circles and, in many cases, put is in direct contact with those we loveContinue reading “A Human Paradox”
Soul Comforts A just-because gift An accidental nap Shared fries A hidden note, found A joined passion A soft hand Communicated desires A hug, freely given A safe landing place A secluded table Memory-filled songs Appreciation, openly stated Take me away from here Take me away Take me Take A common blanket A slow danceContinue reading “Soul Comforts”
I believe there’s a sweet spot in life. It’s that space in which everything just feels balanced. There’s not too much work or too little play, the calendar is just full enough, your friends and family are who you need them to be and you are who they need you to be. Your job isContinue reading “Searching For The Sweet Spot”
My wife and son are going out of town for the week starting tomorrow afternoon, and I have absolutely no one I can call to do anything with. No one. Nobody. If I put in pin in my house on a map (remember those?) and drew a circle with a 50 mile radius, there isn’tContinue reading “Anybody Out There?”
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. The reasons are varied and scattered. Part of it is how much death there is around me. Well, maybe not around me personally. But more than 1,000,000 Americans have died from Covid, and that’s a gross understatement because the true toll won’t be known for years, onceContinue reading “The Night I Died”
There’s been a lot of talk in my area lately about banning books. I love this. Oh, it’s not because I think that banning books is such a good idea. It’s not. Nor is blindly insisting that every book needs to be in a school library to have significance. They don’t. What I’m happy toContinue reading “The Danger of Self-Censorship”
There was a time in my life when I had swagger. I was never the most popular or athletic kid in school, but for a while there, I was a really good baseball player. I could hit. I could field. And, boy, could I pitch. Some of the most “over” kids in high school wouldContinue reading “Welcome Back, Swagger”
Dear World, Hey there. It’s me. John. John who? Yeah, I thought you might say that. It has been a day. It has been a week. Hell, world … it has been a life. Oh. Wait. You need to grab my file? Go ahead. I’ll wait. Give it a good read. Yeah, don’t skip overContinue reading “Dear World, Seriously … WTF?”
I remember well the late night and early morning hours following my senior prom. I was with my classmates on a yacht/ferry/boat slowly circling New York City. I and my girlfriend of roughly a year had stepped out of the madness inside for some fresh air and quiet. Even then, I could only do “loud”Continue reading “A Life Devoid of Friends”
Insomnia sucks. Period. Full Stop. But… The benefit of sleeping extremely poorly for about four months after Longhaul Covid turned my already bad sleep situation into one that was slowly killing me was that I didn’t dream. I never slept deeply enough or long enough for dreams to happen. And in many ways, that wasContinue reading “Dreams”
James was one of the first people I met when we moved from the frozen tundra of south-central Minnesota to the ruralist of rural Missouri in 2009. We signed up my older son, Joey, for Little League right away in an effort to spur the formation of friendships and to scratch his itch for theContinue reading “James Might Have Killed His Dad”
👇 What’s Below 👇On Men and Crying 😭 Why I write ✍🏻Back Crackin’ 👨⚕️ So here’s a thing I sometimes hate about myself: I cry. Like, easily. And often. Or at least it’s “often” in comparison to how often men normally cry. At least, I think it’s often in comparison to the frequency men normally cry. IContinue reading “So Many Damn Feelings — Oct. 22, 2021”
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and even almost 21 years later, I’m not sure how I feel about it. So much of time is arbitrary. We screw it up so badly that we have to add a whole day every four years. So for me, today is just like any other dayContinue reading “Infant Loss Awareness — Oct. 15, 2021”
There’s this state of being that’s not quite asleep, not quite dreaming but definitely not awake. That’s where I found myself Thursday evening at Livin’ Sublime Wellness, my little yoga studio in Wentzville. Restorative yoga is a lifesaver for me. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Not to sound all Hippie-Dippy or anything, butContinue reading “Fourth State of Being — Oct. 14, 2021”
In high school, I was friends with a girl named Denise. She and I were both free-spirited creative types who liked to write. For a time, we served as co-presidents of the formed-by-us creative writing club, and we even went on a date (that didn’t work out too well). Denise was and is a no-bullshitContinue reading “Rocks > People? — Sept. 16, 2021”
Sometimes Things Be That Way There are some days that, when night falls and you take stock of all that happened, you just say — or at least think — “Well good goddamn. What the fuck was that all about?” Today has been such a day. I look back at the waking hours and realizeContinue reading “Why Exactly Am I Here? — Sept. 4, 2021”
Believing in Myself So here’s the thing: I have amazing intuition. Believe what you want about humans having only five senses. We don’t. We have more. And for me, one of my strongest senses is my gut feelings about what to do and not to do. I’ve had this ability since I was a smallContinue reading “An Emotional Day – Aug. 29, 2021”