Tag Archives: struggle

Struggling with Empathy

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blogpost. Even a longer time since I’ve had the desire to write one. But I’m trying to get back to my roots and writing is definitely the way to go, that’s what I’ve learned. After becoming more anxious over the recent years, I realized that the first thing to go was my writing. It used to be the only thing I had, and it became the thing I feared the most. Definitely something psychoanalytical about that… but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about empathy.

Empathy is the ability of an individual to picture a situation in someone else’s shoes, to feel how he or she feels. Most people are capable of empathy, and often times, they are able to separate self from other.

I am not one of those people who can do the separation thing. This is a problem.

I always found it interesting that I could be extroverted for long periods of time, and people would automatically call me an extrovert because of how social I am and how easily I agree to hang out and do things with them. Meanwhile, I felt like I was an introvert because I felt like I needed a lot of down time in comparison to other extroverts I know. Yet, the amount of “recovery time” was always significantly less than my introvert counterparts… so I declared myself an ambivert. What I finally realized is that I AM an extrovert, but I’m also too much of an empath.

What that means, to my understanding anyway, is that I take on others’ emotions as my own, and since I don’t know how to distinguish mine from others, I end up internalizing them. Thus, as a natural way for my mind and emotions to re-regulate, I have those moments of introversion. Basically, in stressful environments (schools, libraries, meetings, etc) I become stressed even when I’m not. When people tell me things that happen in their lives, happy/sad/anything in between, I feel how they do and it sticks with me. This becomes a major problem in my day-to-day functioning.

Because, hi, not only do I struggle with my OWN mood disorders, I now have added emotions to figure out that don’t even belong to me! And this is a roadblock to my dream career, because… how do you become a social worker or mental health professional when you can’t separate yourself? You can’t. It’s game over.

So what I’ve learned is that I need to get my shit together (for a lack of better phrase) and address this issue. So my goal in therapy now is not to figure out how to cope with my depression and anxiety, though still very important and a priority, it’s to distinguish what is mine and what isn’t mine. Moreover, I have to learn to be empathetic without losing myself to some empathic struggle.

This is a new chapter in my road to self-discovery… because really, how can I discover myself if I can’t figure out what I’m truly feeling?

If I get any useful tips, I’ll be sure to share them!

 

-Ling

 

 

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Self First

Growing up, I was told that if I didn’t take care of myself, no one else will. It wasn’t until recently that I learned that no one else CAN.

No one else knows what we’re experiencing. There’s no way to truly communicate that. We can try verbalizing or using other means of communication, but another person can only get the gist. No one else knows what we really need. Heck, sometimes we don’t even know what we really need. But it’s up to us as individuals to figure that out. We’re all different, and we can’t go through life the same way.

I was told that my priority was school. That I had to finish school before my life could start. Finish college before dating. Finish college to find a good job. Finish school first! I haven’t finished school yet. I couldn’t.

It’s hard for me to admit because I think it’s shameful. But the matter of fact is, I did not finish college. In fact, I was academically dismissed from two different colleges. Why? Because I never put myself first. I knew I was struggling, all the signs were there, but I kept pushing. I didn’t get the help I needed, didn’t ask for the support that I needed. I was too embarrassed. School was always easy for me. I’m not stupid, and I did well academically. So when I started slipping, it felt like someone pulled the rug from underneath me. Then I became preoccupied with it. One failure became multiple, and all of a sudden, I lost control of everything. I didn’t put myself first. I put other people’s expectations first… or what I perceived as their expectations. The greatest relief for me came when my sister told me, “School is just school.” Wow. I never felt pressure leave me so fast as it did then. She told me that I mattered more than any degree could, and that I needed to focus on myself. I listened for a while, and then back to fitting the mold.

I had a nagging feeling about not finishing school, so I immediately transferred into a different one when I returned to NYC. Let’s just say, that was not beneficial to me at all. I still lacked the motivation, even though I was excited of the prospect of going to pursue a dream career. And again, it all came crashing down. I was not ready for school again. I didn’t even take the time to really work on myself before I jumped back in, assuming I was doing what I wanted and needed. Then I did take a semester off, and in that time I was itching to go back to school. I missed it. So, I thought I was ready. I did my summer class, and aced it. Then fall semester came, and I registered for 5-6 classes. I could’ve done 4, but I am always the overachiever. I felt that if I didn’t have enough work, it would be meaningless. But turns out, I took on too much too soon. So, some classes gave and others I worked my butt off to complete. That was a pattern. I could only handle so many classes, but I thought I was invincible, that next time would be different. Let me tell you, nothing changes if you haven’t changed in between that time.

So, I realized my passion for school dimmed again. Next best thing? Find a job. Maybe working would make me want to go back to school, and it would help me prepare for the future. So I got a job. It was supposed to be part time, turned out to be full-time. My first actual full-time job and I was ecstatic. I went in, did the job, and did it well. I felt great. Then, the stress of the job and my inadequate self-care piled on. Six months in, and I couldn’t manage anymore. Taking sick days, coming in late, just all the things that I should not be doing. Unprofessional to a fault. That’s where I was. The next step from there? I could’ve kept going, my boss was supportive and caring, but I know I was taking on too much and it was taking a toll on me. So my next step was to quit.

I hate quitting. I am stubborn to a fault, and quitting means admitting defeat. That does not sit well with me at all. I also really liked my job, so I didn’t want to quit. But everything my body and mind were telling me was that I cannot handle it. So that’s what I did.

I had to make difficult decisions in order to focus on myself. I like to think that I’m getting a bit better at it. I’ve enrolled in community college now, yeah clearly school still has a hold on me, but I’m going to take it easy this time around. I’m going to take it easy on myself and be practical instead of hopeful.

Keep It Together

“Keep it together.”

I tell myself that all the time.

We live in a society and a culture where it is looked down upon when you fall apart. We’re supposed to be like well oiled machines that work day in and day out. And once we squeak, well, we either need to repair ourselves or we’re cast as an outsider–the weird one, the defective one.

I was always told that I had to buck up and continue. No matter how emotionally or physically exhausted, I just kept going. I kept pushing and pushing to my limits; and that was how it should be, that was the expectation.

I’ve fallen apart a few times in my life, and they were bad breakdowns. It opened my eyes to how detrimental it was to keep going when I didn’t have fuel, when I was worn down to my bare bones. I kept going because I didn’t want to squeak. I didn’t want to set cause for alarm or worry. Most of all, I didn’t want for people to see or treat me differently.

I’d always been called a crybaby, over-emotional, and dramatic. Those were the identifying personality traits, and I grew up truly believing that. So as years past and tantrums weren’t acceptable anymore, I learned to rein it in. I cried myself to sleep, angry that I could not for the life of my hold myself together. I couldn’t be composed, calm and collected like everyone expected me to be. But once the dawn came, and I woke up, I would try my hardest to pretend.

Pretending to be okay when I wasn’t was the worst. It was using up more energy than if I just slumped around the way I actually felt; but, as always, I had to keep a facade. I didn’t want to be that squeaky machine, remember? So I just kept going like that, like the Energizer Bunny. Truth be told, I didn’t have that ongoing, everlasting energy. I was tired. I was exhausted. And I really wondered why I kept trying.

“Why am I doing this to myself?”

“Why can’t I just get my act together?”

“I need to get myself together!”

Eventually, all those feelings changed from fatigue to desperation. I couldn’t understand why I could not function the way I used to, but I couldn’t even bring myself to care. I’d lost the motivation and passion that I used to have. I became a shell of who I used to be. At one point, I was cheery and sociable and full of energy; somehow, it became an act.

But I refused to let the curtains close on me. I wanted to keep going. I really thought I could. Constantly telling myself, “Keep it together.” And I did, as long and as best as I could. Eventually, I fell apart.

The funny thing about your psyche is, is that it can only push you so far. That little engine lied to me, just because I think I can, doesn’t mean I really can. I over-exerted my resources and I came to a crashing halt. The worst part of it? I never even saw it coming. Logically, it was about time, but I just thought that I could keep going, like Wonder Woman or something. I thought I could get by on sheer willpower because that’s what I did all along. Except, I didn’t have any willpower left. Everything felt so pointless. I thought it was.

When I finally collapsed, I decided to take a look back. Okay, I didn’t decide, it was a consequence of feeling like a failure. But as I went through the years, I realized for a good portion of my life, maybe ten years, I was just going through the motions. I was doing what I was supposed to do, not what I wanted to do. I was doing what everyone else did, I was the drone that I tried to hard to be. I wasn’t squeaky, I was just like the rest. The only difference was that the other machines were still going, while I was broken.

I became really bitter and angry. I felt so down on myself and I went through a phase of blaming everyone else. Yet, the other part of me still said, “If only you could have kept it together.”

I’m not repaired. I don’t know if I ever will be. Finally breaking down after years of trying to feel normal and be normal took a toll on me. I’m still struggling to figure out who I am, what I want, and where to go from here. Sometimes, I feel like I hit the rock bottom of my standards.

I try to tell myself it’s okay. I try to let myself release all the pent-up frustration or stress when I feel overwhelmed. Yet, that haunting phrase remains deeply ingrained, “Keep it together.”

I can’t.