Recently, I did an elaborate survey/personality test type-thing involving videos of people berating me, pleading with me, or otherwise trying to sucker me into involvement in their nefarious plots. In the interest of protecting intellectual property, I’ll keep the details vague, but I got my results back, and I was shocked to find that it said I have “excellent access to feelings of joy and love." As a person who struggles with depression, I was incredibly surprised by that. I also scored the maximum possible in the category of "empathy and compassion." (Not so surprising there—I’m an emotional sponge.) And, I scored unusually high in “access to feelings of sadness.” On the surface, it may seem that all of these things are contradictory—how can someone with “excellent access to feelings of joy and love” be the same person who feels unusually high levels of sadness? Perhaps because access to any sort of intense feeling is not discriminatory—those who feel joy and happiness deeply will inevitably also feel pain deeply.
I also think it’s because all of those things go together when you’re empathic. You see deeply into people; you can see who they really are, and what their potential is. This same ability to see into people is also what makes you a finely-tuned emotional antennae, so often, against your will, you feel everything everyone around you is feeling. It is rare that empathic people have anyone to teach them how to shield and set emotional boundaries. It’s all just one big emotional stew if you’re not careful and aware. I don’t know if the survey was any good or not, or how it was vetted, but I have taken a deep, poetic comfort in the phrase “You have excellent access to feelings of joy and love.” It’s a good reminder that I am not, in fact, dead inside--something I often worry about when I shut down emotionally after getting fried by being overly-attuned to other people’s feelings. Or, to say it more plainly, exhausted by my own co-dependence.
I don’t usually have back problems, but this entire week, I was plagued by severe back pain, just before a Big Event I had to put on, with an enormous amount of self-induced pressure to do well. I got into this horrid stress-pain-spasm-fear cycle with it—the more pain I had, the more fear I had that I wouldn’t be able to carry out the event, which increased the fear, which increased the pain. (Can we just pause here to reflect on what an icon of emotional health I am?) At any rate, the event went off well, in spite of me getting no sleep the night before because I was twisting in agony. Immediately afterwards, the pain was about 80% gone. I still have some twitchy stuff going on and I need a massage, but it’s nothing like the lie-flat-on-the-floor-and-gorge-on-Advil pain I had before the event. Maybe I scared the pain away by my event success, or maybe it really was mostly psychological—who knows? At this point, I don’t care. The event is over for another year, and I feel physically functional again.
My friend Frank recently re-traumatized me with his blog post about the New Coke debacle. I keenly remember when New Coke came out. I was around 13 or 14 years old, and I felt deeply betrayed. The crispy, zingy, predictable taste of Coke was the one constant in my life, and they took it away and replaced it with a bland, sugary, lifeless facsimile. I was bereft, and I took great glee in the fact that they were compelled by the market to bring back “real” Coke within a matter of weeks. I dimly recall that this was such a massive business failure that there is a documentary out there on it somewhere, and they use it in business classes now as a teaching tool and a dire warning. Good! Since then, they have left my beloved Coke the hell alone, and I still have one shining beacon of predictability in my life.