Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Empathy and Its Downfalls

A close friend of mine (let's call him/her J) recently discovered that an immediate family member has a life-threatening illness (it's so terribly difficult to share things like this and maintain anonymity, so you'll have to forgive the vagueness). This particular disease, once diagnosed, has a very short life expectancy--a year, perhaps, maybe a bit more or less. Obviously, I feel terrible for J. I cannot fathom what it must be to be going about life minding your own business and suddenly be facing the imminent death of someone you so dearly love. There are always the survivors, of course, those who defy the odds, but the odds are still not good. As a result, I find myself trying to do and be what J needs right now, to help facilitate the maintenance of as normal a life as possible given the circumstances. But I just can't help but feel that I'm running into trouble.

It's not that I'm over-extending myself trying to care for J. In fact, J is almost as stubborn as I am in refusing to ask for help if it's needed, or at least is still in shock and just unsure of how to feel and act--and as a result, I honestly haven't found much that J will actually allow me to do to help at all. Where I'm finding trouble is that I think I'm just transferring way too much of J's emotional climate to myself in an effort to be empathetic. I've always cared very much for people and naturally do feel like I am more in tune with others' feelings than most, and I know that it can be a detriment as much as an asset at times. Right now with J I can't seem to stop thinking about how awful I would feel if this were my mother/sister/father/spouse, and what in the world I would do without one of them, and what if one of them was going to die--and then I actually start feeling scared as though it were happening to me, or at least sick with worry that it could happen to me and mine. Much of this grows from my love for J, from whom I would spare this pain if I could--but it's not my burden, and I am growing tired of these feelings of fear and anxiety for J and for my own family.

Yet another thing I can't control but can't seem to stop stressing over.

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