It took me 49 years to understand that I am an empath. I’m 50 and still trying to forgive myself for being this emotional. As if I need to “forgive” myself for feeling, but I’ve held this against myself my entire life. It is the “thing” I haven’t been able to fix or correct. I feel as though I’ve let everyone down because I couldn’t be strong enough in the moments that my emotions brought them out of their comfort zones. I wasn’t aware this was a bad thing until people expressed that sometimes my topics were too intense, too heavy, or too deep. I have felt it all too much. I’ve cried too many tears, shown too many emotions, failed to bite my tongue too many times, cried when everyone else held it together, and worn my feelings on my sleeve too often. My life has not been filled with others’ appreciation for my rivers of tears. My emotions have been tolerated and I have been accepted, at times, for my sensitivity. But in order to progress I can either forgive, or experience the breakthrough that it is perfectly acceptable to be emotional and sensitive. As my husband says, someone has to be.
I stopped going to certain people when I was sad or dealing with something highly emotional. Like my dad, my dad’s entire family, etc. mainly because they were stoic. And mostly men. I’m not sure which part was more influential. The traditional American masculine attitude, or the Scandanavian stoic culture they came from. An unemotional family at certain depths. They weren’t cold, just private and hidden. Deeply emotional matters were handled privately, without children present, never discussed with others, no ‘talking through’, and rare moments of physical affection or saying, “I love you’s” within our family. They laughed, loved the family gatherings, family stories, and truly loved one another – there was no question we were loved. They were kind, giving, and humane. There were tears when there were long goodbye’s. Tears at memorials. Tears at weddings, etc.
But to ask someone what was wrong, and then to allow them the freedom to cry while they talked to you, one on one, face to face, never happened. It would’ve been awkward and uncomfortable for the person listening. I’d be told to pull it together, act like the men do, don’t cry while I speak, don’t show my emotions openly. Chin up, hold it in and then speak. If you can’t do that, we’re not going to talk. Unfortunately, the emotional distance that developed between myself and others was my coping mechanism and my protective shield. It only took one negative response from someone to forever change the way I approached that person in the future. If I felt rejected from someone I was trying to talk to, I’d never try to share my life with them again. This shifted the energy within my relationships. I would start off “Chatty Cathy” and one comment about my talkative or serious subject matter, and I’d program myself to avoid talking to those same people ever again. This affected relationships with my dad, grandfather, uncles, and some “aunties” that were lifelong friends of my mom. Being that my coping mechanism was effective, supported by my ability and determination to strengthen it, I quit many relationships. I can be as fake as the next bitch, but you’ll never see the real me again or get to know me. I strengthened the ability to shut my mouth and not speak to these individuals. I became better at staying away. This avoidance spread into gatherings and family get-togethers. I would tell myself that I no longer wanted to fake these relationships, when I can read their energy and see the disrespect on their faces. I found myself jumping to say, “No thank you,” when invited to family functions. I had finally discovered my kryptonite. It was THEM. It was the dismissive and judgmental responses I received from them when I was simply being, ME. I had two choices if I were to protect MY energy. Don’t be me, or don’t be present.
After years of trying to not be me, about 7 years ago I chose to remove myself from those whose energy drained my self esteem. The people who did not believe in me or care for me, were my kryptonite. Sure, I could try and develop thick skin. I could try and develop a new personality that didn’t care what others thought of me. I could try to be more like them. I could put on that same mask I’ve been putting on most of my life. But the bottom line was that I couldn’t. And I can’t. The healthy resolution was to pull away. Only surround myself with those who lift me up. By creating this space between us, without them in my daily existence, I lessen my chance of being exposed to that which blocks my energy from the shining sun. It made sense. Intellectually I didn’t understand what I was doing until just a few years ago. I shamed myself for hiding and slowly pulling away. I believed I was pulling away because of my inability to confront and / or overcome my sensitivity to their dismissiveness and shame. I felt like my decision to pull away was childish. My discovery is that I am slowly learning how to care for me. It’s MY depression. These are MY triggers. MY emotional strength is important and pulling away is protecting ME.
Over the course of the last 25 years I have found that I’ve actually been protecting myself when I’ve completely pulled away from those whom I no longer trust. I don’t trust them to not hurt me in some way when we talk or when I share. I don’t trust that I can be myself in their presence. I don’t trust that I will like myself once I’ve seen myself through their eyes. It’s easy to see oneself through another person’s vision simply by the questions, their dismissiveness or the way they ask or the way they frame their responses. If the response to things you share, always begin with what you should have done, as opposed to hearing and / or appreciating what you have done, if you have any insecurities whatsoever you will walk away questioning yourself. It would throw me off every time. I would cry all the way home from family holidays, outings with friends, etc. because I was defending myself in my head all the way home. THAT is not healthy! And when you feel it every time, at the same magnitude, with the same people that you are craving acceptance from, there is no inner voice fighting off the negativity that has spread into your intellect like red wine on a white couch. What’s the saying? The negative is always so much easier to believe. You can bleach it, clean it, but the stain will always be there to remind you. I am not my authentic self if I can’t be me. I don’t enjoy time spent with people when I have to be someone I’m not. I have to act like them, not share with them, not show any (sad) emotion, and more importantly, don’t ever, ever show that life is hard, or that you are human and don’t have great days. It will make them uncomfortable and they will blame you for bringing their mood down.
When the resistance to your deepest emotions comes from a parent, or the adult figures in your life, it changes who you were meant to be. It creates a shift of energy as you mature. You learn to cry alone, read non-verbal messages and dodge emotional bullets. Knowing that I might cry while talking to my dad or my grandpa, would make me avoid talking to them at all costs. It wasn’t until my 40’s that people, whom I deeply cared about and respected, started to tell me that they felt I was emotionally intelligent. It blew my mind to hear such an intense compliment, that contradicted what many adult authoritative figures told me. I was told, “You’re too emotional. You wear your emotions on your sleeve and don’t keep anything private….” “You talk too much….” “You share too much….”
I knew I would cry when my grandpa or dad wanted to talk and I knew they would get angry because I was crying. I was told on more than one occasion, “I can not continue talking to you if you’re going to continue crying. I am not comfortable with tears and an open display of emotion, so either you stop crying or we stop talking.” I wasn’t sobbing. I wasn’t gasping for air with snot running down my face. I had tears flowing steadily as I wiped each and every one before it got to my cheek bone. My voice would crack but I would clear my throat and talk through a clenched voice. If I could just feel that I was being heard, that the person cared about these feelings I was feeling, I could take a breath and relax. But it rarely went that way.
My maternal grandfather would smile out of awkwardness, but not out of impatience. He would just look at me from across his home office desk and smile, knowing I was trying to get the sentence out. And by knowing he was waiting to listen, it allowed me to trust that I could be me. His gentle smile, all the way into his 90’s, helped me catch that breath each time. This was proof that I could control the emotions, if someone was willing to survive the emotions with me. He became the man I turned to for so many things.
When you are not allowed to feel how you feel, but instead feel the pressure to hide those feelings, a shift of trust occurs. Those people are no longer allowed “in”. Especially once you have grown and hopefully had experiences and relationships with people who needed and appreciated those feelings. Once you realize that you are not a horrible person for not being a ray of fucking sunshine 24/7, it can create quite a change in the way you view the world. Suddenly, it’s OK to be me. I don’t have to be what they always said I should be.
Yes, I know this sounds like a lot of blaming others for how we turned out, but I’m not trying to do that. I’m not fond of the way my fragile state was handled, but whatever. I would have benefited from a bit more understanding and patience. They weren’t bad or cruel people. They were simply polar opposites emotionally. Throughout my life I felt flawed because I wasn’t what they kept expecting me to be. Finally, at age 50 I am recognizing that sometimes we need to stop blaming ourselves for not being what other people wanted us to be, and let go of the shame that was placed on us, for simply being who we are. Forgive them for not being what you needed, but forgive yourself also. You have nothing to regret. You are an amazing person, just the way you are. And thank fucking god for your ability to feel things deeply. This world needs your heart.
My bible for the past 20+ years has been The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I look up quotes often to remind myself of the spiritual strength I developed after reading it cover to cover. This is one of my favorites:
“If someone is not treating you with love and respect, it is a gift if they walk away from you. If that person doesn’t walk away, you will surely endure many years of suffering with him or her. Walking away may hurt for a while, but your heart will eventually heal. Then you can choose what you really want. You will find that you don’t need to trust others as much as you need to trust yourself to make the right choices.”
― Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
What’s that thing called when you speak and then realize what you just learned about yourself?…. Oh yah, epiphany.
Inner voice: And THAT is why you learned how to be depressed luv. You WERE the happiest little girl organically. But you weren’t allowed to FEEL anything else. So you suppressed it when your empath self expressed emotional moments. This suppression of emotions manifested into hidden, troubled, over-thinking thoughts. It fed the inner dialogue of putting yourself down and being your toughest critic so that you were prepared for the shame. They were quick to tell you what you “should’ve done”, since you can’t make any intelligent decisions of your own. This crushed little spirit was manufactured by dismissive attitudes, emotional blocking, and a resistance to letting a child build emotional strength, that they didn’t have or know how to develop themselves.
“Whenever we hear an opinion and believe it, we make an agreement, and it becomes part of our belief system.”
― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
The challenge is to stay above the depression. It’s easy to sink. I have sank multiple times. And I have crawled back up multiple times. I’m not sure where I am on that journey at the moment.
Depression at 50::::::
I am now 50, creeping up to 51 and I suffer from depression and anxiety. Two years ago I was diagnosed with panic attacks. I go, go and go. Putting on the happy face, the funny personality, I tell the jokes to make others laugh, I always try to find the humor, and I tell myself that everything is fine. And then I crash when too much builds up. When too much falls through. When not enough is building.
It takes one trigger to knock me over. And when that happens, I hide, crawl under a rock and lick my wounds for a few days, avoiding as much contact as I can with anyone outside my home. I smile big enough to hear it on the phone if forced to take a call; I smile when I run into people; I type emails and texts as though everything is great adding all of the happy emojis to let everyone know, I’m good. But it’s not. I’m not OK. I’m often sinking.
But life is not going to stop for me, so I try to stay motivated. I push through, while trying to build a newish career, finding daily patience in our 6th month of quarantine, while also continuing to attempt to be a positive, motivating wife and mom. I feel like a baby every time I find myself back under that damn rock. Caring for my children brings me pleasure and brings about this organic burst of energy. Children need Mom. Mom responds. Period. But if they didn’t need me, I’d stay under that rock.
My daughters are 18 and 20, living at home and attending college online. They both work and use their money to buy their specific groceries, clothing, personal needs, etc. It works out well for us. As a parent, it’s always fascinating to see your children develop their own mental strength and determination, especially when you might not possess all of those qualities all the time as their parent. Their dad and I divorced 10 years ago but made sure we maintained a healthy friendship. That might be the one thing I am the most proud of, that I have done as a grown up. I continued a friendship with my ex husband in order to provide my daughters with a united family. I knew that growing up with a single mom myself, seeing my dad every other weekend, contributed in many ways to my self esteem and confidence suffering. I did not have the regular presence of my dad in my life. And I had to navigate their resistance towards dealing with one another. I had to be dropped off and picked up at a grandparent’s home, so that Mom and Dad wouldn’t run into one another.
Juggling the emotions between my parents was difficult as well. Mom was hurt, angry, bitter, etc. throughout my childhood. Dad moved on with a happy marriage, more children, etc. and got on with his happiness and enjoyed his new life. I juggled the conflicting emotions between them. When I knew I was about to go through my own divorce and saw the look in my daughters’ faces, there was absolutely NO FUCKING WAY I was going to put them in the middle of their dad and I. Our marriage didn’t end gracefully. There was drama, betrayal, pain, broken hearts….. but I remember telling our daughters, “Mommy and Daddy are really hurting right now and we might be angry at one another, but this will pass. We will move on and we will heal and we will forgive. We will ALL be OK and we will get through this. Your dad and I will ALWAYS put YOU first but we just need some time to heal, but I promise, we will all be fine.”
And we were. We are. He’s a great friend. I still consider us family…. his fiance, my husband, our combined children….. have created a very healthy village. And I made that happen. I made us be OK. I said I wanted it, we talked about it, I made it clear to others that I was going to go through a different kind of divorce. Now, mind you, I have an ex husband who was 100% willing to make this a healthy relationship as well. He had been married before and my bonus son from that marriage suffered quite a bit from his parents’ drama. My ex said he didn’t want to go through that again. I promised we wouldn’t. And we did not. *I know many people who don’t have the support from the ex spouse and I feel for them and their children. The ONLY people who suffer from selfish parents, are the children. Period. If you love your children, fake that goddamn friendship with the other parent if you have to.
But I digress, with great things like my daughters having a pretty good village surrounding them, I can toot my horn for the ONE thing I’ve done right in my life. It feels as though everything else however, contributes to my ongoing bursts of depression. I literally have no self esteem in any other place in my life. This recent prolonged dark cloud has been lingering overheard for about 5 years. Before that my last lingering depression was during my divorce. I survived and found my way. Prior to that, the biggest, heaviest dark cloud that has ever hung over me, was following my mom’s death in 2009. It was as if that trauma cracked open my depression and anxiety. The anxiety began when Mom was initially diagnosed in 2007. My anxiety kept me up until 3:00 AM many nights, and up again at 6:00 AM the same morning, in order to sit in our dark home office, with my 24″ Apple monitor scanning every possible medical journal I could find and read about lung cancer, before my children woke up. THAT was the beginning of anxiety. Following Mom’s death, was the beginning of depression.
This most recent bout of depression started when one entrepreneur business adventure came to a sudden halt, our family moved out of a rented family home and into our own house. Our savings for the business dried up and we had to start over seeking new careers, at 45. Not the easiest thing to do, especially as a newly married couple, at the same time. My husband has been applying to jobs in his industry for 5 years, been on HUNDREDS of interviews, submitted thousands of resumes and job applications. Only to be turned down because the hired applicant was younger, fresh new energy, etc. Blow after blow to my husband. We could barely lift ourselves up day after day, let alone be the other person’s rock. However, my husband is often my rock more than I am his. As he puts it, only one of us can fall apart at a time.
For five years it’s been a constant battle. My head is constantly trying to tell my emotions to be happy, find peace, be positive, attract positivity in my life while being happy, not depressed, etc. — all while convincing myself that self medicating is a needed crutch, isolating from the world is the down time I need, or that self sabotaging is just a normal part of life. I have an addictive personality, and form habits that get me through. I break the habits eventually once life turns around. Most of the time I replace the bad habit with a good habit, once the bad mood switches to a good mood. That is how I’ve always fixed it. I correct myself. I find the emotional depth of the issue and turn it around and apply the energy into building myself up again. And I do it alone, most of the time. Everyone used to hear my cries at the beginning, and then I’d pull away and not want to continue being a burden. I’d feel that I had dumped enough on my girlfriends, cousins, family and then go find that ever so welcoming rock to hide under while I cried my tears dry.
I typically need to meditate, isolate, write, nurture, decrease stimulants, increase nutrition, surround myself with ONLY people I trust with my emotional well being. And based on my life over the span of the last 35 years, this has worked. I have healed. I have grown. I have progressed spiritually, mentally and purposely.
I’m not there right now. I’m desperate to find that new emotionally and physically healthy habit to dig me out of this funk. Writing this blog feels like godzilla took a foot off my chest. We have recognized that there is a problem. I can see it – my depression – a bit clearer now. There is some healing in writing for sure. I’ve listed it, told the history of it, recognized where it started, how it grew and have had my pity party. I want to change my life around because depression really puts the brakes on life. I honestly don’t know if I’m ready to change my life around. I would like to write again and describe how I have been lifted emotionally. I would love to come back and tell you that I have lost the extra 50+ lbs that weigh me down both physically and mentally, that hold the remnants of the emotions that have burned out and forgotten, or healed. I hope to come back and write about how I have found myself, at 50 (might be 51 since I’m coming up to it soon), and how I have taken life by the balls and am in the driver’s seat of my own destiny from this day on. But that all sounds exhausting and somewhat intimidating. Also sounds like a bit of a fantasy. Am I addicted to sadness? Do I get something out of it? I know that’s possible.
I’m going to leave this alone now. Let this sit and season. Let these feelings and thoughts marinate while I take the next approach to facing the million dollar question, now what?