Not a doctor just my stories
Let’s start with a pop culture reference; Star Trek: The Next Generation there was a character called Counselor Troy. She was half-betazoid and half human and Betazoids are empaths, they could read feelings and glean thoughts but were not mind readers.
So I was recently told something about bipolar disorder; it can cause heightened empathy. This can be a superpower on the one hand and incredibly nerve-wracking, agitating and can pull me into bad loops on the other.
Superpower the Good:
- The heightened empathy also comes with heightened observations of people and what is going on around me and it makes me a good public librarian. The classic customer service trope of putting yourself into the other persons’ shoes works for me. As they walk towards me how is their manner, expression, movement, general vibe? Will they be pleasant, shy, angry, rude, impatient, hurried? I can guess this sometimes and I adjust so I can be prepared particularly if you can sense they are going to come at you, fury ablazing.
- I also watch people. The other night a girl came into the library and walked over to the computers at least two times and then started to walk out of the library. I called out to her if she needed help and she said she did not know how to get on the computer.
Many people are embarrassed to ask for help. I lived that way for decades. Now I talk to anyone anywhere and ask for help all the time. This is also because I have no patience and ADD which in the right context can also be a superpower.
Superpower the Bad:
- I heard a story on the news about a couple who had gotten married and left the ceremony in a helicopter which then crashed in front of everyone and the couple and pilot died. I couldn’t get the thought of the parents and the guests out of my mind. The shock, the destroyed lives. Many people can hear a story like this on the news have a moment of sadness or empathy then process it and move on. I looped for days. I still cringe and feel it when it pops into my head. A dozen stories like this happened around the holidays and I carry them all with me.
- When I am with other people who are nervous or anxious I get nervous and anxious. I can feel their anxiety or worry flow into me sometimes and I want to either help, escape or I get angry. None of these responses are appropriate or necessary. Offering help is fine but physically and mentally getting upset is a little off scale.
- When people vent to me I can get sad and worried for them. They have let off steam but I continue thinking about it. Often the situation is not that bad but my imagination goes off I start having negative thoughts and distortions and can really upset myself. My husband refers to this as my absorbing the poison. He knows what can set me off and he tells me to just listen and not let the other person’s problems in.
It is hard for me not to absorb and hard for me not to jump the gun at work or in life when I am watching people and thinking ahead to what they might need. Superpower the good; helping someone carry something or open a door if they have not asked. Superpower the bad; interrupt someone before they have had a chance to say what they want because I think I know already.
My therapy and meds have given me an increased awareness of all these elements but I still experience them. The good news is that I can at least talk to myself and recognize what is going on. I prefer knowledge over bewilderment any day and I get to identify with a character on Star Trek. My geek cup runneth over.
Until next time