Updated: Feb 21, 2022
I recently finished reading the book The Empath’s Survival Guide by Judith Orloff, MD. The book had been collecting dust on my shelf for the better part of a year, but some soul-searching around my mounting anxiety finally led me back to it. Funny how that happens. It certainly lends credibility to the idea that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
There is a section of the book that dissects the psyche of empaths, a label to which I definitely self-identify, having answered 14 out of 15 questions with an affirmative response. Dr. Orloff discusses the idea of “emotional contagion,” and how both positive and negative feelings can quickly infect a group of people, be it communities, work teams, or families. This is magnified in empaths, as they reportedly have more mirror neurons than the average Jane. The blips on my resume were the least healthy places for me to be.
Even though the book was written several years ago, I think COVID-19 helps illustrate this concept on a grand scale. The Great Reshuffling. The Great Resignation. It’s undeniable that 2021 ended with all Americans in a state of collective burnout.
Being an emotional empath, I felt myself drowning in a pool of sorrow, even on days when everything was going my way. I cowered in fear of the future, even when I am working hard to follow this amazing leadership path on which God has put me. Above all, I took on copious amounts of stress that didn’t belong to me.
The caretaker in me doesn’t know how to respond when I’m powerless to remove the weight of the world from someone’s else’s shoulders, especially those closest to me. This came to a head last fall when coincidentally, or perhaps even causally, I began showing sudden signs of hormonal changes. I lost an alarming amount of hair over a few week’s time. I had mood swings that felt like out-of-body experiences. I became shaky in the mornings as if experiencing hypoglycemia.
Recent blood tests reveal that my glucose is suddenly twenty points lower than it’s been my entire adult life. I should be jumping for joy; instead, my body feels jolted. Anti-anxiety medication has helped me regain a new, steady emotional baseline. I'm slowly gaining acceptance of perimenopause and arthritis. I might be three weeks sugar-free and marching my way to a life without gluten, but the biggest antidote for my health can only be found in one place: twenty acres in the middle of Texas.
I have become keenly aware over the last six months that country life suits me. In the city, I can’t watch the sun rise and the moon set with zero obstruction. Here, I get up early just to see how showy the sunrise might be that day. I’ve become obsessed with coral and turquoise because the combination mirrors the colors painted across the rural sky. My “city” home office view is of the two RV park dumpsters. Here I see nothing but rolling hills dotted with small cedar trees and the occasional herd of cattle.
Just now, I paused this blog to bird watch. My Texas field guide at the ready, I grabbed my Canon and extended the zoom lens to capture and later identify the petite flock of foragers. The most I see out the city camper window is how much progress they made pouring concrete in the RV park being built behind us. God bless Joni Mitchell.
Perhaps out of necessity, rather than choice, we are working to accelerate our ten year plan to live out in Hamilton County. I wonder sometimes if the emotional contagion of confinement, driven by a roller coaster of lockdowns and deprivation from social interaction, isn’t permeating my empathic soul. The freedom to see for miles and miles is no longer just an aspirational line in The Chicks’ song, it’s a state of mind I can get behind.
Life will look different in the coming months. Our new home, a 900-square-foot cottage, will be delivered in March. Ryan was approved to work remotely two days a week, joining me on the schedule I’ve already been trying to keep (with the unwavering patience of my team on windy days with satellite internet).
I will look different in the coming months. For the first time in my career, I said “no” to climbing the ladder and “yes” to a sustainable level of responsibility. I verbalized my personal dream to run weekend retreats and ensure that I carve enough personal time out to create them. I even began to market them and have several people signing up to say “yes!”.
This thing - this intangible wisp of an idea - is coming to fruition. And I’m scared. But it’s a good kind of scared, not a collective kind of scared. I can hope that all anyone catches from my emotions is a healthy dose of courage.