Monday, April 10, 2017

The Gift, or Curse of Being an Empath

I went through a stage of more than a year with very little TV watching. I canceled cable and limited my news consumption. When I decided to stick my big toe back in, we got a smart TV so that I could be mindful of my viewing selections. I began watching very specific shows available on-demand, from recommendations from friends and family. But that experience, too, has grown dark for me. Clearly, I can't "take" what others can. I get easily stressed and upset by so much of what I am exposed to. What's wrong with me?

After a great deal of self-reflection, research, life-experience, and some therapy, I have learned there is a name my my personality type. I am an empath, and can be deeply affected, even obsessively so, with things I have viewed, read about, learned of or experienced. That explains why watching the news, a show, documentary or movie with a storyline of injustice, terror, or violence affects me so deeply. When watching a disturbing scene, especially if it involves children or animals, I literally feel it, physically in the pit of my stomach, and then often have dreams (nightmares) and then feel torn about the dilemma of burying my head in the sand or facing harsh realities. Once I have learned first-hand of some kind of injustice, I feel faced with a decision: now that I know...what do I do? Then I feel guilt when I do nothing. Or if I do something, it's never enough.

I remember when I was young, the mini-series Roots affected me deeply, watching a 17 year-old Kunta Kinte being kidnapped from his village and taken to a Virginia plantation and mercilessly whipped while they demanded he accept his new slave-name left me crying and gave me nightmares for weeks (actually years). Another mini-series about the Holocaust, again, was important for me to see from a historical and educational perspective. But I watched with a sick feeling the entire time, fearful of what would happen next...imaging how I would feel to be in their place. Many a date or movie lover in my life would get annoyed with me because I don't like going to a movie in a theatre, because if a difficult scene comes up I can't escape. I've heard many times: "it's just a movie" or, "you know this didn't really happen...these are actors" by annoyed people who can't seem to understand why I just can't watch certain things.

Movies or a series rooted in history that tell a story that needs to be told are important. Documentaries showing a hidden camera view of inside a factory farm confirmed my decision to stop eating meat. As hard as those stories were for me to learn about, I believe that starting at a certain age of maturity watching a well-produced educational documentary or a replay of a series like Roots or the Holocaust may open the minds and hearts of our young people. The history of humanity needs to be taught, in order for there to be any chance it may not repeat itself.

Now that I have discovered this gift, or curse, it explains the things that have always happened to me. There are times I have met people, whether on a plane, at a social event or in a grocery store line where within minutes people begin to tell me things. I often avoid conversations with people if I'm not up to it completely because I can't just make small talk. People just open up to me. I've heard many times, "I don't know why I told you that. I've never told anyone that and I barely know you." I feel an energy coming from someone (positive or negative) and I have learned to trust those instincts. More than one person has told me that when they walk into my house there is a healing energy.

But the dark side of empathy is that feeling so deeply can be draining. I often don't want to believe what I am instinctively feeling about someone. I know when people are lying. I get a sense when something is happening to a friend or loved one and I call them and sure enough, they are sick, or sad or something. I can easily become entrenched in the drama of someone going through a rough time and I try to take on their problems. Then, it deeply affects me. I have been called "too sensitive" or a "pleaser" because I like to keep the negative energy to a minimum.

When I became a new mom I was tormented by any bad news item pertaining to kids. An episode of Criminal Minds now freaks me out, because, well, they pull the story lines from somewhere, don't they? What if someone tried to do this to my child? My loved one? I have colleagues and acquaintances who are hunters and I try to understand--but I can't imagine pointing a gun at a living creature (unless it was self defense) shooting it to watch it fall and then celebrating that death with a smiling photo over the still-warm, not quite dead creature. An trophy hunting a beautiful lion, elephant or bear?

I. Can't. Even.

I have concluded that while many of what has affected me most was important for me to see, hear, read, or somehow experience to make me the person I am, as it changed my life perspective;  moving forward, limiting my exposure to such things is in the best interest of my sanity.

If you wonder if you are an empath, I have put a list of characteristics that you may or may not relate to. Some of these are from my own experience and from many online resources, including this one

You may be an empath if you:
  • Often feel fatigued, exhausted or ‘heavy’ inside.
  • Find it intensely painful to watch or read about cruelty, torture, violence or tragedy
  • Experience a strong Friday relief and a deep Sunday night blues due to anxiety of work or school 
  • Take on guilt easily, even for things you didn't do
  • Are conflict averse and try hard to keep the peace
  • Find it hard to relax until others are happy
  • Are often the "go-to" for emotional support to those in need 
  • People tend to easily open up to, and confide in, you. 
  • Can easily “read” other people. 
  • Can pick up when someone is hiding something or lying. 
  • Are deeply affected by the emotions of others and these emotions often linger in the form of obsessive thoughts 
  • Often feel unexplainably moody, or physically ill after spending time with certain people or in certain places 
  • Have excellent intuitive abilities. You often just know things, or can pick up a hidden nature of a person. 
  • Often put others needs and happiness above your own
  • Are a good listener 
  • Feel really good when those you care about feel good, and really bad when things are feeling bad 
  • Are driven to support the underdog, downcast or emotionally crippled 
  • Have a deep love for nature and animals 
  • Are creative, solitary and spiritual 
If you relate to most of what is on this list. You are not alone.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It's Your Facebook Page, Post What You Want!

Ahhh the trials and tribs of social media. We complain, share memes and vent in various ways about those things that bug us, but still, we come back for more. There are many things I see people post on Facebook that bug me. Passive aggressive posts. Posts begging for compliments or pity. Certain political posts. Animal cruelty photos for the sake of shock with no call for action or a way to help. Hunters happily posing over their bloody still-alive kill. Yes, these all bug me. But what bugs me most? People telling others to stop posting these things.

Now before I move on, I am certainly not talking about parents or caring adults advising kids or young adults to not post hateful, overly sexual, or drunken photos that will hurt themselves or another, and probably their future job prospects. I'm talking about those lecturing posts that say things like: "Stop the political posts!" Or "I'm so sick of hearing about (insert complaint here)" Of course, my just saying "stop lecturing people" certainly seems to be inconsistent with my telling others to stop their behavior--but hear me out.

We learned a lot about some of the people in our lives this past election season due to their social media posts. I viewed expressions of opinion from people that surprised me, having never knew they held those views. My opinion of some people changed due to those posts, and perhaps, from the opinions I expressed, some changed their opinion of me.

So be it.

Because while I may have felt surprise and disappointment more than once, I also learned a great deal, and in the end, I'm glad I know more about some of these people and their views that I did before. In this discomfort, I began to challenge myself to listen and learn another view, even if it was only to determine that, in the end, the divide was too great. Sometimes, I was presented with a view that stretched my own, and I was able to find common ground and grow.

It took me awhile to get to this point. When I was younger, I was more conservative than now, which to me, seems the opposite of what should happen. But I have found that many of the views I held in the past may have been skewed by a lifetime of lack of exposure--dare I say ignorance to so many things.

And interestingly, it was again, one of my daughters who got me to expand my viewpoint.  Anyone who knows her knows she is quite passionate about the things she believes in. And in between her happy little posts about her kids or her latest outdoor adventure, she'll share an article or express an opinion that some might find --well, controversial. Even uncomfortable. I have had many conversations with her suggesting  she limit those posts, because she has so many who see them; family members or others not within her close friends that may be offended by her posts. Her response:

So be it.

Facebook started as a way college students could connect with others, find roommates and communicate with friends. It then evolved into a way  family and friends could stay in touch, especially across the miles. It has now extended way beyond it's original purpose and is used not only for the things it was started with, but for connection in all its forms;  idea sharing, event planning, groups and business pages. She explained that for many, including her, it has become a conduit for social activism, where you can find like-minded people who may share your passion for a charity, animals, politics or an opportunity to share knowledge, expose injustice, or even, back to the simple feel-good concept of  positive quotes kid or  kitten photos. It is now a source for any or all of your needs.

But those needs vary. And you or I can use it for whatever need we may have, even if someone else doesn't like it.

So now, when I see something that bugs me, I do one of 3 things 1) Ignore  2) Hide/unfriend or 3) React (if I am feeling particularly passionate about an issue) Although I know that  the odds of changing someone's view by arguing on Facebook is slim to none. Just as it is equally unlikely, that a demand that someone stops posting about something they feel passionate about simply because YOU don't want to see it, will be heeded.

I've found that accepting that people use their social media for reasons that may be different than yours alleviates the stress of the news feed scroll. Rather than get angry at the political rant or sexy selfie... realize that YOU have complete control.

How do ya LIKE that? :-)


Friday, February 17, 2017

Thoughts On The Resistance

I listened to an interesting interview on NPR's Morning Edition recently. Rachel Martin spoke to Brendan Steinheiser, a Republican strategist and early Tea Party organizer about how liberal activists are using similar tactics in their resistance to the current administration as the Tea Party  did when they created a resistance to stop President Obama. He shared his thoughts on what went wrong for the Democrats in losing an election they thought was won, and what he thought the liberal movement in general is doing wrong to affect change. You can read the article on What The Left Can Learn From the Tea Party here from NPR.com.

It seems clear now, in hindsight, that when many blacks, union workers and women who make up what used to be the Dems base didn't vote for Hillary that the party had lost touch with its base and foundational core. But the same was true for the Republicans 8 years ago. The Tea Party would not have formed if there wasn't dissention in the conservative ranks. The rise of Donald Trump exemplifies that everyone on both sides is sick of "business as usual" politics of both parties. I've had discussions with many friends; liberal, moderate and conservative that didn't want another Bush, Clinton, or paid-for-by-big-business interests career politicians in the White House yet again. Many of these disenfranchised didn't vote for Trump, and they couldn't in good conscious, vote for Clinton, so they either didn't vote at all, or voted for a 3rd party candidate.

One piece of advice that Mr Steinheiser had for the Democrats, is that they should stop using Hollywood elite to speak for them, because that is as bad as using billionaires to represent their cause on the right. Neither speak for the average American (if there is one). I'll never completely understand why those that will seemingly be affected by the policies that are being proposed by the Trump administration, the poor, the middle-class, those most in need of health care and other programs voted for him. I'm afraid they may  soon find out that they are the ones that will be most hurt by his policies. Trump promised to drain the swamp and not be controlled by Wall Street, but his cabinet is full of billionaires created from Wall Street.

I believe the president's outrageous behavior, accusatory tone and technique of attacking those who dare to criticize him as liars with fake news is simply a distraction,  so that we forget about what is really going on.  When things look dicey, he deflects, so that we forget about, or stop talking about all the things that are slipping through under the radar. The good news? The press has stepped up their game. Because they are under attack and the microscope for credibility, they are acting as if they have something to prove; and they do. Mr Trump's plan may backfire, in that we may find the reality show sensational news cycle phase is over. Just as the safest time to fly was right after September 11th, this may be the the most accountable our press has been in years. Our 4th estate will now be more credible and vigilant and real than ever. It's their turn to shine.

For those of us on the sidelines who feel helpless, how do we form a truly effective resistance? I've seen a list of points of advice circulating online and I'm not sure where it started. But I think it is a good start for those trying to share information in a more productive manner:

1. Don't use his name; (45 will do)
2. Remember this is a regime and he's not acting alone;
3. Do not argue with those who support him--it doesn't work;
4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness and mental state;
5. Keep your message positive; they want the country to be angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow;
6. No more helpless/hopeless talk;
7. Support artists and the arts;
8. Be careful not to spread fake news. Check it;
9. Take care of yourselves; and
10. Resist!

Keep demonstrations peaceful. In the words of John Lennon, "When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you - pull your beard, flick your face - to make you fight! Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor."

When you post don't assign his actions to him, assign them to "The Republican Administration," or "The Republicans." This will have several effects: the Republican legislators will either have to take responsibility for their association with him or stand up for what some of them don't like; he will not get the focus of attention he craves; Republican representatives will become very concerned about their re-elections.

This country has lots in can improve upon, no doubt, but Mr. T is wrong. America is already great. His negativity, in the end, can be a unifying positive.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Post-Election View From A Moderate

"A moderate? Ha! I've seen your posts. You voted for Clinton.  You've been vocally anti-Trump. You must be a crazy liberal!"

Well, no, actually, I'm not. My mom use to tell me that way back when... your vote was private. You kept it to yourself.  Now, after this election, there's a similar vibe. If you say you voted for Clinton you're a crazy baby-killing, God-hating, latte-sippin' liberal, and if you say you voted for Trump, you're a racist, sexist, xenophobe filled with hate. The reality? Most of us are none of these. We are, in fact, a member of the non-vocal majority of moderates struggling for representation and hoping for a savior.

This election took it out of me. I did not vote for Trump, clearly. But while I respect the incredible career and accomplishments of Hillary Clinton,  I too, was sick of the political dynasty families and I didn't want to see another Clinton or Bush in the white house. But I voted for her anyway, as it was a vote to keep a billionaire experienced only in being a billionaire from the all-important job of running our nation. I saw that many were actually voting against the "system" more than they were for voting "for" Trump.

But he won and here we are.

But I  believe that no matter who we voted for, we moderates are worried. We are unhappy with the extreme views on the left and the right, because most of us are somewhere in-between on most issues. And I believe that even those right-leaning people who voted for Trump for any reason, are  bit worried too.

Here's the thing: I may think a surgeon is an elite snob who is out of touch with my world, but  if I need heart surgery, I want him or her operating on me anyway. I may think the smug pilot flying the plane I'm on from Cleveland to Portland isn't in touch with the common-folk passenger, but I want him flying the plane. Mr. Trump might have been an interesting cabinet pick or financial advisor, but he should not be flying the plane.

As a common sense thinking person who cares about our country, I believe we should be able to express concern and criticize our president and not be called a sore loser. I didn't like a lot of what President Obama did. But when I (or anyone) expresses concern over the fact that Republicans and Democrats BOTH worry about Trump's defense of Mr. Putin and Russia, who has historically always been an issue for the U.S. (um, remember President Reagan? Cold War? Tear Down That Wall?) we are called out. Why are so many people who voted for Trump trusting Putin and Wikileaks founder Assange over our U.S.  intelligence? This is not a republican or democratic issue. This is a security issue. I've always thought that the President really doesn't run the country anyway. Big Pharm, Big Ag and Big Oil does. But now that we have a future president in bed with those 3, and with the Russian government, I think there is cause for concern.

I am beginning to understand that the average rural American in fly-over states didn't feel represented by our current president, nor would they have felt represented by a political dynasty player like Secretary Clinton. But I am struggling to understand how they think this billionaire can relate to their pain. It has long-been the republican administrations that have cut aid and reduced programs in these very states that help these very people. I read a quote by Oscar Dean Ray who said “We Made America Worse Again, and did it as fools cheered. A lot of those cheers have gone silent as our new president picks mostly people for important positions whose only goals in life have been wealth and power for themselves and their friends. We will pay a heavy price for this mistake and the people who cheered I am afraid, will pay the heaviest."

I hope he is wrong. I hope that the very people Trump says he will help will not find that if they lose their jobs, savings, or homes, the safety nets like welfare, medicare, medicaid and social security that they wanted taken away from everyone else are suddenly gone for them if they need them.

There simply has got to be a middle ground for this great nation to survive.

This particular moderate wants a government big enough to keep us safe with systems that include a military that can defend and protect our freedom without policing the world and infringing our way of thinking on others. Big enough to protect our electric and cyber grids from hacking. Big enough to protect us from the greed and corruption of politicians and corporations that can buy them. Big enough to protect us from dangerous food and drugs; and from those who would poison our environment and destroy our national parks. Big enough to protect those who cannot speak for themselves, children, the elderly and animals. Big enough to use our tax dollars for these things, plus a solid infrastructure of roads, bridges, and improved public transportation. And big enough to provide education at all levels to keep us competitive globally in a world we are falling way behind.

And conversely, I want a government small enough that my personal rights are protected. That no one should be able to tell me what religion to practice and condemn me or others who practice something different; or nothing at all. Small enough that no one religion, including Christianity, even though I am Christian, should monopolize our country to the point it controls our government. Small enough to allow me to live with, love and marry whoever I want, or not marry at all. Small enough to not tell me who can be in the hospital making end-of-life decisions on my behalf. Small enough to protect my right to end a pregnancy within a limited amount of time, or to protect the life of the mother. Small enough to stop spending my tax dollars enforcing laws against growing or buying a plant that can be grown in my backyard that has better medical benefits than most but is illegal because it doesn't benefit large drug companies.

I'm hoping (and praying) that the moderates of both parties take over and really make our country great, not again...just great. The only extremism should be an intolerance for intolerance.

The common sense members of the GOP should stand up and stop what they see as dangerous behavior in our president-elect. The common sense Democrats should stop the "they did it to us so we'll do it to them" obstructionist behavior if, in fact, there are programs and policies worth supporting because they will move our country forward.

The vocal minority is winning right now, represented by those on the extreme religious right....or the extremist left, spewing hate and intolerance on social media and on 24-hour news networks. They don't represent me.  And if they don't represent you, we moderates need to rise up, on social media, in-person and beyond and speak up to find like-minded people to put into politics. We need bridge-builders, diplomats, statesmen and women who we can respect, look up to, and not be ashamed of.

We need a new generation of politicians to work together to put the good of our country ahead of the good of their party. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Still my BFF

Anne.

Our houses were just 3 blocks apart in West Akron. Almost daily I would walk to the bottom of Mentor Road and she to the bottom of Upper Merriman Drive to the railroad tracks that were a path to both our houses. We'd walk along the tracks, over tressels and back into the woods and streams of the surrounding undeveloped areas that seemed then like the wilderness, but is now an expensive housing development. We'd lay pennies on the tracks and watch them get smashed as we talked for hours and hours about life, boys, dreams, fears....just everything.

I think about how formative her friendship was to my development as a person. I learned everything about being a friend from her. We loved each other, got annoyed with each other, and sure we got mad at each other as we went through our awkward stages of development....but like a sister, we may get mad at each other, but if anyone talked trash about the other we were the first to defend the other. It seemed I couldn't think a thought or form and opinion that I didn't discuss with her to see if she agreed. That sense of belonging and having someone's opinion matter so much that is the staple part of childhood that as adults we need to remember.

We went through musical formative years discovering some stuff on our own, like the west coast sounds of Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, Poco, Pousette-Dart Band, Joni Mitchell, Sanford-Townsend to the Progressive rock sounds from Yes, ELP and Led Zeppelin. We were more mellow rockers than hard rockers but I remember buying the album "Physical Graffiti" and that plus Led Zeppelin 2 turned me into a fan. Her older sister Lisa schooled us in Beatles, Van Morrison and the Rolling Stones.

After graduation, I stayed in Ohio and she moved to Boulder to join her sister and attend the University of Colorado. Years later her other sister moved to Boulder from San Francisco, and finally her parents retired there. I thought it was so cool that their whole family moved to the same place to be together. Colorado had their hearts and souls and although she missed her friends in Ohio, and came back to visit here and there, she never looked back.

I missed her like hell. So much so that I spent the summer between my first and second year at Kent State in Boulder with Anne. She tried to talk me into moving out there, but I came home and finished school in Ohio. And I have stayed in Ohio and lived only here my whole life.

I spent some time on the phone with Anne recently after the death of her mom. We talked about our parents fondly, as now, both of us are orphans. I marveled at how, even when I don't talk to her for a year, we pick right up. And I get sad when I realize that although I will forever consider her one of my best friends, time, distance and just "life" have just kept us from staying as close as I would have wanted. Every day, when there is news of an illness, an accident, an untimely death of someone taken much too soon, and I stop and realize how precious life is, and I think I need to tell the people I care about how important they are to me.

So today, it's Anne.

She has always been an inspiration to me for so many reasons, and I don't know if I ever told her. As a toddler, she had a tumor behind her eye, and because if this, she had her eye surgically removed. Her whole life she lived with this disability but never, ever did she have any kind of chip on her shoulder. In fact, to even use the word "disability" when speaking of Anne doesn't feel appropriate. It was never anything I noticed about her. When I looked at her at 7, 12, 15 or 20, I only saw her beautiful personality, contagious smile, her lovely brown hair, and admired the cool, hip way she wore her clothes. She had and still has a down-to-earth, natural style that always made her just a touch more "cool" than everyone. Her laugh was infectious and I can hear it when I close my eyes, as I recall us hanging in her basement, bent over with laughter on the carpet as we shared stories of our day. Then we'd go home and call each other on the phone, yes the kind that had a long cord, for literally hours. What on earth did we have to talk about for so long? We'd always find something.

It wasn't until I was much older did I ever realize what going through childhood with that challenge must have been like for her, and how cruel kids can be. If she struggled with insecurity or confidence issues, you'd never know. She had courage I never did, to leave the security of Akron, Ohio and move to a place far away to go to school, and make her new life. Now, Anne is a successful teacher, author and most recently, finished another degree--this one in Bilingualism and Language Acquisition, and she has spent months at a time in Spain. She is smart, fun and funny, and I know my way of looking at life, friends, loyalty and relationships were formed because of her, and for that, I am forever grateful.

I've never been big on "what ifs"...because I know If I'd have done anything differently, I wouldn't have married the man I did, had the two daughters I did, or had the same career. But, now that I'm in my 50's reflecting on my life, my family, friends, and career, I can't help but look at the many possibilities that lie ahead of me. And as I do, I am inspired to approach this next phase of my life like Anne has always approached hers: with an attitude of acceptance, encouragement, an embracing of life, and never afraid to learn something new.


Thanks for the life lessons you are still teaching me, my friend.