Saturday, January 01, 2011

the empath

I'm not the least bit sorry to see the back end of 2010. It has to be one of the most stressful years in recent memory, and that's saying a lot. It certainly didn't have the fun feel I was looking for this time last year.

Watching my cousin Ann slip away from ovarian cancer, week by week, sometimes day by day, last year wasn't easy. But I wouldn't trade a second of it. Not even my knowing the outcome the moment her lips said back in July as she stroked a lump on her neck, "I think it's back." But having to spend half the year watching her die and the other half without her sucks beyond all measure.

Hanging out with Ann
Cousins, identical cousins—the Kid and Cousin Ann out on the town
Empaths are highly sensitive. This is the term commonly used in describing one's abilities (sensitivity) to another's emotions and feelings. Empaths have a deep sense of knowing that accompanies empathy and are often compassionate, considerate, and understanding of others.
Experiencing the incremental mental slippage of my mom hasn't been a picnic, either. 2010 was the year when we finally said dementia out loud, when I knew it was time to step in and take charge, and ensure we have good times together while we can. It's hard to feel the frustration emanate from my mom as she struggles to find a word or a name. I suffer along with her if I can't find the context, the little series of cues and clues that will help me decipher something she is trying to tell me. Sometimes it seems we work so hard to interpret something that turns out to be the height of mundanity—"We need to buy artichokes" is the result of her prodding me with "That thing that I told you, the little ones, that we had, you know, we talked about earlier." Life is a puzzle that I am always trying to solve. Taking the car keys and other symbols of independence away from a parent is not exactly a recipe for congenial living, but somehow we are, at least for the moment, navigating this thorny path as gracefully as possible.
Empathy is genetic, inherent in our DNA, and passed from generation to generation. ... Empaths often possess the ability to sense others on many different levels. From their position in observing what another is saying, feeling and thinking, they come to understand another. They can become very proficient at reading another personís body language ...
Ironic that I may have inherited traits from my mom that might help me better understand her.

I can't help but draw parallels between what happened and is happening to two very important women in my life. Is that all we can do, watch people we love disappear? Am I someone who sees these signs of slippage happening before others do? I'll never forget watching the classic Star Trek episode The Empath as a kid and really connecting with the girl who took on everybody else's pain. I can't compare what my cousin went through or what my mom goes through daily to my own level of pain, but I do feel that I have suffered, in my own way, alongside them.

I feel shaken and shaky about the world we live in, too. 2010 was a year with plenty of things to worry about outside of my immediate family. No one needs me to recap the horrible disasters of earthquakes, cholera, and oil spills to feel some of the pain that the most directly involved have experienced. As wonderful as it is for me now to take walk on the beach, when a dead fish washes up at my feet I am immediately pulled across the state to the Gulf and wonder how people are coping, and if this sea creature is an inheritance of that catastrophe.
One will often find empaths enjoying the outdoors, beaches, walking, etc. Empaths may find themselves continually drawn to nature as a form of release. It is the opportune place to recapture their senses and gain a sense of peace in the hectic lives they may live.
I'm so very discouraged by the erosion of goodwill towards our president and how harmful that can be to this country. I was on the National Mall for the inauguration and it was such a wonderful hopeful day ... I don't care what party you belong to, the petty back-biting and political angling is disgusting. One of the major upsides to our leaving the Capital Beltway this year is not having to hear the partisan bickering as loud and as often—being on the spot just made me feel that much more powerless, with all of the bad behavior happening just a few blocks away.

I have so much on my plate these days it is hard to get worked up over any major political issues. I am just trying to keep all our heads above water and give my daughter and mother the best life that I can. If I ruled the world I would decree that 2011 should be the year of political television silence. No talking-heads shows, nasty-ass ads or stupid campaign commercials posing as reality shows. I know it could never happen, but it's my dream.

So, that was the half-empty glass, now for the half-full. With all the pain and loss the past year, I have to say I have also gained so much. Watching my daughter confidently navigate first grade, a brand-new school, town and friends, and read independently in just the past six months is amazing to me. And thankfully, I feel the excitement that she feels, the newness, and even a little bit of the fear as she experiences it. I am catching glimpses of the woman she is going to be. It's incredible.

At Crazy Buffet
The girl loves a buffet

Working part-time and from home has also helped open up a whole new vista for me. At first I felt trapped and isolated. I actually felt like I was out in the internets, adrift, needing to find some way to navigate. I am used to working with a large group of people, with lots of social interaction. Maybe facebook and twitter entering my life in the past few years helped pave the way—after a few weeks I got comfortable and found that I still felt connected to most of my co-workers, even working from quite a distance. Yes, there was no longer so much face-to-face—the office isn't skype-comfortable—but I no longer felt disconnected. Phones and emails kept us in each other's loop. On the home front, if my mom felt that we had invaded her life and her space when we first arrived, we quickly established a routine and rhythm that allowed me to work during the day and her to read or pursue her own interests while the kid was at school.
Empaths are often poets in motion. They are the born writers, singers, and artists with a high degree of creativity and imagination. They are known for many talents as their interests are varied ... They often have interests in many cultures and view them with a broad-minded perspective. They are mother, father, child, friend, nurse, caregiver, teacher, doctor, sales people ... to psychic, clairvoyant, healer, etc.
Feeling connected to my art, my creative side, is very important to my health and sanity. Having just a tiny bit more time to myself (2011 be warned—I'm working on increasing that, too) allowed me to spend more time on my blog and writing.  I've been able to focus more on the pop culture topics that interest me (books, film and television), while giving them my own particular feminist/feminine spin. I'm branching out a bit into more venues and can now call myself a professional blogger—and I'm proud of that.

Cary Grant in the trailer for North by Northwest, by Alfred Hitchcock, 1959, Wikipedia.

I know that 2011 will have its ups and downs, particularly focused on my mom's decline and our efforts to slow it down as much as possible. My goal is to give her the best life that I can—and for all of us to share as much of what's joyful as possible. There's tons of things that we can enjoy together, from a meal out to watching my daughter dance around and be silly, to watching a movie together. I feel the lack deeply that she and I can no longer share my ideas—the things that I write about and what they mean to me—to converse, share simple observations about the world.

I may not be able to discuss with her my interpretation of a film and my new spin on what I think it might mean. But instead of feeling bad and focusing on the fact that we are no longer what we once were, I can work with what we are. She may not remember the movie North By Northwest—either the title of the film or the fact that it's by Hitchcock. This is more than a little hard for me to take when she is half of the reason I'm such a film buff. She may no longer be able to come up with the names of the stars—Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau—but she does remember them and that she once knew their names. She knows that she likes Cary Grant and that she's always thought (and still thinks) he was very attactive. She enjoys "rediscovering" the movie and sharing it with her daughter and granddaughter. It's a life of things without labels for her. We're experiencing the thingness of things.

My hope for 2011? That we will continue to experience new and old things together. That I will continue to feel what's going on with folks in the way that I do, but maybe not take it too much to heart, or like that Star Trek maiden, lose myself in others' issues. Feeling deeply is a good thing. There's actually a definition for feeling deeply:
Main Entry: feel in one's bones
Part of Speech: verb
Definition: have a gut feeling
Synonyms: expect, feel deeply, have a feeling, have a funny feeling, have a hunch, have a sensation, just know, perceive, predict, sense
Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition, Copyright © 2010 by the Philip Lief Group.
Here are the listeners of life. Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things. As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one—if only for peace of mind.
Yep, that's me. And I can already see the telltale signs that my daughter is an empath too. We are set up to connect, to feel others, to suss them out. These skills will be invaluable in my future attempts at interpreting my mom's wishes and conversations. As hard as it can be to feel what others are going through sometimes, imagine how differently we might all behave if we really thought about the other guy, even felt what they felt, once in a while. I'm happy that I'm an empath.

Quotes from About Empathy and Empaths, by Christel Broederlow Copyright (c) 2002,

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