I saw this video on Meet Me At Mike's this week and really wanted to share it. I especially liked the part about empathy not involving silver-lining people's situations. That is the worst and something people do a lot, and not just people who are generally not great at these sorts of things. (I can say that in a non-critical way because I am one of those people.) I have a friend, a straight-talking American, which may or may not have anything to do with it, whose response to my heart (and related) issues has often been, "Oh, Laura, that sucks," or "Oh, Laura, that's shit," which invariably makes me feel much better than any amount of reminding me how lucky I am in other ways or suggesting I'm viewing things too negatively.
The good thing about having heart failure in Glasgow (there are no good things about it really, of course, but if there were then this would be it) is how amazing the NHS heart failure team here is. The service has many aspects that are all really well integrated and they take a very holistic approach, which is why I get to see a specialist psychologist who understands heart failure and its implications. When I saw him recently, I was venting my frustration at how I try to give myself some talkings to and remind myself what's good and how things could be worse, but that this makes me feel no better whatsoever. He pointed out that doing this was trying to rationalise what's essentially irrational and I think he was right about that, but it's also a case of trying to silver-line my own situation, saying, "At least..." in response to my own problems. You see? I told you I was no good at empathy, even with myself...if that's not a total paradox?
I think, when you have a problem that isn't going to go away (like chronic illness or dealing with some sort of traumatic past event, for example) then you get to the point where you just don't want to talk to people close to you any more. Demanding empathy at all is a big ask, but to demand it again and again and again just seems too much to ask of anybody and, when there is no solution, you start to feel like a broken record to share the same woes over and over for no apparent purpose. I know certain people I'm close to feel bad that they can't solve my problems when I share them and so don't know what to say. Really, they don't need to say anything, or certainly not anything more than, "That sucks." That's definitely more helpful than any practical solution. Well, except maybe a cure for heart failure, but I don't think any of my nearest and dearest are going to succeed where so many eminent cardiologists have failed!
Another realisation from my recent meeting with the psychologist is that I'm never going to be happy about how things have turned out, but I can aim to be less unhappy than I am, unhappy at a more manageable level. I don't think any of my friends would ever consider suggesting something like that, as it is sort of a depressing thought, but at least it gives me a more achievable goal to aim for and any improvement is an improvement. So that's what I'm working on now - finding ways to allow myself to say, "This sucks," without falling apart at the seams. Doable? I hope so. And the more I manage to sort myself out, the less anybody else will have to join me in this hole. Win, win, win (in the end).