by Karen Frazier, Managing Editor
I’m about to throw around some unsubstantiated theory. Just warning you ahead of time.
This weekend, Jim and I took a trip to Fry’s Electronics. I’m not sure how wide-spread Fry’s are – I know that there are a few on the West Coast – so for those of you who haven’t had the Fry’s experience, I will describe it to you. If you go to Fry’s, you will need a GPS. Fortunately, they have them. Actually, it would probably be a super-awesome marketing/sales idea for Fry’s to sell portable GPS systems to wary shoppers as they walk through the door so that they can find their way around the store. Or maybe they could rent locator beacons with a little display that beeps and shows where you are in the store. Really – it is that big and overwhelming. And full of people. If we’re in a down economy, it’s not apparent at Fry’s.
As the name implies, Fry’s has electronics. Zillions and zillions of electronics. Acres of electronics. There – that’s what they should call it. Fry’s Acres of Electronics. Maybe I’ll get in touch with their marketing department today and offer to sell them my very viable marketing solutions.
Anyway – this blog is – surprisingly – not about Fry’s. It is about empathy. Or at least that is what I sense it is going to be about.
I get extremely overwhelmed in places like Fry’s – big, huge stores teeming with humanity. It’s hard to explain, but I actually can start to feel this buzzing in my cells that is very uncomfortable. My thoughts begin to flip all around. It is not pleasant.
This doesn’t just happen at Fry’s. It happens pretty much anywhere that masses of humanity congregate. I can be distracted from it for a while, but eventually it all becomes overwhelming and I just have to get out. I find that it is less so at places where the masses of humanity are there with a common purpose – like a concert or a sporting event. It is dampened in open air. In a closed in space – something with a roof – it is worse.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t do well living in apartments, dorms or other places where I am in constant close proximity to large numbers of people on a daily basis. I have that same buzzing in my cells, but it is continuous and inescapable. I experience confusing random emotions that have little or nothing to do with how I am actually feeling.
Jim and I were discussing this on our drive home from Fry’s. Over the years, I have thought that maybe I was crazy. When I am away from all of that, however, I am just fine.
Currently, we live in a house on top of a hill. It is pretty much in the woods. We have a few neighbors, but they are separated by at least an acre of space on any side. We also live in a tiny town with less than 6,000 residents. Here, I am just fine. I don’t feel bombarded by emotions that I just don’t understand.
I have always been this way – since I was a small child. I’ve always felt others very keenly. Whatever those around me were feeling, I would feel it, too. When I was very little, I lacked the emotional maturity to understand empathy, and it was very difficult to separate how I was feeling from the deeply held emotions of others. I also lacked the language to describe it. I can remember feeling people in “colors”. I can remember weeping inconsolably at the sadness of a friend or bouncing off of the walls with excitement when others were excited.
In 1974, I was eight years old. My family took a trip to Spokane to the World’s Fair – Expo ’74. It was physically and emotionally overwhelming to me. All of the bodies. The wall of feeling that emanated from all of the people. My cells buzzed. I was dizzy. I was nauseated. I became physically ill. It was not a pleasant experience for me – and I’m guessing it wasn’t for my parents, either. I’m pretty sure I drove them crazy with how overwhelmed I was by it all.
It was also the first time that I realized that whatever was going on with me wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t something that was very acceptable. I never spoke of it. With anyone. I still don’t talk about it to many people. Except in my blog. Good thing only four of you read it.
I was labeled an oversensitive child. As I say, I am sure it drove my parents nuts, but at the same time, if I’d tried to describe what was happening with me, I’m not sure how well that would have gone.
The one person that I do wish I’d talked about it with was my grandmother. Looking back, I realize that maybe, just maybe, this thing that has always gone on with me might have been going on with her, as well, although she may have been even less aware of it than I have been.
My grandmother was a wonderful woman. I adored her. At Christmas, she was more excited than the kids were. She was the one you found under the Christmas tree shaking gifts. And she always guessed every single one of them. One year on her birthday, we went to a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. She happily ate a huge ice cream sundae as her lunch. It was, after all, her birthday.
Her childlike joy and wonder was one of the things that I loved about her, but there was another side, as well. My grandmother suffered from severe, debilitating depression. While it was somewhat controlled by medication, she appeared to have a very broad range of emotion that was extremely intense. She also suffered from severe, debilitating migraines (which she passed on to me).
It makes me wonder. Was my grandmother really depressed, or was she empathic? She was a vibrant, alive, amazing woman.
This is where the unsubstantiated theory comes in. Could it be that some people who are diagnosed with some form of a mental illness – whether depression, bipolar disorder or something else – are actually just more sensitive to the psychic energies of those around them? Perhaps mental illness isn’t always what it seems. Maybe, in some cases, it is a highly intuitive, empathic or sensitive person who hasn’t learned to shield themselves from all of the energies that bombard them.
I learned at an early age how to shield myself from the onslaught of the random emotions to some extent. It was a survival tactic. There was a trade-off, however. Because I never learned healthy ways to shield myself, I spent a lot of years completely walled off from feeling much of anything. If an emotion came – even one of my own – I would quickly block it out. It has only been in recent years that I have trusted myself enough to know which emotions are actually genuinely mine and which don’t belong. Not that my system is perfect, by a long shot. But I no longer block nearly as much as I did. This means that I feel a lot more of the deeply sad emotions – but I also experience a lot more of the joy, so it is a trade-off that I am willing to make. After years of blocking, there is a sweetness there – even to the difficult emotions.
I have never been on any kind of a psychotropic medication; however, I did take Topamax as a means of controlling my migraine headaches for about a year. It controlled the headaches, but it did something else. It took all of those emotions that I’d worked so hard to reclaim and tucked them somewhere deep inside of me where they were merely fuzzy outlines. Anything I felt seemed to be muffled by a thick, downy blanket. I didn’t like it. It felt like everything that I’d worked so hard to earn and reclaim was gone. I stopped taking the medication, and it all came roaring back full force. Fortunately, this time I was prepared.
What does it all mean? I don’t know really. Certainly my brain is wired differently than others. Or perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps we all have the same capacity and the same wiring – but some have learned to tuck it all away, or to shield themselves from it. I have come to believe, however, that whatever it is I am experiencing is a gift that was passed on from my grandmother to me. Like her, I know exactly what is in each of those brightly colored boxes under the Christmas tree. Like her, I can connect with and experience the joy and excitement that I knew as a child. And like her, I can feel deeply what others feel. In the end, maybe that is all I really need to know.
What do you think? Could depression and other types of mental illnesses be from unrecognized psychic abilities? Discuss it in our forum.