Friday, February 12, 2010

On Empathy

In response to my last post, I've received a lot of comments, concerned emails, and friends asking me with a too serious face "Are you doing better?"

I suppose I should explain my feelings in a more descriptive manner. To start off with, if you ask my husband or my friends how they would describe me or what they like most about me, they'll usually say something along the lines of "her upbeat attitude" or "the energy she brings to life." And if you asked me how I would describe myself, I'd include the words energetic, silly, and fun.

And 99% of the time, I feel alive and enthusiastic. I know that every person in the world has days when life is just hard or that enthusiasm with which you greet each morning is a little duller than normal. We blame it on work, on stress, on a lack of sleep. But honestly, I don't have many days when I feel even these minor "downers", well enough experience depression.

I've had many friends who have struggled intensely with depression - and before last week, I never understood. I sometimes felt like shaking them and asking "How can you not be in love with a world this amazing and interesting? There is beauty and life everywhere you look - you just have to pay attention."

But on Monday, a little more than a week ago, I experienced what many people struggle with on a daily basis. I felt, for the first time in my entire life, the consuming void of depression. And knowing, from experience, that talking about these things can encourage others who have struggled similarly, I blogged about the experience while feeling mostly compassion for the people in my life who feel like this every day.

I strongly believe that everyone in the world faces a daily battle. For some people, it is merely getting out of bed and getting on with life. For others, it is an addiction or a secret selfish sin. But I know that each person wakes up and has to fight their own Battle. I've found that I not only feel compassion towards people fighting (or losing) their battles, but empathy. Perhaps it is my overactive imagination, but I put myself in the shoes of others, and I see how they see the world, and for the most part, I can't say that I would have made different choices if I had walked in their shoes.

Which is why in the past, if I had thought about depression, I never understood how a person could feel nothing. On a regular day, I have a million emotions jumbling around on my insides. I feel strongly. I feel deeply. But, until last week, I had never not felt anything.

I now understand how consuming depression is and how, when you're depressed, you don't want help. You don't want to stop feeling the nothingness. You just want to disappear underneath your bedsheets and never move again. I get it.

Which was the point of my last blog, to shout out to the world, that I get it now. I empathize. I sympathize. I understand.

When someone comes to me and says "I just feel depressed lately," I can say to them, "Girl - I know what that feels like. It feels like this, this, and this." And we'll connect and we'll talk about what it means to be human and to face the difficult things in life. We'll be able to direct one another to the great Warrior who will shelter us in the shadow of His wings.

I suppose if there is one thing I want to be in this life, it is a person who loves people. And I'm not sure that you can truly love someone if you can't empathize with them. I think that with empathy comes acceptance and then love. When we begin to love the people in our lives and accept them with their faults and flaws and not despite them, I think we are one step closer to understanding Christ's love for us.

That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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