I’ve been torn about writing publicly lately for a dozen reasons. Mainly, I realize that disclosing so much information about myself has the potential to harm me or even those close to me. I realize that by disclosing my weaknesses, some people will look for ways to use that information to take advantage, and that it can work against me just as likely as work for me. Being in the legal industry exposes you to a lot of terrible people on a daily basis and after years of dealing with that, you start to assume the worst in people before you assume the best. It’s a sad truth.
On the flip side of this argument, writing gives me a voice that I don’t necessarily have otherwise; a platform to explain things from my perspective and to potentially make things better in a world with so much bad. Writing humanizes me in a way that I lack the ability to do on my own, in person. It’s the best way I know how to communicate. If my words hold the ability to shift perspective or shine light on things that wouldn’t necessarily be thought of otherwise, perhaps the power therein outweighs the rest.
Self reflection brings growth.
At the end of the day, I’m human. We’re all human. I won’t be afraid of that.
For the past two months, I’ve been in a self-induced form of isolation, recovering from burnout – Empathic Burnout. Interacting with the outside world became too heavy for a minute and I had to take a step back to reprioritize and refocus. I needed a chance to clear my head from all the noise in order to gain clarity and insight again.
In the past, I’ve referred to myself as an Empath. In short, what that means is that other people’s feelings are contagious to me. It means that I feel the emotional energy of others around me strongly and deeply. Not only do I simply feel them, but I have a tendency to absorb those feelings and take them on as my own. An Empath can pick up on other people’s emotions even without that person saying a word to them because we can feel it in their energy, by their body language, through their aura. Oftentimes, I confuse my own feelings with those of others around me to the point that I don’t even know what feelings are mine and what feelings are those of others.
As a professional in the legal industry, this character trait of mine has been especially difficult for me at times, because if I’m not careful, it will weigh me down too much. Being involved in the legal industry means dealing with and facing other’s emotional pain, trauma and problems head on. Every. Single. Day. Being exposed firsthand to that kind of pain and mental anguish for such an extended period of time eventually caught up with me this summer and it caused me to burnout. Big time.
Being empathetic or kind is oftentimes confused with being weak, and some people will try to take advantage of that. This has became a painful lesson I’ve learned many times over the past few years and it sometimes makes me question things and whether I want to try to continue to be a good person or let the bitterness drain me completely. As a child we are taught that people are inherently good, but then you grow up and interact with the world and it makes you question that ideal to its core. I understand why old people are bitter and cranky and paranoid. I get it in all the ways.
It was especially hard for me back in the days of when we only handled foreclosure defense, before the market shifted. We spent our days listening to people talk about tremendous hardships and heartache, pain that would buckle you if you allowed it to. People on the brink of homelessness and financial ruin all around us. We staved off foreclosure for people for months and oftentimes helped them avoid it altogether in the end, doing tremendous good for most. But you can’t help everyone and there was of course the occasional client whose house couldn’t be saved, despite our best efforts. Yet instead of feeling happy for the people we did help, I was wrecked with guilt over the ones we couldn’t help. Everyone almost always looking for someone else to blame for everything in the end, and I let that emotional pain torment me, even though it wasn’t my pain to bear.
When we found Real Estate closings, we were in heaven. People were in our office and they were happy to be giving us their money. Smiling and taking photos. The change was an immediate, welcome relief to us compared to foreclosure defense and we threw ourselves into an industry that was for the most part, rewarding, fun and challenging (in a good way).
And we grew…
And as our business grew, so did our staff. Quickly. In our growth, I assumed the role of HR manager alongside my many other duties, a role that came with an entirely new set of emotional challenges. We grew so quickly that it just kind of happened that way. So instead of simply dealing with clients and their needs and problems, suddenly I found myself thrust into a role of dealing with dozens of other people, internally within our business, everyday under our roof. Wherein it used to simply be just Harry and I, suddenly it was the two of us, along with dozens of others too.
Being in this type of role and doing it well takes an enormous amount of emotional strength and insight. It requires extreme self-awareness, along with the ability to read and communicate with people on a different level. Unfortunately, communication has never been a particular strength of mine. When I found myself thrust into this HR role before I realized what had even happened, I found that not only did I lack any experience or training in this capacity, but that I also lacked the emotional intelligence and maturity to handle the task the way that it deserved to be handled without compromising my own emotional health due to my empathic traits. It tormented me. The weight became crushing.
My energy quickly depleted and as result, I adapted a demeanor where I would at times appear cold and callous, bitchy and unapproachable. It was a defense mechanism developed in efforts to protect my own emotional health due to my empathic character traits and caring too much. It was an effort to prevent others from over sharing their pain and problems with me so that I didn’t have to feel the pain myself. I simply had nothing left to give, aside from a small amount reserved for only the dire necessities and for my children. (Though even they suffered, because I was still running on empty at home).
In the end, this approach worked against me in many ways too. Clients or employees would invariably come to me with their problems, as people do in this world. It was up to me to listen to be there for them and I wasn’t there for many people. Due to my sometimes ice-queen demeanor, I wouldn’t respond appropriately, or with enough empathy or compassion, and those people would feel as though they weren’t cared about or valued as much as they needed to be for their own emotional well-being. That they were underappreciated or lacked respect when the simple truth was that I was too tired to react the way they had wished me to react. As a result, we lost a few good employees over the years due to my emotional neglect. It wasn’t personal; I just simply didn’t have the capacity.
I realize that it’s merely a matter of days, or weeks before I’ll have to return to the office. Impossible to predict or know, but life happens and things change and you have to be willing to adapt. Someone will quit, or have a personal emergency, or we’ll take on a new client without the capacity to handle it. If only temporary, I’ll always be connected in a sense because Harry is connected and I am connected to him. It’s inevitable. If only to relieve some of the mental anguish that I realize that our amazing staff has to endure in an industry that will cut you down and buckle you on a daily basis if you let it. It will rock you to the core.
I am eternally grateful to the staff we have for being who they are and for growing and carrying this business for us. I owe you everything. I appreciate you all. I do. I care. More than you know. Too much. But that’s what Xanax is for, I suppose.
I feel it all too well. I feel it in all the ways. Even in my absence. I feel it.
Jillian Brennan, you’re an amazing manager and will continue to be so. I appreciate you for stepping up and assuming the mental burden when I needed to get away. You’re better at it than I am.
Harry has done an amazing job of allowing me this time and space and distance to recover from this burnout. No complaints, no jealousy, no resentment. Selfless. He’s one hundred times stronger than I am or will ever be, but the emotional weight gets heavy for him too sometimes. I can see it in his eyes, in his face, the gray hairs on his head that appear overnight. After all, he is only human too. Just like me. Just like you.
All I can do is acknowledge these truths and I can strive to learn and grow from them. So that’s what I do. It’s all I can do. I’m not a victim. I have to be better than that. Get better. Do better.
I feel things strongly and they affect me deeply, but I won’t let this world kill my spirit.