I haven’t been sleeping.
Oh, this happens from time to time, but my familiarity with it doesn’t make me any less frustrated when it shows up. I’m sure it’s stress, I’m sure it’s anxiety, I’m sure it’s depression, I’m sure it’s the pain in my muscles and joints, I’m sure it doesn’t really matter what it is because I just miss sleeping.
Nevertheless, here is where I am, and here is where I’ll stay until the loop closes itself up and I’m back to the part of the cycle where I sleep a bit better, where I’m in a bit less pain. Or maybe this loop will never close up again. I don’t know. I’m always wondering if this will be the time when the loop never closes back up, the time when it is no longer a cycle of pain and flared unhealth but a consistency of it. I don’t know. I just don’t. There’s so much I don’t know.
And the questions I have don’t have answers. Perhaps I need to get used to it. But: I want so much more than a month or so of feeling good. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. But maybe it is. Maybe I’m presumptuous. Maybe I’m missing the point entirely.
I am. Maybe I should ask what that point is and actually listen for the answer. I ask all these questions about my future, my health, my life, my body, my mind. Me. Me, myself, and I.
Or maybe the point is that there is none. Sometimes things just are or are not, just exist or do not exist, happen or do not happen, heal or do not heal.
It’s logical, but sad and wrong, how easy it is to become selfish when you don’t feel well. It’s so easy to close in on yourself, to lock up. To say no to going out, to say no to community and friendship even. It is easy to say no to letting people in, to letting them see you and know you. And it’s hard to stop smiling and laughing and maybe let them see you cry, and it’s exhausting to step outside of yourself, to forget about the pain you feel so intimately and truly and persistently and to wear someone else’s pain.
I’m reading Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, and in it, she says,
“When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.”
Bad things have happened to people I love. Of course! And I have felt for them. With them, even. I know how hard it is to love someone who is in constant pain. I know how difficult it is to see them walk like there’s broken glass underfoot, like there are brambles woven into their skeleton, like their muscles are made of rusted iron, like their mind is made of different stuff.
I’m also afraid sometimes, late at night when I’m trying to sleep or perhaps early in the morning when I wonder if the day will be better or worse than yesterday, that I know how difficult it is to experience those things firsthand. So I often I wonder if, when I see them if I am seeing my future. I wonder, is this how my loved ones will feel when they see me? I wonder, is this how my feet will move, my mind will churn, my hands will swell, my body will burn? And I wonder, is this how my children will look at me and wonder?
Perhaps the point is, since I know how hard it is to love someone in pain–or rather, or and, how hard it is to see a loved one in pain–
I am afraid to be the one in pain that is hard to love, the one whose pain pains others. I’m afraid to be sick and to be loved in all the ways that might be shown because I know. Because out of all the things I do not know, there is one measly sad truth that I do know: I know what it’s like on both ends, and it is work.
Maybe I’ve swallowed the empathy I feel toward them and made it about me again. Maybe I’m not really wearing their pain to share in their suffering but to process my own personal baggage. Probably the latter. It happens involuntarily. I don’t try to make their suffering about me, I swear. But it’s easier to imagine myself wearing their pain than it is to process what I see when they wear it. Let’s see, does this joint pain justify my sleeplessness? And this depression–does it match my inability to get out of bed in the morning or have consistent, intentional conversation with the people I care about? What of this fatigue? Does it work with the general malaise I already have? How would I wear this out to the store? To church? With my future children?
Me, myself, and I. Is that empathy? Or is it projection? Or even worse, is it a hijacking of their hurt? A filibuster to reframe and revert their experience?
Leslie Jamison also writes,
“Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us – a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain – it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.”
Maybe trying their pain is not empathy. Maybe wondering about my future with their pain is not empathy; maybe it’s burglary. But this burglary of experience feels sensical to me as I live with earlier versions of it. If I am well on my way to sharing the experiences anyway, why not try them on for size first, see how things feel, acclimate myself to the textures and structures? It’s logical.
Logical–but that doesn’t necessarily mean good or right or kind or loving.
It’s logical, but sad, how easy it is to become selfish when you don’t feel well.
I spend much of my time self-preserving. It makes sense that I would preserve emotional stasis.
Logical, but sad, and not always good or right or kind of loving.
Mom tells me that I turn into Spock when my emotions threaten to overtake me. Yes. I do. It’s only logical. It only makes sense to resist that which exhausts or empties us.
But not always good or right or kind or loving. I’m still learning what it looks like to take care of myself and also take care of others. To fill my cup but also let it spill over. To surrender to the intense need to retreat from time to time but eventually remember to put myself back out there. To need a good friend while also being a good friend.
To go to sleep at night but be willing to wake up in the middle of the night, pack my bags, and leave my worst self for my better. And then maybe go back to sleep.
But the problem is, I haven’t been sleeping in the first place.