It’s Friday evening at 7:30pm, still sunny, and I’m out cruising the bars of Orange County in search of companionship and conversation.
Ha! Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. While it is Friday night and I am in the OC (as it’s known by transplants like me, which I’m certain makes Orange County natives cringe like I do when I hear people say “Northern Cali”), I am at home pecking out this piece on my iPad in an attempt to slowly recover from a work week in which my emotional, mental, and physical states were triggered into a sustained state of hyper-vigilance each morning and repeated several times throughout each day.
You could say that I’ve been swimming in cortisol and other stress hormones all week. That can’t be good.
Let me back up and say that I’m 61, twice divorced, living and working in Southern California and 500 miles away from a wonderful woman with whom I have been in love for just over two years. I accepted the offer from my current employer knowing it would be difficult on our relationship, but we both agreed it was the opportunity that could prove beneficial for a time. It’s now been nearly two years and the time has come to make some decisions. Although I’ve become a regular on the Southwest Airlines 5:35pm flight from Santa Ana to San Jose every other Friday, I won’t miss it.
Oh, the other thing you should know before reading further is that — I am an empath and an HSP.
HSPs, or highly-sensitive people, are ultra-sensitive to external stimuli such as noise, light, vibration, scents, touch, and other sensory inputs. We often can’t watch videos on YouTube of people falling or read a news story if the headline involves cruelty or unfair treatment of animals and children. Anything cringeworthy is typically avoided because it evokes a state of agitation that can manifest not only emotionally, but mentally and physically as well. There are two pair of slacks I will no longer wear because of the way the texture of the twill weave grates on my finger pads when they come in contact. It feels like sandpaper with the bonus feature of an electric shock. And although I have a nice office with a view that stretches to Huntington Beach, I keep the shade down and the lights dimmed most of the time because the light gets to me after a while.
You really can’t make this stuff up.
I’m also an empath and often absorb the negative energies of those in close proximity to me. I’m like an emotional sponge and tonight, after a 65-hour work week where my efforts were mildly praised but just as often (and usually in the same encounter) ripped to shreds by a mercurial boss who is a classic control freak, and I find that -like any sponge that is at maximum absorbency capacity- I am in need of a good wringing out.
To further the sponge metaphor, I don’t often get to full capacity like this; I usually soak up small amounts of energy and am not overstimulated to the point of needing a full-fledged squeezing, but on this occasion, it is the case.
Writing this piece might be the first step in that process. Step two will hopefully be a restful night courtesy of a 100 mg. tablet of Trazadone, a sleep aid my physician prescribed for just such needs; It knocks me out, isn’t habit forming like other sleep aids, and no side-effects save some grogginess in the morning; I take it maybe three or four times a year and only when it represents my last resort. Step three will be my Pilates class at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon, after which I should be completely wrung out.
In an effort to clarify where all this is coming from, let me talk about my boss for a moment. He’s younger than I am by about 25 years, yet he dominates every conversation we have. I say conversation, but the exchanges we have are mostly comprised of him entering my office, barking out a 10 minute stream of consciousness, peppering me with successive directives, alternating every third one with a question, the answer to which often alters his previously issued directives and causing him to replay his previous diatribe with new steps and new directives. Then he walks out.
In my HSP/empath brain, what I remember from this “conversation” is that he came into my office, stood much too close to me…that he had sweat marks peeking out of his armpits, and that his hair had been freshly cut and combed into his characteristic non-style. As he begins his morning speech, I wonder about his home life and whether or not his wife ever gets a word into a conversation. I focus on what he’s saying averting my eyes from his blinkless gaze, in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him blink. I can’t make eye contact with him for very long because I feel the emotional drain if I do. He’s like my own personal Dementor a la Harry Potter. We empaths know our energy vampires and he’s definitely mine. This only contributes to my already heightened level of distraction as I refocus on what he’s saying. I probably remember about 50 percent of what he says. When he walks out on his way to another team member’s office for what I imagine is s similar type of encounter, I make short bulleted notes about what I remember from his many directives and hope for the best, knowing all the while this will be repeated three times before I leave 12 hours later interspersed with emails checking to see I did this or did that.
I’ve worked in this industry for nearly 20 years and it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve experienced issues like this. I thought this stop on the employment train might be my last, but it’s evident that it won’t be. My boss isn’t going anywhere and there are other issues within the office that gnaw at my ethical side. I’m tired of living away from my best friend and lover and it’s definitely time to move on.
Empath and HSP Superpowers
What I’ve described above is what happens to a lot of empaths and HSPs in the workplace. But it’s not always like this. Most of us learn to embrace the way our nervous systems are wired and focus as much as we can on the positive side of our unique way of interpreting and interacting with the world.
We schedule quality downtime, avoid situations that we know are likely to trigger reactions as I’ve described above, but we also use our empathic and HSP superpowers for good. We are the best listeners you will ever meet. We are compassionate beyond measure and when we care about you, we do so far more deeply that your non-superpower endowed friends.
We are also inspirational creatives, leaders, and thinkers. Creative people like Jim Carrey, Steve Martin, Bob Dylan, Nicole Kidman are HSPs. Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Malcolm X were notable HSPs.
Though we are endowed with nervous systems that operate differently, we are also afforded abilities that the rest of humanity doesn’t possess:
- We know things before you do
- We can sense when you’re bullshitting us
- We process things deeply and slowly
- We love with an intensity beyond imagination
- We can see through most people, especially narcissists
As you can imagine, because each us non-famous empaths and HSPs are like these more famous members of our tribe, we truly need our time alone, not because we’re anti-social, but because it fuels our ability to make your life richer when you encounter us.
It Seems I’ve Rambled On
What a surprise! Clearly, I have some decisions to make on the professional front. My creative side hungers for ways to make a lasting contribution to the world, as does that of most empaths and HSPs.
The world needs more Superheroes and I know of no other group people who are wired for this, or who can make the positive contributions to a world that’s needing such than that of my menpathic counterparts.
I’ve finished this piece on Saturday morning after the Trazadone did its trick. I feel much better than I did last night when I began this piece. Uninterrupted sleep always helps as does the act of writing and being transparent.
In just under two hours I’ll be on the Pilates Reformer having the best full-body workout I’ve ever experienced. I’m thinking of maybe increasing my class frequency from once a week to two so I can not only strengthen my 61-year-old excuse for a core but to also wring out my emotional and physical sponge on a more frequent basis.
If you have an empath or HSP in your life, or if you have one under your supervision, read what I’ve written. Read a few blog articles on these special people and educate yourself. They have the potential to be your most valuable business assets given the right approach.