Every so often in life you something happens and you can immediately identify with the other person.
Way back when I was a teacher, I had a head of the department who would literally make me physically sick with anxiety. She would see me in the corridor just after eight and say,
‘I’m really annoyed and upset with you. Really cross. I can’t talk about it now, but I want you to see me after the school day.’
I would be worried and stressed all day. After three thirty, I would find her and often it was something trivial and easily sorted. For example, when she accused me of taking the key to the DVD player home. Once I brought out the booking forms to prove that I had not signed the DVD player out for months she said simply,
‘You can go.’
I sometimes worry when someone asks to speaks to me. My initial reaction is always that I must have done something wrong. I feel as if cold water is pouring all over my body, my stomach churns. I can’t describe the dread I often experience towards a phone call or letter. Sometimes it can be triggered by a simple,
‘Can I talk to you for a second?’
I think it is all mixed up with being a people pleaser and strangely setting high standards. Anyway, the point is I have always felt it was just me.
Yesterday, while I was making my usual mess at dealing with a difficult conversation, the lovely lady I was talking to became visually concerned. It was resolved in seconds. We weren’t having words or anything like that. However, it was an eye opener for me. Someone else had the same stress reflex. I knew what she was feeling.
Every so often people on Facebook see messages like;
‘Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle’
We share and liked these messages because they contain a simple truth. We don’t know what is going on behind closed doors or inside peoples minds. Appearances are deceptive.
I have a friend who has recently lost a family member. Now she and her family have another family member diagnosed with cancer. We drank coffee. My friend feels guilty because she feels tired. She wants to walk away. She can’t understand why she sometimes she bursts into tears.
My friend isn’t selfish. My friend is burnt out.
I can remember having similar feelings after the diagnosis of my own parents cancer. The feelings of pain and guilt. The worse emotion is that feeling of helplessness.
The point is that negative emotions have a way of making you feel that you are the only person who has ever felt like that. It is so easy to think that no one else understands. We can’t know exactly how others feel, but painful moments in our own lives should help us gain greater empathy.
I can’t help wondering why we don’t often deal with these feelings in our writing. Perhaps it’s because use writing to escape from our daily lives?
If anyone is interested in an example of excellent writing, which deals with strong emotions, I would recommend an outstanding book, ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness.