Life in Trump's World as an Empath

This post is for all of the people who haven't slept this week. This is for the people who have gone home, looked at their Facebook feed, and cried. I am reaching out to everyone who feels like they can't see anything except the dark path of the future where this week's executive orders could lead us. It's okay to have a good cry, because things are not okay. 

When I was a little girl, I used to cry a lot for no reason. I learned early on that there were rules about when to get visibly upset and when not to, but I still couldn't contain my tears. One particular instance that comes to mind is when I was in the third grade, and I was out of school for nearly three weeks due to the croup. I walked into the middle of computer class (we were just learning what "email" meant--oh, the nineties) and everyone was collectively excited to see me. I felt so overwhelmed by their happiness that I began to cry in front of them. I just couldn't handle all of the attention focused on me in that instant.  

I also learned at an early age that it's pretty much a guarantee that if someone else is crying, I will start to cry too. If someone else is excited or angry or scared, I absorb it like a sponge. If I must let another person down for any reason, I preemptively cry at the thought of how much I will have to hurt them.

I also inherit other people's trauma. As a child, I clung to stories, especially my grandfather's. I can vividly recall everything about the war that he's told me, down to the way he was sitting and the pots and pans hanging on the walls and the way the room was too warm and soup was always bubbling on the stove. He used to take my hands between his and tell me to never forget the things he'd told me. Namely, he told me to never lose sight of my ancestry amid our family's bid for Americanness. Though born in Berlin, my grandfather clung tightly to his Polish identity even in a time when it was extremely inconvenient and deadly. 

I can recall him pleading for me to never let history repeat itself, and I could sense his urgency passing between our two bodies in a sort of kinetic jolt. I still remember what his knuckles felt like, broad and knobby from being smashed while he was in prison during Poland's early Communist era. At times, I become fixated on this specific moment in history because my grandfather was also stuck in the past, and I must remind myself that no matter how much I try to remember, certain memories died with him, and it's okay that they did because they were his, not mine.

Recently, I learned that there is a name for what I've experienced most of my life, and that it's accompanied by a host of other characteristics: I prefer dim lamps to overhead lights. I have to leave the room if someone is wearing perfume. I am incredibly sensitive to fire alarms--if I am close to them, I can feel the pain of the noise reverberating through my whole body and it becomes almost unbearable. My bodily reaction to pain is the same whether I stub my toe or fall flat on my face, because pain is pain no matter to what degree I feel it.

Approximately 20% of the population can be classified as highly sensitive, or more commonly referred to as empaths. 

That has made this past week especially difficult for me. The world is angry and upset, and I can feel the collective weight of it in a way that drowns my optimism perhaps a bit more than others. You would think that this would push me to isolate myself from the world, but instead it has compelled me to do the opposite. I am addicted to the tidal force of emotion all around me right now. Before this week, I had never been to a protest or march of any kind, and now I've attended three. I resisted the urge to cry in a sea of thousands of people while marching to the Loew's Hotel on Thursday. The emotions of the people around me were so palpable, their anger and heartbreak so strong that I am still recovering from it.

Just when I think I have gotten used to the state of the world, I am blindsided by news that a new racist, sexist, classist, and/or fascist executive order has been put into action. Tonight, when I learned that two refugee families arrived in Philadelphia only to be sent back to the Middle East, I felt all of the air leaving my lungs. For a few minutes, I struggled to breathe, imagining what it was like to board that plane again after being so close at having a new life free of oppression. I wondered if they were being sent back to their deaths.

I am grateful that my grandfather is not alive to see this political era in the country where he started a new life, but I also worry that the horrors that he spent much of his life trying to convey to me will soon be mine to experience first-hand. Navigating the Trump presidency as an empath will certainly be no picnic, but after a week of feeling more deeply than I have in a long time, I think I am coming out on the other side. The reason? I believe that those thousands of people that I saw clogging the streets outside City Hall on Thursday were harboring many of my fellow empaths. We are hiding among the rest of the population, trying not to let our emotions get the best of us. But in my lifetime, never has there been a time when openly crying and feeling has been so needed. Never has there been a time for our love to consume us. You see, highly sensitive people also fall in love far more easily and intensely than the rest of population. We love others at a level that we know is reckless but that feeds our desire to care about something larger than ourselves. This means we are more prone to feeling heartbreak about the tragedies around us, but it also means that we absorb the positive stuff too. It's a bit harder to hunt for the positive things, but several hours after those refugees were sent back into a war zone, a voice of reason finally rang out and declared a temporary block on Trump's Muslim ban. I felt something more akin to joy than relief run through my system. The joy, though a fleeting overcorrection of a positive emotion, is intense and it's enough to make me stop drinking the wine that I had poured myself twenty minutes ago in despair and start writing this blog post. 

This sudden impulse to articulate the intensity of my feelings--the zigs and zags of joy and grief expressed in the words and art and music and voices of my fellow empaths--is, I hope, one of many things that will help us through this point in our history.