All Tapped Out

As much as I have enjoyed all of the social events that I have been to over the past month, I think I have well and truly exceeded my exhaustion limits for face to face socialisation. I am utterly drained and feel like I could spend an eternity alone and in silence. My mum always talks about how being around people and socialising energises her. It does the exact opposite to me. It completely drains my energy and it takes a lot of time to recharge.

I’m not sorry I’ve been out, not at all. I’m just going to be paying for it some time with emotional (and physical) exhaustion. I’m all tapped out and just need to be alone to rebuild my strength, and reset my conversational limits.

Am I just weird or does this make sense to someone?

My Empathy is Exhausting

I work in customer service. I spend 5 hours a day, four days a week, on the phone helping out with customer enquiries, sales, building rapport, fielding complaints, et cetera.

I am very good at my job.

I have the ability to really connect with customers, understand their needs and provide them with the product and service they require. I can talk to almost anyone from any background, with any personality, and make them feel like I’ve been waiting all day just to speak to them personally. I am always patient, understanding, courteous and professional. I have never once been rude to a customer or co-worker in any job I’ve worked at. I am generally the most amiable and easy going person in any workplace.

The thing I find the most amusing about this is that I actually don’t particularly like people. I mean I like people, but I just don’t like to be around them. The reason for this is probably going to make me sound a little kooky – and trust me I’m a very sceptical person. I don’t believe in the supernatural, or mystical things. I don’t go for psychics, or ghosts, or even any religious beliefs. (Though each to their own, as long as they don’t harm anyone else)

However I am what I suppose could be labelled an empath. I easily absorb the energy of other people’s mood. Being around people (especially groups of people) can be very confusing for me mentally and emotionally. The energy that people give off creates a lot of noise an interference for my mind. It’s very hard in a situation like my workplace – open plan, 40 odd people working in reasonably close proximity to each other (in my department alone), and having to deal with a wide range of emotions from clients.

Let me try to explain it like this – imagine all of those people talking to me at once. If they did that I wouldn’t be able to understand what anyone was saying, let alone even hear myself think. The same goes for the energy they give off – I absorb all those moods and it confuses me because I can’t determine which ones are mine and which ones belong to the people I interact with.

In some ways being very finely tuned to how others are feeling is actually a benefit for my success in my job. When people call me up looking for insurance because they are travelling, or buying their first home, or getting a new car – I feel and return their excitement. I become genuinely excited for them, and can build a rapport with them and personalise the call in a way that I couldn’t otherwise do. Nothing I say to them is facetious, or put on – I speak from a place of genuine happiness and excitement (even if technically it’s not really my personal mood, just an absorbed one). On a side note: I also absorb all the negative energy of people who aren’t happy. And even though I always maintain calm and polite and patient front – their energy also accumulates within me.

There is a huge downside of strong tendencies toward empathy. The accumulation of so many moods (both positive and negative) is very draining (emotionally, mentally and physically). I need to spend long periods of time alone, away from people. At the end of the work day I am so drained from the interference caused by absorbing all the energy of co-workers, customers, and others. It’s can be hard to unwind, unless I can spend time alone processing the moods, releasing them, and finding my real self again. And of course that relates back to my last post where I worry that I am not a good mother.

The amount of time I need to recuperate from such taxing situations cuts into the time I have available to spend with my children when I get home from work before they go to bed. I can’t address their needs properly until I have purged the energy that I have absorbed from all those others that day. And sometimes I feel like they might think I am rejecting them – because when I first get home I am not open to cuddles, and long conversations. I need an hour or so by myself before I feel ready to be smothered in kisses and cuddles, and talk about the things that went on in their day. And on particularly draining days it can be all evening, which makes me feel a little sad for missing out on time connecting with my own children.

But I try to make it up to them. I try to spend quality time with them on weekends. When I returned to work (1/2 way through my eldest child’s first year in prep) I started working full time. Early on I reduced the number of days I work. A little later I reduced the number of hours each day that I work. I start later in the morning so I can take them to school. I finish early enough to try to spend time with them in the evenings (when I am not too drained).

I know it’s about quality and not quantity. But I worry about how it affects them when I can’t reciprocate their unwavering desire for physical and emotional affection. I worry about their feeling rejected if I sometimes have to keep them at arm’s length so I don’t fall apart.

Sometimes I wish I could ice my heart over so I don’t have to feel everyone else’s emotions so strongly. But at the same time, I guess it’s better than not feeling anything at all. I’ve been there before, and it’s very scary.

The Fear of Being a Mental Mum

I have two children, aged 8 & 7 (there is a 15 month age gap). One of the things that is a constant battle for me is the fear/guilt that I am not a good parent, and that I’m going to ruin my kids lives because of my mental illness.

I’ve mentioned before that there have been a number of occasions in my life when I was diagnosed with depression. When my youngest was born I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. A couple of years after that things started to go bad. This was a rock bottom – locking myself in cupboards, self harm and waking up in hospital stage.

But it wasn’t just a case of depression. In fact, if it was just depression it probably would have been easier for me to handle. At least with my depressed state I am still mentally aware, still able to understand that I am present in this world, I am not delusional. When I have depression I don’t interact with the world as much – however I don’t completely mentally disassociate from it. I wasn’t suicidal at those time – just apathetic about life, lethargic, and unwilling to get out of bed.

Worse were the times that I would enter a highly agitated state where thoughts would be racing a million miles a second and I couldn’t focus on a single thing. There were wild spending sprees, and other signs of impulsiveness and recklessness. During those times I would have extended sleeplessness and become overly talkative and irritable. On those occasions it was when I talked about ending it all, and was harming myself. At it’s worst I would blank out and end up catatonic – awake but just not there.

After those episodes I would “wake up” although I hadn’t actually been asleep. It was like I has lost control of my mind, and then I’d come back to reality – unable to account for things that had happened while I was in that state. It was the manic stages that really worried my partner at the time.

Once I got the correct diagnosis and began treatment and psychotherapy things gradually became more stabilized. It’s been about 4 years and I am a world away from where I was. I function – I can actually work, and mostly look after myself and the kids, and even when their dad left us around 2 years ago – I didn’t fall apart. It’s still not all roses. There are good days, there are bad days and there are really bad days. I haven’t had a full manic episode for around 3 years thankfully.

But I still wonder if I’m fit to be a parent. I think back to their infant and toddler years where I was incapable of looking after myself let alone them. My ex had the responsibility of being a “parent” to me as well as the kids. I wonder if I set them up for a troubled life because at those critical years I just couldn’t give them the love, attention and security they needed. I know they don’t remember it, but they saw me at my worst so early in their lives – and I still feel guilt and self-hatred that I somehow ruined them for the future.

My kids are very affectionate, and open with their love. I am somewhat envious of the fact that they are both so easy with their affection, because I find it very difficult to expression emotion and affection. I do love to get kisses and cuddles from them, spend time and have conversations with them them. But I am the type of person who also requires a lot personal space where I don’t want to be touched or talked to. It sometimes gets to the point where I feel like I am actually suffocating when they want to sit on my lap, cuddle me, or just be with me.

I feel a sharp pang of guilt every time I have to ask my kids to give me some space and not touch me for a bit. They are still too young to understand that human interaction is very taxing on me both mentally and physically. I get scared that they will think I am rejecting them, and that feeling of rejection will lead to major problems for them. It’s not that I don’t love them, because I do with all of my heart. It’s just that I wonder sometimes whether they deserve a better parent that I am. Someone who isn’t as messed up as I am in my head.

Being a single parent is hard enough. Doing it with mental illness is an endless battle. Being responsible for myself is a challenge –  sometimes I think it’s a terrible and sick cosmic joke that I am responsible for two other lives. But at the same time being responsible for people other than myself is grounding. I can’t let myself become reckless and impulsive because I know that I have to protect two vulnerable and innocent children.

If I don’t want to lose them, it’s all on me.