Empathy Breeds Sympathy? Not Necessarily…

So… I have a friend. She’s very much like I was when I was young. Full of life, seeking adventure, incredibly empathetic, and bat shit crazy! She does things that make sane people absolutely nuts. And then backs it up with acts of kindness so generous, you’re almost willing to forgive her. Almost…

To be fair, she’s had a rough year. Which kind of followed on the heels of another rough year. I mean last year she had a prolonged and erratic break-up to process, which had forced her to go home and live with her parents as an adult. And that was a storm of its own; needing them but resenting them every single day. So none of that can be discounted, especially when considering she already had a laundry list of mental illness diagnoses, with their associated treatment regiments that she might, or might not, follow at any given time…

Then this year her mother died of the Covid, early on, during the first lockdown. Middle aged and usually healthy, no one even suspected the infection, believing her dizzy spells had more to do with the concussion she’d suffered during a fall while cleaning the bathtub. And even though an ambulance had eventually been called, mom refused to go in it; she locked herself in the bathroom insisting she’d get sick at the hospital if they took her. Two days later she died. At home. Covid was confirmed. She couldn’t breathe…

Now my friend is locked down in her family home, quarantined with her grieving father, unable to make funeral arrangements, seek counsel, or properly grieve herself, while trying to figure out the family finances, etc., as her father clearly couldn’t. Her father eventually had to be hospitalized himself. Suicide attempt. Completely unhinged from reality. Unable to care for himself, much less anything else. And so began her journey of parent care, during a pandemic lockdown, with a recalcitrant patient. And her own issues unaddressed…

So she coped. Alcohol, a return to smoking, drugs if she could come across them (I suspect her mother had a stash). Then the hospital booted her father home, the lockdown ended, and she was expected to return to work. She tried. And failed. Apparently work was that one more thing, that final straw that broke this poor camel’s back. Tragic, really! And understandable that she couldn’t quite pull herself together. She had family leave available to help when the regular paychecks ended, and the freedom now to get out amongst others. Including drug users and dealers, and mental health practitioners (on virtual visits for safety, of course) only too willing to help her manage her anxiety.

Eventually the family leave ended, resources began to dry up, and the sheer necessity of returning to work took center stage. So now, she’s back in my world…

Enter the post-lockdown cast of characters she must now deal with 5 days a week. There’s the supervisor (and best friend outside work) who lost her father during the quarantine; she’s dealing with the loss of a parent while helping her mom process through it, all while catering to her mom’s near paranoid anxiety about the virus. And the co-worker (sometimes outside work social friend) whose partner had a massive manic, paranoid meltdown during or following the shutdown; she’s trying to manage the resultant financial crisis while barely holding on to the man who is actively and brutally trying to push her away, all while managing her own (previously diagnosed) anxiety issues. And there’s me; I know this young lady almost as well as I know myself, watching her through eyes blinded by my own history. She doesn’t have much to say to me, though we were friends once, but then, she doesn’t really like what I have to say to her…

And work is simply too much to expect from this child-adult. All she wants to do is throw in the towel, give up, escape (responsibility in all shapes and forms). Completely understandable. But “wrong” nonetheless. And she is torturing these other women – demanding “help” while refusing to accept it, crying wolf when it’s easier than dealing with what’s in front of her, expecting everyone to indulge her instability in the name of sympathy (or empathy), while allowing them to pick up her slack. And they do. Until they can’t anymore…

And management finally catches up to her, and calls her out. The late arrivals (hours, usually, and every day). The emotional meltdowns in a retail environment. The physical uselessness that comes with being over-medicated on the job. They ask how they can help her through this while minimizing the harm to their business. She starts screaming bloody murder. And quits…

Now she wants unemployment. She wants independent contractor covid assistance. She wants medicaid. She wants…

But she’s not entitled to any of it… She’s alone in her head, refusing to acknowledge the consequences of her own actions. It sounds incredibly familiar. In so many ways…

I want to feel sorry for her. Better yet, I’d like to find some compassion in my heart. But I have none. I have only my memories of being her, and an understanding (based solely on my own experience) of how it must play out. I choose to step away from such toxicity, understanding that nothing I do will fix her, or her situation; that she can only do herself. I refuse to be manipulated…

And these are the confessions of a late 2020 empath – inglorious, unkind, uncompassionate. Living in a much smaller world of my own choosing. I have nothing left to offer the outside world; life has mostly become a spectator sport.

Entertainment in the current age. Sad, isn’t it?


8 thoughts on “Empathy Breeds Sympathy? Not Necessarily…

  1. A gripping account of a very sad case of the human condition. In reading it, I couldn’t help but think of this Oscar Wilde quote:

    “I sometimes think that God in creating man somewhat overestimated his ability.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good one. And I think that 2020 has taken its toll on all of us, even if we sometimes cannot see it in ourselves. My co-worker/friend might be the focus of this piece, but it is ultimately about me. And in that context, your Wilde quote certainly applies.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kat says:

    I have many words and no words. Life is very fragile for all of us. Everyone has bubbles now. Some overlap, some cross at difficult intersections. We are observers from afar of those that were previously in our bubble. Every day we struggle to find the peace and good in what is happening in our bubble. The world falls apart, the center cannot hold. It only shifts. Step left when you have to, dance when you can. Just some Late night musings .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, bubbles. That is a very apt description. And every day is a dance just to maintain balance amid changing rhythms and rocking boats… Thanks for reaching out, Kat. It’s good to see you passing by. 🙂


  3. It is impossible to give help to someone who refuses to be helped. If someone refuses to be helped even they cannot help themselves.
    It has nothing to do with qempathy, compassion, or kind caring. It has everything to do with wanting no control of one’s life because to admit control is toq have to be responsible. Been there, done that, but never for a great length of time. Hopefully her time to stop being alive will end soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, hopefully, Jerry. But this piece is also about myself and my shrunken world. I don’t really feel isolated; my life feels full. And then stuff like this occurs snd I am reminded how much more extroverted I used to be pre-2020. It’s weird…


      • I have to ask, is it about the present you, or a past you? Neither one of us has made many posts of late, so we don’t really know how either of us is getting along. But I like to believe the person you are writing about is not really you anymore. She may have once been you, but there is more to you these days. I could be wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, I’m not that crazy child anymore. I just see so much of who I was in this friend. The me that is now lives in a very small world with a limited view outside my window. Covid locked us down so that I have family, coworkers, and a very small group of quarantine buddies we occasionally get together with. It’s all kind of made me feel “less than” before.


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