Let’s be real here, emotion is contagious. I don’t need to give you examples, I’m sure you can come up with your own. There is a lot of good to come of this because there are a lot of good emotions (secondhand happiness, joy, love), but what about the not-so-good? I hope you don’t find me to be too morbid as I work some humor into this. It makes sense right? The subjects people don’t like to talk about are way easier to digest if you add a little humor & I’m not one to keep things heavy anyways – life is short.
Let’s talk second-hand sadness, stress, anger, anxiety, and depression – the sucky stuff. Sidenote: why isn’t “sucky” a word? It’s such a good adjective, I should have named this post “Secondhand Sucky Stuff”. I want to cover everything from your best friends in-laws criticizing how he/she folds their towels to someone at work losing a child & everything in between. Whatever is going on, whether you overhear it or are holding their hand while you talk them through it, you are shouldering some of their burden. We watch those tacky Hallmark Movies, tissue in hand, ready to cry along. We crave a reason to let it all out, in privacy, for reasons we don’t even understand half the time. Sometimes I’m just driving in my car & the singer on the radio hits the high note & there I am, trying not to cry in 5 o’clock traffic for zero reason on a particularly boring/normal day. If you’ve never been overwhelmed by emotion that isn’t yours, please visit the following website: How To Tell If You’re A Psychopath. What? Serial killers lack empathy & are often characterized as Psychopaths…. Anyways, it’s stupid to pretend you aren’t affected by those around you, so don’t make the mistake. You should be especially aware if you work in a field that exposes you more than normal: nursing, firefighting, mental care & wellness – basically anything in the medical profession. I’d love to claim I need extra special care because of the crazies I work around in Project Engineering, but I just don’t think it compares to someone who comes face-to-face with difficulty on a daily basis. So here we go, here is a list of things I personally do to help move past/through “Secondhand Sucky Stuff”. <<< See where I said “things I personally do”? Take it or leave it, the point is the same, don’t ignore it, take care of yourself as well as you take care of others.
(Still not a doctor….never have been, never will be – so remember the grain of salt & all that as you read through.)
Humor. I use humor in any & all scenarios, especially the inappropriate ones where you get the “too soon” reaction. Some may find that to be disrespectful or lacking empathy, but for me it is just the opposite. For a short time I worked at a fire department & then a police department, totaling around 5 years. I wasn’t around the really horrible stuff as much as the fire fighters or the police officers, but I was around the fire fighters & the police officers just the same. This was their #1 choice in dealing with the pain & not letting it become too “real”. They made jokes, about things you really shouldn’t joke about…. At first this bothered me because I didn’t understand. Then, I started hearing some of their stories from the day & I became directly affected, shouldering some of their burden. Ya know, all that secondhand sucky stuff… joking about it, laughing, forming that camaraderie over lunch – it’s absolutely necessary. Of course, some of it was so bad you couldn’t even talk about it, but then you lighten the mood. You bring up the story about that one time the Chief got thrown up on at the same time the Assistant Chief was being pooped on while they toted someone down a set of stairs andddddd you’re back. Humor can diffuse a situation, it pays well to remember that in all aspects of life.
Secure your oxygen mask first, prior to helping others. One of my followers works with children that have developmental issues and/or mental illnesses. This takes an extreme toll on her. I can only imagine what it’s like watching children struggle to do normal every day tasks, every day. Helping how you can while at the same time growing in frustration with how you can’t. She told me that it’s so incredibly important for her to decompress & remember who she is. It’s important to “secure your oxygen mask first”, just like they tell you on the airplane. For her, that’s time with family & getting away. For me, it’s taking that extra time in the morning to make myself breakfast & sit with a cup of tea while my backyard comes alive with animals in the dawning sunlight. For you, maybe it’s a day at the spa? Find that special thing, what ever it may be, that grounds you & gives you a steady flow of oxygen before you go trying to save the world everyday.
Refresh & Refocus. Let’s say you didn’t secure your oxygen mask first, what then? You’ve shouldered someone else’s burden and you feel like you’re drowning. Another follower who has a hard time taking it on herself takes a deep dive into the bible & her devotional. I make it a point when I talk about religion to say, you are who you are & you believe in what you believe, so get spiritual. If that’s diving into a bible reading plan (what I’m doing right now) then so be it. If it’s climbing a tree & meditating, I’m all for it. Refresh. Refocus.
Share the Burden. Nope, that wasn’t a typo. If your friend cried on your shoulder & you’re feeling the burden, share it with them or someone else until it becomes so infinitesimally small that it ceases to exist. No, don’t go to them & be like, “you suck, I was there for you & now my life sucks like yours.” That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, you were there for them – now you share something with them that you don’t share with anyone else. Talking about/through things is actually helpful, apparently that’s been proven (my sarcasm is alive & well, folks)…. So if Jenny lost her dog & you shouldered that burden with her, if reasonable time has passed & it’s still bothering you chances are it’s still bothering her. If it’s not a secret or you can reasonably confide in someone, talk it out with someone new, someone more removed from the situation. Don’t take this as an opportunity to air your friends/families dirty laundry, keep their trust in mind or even ask if it’s okay if you talk to someone else about it. Common sense, people. For those in the medical profession, find “your person” (Grey’s Anatomy reference) just be sure they’ve also signed that HIPAA form….
Hold it deep down inside & cry alone every night. No one said I had to give good advice? However, if you’re one of these people – you know, the ones that are strong & never falter…except alone. You can pretend all you want, to be that wall that absorbs everything for everyone & never crumbles, but who are you helping? When it comes tumbling down & you end up broken, you’re not helping anyone and that includes yourself. That’s the big secret here, share in love, joy & everything in between because it’s in peoples nature to listen. Even if you’re like me and you want to fix everything, you still listen. It may not be in the way someone wants, but you do it none-the-less.
If you have a “rock” that seems to take on everything for you, but never breaks – please let this be a reminder that it does, they do. They break. They just probably break all alone & in the privacy of their own homes (or cars during rush hour). Try to think back to the last time they asked you to shoulder some of their burden…it’s probably hard to recall. They won’t ask for help, you have to force it on them. Remember to ask about their day & their life even if they don’t offer it up on a platter for you each time you talk. Care about more than the weather & their job, care about them & who they are & what they’re dealing with underneath all of that day-to-day bullpoop.
Be vulnerable. Obviously trust your gut when it comes to whom you choose to be vulnerable with, but be vulnerable none-the-less. You aren’t alone & you need to take care of yourself. Everything above is common sense & it’s easy to tell someone they should be doing these things, but it’s hard to remember when you’re not removed from the situation & viewing it from the outside. When you’re among the turmoil, pull this post up & read it as a reminder of the common sense you so easily offer to others, but not to yourself.
If you have something to add to this list, please do so in the comments – I’d love to hear how you deal with secondhand sucky stuff!
To all of my loved ones that deal with depression + anxiety. Talk to me. It’s my job to make you laugh, to calm you down, to listen. Though you know I’m a problem solver, I will always do my best to put aside my personal inclinations & try to figure out what it is that you need.
Read about how I pre-treat my anxiety & depression, here.