How Being an Empath With a Chronic Illness Has Made Me a Liar
I’m an empath.
In general, I consider my ability to be finely tuned in to others’ mental or emotional states nothing short of a super power. I can scan a room and know how to interact with everyone in it. It doesn’t take me long to find out what makes another person tick, and then to know how to keep them ticking. Empaths also tend to actually feel others’ emotions, both joyful and sorrowful, as we would our own. It makes us a powerfully compassionate and generally likable bevy. But as either Voltaire or Spiderman is known for saying, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Never have I felt this “responsibility” more than in the last few years.
In late 2015 I was diagnosed with Chiari, more clinically known as an Arnold Chiari malformation type 1. Without delving into all of the symptoms, Chiari is characterized by painful trigger points and muscle spasms, dizziness, tinnitus, fatigue, nausea, intermittent weakness and/or paralysis, just to name a few of the symptoms. It is a serious and chronic condition that is rarely diagnosed, poorly understood, and has no real treatment other than to try and manage symptoms. Emphasis on the word “try.”
Because I am both an empath and a Chiari warrior, I often find myself in tricky situations where I have to choose between my natural tendency to protect the feelings of others… or lie. More often than not, I choose the latter:
1. I lie to my dad when he asks if I’m still on “all that medication” because I know he worries about the long-term effects of my many prescriptions and their dosages.
2. I lie to my aunt when she asks if the brain surgery I had has “fixed” the problem, because I know she so desperately wants me to feel better.
3. I lie to my grandma when she asks if I’m still getting those headaches all the time, because I know she’s been praying her heart out for me.
4. I lie to my coworkers when they ask if I’m feeling OK, because I don’t want them to feel as if they should be taking on responsibilities that belong to me.
5. I lie to my massage therapist because I can tell how badly she wants to relieve my pain and muscle spasticity.
6. I lie to my doctor when she asks if I want to up the dosages on the medication that seeks to manage my pain, because I don’t want to seem like a pill popper.
7. I lie about my reasons for starting Christmas shopping in June, saying it’s because I like to be organized when really, it’s because I live in constant fear that a lengthy flare-up will make it impossible for me to do it during the actual Christmas shopping season.
8. I lie a lot by omission to almost everyone I know because I’m afraid of coming off as weak, a complainer, a drama queen, a party-pooper, self-centered, and assume that they don’t want to hear about my issues because they have plenty of their own.
9. I lie about how exhausting it can be just to get through the day because I’m afraid of my own reaction if I hear, “Yeah, I’m tired too,” one more time.
10. I lie about my reasons for declining to commit to social invitations because I live in constant fear that when the time arrives, a flare-up will force me to cancel anyway.
Since being diagnosed, I have experienced a shift in how I see the world, and my place in the world. I regularly have to remind myself and those around me that my life isn’t over, it’s just different.
I’m not a dishonest person, but I lie. Similarly, I’m not a victim, but I suffer. I lie because I choose not to transfer the burden of my suffering to those around me. As an empath, I feel the transferred struggles and the result mimics the endless tunnel that appears when two mirrors face each other. I lie because I’m a warrior, and warriors repudiate pity.