Aggressive Vulnerabilities, Part 2: Sympathy and Empathy
Recently, I’ve noticed while being louder about my struggles with mental health, there are those who have expressed concern over my wellbeing. While more often than not these expressions come from a place of genuine and sincere concern, often times there’s a sense of sympathy that comes with this. This can come off as condescending every now and again -- as if they see me like woe is me, I’m a sad artist who cannot even with his feelings right now.
I guess my initial reaction to this is that I have always been dealing with this. I have been an anxious mess for years. Depression has kept me from succeeding in the past. I just haven’t been discussing it in this way, so it feels new to people. There is nothing new to my experiences with mental health and how my brain reacts to certain situations. While to the outside viewer this may seem like news, it’s status quo for your dear hero, the artist.
I certainly am not asking for sympathy. I don’t want pity, or some veiled sense of concern that ultimately feels more like condolences for my once happy self. What I want others to understand (specifically about my mental health struggle but there are certainly moments that can be interpreted more generally) is that sometimes, it’s OK to be sad and not understand why. Sometimes, we don’t have control over these moments, and even those things we go through to fix or change them don’t fully work. I am on antidepressants and have been flirting with therapy (currently out of it but that’s an entirely different essay altogether about my lack of self care practices), but it’s not perfect. The remedies aren’t immediate, and they certainly aren’t always 100% effective.
There are distinct differences between sympathy and empathy, and this little “project” of mine is starting to highlight and triple underline those. With empathy, you attempt to understand my feelings and what I’m going through. It’s very “walk a mile in my shoes” -- it’s less about feeling bad for me, and more about trying to understand what it feels like. I don’t want sympathy, I want to humanize these issues and make them relatable, building a sense of empathy from the ground up.