Running on Empathy

(This post was drafted in October 2021 but not published.)

I don’t talk much about work as I like to keep my work life and my personal life separate. It’s much neater and also avoids the risk that the customers I speak with day to day attempt to contact me on social media.

I don’t have LinkedIn for this reason, in addition to it being a false, arse-kissing and brown nosing platform. I’m too genuine for that nonsense.

I’m not going to make a massive exception here, but I will say that I work for a digital bank as a Vulnerability Specialist.

Amongst other things, I support customers who are survivors of sexual, domestic and financial abuse, those with disabilities, mental health conditions, drug addiction, gambling addiction, food addiction and often customers who have disclosed suicidal intent.

I support these customers by having frank conversations, approaching each interaction from a position of empathy, allowing people to speak freely, and most importantly by not reducing their experiences by comparison to my own. Where I can’t provide the support they need, I signpost to where external support can be found, and if needed, call the emergency services.

Empathy Fatigue

I recently had a particularly tough week at work, where it seemed every other person I spoke to exhibited suicidal ideation.  Normally these conversations are manageable, people mostly want someone to listen and once their feelings have been validated are eager to discuss solutions, but that particular week was challenging. Throughout the weak I was feeling my empathy reserves being steadily drained, it felt as though I now existed in a void of angst where every person I spoke to was expressing the same dark thoughts, namely that life was futile, and I was trying to be a light in the distance – but I was flickering – I was going out – I didn’t know what to do anymore.


I’d developed empathy fatigue.

I love what I do as I know each day I make a difference to someone in a tough situation but one can only be so empathetic. Caring can be tiring, and when you care too much, it becomes exhausting.

Empathy fatigue affects in both your physical and mental wellbeing. I was finding myself feeling less compassionate, tired, cranky and running on close to empty.

I could feel this growing day on day. I tried to take a holiday but there was no availability, so I just kept going.

Fortunately my manager is an amazing human being, and when I disclosed this during a catch up, she promised to get me a day off.

With a massive effort on her part, and despite the lack of available hours, she managed to sort out a Tuesday off. The wee one was at school and Tracy was making a rare trip into the office, so I had a day to myself.

After dropping the kid at school. I nipped to The Little Coffee Caravan, to pick up some coffee before our trip into town. I spoke to the ladies there, and got talking about my plans for the day. I explained that I was taking a me day, and spoke about my job. They gave me my coffee for free, as a small way to brighten my day – I just about cried.

I then took Tracy in town, and decided to go for a nice breakfast.

I initially tried a place round the corner from her office, only to be told they were fully booked, but I could sit outside if I wanted in the cold, wind and wet. No thanks.

I wandered back to the car, worn out by the effort, trying to think of somewhere to go. Then I remember a place not far from home that had opened that day and decided that sounded good.

I put some lo-fi music on, specifically this playlist and made my way there. By sheer luck I managed to get a seat.

I ordered a breakfast stack which was amazing. Sour dough toast topped with square sausage, black pudding, a potato scone, poached eggs and a helping of chilli jam.

Fattening as f*ck but amazing courtesy of
The Johnstone Café

When I was finished destroying my breakfast, I took out my notebook, ordered a coffee, and started scribbling some poems. I had been finding this an easier endeavour than writing stories, less time-consuming too.

As I wrote, I couldn’t help but notice the baby sitting across from me. He was smiling and waving, so I did the same back then started speaking to his parents. I spoke of my memories of my own daughter being that small and encouraged them to make the most of the early years as they fly in so quickly. I left them to their breakfast, finished up and left.

I headed home, took a bath, complete with bath bomb (yas kween) and lay in bed for a bit. I can’t remember what I watched on TV but when it had ended, I took the opportunity to have a nap, something I hadn’t done in years.

With a wee recharge, I went back out in the car. I had some time before the wee one finished school, so I went a scenic drive and found myself at my favourite local beauty spot.

Bliss

I drove to school, picked up the wee one, headed back in to meet Tracy and felt calmer overall.

I’d taken time for myself, met some pleasant people, allowed myself to see some of the beauty in the world and headed back the next day with my batteries recharged.

I’m now set to leave this company in just over a week but I feel so fortunate to have had such a great manager. Sadly I won’t get to say goodbye to her in a work setting, but she really did help me that day.

If you feel you’re absorbing too much darkness from the world around you, try and let in some light.

One comment

  1. I feel like this lately. Do you mind me emailing you Joe? I thoroughly enjoy your blogs. My job too is quite draining of my emotional wellbeing. So blogs like this help.

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