Somewhere over the years I became everyone’s therapist. I think it started with my best friend, Iggy. No, that’s not her real name but it’s an inside joke between her and I so I’m sticking with it. Seasonal depression is most definitely a real thing and every year like clockwork when I was in high school, Spring would come around and it seemed as if every terrible thing was happening to Iggy. She would call me almost every day with another issue, another problem. The thing you should know about Iggy is, she’s not one for sharing her problems with anyone which made her outpouring even more troubling.
I listened to her and I would offer some advice or I would offer to just go for a walk with her to give her a nice ear to rant into. Along the way, she started calling me her “Oprah”. I love Oprah so I took this as a huge compliment. For a long time, I relished in being the one my friends come to with their problems. The person they trust enough to confide in, it felt great. For a while.
My friends mean the world to me. I would do anything for any of them and they all know it. Of course I would be there to listen to them when they needed me. Any time, day or night, I was ready to listen and do my best to offer any advice I could (I didn’t take those psychology classes and watch Dr. Phil all the time for nothing). For me, the problem with being everyone’s therapist is I felt as if I took on their problems and troubles and issues.
Empathy is something I have always struggled with in my life. Not because I’m lacking it but because it pours out of me all the time. I’m too empathetic and yes, I believe this to be a thing. When a friend would confide in me about how depressed they are about the way they look or about their home life or about their relationship problems, I felt as if I was experiencing all of those things as well. Their depression fed into my own depression.
I faced all the normal issues of being a teenager but my self-confidence is the one that held me back the most. I hid in hoodies and hand me down t-shirts from my Dad and brother because I knew they would fit. I hated changing in gym class and I despised wearing anything that clung to my stomach. My self-confidence issues lasted well into my early twenties before I ended up changing the voices in my head to be positive instead of constantly being negative. I say that as if it was a switch I just flipped, it wasn’t. It took years of cathartic writing and surrounding myself with the right people to finally do it.
The point is, I already had pretty horrendous thoughts about myself swimming around in my head as a teenager. Then my friends would confide in me about their eating disorders or their verbally abusive parents or their constant struggle to even get up in the morning and it all felt like a weight was being added onto my shoulders. As if every piece of information they divulged, I would pick it up and carry it for them so they wouldn’t have to anymore. I would take it on hoping their day might be a little easier. My days were becoming unbearable. I absorbed their depression like a sponge and it began taking a toll on my everyday life.
But how do I stop? I couldn’t tell them all to stop talking to me. I didn’t want them to stop talking, I still wanted to be there for them and listen and help the best I could but it was hurting me. Eventually, I had to start taking breaks. Breaks from being around the same people constantly. I mixed it up more, I would space out my time with different friends and left ample amount of time for myself. I didn’t realize it then but I needed to fix my own baggage before I could help anyone else carry theirs.
And I did. I fixed my life one piece at a time. School became easier in college because once I picked a major, I found so many people like me and they became such good friends. My self-confidence rose when I started hanging out with people who accepted me, nerdy tendencies and all. I started dressing my body better which helped my confidence when I would go out because I would start the night feeling good and not thinking, “Ugh, this looks horrible, I look horrible. This night is going to blow.” Eventually, I found jobs I loved and I moved out and my life came together.
Slowly, through all of my changes I was able to go back and be the therapist. I was able to listen to their problems and not let them upset me to the point of crippling me. Every now and again though, my overpowering empathy rears its head again.
Recently, one of my best friends told me he felt so embarrassed and ashamed of his life before he even get out of bed in the morning. I immediately teared up thinking someone I’m close to felt this way every single day. My immediate reaction was to fix it. Fix his life, fix him, fix everything he sees wrong. I talked to him for hours about what was making him feel this way and what he could do to change the way he’s feeling. But that’s just it; I had to offer him ways for HIM to fix his life. I can’t do it for him. I can’t fix anyone’s life expect my own. It took me years to realize this and it is still a hard realization when all I want to do is make someone else’s life easier.
The truth is, being their therapist, being the person they can always talk to, might be exactly how I make their life a little easier.