Be Kind, Rewind: Understanding empathy

Posted on April 18, 2015

“Be Kind Rewind” may  not be the best Jack Black movie ever, but it came to mind a few weeks ago (when I originally indended to write this) for a number of reasons, but mostly for the title. It was my first week really back in the full swing of life: hanging out with friends and going to work in the office.

It also included what I will consider my first real negative points since my diagnosis. I think, correct me if I’m wrong, that most people I meet would consider me a fairly cheery and pleasant person — that is at least what I’m going for. But man, a few weekends ago (I believe three to be exact) was overall sort of unpleasant.

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 12.21.17 AMDon’t get me wrong, there were some seriously good points, but it is amazing how one thing will leave such a bad taste in your mouth that it just sticks with you and nags. I shall describe this particular instance as tasting like licorice. Licorice is a ridiculous way to spell a word. I’ve provided Google’s information about the etymology and use of the word to the left.

Having been my first week back in the swing of things, I was pretty tired by Saturday. I spent the entire week being incredibly shaky from the high dose of steroids I am on and by Saturday evening when I was hanging out with friends it was particularly noticeable.

One of my lovely friends took notice and of all things made a really, really dumb comment relating my hands shaking to Parkinson’s Diseasein reality the comment or similar ones were made several times for the rest of the night and we were all together for ~8 hours.

Here I stand now on my soap box:

Don’t make comments like that. Just, please, people of the Internet, resist the temptation. I know, easier said than done. In actuality though, it isn’t. As I said to my brother the next day when I called him, don’t make assumptions about a person’s abilities or situations. If you are in a position to offer assistance in a kind way, do so.

I will make a quick aside here: I also take serious issue with the common media narrative about individuals with X disease or diagnosis being brave because their disease or diagnosis. Bravery is defined as: ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

Firefighters are brave. Soldiers are brave. In childbirth, mothers are brave.

Just because a person has a diagnosis does not make them brave. I do not consider myself brave because of my diagnosis. I consider myself a stronger person for it. People are strong. Women are strong. Strength does not equal bravery.

This aside was brought to you by a TODAY Show segment about a celebrity’s “brave battle with cancer and the courage to ask for a second opinion.” BLEH — try writing that entire segment again. (Here’s me hoping the doctor’s office does not have the TODAY Show on the next time I am in for a visit.)

I apologize for that.

The day after my friend made such insensitive comments to me, I ended up hitting what I will call my breaking point with my diagnosis. I felt pretty miserable. I wanted to drink coffee — which I have now not had since January (oy.) But my medications combined with my intense desire for an iced coffee with my breakfast (or another human being to make breakfast with, but that just sounds even more sad as I type it) pushed me over the edge. I cried.

I cried for hours on the phone with my mom.

Sometimes you have to let it out? I guess? But, the really just off-the-cuff insensitive jokes my friend made the night before stuck with me. I felt like I couldn’t wash them off. I sat in the middle of my bed, hands shaking, thinking about how ridiculous I looked with quivering hands trying to sort out how my insurance was going to cover my hospital stays and my new medications and I completely lost it.

It was awful, but by Monday (after many phone calls with mom and some of my closest friends) when I was back at work I made the decision that I was going to have a good week. (Currently resisting the urge to make a “Shake It Off” reference.)

Since that weekend, all of the things have been rad

Everything has a way of working out. It just does and I like it that way. I don’t like to attribute it to anything beyond that. Since that really terrible weekend and my decision to have a good week, everything started to fall into place with my diagnosis and the rest of my existence.

I attribute this to the empathy of others.

Since that weekend, the people in my life have been incredibly kind. My friends and colleagues have been patient with my particular brand of steroid (and lately some sugar, shhhh don’t tell) fueled crazy. My personal nurse for my long-term Crohn’s treatment and I met to make sure I have a complete understanding of my diagnosis and how the medication will affect my life. I’ve also started meeting with a private yoga instructor once a week to help me find zen in my new jittery nature.

But above all, these people are taking time out of their lives to make sure that I am doing well. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

I attended the Society for News Design conference and empathy in design was a main theme of many sessions. In order to be a really effective designer, one must have empathy for the user/reader/audience. If you cannot put yourself on the other side of the screen or page and understand how your product affects the life of another human being, then why bother.

Often we, myself included, find ourselves working or doing things for ourselves — this thing makes me feel good, or I like how this looks — so that is what we go with. It isn’t a “best practice” in life or in work when you think about it.

It is springtime now, the weather is nice and I feel inspired to make a few personal challenges to address my personal employment of empathetic feelings. Feel free to join in!

  • I will actively consider how my words or actions may affect those with whom I interact.
  • I will notice one new thing about my surroundings every day.
  • I will be a better active listener and follow up with people about their own lives.

The least we can all do is try to be the best human beings we can. This is my attempt and I am glad that so many inspiring individuals are a part of my existence.

I will leave you with one final mantra to carry with you during this season of blooms:

“No Matter. Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”

Me, happy as a clam, in a field of bluebonnets — the state flower of Texas.

Me, happy as a clam, in a field of bluebonnets — the state flower of Texas.