amber rahim

Chronic illness: the parts we don't talk about

Taking empathy too far (sharing the pain, literally)


For years now I’ve been thirsty.

I have a dry mouth, I overheat easily and I get headaches.

My skin is dry and flaky.

I get more spots than I ever did as a teenager.

I am an expert in how to hydrate and know all the signs of dehydration.   That’s why I know that I have chronic but extremely mild dehydration.

I know I should drink more, it will make me feel better.

Yet I don’t.

It would be easy to say that I’m so busy looking after my daughter and keeping her hydrated that I don’t have time for myself.  In the first few months, that was probably true.  6 years later I can’t use that excuse.

Thinking about it now, I rationalise that it is helping me to build empathy.  The definition in the Oxford English dictionary is: “the ability understand and share the feelings of another”.  So is it helping me with this?  Well, yes.  I feel rubbish and so does she, so we are sharing.  Although her dehydration is severe while mine isn’t, I can better imagine what it is like for her.  So there is understanding.

Yet while I can understand more I do not understand everything.  How can I?  I’m not her.  I don’t know what this is like for her, through her eyes, her body.  I have never felt so dehydrated that someone saying the word “food” has made me vomit.

So what am I doing?  It makes me crabby.  My head hurts.  I become short tempered.

Why am I doing this to myself?  I have a suspicion that it is deliberate.

I have never actually consciously thought “how can I be hydrated when my baby suffers from chronic dehydration?”

Yet it is like I am punishing myself, denying myself, for being healthy.  It is hard to watch someone you love be in pain, be ill, with no end in sight to the suffering.  Sometimes it is the “chronic” part of the illness that is the worst.  When will it stop?  Never.

There is truth in this, I am deliberately denying myself.

It’s such a passive aggressive thing to do to myself and I am stunned.  I abhor passive aggression.  I would much rather have a heated debate, an argument, let things get messy, than be subjected to the stealth campaign of passive aggression.  If it isn’t out in the open, how can you deal with it?

So this is me bringing it out in the open.  “Hi, my name is Amber and I have been subtly sabotaging myself for the last 6 years”.

Admitting it to you, now, has given me a renewed sense of relief.  Phew.

How did I finally see it?  I have been working with my coach to create my version of a fulfilling life.  To find the courage to take a leap and choose my path, the path that is filled with things that make me feel good, that give me energy, make me happy.  It’s not a stunning path, nor is it amazing to anyone but me.  It is my path.

While walking on this path, I have been practicing opening my eyes and I am amazed at my discoveries.  The most recent one is what I am writing about today: my self sabotage.

I now drink at least one glass of water as soon as I wake up.  This small act alone helps shake off some of the grogginess of a disturbed night and takes some of the puffiness out of my eyes.  (It is the best beauty secret and it’s a secret because it’s practically free.  Rehydrate your skin?  Forget Olay.  Drink some water.  Oh and sometimes have something a little bit salty with it to help get the water into your blood where you need it).

I have days when I succeed and days when I don’t, but I am getting better at taking time to drink regularly, throughout the day.  The way my daughter does.

When I do this, the difference in me is noticeable.  I can focus, I feel less tired. I have energy to be more patient with my children.

Empathy is still important to me but I have finally realised that I do not need to be sick to have empathy for sickness.

And the guilt?  That is still there.  At least the self harming has gone.

3 thoughts on “Taking empathy too far (sharing the pain, literally)

  1. This again is really well written. Deep thinking with your eyes open choosing your path. Thank you once again Amber for the jewels I learn from you!!

  2. I have never thought of this perspective of self sabotage. I do know that I feel somewhat like you but drink a lot and pee a lot like my kids, but not to the extent that they do. Thanks so much for this blog!

    • I do wonder what else I deny myself because I think I shouldn’t. I recently bought an insulated teapot – it’s great! I can make my tea and an hour later when I actually get to drink it, it’s still hot! I thought about it for 4 months before actually buying it. It was only 12 euros.

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