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Empathy Animated (& the Trap of Silver Lining Zombies)

Brené Brown‘s insight on the difference between empathy and sympathy has been animated into an instructive, informative, funny and adorable short video.

In case you’re like me and would rather read the gist than watch a video, here’s an excerpt (though I do recommend the video highly!):

“Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘at least.’ … Someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to silver line it. … One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I’d rather you say, ‘I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.’ Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better.”

As soon as I saw this a couple months ago, I knew I wanted to share it with you, but not what I wanted to say about it. The thought I keep coming back to is not about connecting with others through empathy rather than sympathy, but with myself.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve been angry or sad about migraine and chronic daily headache and tried to make it better with “At least…” This wasn’t an exercise in counting my blessings, but in telling myself that what I feel doesn’t matter.

Silver lining my grief never made it go away, it just hid it for a while. Burying emotions doesn’t get rid of them permanently, it turns them into zombies that continually rise from the dead. Unlike zombies, for which there are surefire methods to eliminate, buried emotions return endlessly, becoming increasingly difficult to suppress.

Thanks to this animation, I now stop whenever a thought begins with “At least…” I then tell myself what I promised to say to others — “That’s awful, I’m so sorry.”

Guess what? It works.

Simply acknowledging that what I’ve been through is awful eases the pain more than I could have imagined. It serves me far better than silver lining the zombies ever did.

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Empathy and Shared Experience Between Doctor & Patient

Can a doctor who has a headache disorder understand — and treat — your illness better than one who doesn’t? Is shared experience necessary for empathy?

“How could I possibly understand or help her, she seemed to be asking, if I had not personally experienced her pain?

“Her question caught me by surprise and made me pause. O.K., I’ll admit it. I’m a cheerful guy who’s never really tasted clinical depression. But along the way I think I’ve successfully treated many severely depressed patients.

“Is shared experience really necessary for a physician to understand or treat a patient? I wonder. After all, who would argue that a cardiologist would be more competent if he had had his own heart attack, or an oncologist more effective if he had had a brush with cancer?

“Of course, a patient might feel more comfortable with a physician who has had personal experience with his medical illness, but that alone wouldn’t guarantee understanding, much less good treatment.”

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Good Stuff From ChronicBabe

ChronicBabe is always an awesome site; recently it’s been overflowing with terrific articles and links.

Illness and Empathy for Others
In her latest contribution to ChronicBabe, Laurie Edwards (whose articles I love) describes how her illness influences her interactions with loved ones when they have a passing illness — both positively and negatively.

Work and Illness
Lily Thomas, who has CDH and migraine, writes about working with people who don’t really understand what your illness is like. And her experience sorting it out when her boss was the one who didn’t understand.

Emotions in Patient-Doctor Communication
“Emotional patients” have trouble remembering what their doctors tell them, according to findings of a recent study. The “emotional” participants in the study latched onto frightening or worrying information.

Keeping Cool
Heat and dehydration are big headache triggers. ChronicBabe gave this link for ways to cool off.

Acceptance
In an essay on NPR‘s This I Believe, Kay Redfield Jamison writes about accepting the role of bipolar disorder in her life: “It is not a gentle or easy disease. And, yet, from it I have come to see how important a certain restlessness and discontent can be in one’s life; how important the jagged edges and pain can be in determining the course and force of one’s life.”

Invisible Chronic Illness
Next week is National Invisible Chronic Illness Awareness Week. During the week, people who live with invisible illnesses are encouraged to educate the “general public, churches, healthcare professionals and government officials” about the frustrations of having an illness that others can’t see.

Thanks to Jenni and all ChronicBabe contributors for sharing coping strategies and great resources.

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Doctor as Patient

In And Today is Another Day, physician and writer Richard Waltman chronicles his experiences as a cancer patient. Although our illnesses are different, the lessons of his journey are universal.

He also gives this important advice to other docs:

Now hear this: We are them and they are us. We get sick and we die. We want to talk about it, and we want you to listen. Extend your hand, make eye contact, and say something like this: ‘I’m sorry to hear your bad news. My thoughts and best wishes are with you.’”

[via Kevin, M.D.]