How a Myasthenic Crisis Affected My Ability to Empathize

Michelle Gonzaba avatar

by Michelle Gonzaba |

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Strength in Weakness column by Michelle Gonzaba / grief

If I asked 10 people to describe what being a “good friend” means, I would probably hear 10 different responses. But while these responses would be diverse, I’d guess that most would think a good friend needs to be empathetic.

Throughout my life, I’ve tried to be as empathetic as possible. From the second I was born, my parents made sure I understood the importance of understanding other people’s difficulties. I’ll never claim that I’ve been perfect at showing empathy 100 percent of the time, but I think I used to do a pretty good job at showing sensitivity to someone else’s plight. But my limits of sensitivity and understanding have definitely been affected by my myasthenia gravis (MG).

Before MG, if one of my friends was crying over a breakup, I found it quite easy to empathize. It totally sucks to go through a breakup! I completely understand all of the feelings a person experiences when they end a relationship. But after going through my MG journey, my reaction to this type of situation has entirely changed.

Someone I know went through a breakup several months after my myasthenic crisis. I listened to her yell, cry, talk to herself in the mirror, and then cycle back to crying for a couple of hours. While I patiently sat there and watched her go through the stages of grief, I kept waiting for my empathy to kick in.

As she threw herself onto her bed, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel bad for her. What was wrong with me? Shouldn’t my ability to empathize with someone going through a rough time have increased since I just went through a difficult time myself?

I wasn’t able to figure out why my empathy tanks were empty on that particular day, but after discussing my worries with my sister and doing some self-reflection, I finally figured out why my myasthenic crisis made me a less empathetic and sympathetic person.

I realized I was less empathetic because I had hit rock bottom and couldn’t understand why anyone would cry over something that wasn’t as serious as a myasthenic crisis. I understand that there are worse things than a crisis, but I’m not talking about anything like that. I’m talking about breaking up with someone you dated for a few weeks, or not getting the pair of shoes you wanted.

When a situation like that occurs, I now just want to give people a hard “Paddington“-style stare and tell them that they have no business crying over something so trivial. But I know that would make the situation a million times worse and wouldn’t benefit either of us.

As I’ve realized how MG has changed the way I react to other people’s issues, I’ve learned to bite my tongue and look at the situation differently. I’m not there to share my own problems, I’m there to listen and provide sympathy. That’s it. My only job is to help them feel a little bit better than they did the day before. Just like my family and friends helped me throughout my MG journey, I need to put my feelings aside and help them back.

But please, don’t come crying to me when your boyfriend or girlfriend of one week has left you. I don’t think I have enough in the empathy tank for that one.

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Comments

Eddie Armour avatar

Eddie Armour

That is hilarious and true and educational because you can see for yourself that some trivial things that people blow up you can see as they are. You actually become move wise, share your wisdom

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Michelle Gonzaba avatar

Michelle Gonzaba

Hi Eddie! You are totally right-when you go through difficult times, you really realize how some things you freaked out about weren't that big of a deal. Thanks for reading!

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Margaret Clenney avatar

Margaret Clenney

I can so relate to this and was so glad to read that others experience the same problem. It is hard to be emphatic with people who behave overly emotional to a problem you know is nothing compared to MG. We just have to realize their problems are as overwhelming to them as MG is to us.

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Michelle Gonzaba avatar

Michelle Gonzaba

Exactly Margaret! Couldn't have said it better. I always stop myself and think about how that person's problem is relative to their life, not mine. Thanks for reading!

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