Rachel Discovers Happiness

my life and road to happiness

Archive for the tag “depression”

Effects of Empathy

Empathy is a wonderful quality. It allows you to really connect with others. It allows you to feel their emotions, understand where they are coming from, and really take relationships to the next step.

Of the qualities I value in myself, empathy is at the top of the list. I think I’m a good friend. I listen to people and genuinely understand where they are coming from. I am able to comfort people because I can honestly say that I know how they feel.

On the other hand, empathy is an awful emotion. It allows you to feel other people’s emotions.

Although I value my ability to empathize with others, sometimes it makes my life really difficult. Especially with negative emotions. When somebody is happy, it makes me happy too, but only to a certain extent. When somebody is sad, however, I feel those emotions much more intensely. If somebody is crying or upset about something, it physically makes my heart tighten. I feel like my chest is closing in, and often times I am able to hold myself together just as long as it takes for me to get out of their proximity before I break down in tears myself.

Yup, that’s right, I feel other people’s emotions so extremely that their tears bring me to tears.

The reason I am writing about this right now is because today, a family friend of mine passed away. I got an email from my step mom earlier in the day telling me that his mother found his body this morning. Although I have heard his name, I didn’t know him personally. He went to church with my step mom and my step sisters and he graduated from high school with my older sister. My step mom has nothing but nice things to say about his family. When she told me about his passing, I instantly replied, telling her that she had a huge hug waiting for her when she got home.

When she walked in the door at 7:45, that’s exactly what she got. A huge hug. My step mom is a big hugger so I’m used to her comforting arms, but this was a different hug. This time, I was the one supporting her. It felt like she was holding on to me and didn’t want to let go. She had tears streaming down her face. She was sobbing. And through the sobs she gasped “his mom found him with the needle still in her arm.”

My stomach dropped. My heart constricted. I didn’t know what to say.

I gave her one more squeeze and when she went over to my dad, I went to my room and broke down. I sat on the floor up against my bed, with tears streaming down my face, and cried. I cried for the lost life of somebody so young, for his family and friends, and for my step mom who I rarely see that upset.

She doesn’t know I cried. Most people don’t. (And shhhh, don’t tell her. Although being empathetic is difficult at times, like I said, it’s one of my favorite qualities in myself.)

As I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face, although my mind never went off of the young man and his family, I couldn’t help but think about how lucky I am that my family doesn’t struggle with things like hard drug addiction, drunk driving, or teen pregnancy (knock on wood… Pookie still has 8 months until she is officially out of the teen years).

Although we do have our struggles, we are pretty tight knit and support each other. We take care of each other, and make sure that we stay on the right track. This young man’s family did everything that mine would do in their situation, everything they could think of to try to help him through his addiction – rehab, Narcotics Anonymous meetings, praying, etc.

Through all of this, my mind has jumped from person to person who has passed away since my high school years. All of the young people I know who have died have been from one sort of substance abuse or another. I had a friend named Andy who died at 17 from drinking and driving. A boy a year or two older than me OD’d on oxycotton. A young man I graduated with was shot in a dispute over drugs. This makes me extremely sad.

What will it take for people to realize that doing those things doesn’t make you cool?  Calling your parents for a ride home won’t make them as mad at you as drinking, driving and killing somebody would. Shooting heroin won’t make people like you more – and if they do, you probably don’t really want to be hanging out with them in the first place. Selling drugs may be a good source of income, but it’s dangerous and you are contributing to issues in so many other people’s lives.

My step mom, kind of regretfully, told me that she kind of went off on her students today. She was crying and lectured them to never try drugs. Never get into those types things because they are dangerous. She told them that she didn’t want to go another funeral – that it was so painful to watch young people pass away when they had so much more life to live. That not only would they be hurting themselves when they tried things like drugs or drinking and driving, but they hurt their families and friends too. She was kind of sad that she lectured them like that – I think it is extremely important that she did. If even one kid chooses to say “no” because of that lecture, she has made a positive difference (as she does every day in the lives of her students).

Although empathy sometimes makes things difficult for me, I wouldn’t trade it for any other qualities (except, maybe, confidence…) My breakdown after that hug was painful, but it allowed me to look at my family and realized how blessed (or lucky, depending on your religious views) I am and how amazing my family and friends are.

My heart goes out to those who are affected by drugs and alcohol. What my step mom said to her students today is spot on – don’t even start with things like cocaine, heroin, etc. You aren’t just hurting yourself, you are hurting all those whose lives you have touched, and a bunch of people you didn’t even know you had an effect on.

As my step mom just said to me (literally, 3 seconds ago):

It really puts it into perspective that we get ourselves all worked up and nervous about things that really aren’t important.

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Photo Progress

If you haven’t already figured this out from my Photo-A-Day posts, I love photography. It is one of the things in life that I actually admit to being at least semi good at. It makes me happy.

Aptos, California - September 2010

It’s actually kind of funny that I like photography and taking photographs because when I was younger I hated them. I was that obnoxious kid who covered her face or crawled under the table when my mom tried to take a picture of me. Yes, that’s right, I did say crawled under the table. Who does that?

photo shoot with Christine - May 2010

Anyway though, in high school all of that changed. I ended up dating a black and white photography class my sophomore year and loved it. I loved that I had a hand in every single aspect of the photography process – the shooting, developing, enlarging, fixing, and framing – I got to do it all. I think one of the reasons it was so great for me was because I had the opportunity to use my aunt’s old Canon SLR that she got in the ’70s from my grandparents. She had passed away a few years before that, when I was 12. Since then, whenever Grandma gives me something of my aunt’s, it makes me feel connected to her.

Photo shoot with Stephanie - Spring 2010 (makeshift studio with sheet and lamp)

That year I also bought my first digital camera. It was a Canon camera with a one inch screen. This was right when digital cameras were becoming mainstream, so it cost just about everything I had in my bank account. It took forever to take pictures, but I took it around with me everywhere my friends and I went. I have hundreds of pictures from that year.

Granada, Spain - October 2009

Over the past 10 years I’ve come a long way from just using a point and shoot digital camera. I still have my aunt’s old Manual SLR, but I have it in its case and hardly ever take it out. In college I wanted to take photo classes so I could continue with black and white film photography, but my university’s photo classes were too impacted. I don’t even know where I could go now to develop film and print photos.

Florence, Italy - December 2009

I am currently on my second Digital SLR (Canon – same as all the other cameras I’ve ever owned in my life), and I love it. I have had the opportunity to mess around with my camera, doing photo shoots of some of my best friends. I have gone out and taken pictures of the plants in my backyard, messed around with a macro lens, and love figuring out composition and lighting. This past summer I even had the opportunity to take a photography class with my mom and step dad in New Mexico. It was in that class that I really became one with my camera.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico - July 2011

Since then I haven’t had the opportunity to take too many photos, but recently I was asked by a friend to take some pictures of her for an article she was interviewed for (more on this later). When I talked to the photo editor, he was very enthusiastic about my photographs; he even offered to pay me! It is very exciting to know that my photos will be used in a magazine. I am really looking forward to doing more photo shoots in the near future (if I could ever find the time – the one photo I take every day is about as much time as I have for photography right now).

Kaitlin's magazine shoot - January 2012

Yesterday, as I was compiling photos for my portfolio, I was going through pictures that I had archived on my external hard drive and I found the ones from my months of studying abroad in Spain. It was amazing to compare the pictures that I took then, to the pictures that I took now. My style has really evolved. It’s obvious that, back then, I didn’t know how to use the settings on my camera to their full capabilities.

Ghost Ranch, New Mexico - July 2011

Although I have come along way since then and I am a lot more confident in my abilities as a photographer, I still only qualify myself as a hobbyist. I have so many talented photographer friends, whose work blows mine out of the water, that it is hard to compare myself to them. I wish I could be as good as them, but for now, I’m just figuring things out on my own.

Beekeeping Class - Fall 2010

I don’t mind self teaching – sometimes I even think that’s the best way to learn how to do something. I’m that nerd who reads the manuals of every piece of electronic equipment I purchase. In doing this, I’ve discovered things about my cameras that I never would have figured out. In a way, it’s thrilling.

Sevilla, Spain - November 2009 (indoor, low light)

So yes, I want to take my photography to the next level, but will it happen right away? Probably not. I do, however, feel like things are taking a turn for the better. Hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised by something in my professional life/photographer future.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco - December 2010

Cross your fingers for me.

Welcome to Happiness

Hello!

Some of you already know me from my other blog – Rachel Helen: Thoughts on Life and the World I Live In (wow, I must come up with a more catchy title for that blog). Anyway, I’m Rachel.

Me and my niece, Madison (I'm the one who is old enough to drive)

Recently I read a book called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. My older sister, Caitlin, and her friend Ayesha recommended it to me. The book is Rubin’s account of her year “trying to sing in the morning, clean my closets, fight right, read Aristotle, and generally have more fun.”

Because this is my first post, I won’t get into all the details of the book (which you should buy and read without me telling you the details). Basically, Rubin was inspired to start her Happiness Project because she wasn’t depressed, she wasn’t sad, she wasn’t even unhappy, but she thought that there might be a way to make herself more happy.

That’s kind of my mentality behind starting my own version of a Happiness Project (although I have suffered from some of the aforementioned issues). She has a sort of template to use, but I will probably create my own template which integrates certain aspects of hers as well. But, once again, I will get into that later.

Basically, I just wanted to introduce you to my blog and announce my goals for 2012 (I hate the term “resolution” because I feel as though it sets you up for inevitable failure… especially New Year’s resolutions… and, of course, that will be a post for later).

My main goal for 2012 is simple: find things that make me happier, figure out how to incorporate them in my daily life, and blog about them.

I will introduce my other goals as I continue this blog (and as they come to me).

This blog, just like me, is a work in progress.

I’m sure, just like me, it will change and evolve over time. (I know, evolve isn’t technically the correct word to use here, but it sounded good, didn’t it?)

Anyway, that’s the quick introduction. I hope you stick around and read more of what I have to say. I can’t promise I will post every day, but I can promise that I will try to be informative and entertaining when I do.

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