I put the “pathetic” in empathetic

Is it just me, or does sometimes the world get you down, too?

I’m an empathetic person. I mean, look at me. Counselor. Father of daughters. Owner of a Hyundai. The guy who can’t let go of friends’ problems ever ever ever.

Let’s say someone I know well has a problem–like, they are getting divorced. Or they’ve had a death in the family. Or they really sprained their ankle bad. Because I’m an empathetic person, I have a strong reaction to this kind of news.

It sucks.

Most guys hear about a problem around them and they’re like “Wow, that blows. Well, I’ll see you later. I’m gonna go play some football so I can go tackle any pathetic fool who crosses my path. Don’t wait up. After that I’ll be at a monster truck rally. Followed by shooting guns. Followed by having a conversation with some buddies about who will win the Superbowl. Followed by eating some nachos. Followed by not giving a crap. Followed by farting. Followed by sleep.”

I, on the other hand, am like “perhaps it would be a good idea to think about this situation I can do nothing about endlessly, all day, every day. While I’m at it, maybe it can be inspiration for a sonnet…” *pens a ridiculous poem* “There. Wow, I feel… so much worse. And also my sonnet sucks. I think I’ll go drown out my sorrow by playing sad songs on my violin for a minute or two… *three hours later* Yeah. That didn’t help anything. Everything is exactly the way it was before I started playing the violin. I can’t believe doing that didn’t impact the lives of the people that aren’t me that I can’t get out of my brain. Oh, wait, I know! I’ll write 18 emails I’ll never send! That might help. *writes 30 drafts of a belabored, overwrought email so sappy, maudlin and ridiculous even the computer screen looks embarrassed* “Yeah. I still feel like crap. Welp, time to turn to my one true friend and the only coping mechanism that has ever really helped me feel better: food.” *eats four gallons of ice cream in one sitting while trying to cheer up by watching Modern Family*

And what I just described? That’s my reaction to hearing that someone I know got a D on a final they studied hard for. You can imagine how this looks when it’s something serious. Like a hangnail. Or suicidal ideation.

 As I pondered your situation for 79 hours straight, I decided to quilt you a quick something to say “I’m so sorry about your recent life event.”
(Photo attribution: here)

You might say I put the “pathetic” in empathetic.

Sometimes, I wonder if I’m the only one.

Am I the only one who, when he encounters a mass murder in the news, feels that it is important to go through the story of each individual victim and visualize how they must have felt in the moment of their demise? You know, just so they didn’t die in vain. Because me imagining myself being shot in the face validates their brutal murder. Obviously.

Am I the only one who searches out stories of severe child abuse online, and then obsesses over what he reads to the point where the stories actually enter his dreams, and then finds himself hovering over his daughters like some sort of insane humming bird intent on being awkward and protective?

Am I the only one who feels sad for really lonely things–like the last milk carton left in the store freezer? Or a lone fly buzzing around my house in the late summer, surely the last of the year, all alone, never again to find a huge pile of feces to feast upon? Or certain musical instruments that are rarely played such as the autoharp? Or jello molds? Or Myspace?

These are the questions that keep me up at night, feeling all blue.

But then occasionally, penetrating through the cloud of worry and sadness and empathy that surrounds me, I have a reader who comes into my life and makes me laugh really, really hard.

Today that reader was a guy I’ve never met named Chris who randomly decided to email me with a very special surprise. Remember this post in which Wife has a conversation with me and we talk about getting a new logo and she basically insinuates I’m ugly and then I take the most heinous picture of myself possible and propose it for my new logo?

Well, check this sucker out:

I don’t think I can tell you how much I needed to see a masthead with the ugliest photo ever taken of me made by someone I’ve never met, that happens to perfectly encapsulate everything this blog is. Completely made my night.

Thanks Chris Perry. You are my new favorite person. And if you have a blog, I want to link to it in this post. But one thing you have in spades? A sense of humor, and some mad photoshop skillz.

I’m seriously considering making this my logo. It might happen if I can figure out how to do it. (Shouldn’t I know how to do this type of thing by now, you ask? No. I have empathy. Not technological prowess. So leave me the H alone.)


  1. Hmmm. Perhaps being a counselor is not the right profession for you to be in. Because while I am sure you are AWESOME at it (being all empathetic and all), I'm sure Lolly doesn't appreciate you coming home in a world of depression every day. Just a thought.

    1. Yes, but then how do I explain when I start randomly weeping at Progressive Auto-Insurance commercials?

      (No, but seriously, this phenomenon doesn't seem to bleed over to work, strangely. Empathy? Yes. Perseveration? No.)

  2. I used to feel bad for the last cheerio in a bowl of cereal I was eating. To me, it was sad because it was left alone after all it's cheerio buddies were eaten up. So I always had to eat them all because if I didn't, the cheerio wouldn't be able to fulfill its purpose in life (which was obviously to be eaten by me), and be with his cheerio friends in my stomach.

    Yeah. You're not alone.

    1. Poor, sad little Cheerio. I'm glad you have mercy on him. I almost can't stand the thought of the little guy's journey down the disposal all alone, to be ground to dust…

  3. I was that person in high school. Everyone came to talk to me because I was such a good listener and would sit and cry with them if that was needed, but the stories I heard haunted me for weeks. It was miserable, but I wanted to be there for people. Now, I work as a 911 dispatcher and I have completely changed. I listen to calls for help, death and destruction all day long and am able to forget about it as soon as I walk out the door. It is the only way to stay sane.

    1. See, that's funny, we must be similar, because I find that within a professional capacity, I can turn empathy on and off at will. (There have been a few notable exceptions, but they were just that: exceptions.) I don't really take work home with me ever, but in the moment I am very present and empathic. And you're right, any other way would be a big problem.

  4. Loved the post, and on a serious note, I'm glad I'm not the only one who can't let things go as well. It makes me feel less…weird. Though, a little bizarreness is never a bad thing. However, your level of empathy is on a whole new level. I can honestly say I've never felt sorry for a lone house fly in my house at the end of the summer…I just want to smash it to death.

  5. This was starting to hit too close to home for me– until it got creepy. Nope, this is so not me at all. You are a little crazy… but now I feel really bad for you. Like I should go write a sonnet, or maybe I can cross stitch you a catchy phrase like "you are special" or maybe call Delilah and dedicate a song to you tonight on the radio. One of these things is sure to help.

    1. If I were to get a song dedicated to me by Delilah, that's the day when I just stop trying to reach any goal. How do you ever beat that? Please, please do that for me. Please.

  6. It has taken me years of suppression to reduce my hyper-empathy. And, I'm still not very good at ignoring it yet. Just be glad you will never be pregnant on top of the over-emotional-ness that is every day life. That could make things a whole lot more interesting. Not only because you'd be a pregnant man, but the emotions just might make you do something really drastic–like CRY over the fact that you have no energy to make someone a casserole as a result of your grief.

    1. Oh, I've cried over not having the energy to make a casserole. And so what you're telling me is that I'm probably pregnant. Got it.

      (Note: I'm lying. I've never cried over food that I recall. And I'm officially not pregnant. I know because I've taken a pregnancy test. Fo realz.)

  7. I was going to make fun of you for using the word perseveration which is so obviously not a real world. But then I googled it, so I find now is the time to allow you to make fun of me.

    1. I will not make fun of you for not knowing the word "perseverate." Instead, I will simply ache for the word itself, and how it was accused of not being real. How can my heart handle so much pain???

    1. Oh, you actually think we're friends! That's seriously so cute. Awww.

      Okay, just kidding, obviously. Here's a deep, disquieting question: who's to say I don't already have a "sappy, maudlin and ridiculous" email addressed to you already? *sniffles*

  8. Weed, I think you and I need to get together so that I can instruct you on how to conserve and distribute your energy! You cannot suck up this kind of stuff, dude, or it will make you physically ill. You seriously need some energy work. Find someone up there in the Emerald City who can help you. It's okay to want to empathize, but send the person a nice Weed-dose of goodness and then MOVE ON!!

    1. All right Dayna, tell me more about this sometime. I'm actually kind of fascinated. And your words kind of penetrated my psyche, btw. I think I might be able to take that advice. (Only time will tell, of course.)

  9. We are polar opposites on the empathy scale, because I have none, so I won't comment on that. But I too started making you a logo but forgot about it weeks ago. Looks like I can't be your new best friend because this Chris fellow beat me to it. Now how am I going to win your friendship?

    1. Please, please, finish your logo for me. That is how you can win my (already existent) friendship. A TamBaum original would make my freaking day.

      Also, can you give me lessons in not caring?

  10. Hi Josh. You're far too kind. I don't have a blog, but I'm very glad you got a kick out of the masthead. You've made my day with the mention, so thanks for that in return! In the spirit of the new caring internet (of which, let's be honest, we're pretty much at the vanguard right now) I should like to share my new-favourite-person-ship with all your readers who thought about making a silly logo but didn't get round to it on account of having important things to do and not being still mildly sedated from dental surgery yesterday night. You're all awesome too. Cheers!

  11. Laughed out loud several time, which was very, very much needed after a long day of CPS training. I can relate to a certain level. The child abuse one? Definitely. Feeling bad for a fly? Pretty close. I have a hard time killing a spider and usually take the time to scoop it up in a cup and put it outside. But the fly searching for feces? Maybe not so much.

  12. I used to be exactly like that. I would watch a movie or hear of a friends tragic life event and I would burst into tears or be depressed and endlessly try to come up for solutions for the. THEN this AMAZING thing happened. I started taking Prozac and now I don't care about anything. Hope this helps….actually I don't really care if it does! Yay Prozac!

  13. Can I just say that this post made me almost cry tears just thinking about this trouble affliction you have to cary around with you in this this life! It is a cross, I, too, must bear.
    But in all seriousness, being an empathetic person can have some drawbacks. Like in high school when everyone felt the need to tell me their deep dark secrets of pregnancies, drugs, etc. Thats a lot on a high school girls shoulders! Or why I literally have ptsd from my experiences in africa… Plus side: You get really into reading books and watching movies!
    So I get it… Sorry, man.
    (and I mean that, I literally am so sorry you have this affliction) 😉

  14. Is this totally a Weed thing? I have it too. Although not with the fly or last cheerio. Although now when i see a fly or last cheerio I will think of this and it will probably make me sad. Thanks bunches! I kid I kid. No but seriously I think all five of us kids got this to a certain extent. My problem is I care about my friends and their problems to a fault. As in they have chosen to do nothing about their situation and I keep on caring which causes me to be upset at them for not trying to help themselves and causes anxiety and depression for me. Also they get mad at me for not supporting their toxic situation they have chosen for themselves. It is a lose lose. I am slowly starting to realize that no matter how much I care I do not have the "power" to make people change and take care of themselves if they do not want to. It is a hard pill to swallow but I am learning it in time. I have recently stopped investing all my time and efforts into a friends situation because they know they should not be doing what they are doing but they have chosen not to get out. I am not one to stop pulling for someone easily but it comes to a point when you have literally done all you can do and until they decide to get out all you can do is wait and pray for them. It still baffles me to this day why people do not want better for themselves. But that is just me and I am not them. So basically what I am trying to say is I hear you.

    I avoid the news and sad stories of random people because it just makes me sad. Plus there is nothing I can do but say a little prayer and continue on with my day. So I try and do that despite the difficulty of not dwelling on it again. Basically I feel ya.

  15. I'm a counselor in training…(1 semester away from master's! yay?) and I do the same thing. A friend feeling suicidal? Full on therapist mode without being a therapist. A friend has a crappy day? Well high ho! Her problem is now mine! It's like a superpower that can't be shut off.

  16. Maybe you should stop hanging out with people who don't get "good grades"???That could solve your problem! Sorry you have to deal with all the drama! (You really shouldn't stop hanging out with not-so-smart-people though…that would make them sad!)

  17. I frequently feel bad for talking food on TV. Like the M&Ms right before they are about to get eaten, or that stupid chocolate chip cookie that gets invited to the birthday party. The stuff of nightmares.

  18. I had to put up a wall a long time ago…if I didn't then I would be crying every night over people and things that I can't do anything about and really shouldn't have any effect on me….but they do….
    People who don't really know me say that I'm mean, but in reality I just care too much!
    So you are not alone my friend! Oh, and IMO, I believe that the best comfort food dishes were developed by people who didn't know how to leave well enough alone. If they didn't then there would only be straight macaroni with no yummy cheese. And then were would the world be?! 😉

  19. I have hyperempathy! It was diagnosed by a real doctor and everything! So I absolutely know what you're going through, except when I describe it, people draw back in sheer terror and disgust. I should just tell them to visit The Weed instead and then they'll laugh about it and want to continue being my friend.

  20. I'm one of those weird people that thinks about death a lot, and I also get really sad when I see road kill on the street…"Oh that poor raccoon, I mean, I hate raccoons, but I still feel bad for him. Was he in pain? Does him mom know where he is? How long will he have to lay there until the city workers pick him up? That would suck to be laying in the middle of the road dead for hours…."



  21. My husband keeps looking back at me because I thought this post was especially hilarious. Your humor just tickles my life. I've been stalking your posts since my sister shared your coming out story 2 weeks ago. (Loved it, helped me understand my 14 year old brothers struggle. I see how important it is to never attach any shame to these feelings he feels). Being Mormon its nice to read a funny, clean blog. The way you express yourself is admirable for me, I'm working on this, it seems I have all the thoughts in my mind with no way for them to come out of my creative vocal cords.

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