I find empathy to be a very interesting concept. Empathy is what makes us human, as reflected upon by Philip K. Dick’s ever-fascinating novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the basis for the film Blade Runner and one of my favorite books, hands-down. Predator species appear to lack empathy. Antisocial personality disorder sufferers (those popularly known as psychopaths) lack empathy. And sometimes, it feels like I lack empathy.
In some ways my mental illness has made me more empathetic than I believe most people are. I can relate to those who suffer, as I have known true pain that comes from an abusive childhood. I feel for those who hurt. I am determined to help others who suffer from mental illness once I have obtained my Ph.D. And in a broader way, I want to help others who suffer, by making the world better, but I am cynical enough to believe this desire is impossible to achieve. Empathy may be part of human nature, but so is the desire to harm, and terrible things will happen to the world as long as it is populated by humans.
But sometimes my empathetic sense fails me, nearly altogether. When my depression ebbs away and leaves behind irrational anger, hatred, then I lose my empathy. It disappears like the tide on a beach before a great storm. And a great storm follows, indeed–I gain the desire to harm others, sometimes physically (though this last part I rarely act on). I become completely unmanageable, and my thoughts race so fast even I cannot get a hold on them.
I like to think that most of the time I am not like this, however. I do not know who the real me is–whether it is the depressed me, the angry me, or the neutral and subdued-due-to-antipsychotics me. But I like to think that whoever I am, empathy is an essential part of my character. It is part of my drive, part of what makes me do the things I do. It is one of my better traits, I think.