GUEST BLOG POST: Matt Stickland
Hey guys, Brian here. Recording this episode with Matt genuinely impacted the way I will interact with the rest of the world. While empathy is still one of my fundamental values, I now realize that there are things that I can't relate to. Everyone's experience on this planet is unique, often times you don't know what the people around you are dealing with, and sometimes, you never will - and that's okay. It wasn't intentional for things to line up this way, but our episode with Matt discussing PTSD falls in line with Remembrance Day this week. We're confronted with the history of war and everything that goes with it; the bravery, the brutality, the sadness, the grief, and also the repercussions, both physical and mental. I hope you enjoy the discussion on a topic that has become one of the defining characteristics of the post 9/11 era.
Don't empathize with me.
If you've been following this podcast every week Brian said in the Psychosis episode that there was a guest that said “Don't empathize with me” and that struck him. That was me and I should explain. Let me set the scene. I'm at dinner with my uncle, we see each other rarely and the conversations are always good. We're sitting in a small restaurant in a corner booth, lighting is dim, the smell of spices and meat are in the air. It's a phenomenal place to take a date if your date is a carnivore, you can eat literally any animal there, and it is cooked to perfection. It's amazing. Anyways, as always we talk about things that are interesting to each other, the crossover, considering our background and life stages, is pretty large and the new perspectives are always very welcome. At some point half way through dinner we kind of realize we should ask about family, what's new with you? You know the normal stuff. At this point I mentioned that my Brother in law (by law) does this podcast about living with illness and I'm going to be on it. So we started talking about PTSD. Kind of. It's always a little weird because sharing forces me to come out of my defensive shell, which neither one of us wanted to happen at this restaurant. So here comes the paradox that prompted my statement: My uncle, like many, see my service as honorable, noble, selfless, there are a lot of adjectives people put there. Hell it's implied in the word service. The words I would use are different: Malevolent, destructive, heinous. I feel like my actions are reprehensible, unforgivable. My world view needs shifting, I know. People always try to empathize, it's human nature, or should be, if you're not an asshole. I hate it. Empathy, to me, implies that there is a scenario where what I did is okay or common. Empathy with symptoms of it, I get and am okay with. You've likely had a night where you couldn't sleep, you can extrapolate on your experience and empathize, and I'll believe you. You've likely had a nightmare and can imagine what it's like to have those every night for a week or more. You've likely been scared and can understand that being scared every night for a couple years would be a seriously shitty experience. Why I hate when people try to empathize with my experience is because I don't believe you have had an experience similar to what caused my trauma. I don't believe you can empathize with that. Hell most of my issues stem from the fact that I can't empathize with it. I also don't want you to be able to empathize with it. When you attempt, and can't, I feel alone, isolated and undeserving of my humanity. Just let me know that I can talk about it with you if I want to. Just listen and give me a hug to let me know that you don't think I'm a monster.
// If you're interested in reading more, check out this very recent and relevant article