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  • Writer's pictureEric Dinsdale

How I Acquired Empathy

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

I have a tremendous amount of empathy for people that struggle with mental health and substance use issues.

It was not a fun or easy process I went through to develop this empathy.

I struggled with addictive substances since I started middle school.

I understand what it is like to give up one substance only to pick up another.

I have gone through withdrawals when I did not have the money to fund my habits.

I have had problems enough times in my life caused by substance use that I decided to quit using.

Furthermore, of the 20+ times that I have quit smoking, I know the efficacy of every nicotine replacement product, the medications too.

I have found that quitting cold turkey, however, extremely difficult at first, was the ticket to my lifelong abstinence from all nicotine and tobacco.

I also understand mental health issues as I was most likely bipolar since birth.

Extremes are part of who I am, I have learned to channel my energy to accomplish a great deal of things.

In the summer of 2009, after a great deal of situational stressors were taking over my life, I had an onset, I was diagnosed schizoaffective.

I was hospitalized for multiple weeks twice that summer while my son was only months old.

My mind was completely out of control, I was not myself, I was not an acceptable or reasonable version of anyone, I was not in reality.

My time in the hospital was hard.

I experienced institutional trauma, being thrown to the ground and forcibly injected.

I remember it well, I remember how each staff looked, smelled, their facial hair.

I remember the blue rubber gloves tearing out hairs on my legs and arms.

I remember being embarrassed as they lowered my shorts in front of everyone.

I screamed at the top of my lungs as if I was being murdered when they stuck my hip.

I wailed even louder begging God for it to stop at each push of the plunger, each felt as if I was being struck by a bullet.

I remember going berserk after the injection, as I was having an allergic reaction.

It is not me to be destructive or violent, but I tore the hospital room apart.

I was placed in restraints, which I managed to escape, scaring a nurse.

I had her convinced I was calmed down and she was comforted.

She said we could sit and quietly chat as I let myself out the other restraint.

I remember every little detail of being force injected and what transpired after.

But even though I am non-violent by nature and would never hurt anyone,

The one thing I do not remember is what caused the staff to feel threatened to the point of causing this institutional trauma, with an allergic reaction that turned me barbaric.

These are just a few of the very many examples that I had a lifetime of struggles that gave me the greatest gift in my field.

I know how my individuals in service feel, as I have been there.

I feel their pains and triumph along with them in their every victory.

The magic is that when my individuals in service recognize that I am “one of their type”, I feel the bond form, the connection in their eyes.

I love what I do, for I am well equipped to help.

I work in a program that helped me get better.

With my education, lived experience, and time in the field, I excel at what I do and enjoy my career, I am proud.

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