The best conversation I had in 2020 was with an Uber driver for $15. He was a well-spoken man of Asiatic origin, perhaps Japanese, and spoke in those humble strokes of breath. It's odd to have such a strong connection with a total stranger, in such a timebox. And I forget how complex human beings are — a simple conversation about my diabetes device that later became a genuine empathetic connection.
Many people ask about my diabetes. I've always been open and jovial about it. Recently, I've been less inclined to explain it. Reducing your experiences down to caustic explanations for others is much easier when those experiences were positive. But the diabetes has been bad, terrible in fact.
So a simple enquiry, a touch on the nose, about my funny patch on my arm is interesting. I will show it to people because the technology is novel, and I'm happy with it.
The man responded with a precariously serious reaction. Which isn't to say others don't — when I tell people about this device, their reaction feels surface-level. This man reacted to the fact I wore these devices all the time with genuine earnest. At least, this was my impression.
"Woah." he exhaled a breath. His meter drew me in to share more — it was tranquil and thoughtful. He would interject and pose a question, and then sit and listen. At one point I believed to have overexplained myself, drowning in rhythms of my own logic-seeking, fumbling at metaphors to explain the daily experience. And he just listened, tempered in his own thought.
"You know, I cannot drink milk" he said. Something that brings my immediate reaction to say "oh yeah". I quickly retreated from my arrogance,
"I have a friend who has this too, it's terrible".
"Yes you know, I would have terrible acidic refluxes in my stomach, for many months."
At this point, I said something which triggered a genuine connection between the two of us, because his intensity of response immediately increased.
“Wow, that must’ve caused you terrible anxiety.”
“Yes, yes! I had developed some terrible anxiety and depression from these things."
The conversation continued, and I don't have to detail specifics of what he said any longer. From there, it was about my experience and his. My experience of health and individuality and eventual salience of how it's all fucking holistic. From when I would posture my leg and it would become numb, my muscles would start spasming, I wouldn't be able to sleep, and not have any libido. Going to doctors and having the same slightly jarring experience of not actually being understood. I got it. I've been slowly beginning to get it for weeks, but today it came from another person.
"I don't know why you're going to a dermatologist, you should have sorted this out months ago" says the GP. I can't explain to you that I booked the appointment before the diabetic one, because I'm an adult now, and don't have any idea how this works. I've been trying but this all seems too much. My mood, my energy, I haven't been supported in getting this through. Only after this fantastic cruise with a lot of friends do I feel somewhat myself again — after exercising every day for the past two weeks, do I finally have the energy to do things again. The lesions on my knee are about my esteem, my feeling of self. I want to feel normal, I want to feel understood or at least not be continually jarred with the experience of explaining myself. That is what I want.
This man understood. He'd been through the same. "At a certain point, I felt like I was on the precipus of death. [I mentioned libido] I lost all interest, I felt like a robot. My friend told me that I was not acting like this person I was anymore — and that is true."
He was struggling with depression and anxiety. The acid refluxes that could not be explained to him, but had suddenly become part of him, interjecting in his identity.
"At a certain point, I went to my doctor and I said — doctor, I cannot sleep. Every night I sleep maybe 2 or 3 hours. This pain that I feel in my stomach, it is unbearably painful. And the doctor told me, there is no cure for acid reflex. I thought to myself — after all of this time, there is no cure? How can this be."
And so he said, "I will go to research on the computer, for 10, maybe 12 hours, however long it takes. After 5 hours I sat there, and I came to the strong conclusion, that these issues were in my mind. I started practicing transcendental meditation." The terrible lethargy he experienced, gone. "It has been 6 years since I went in 2014. At one point, I thought, this is how it is now. It will never change".
It's hard to explain how such a short conversation with a stranger can mean so much. Or how it can elucidate feelings I never knew I needed, and reactions I never understood I had. I don't like talking about my health to my friends, as it feels like a dead end most the time — but more than a deadend, there's an impossibility of genuine empathy there. The things I've experienced, in terms of deteriorating function, age, whatever — these are things people cannot relate to. And the treatment I've gotten from Western healthcare has neither been useful — the body is a whole. Mental and physical are the same system, and we must treat them holistically. I feel better than ever this past two weeks, and it's because of the additional energy I get from exercising. Something about it jostles my system into action, and I can think clearly. This man finds it was meditation. In either case, we gotta do what works for us. And when it comes to other people, maybe you shouldn't tell them things about yourself. The fracturing, and further healing of one's physical and mental health, requires empathy. And the degree to which that empathy is present depends — though the power it has is insurmountably demonstrated to me today.
I gave the man the maximum tip I could. I'd never see him again, but the feeling he left me was lasting. Empathy is a powerful experience, being understood. If you think you understand yourself, try feeling understood to begin with, then observe. Likewise, all of this came about from the most infinitesimal of reactions. Something as nominal as the tone of earnestness fostered a connection I cannot forget.
This is Article #5, and it's about empathy. This is, by far, the most personal thing I've ever published. It's actually something I wrote way back in January, pre-corona. It was such a powerful moment that I wrote about it as soon as I left the car. Now, practicing as a writer, I feel like it's worth publishing. Empathy, real empathy, is a powerful experience.