I am probably what you would call an "empath." I don't say that proudly or happily. Actually it's just the opposite: the feelings that I have toward (and about) other people are frequently overwhelming to me, and I wish I could reliably do something to quiet them down.
Something more, I mean, than getting intoxicated and crawling into a ball under the covers in a dark room. Sometimes in that moment, I feel like the universe before the Big Bang: compact, self-contained, a nucleus of matter, energy, and elements; floating in space and nothingness; waiting to explode.
A therapist I saw in my twenties compared my state of emotion to a Stradivarius violin: an instrument capable of a wide range of notes, but too delicate to play hard or often.
It feels like an apt analogy.
I spend a lot of time thinking about people's feelings. Even strangers. More than that, I spend a lot of time feeling their feelings. If I read something sad about someone, or if someone seems nervous--like a waiter in a restaurant, for example--I can't get it out of my head for days, even if I have no relationship to the person. I wonder what they are doing and thinking about for weeks.
So it's hard for me to be vulnerable in real relationships and friendships. The emotions I have are too blindingly intense, and it can feel like looking into direct sunlight.
Still, given the choice I would prefer to take it in the feels and deal with the intensity of that experience. Because ironically, it's in those moments when I think I might be dying inside that I always seem to feel the most alive.