Recently I had a chance to see a very powerful empath in action. Interestingly, this person has spent most of his life not knowing he was an empath and not understanding the anxieties, inner turmoil, and avoidance reactions on the darker side of this gift. He spent years seeking peace through mediation, spirituality, and self-improvement. While those helped, they didn’t completely resolve the discomfort he often felt living in his own skin.  All it took was some explanation, information, and encouragement, and he stepped into the role he was born for without a single faltering step.

But the energy drain that comes with the territory for empaths was unsettling for him. He’s spent most of his life avoiding tense interactions and negativity because he knew they took a toll on him even though he didn’t know why. Now he was eyeball-deep in conflict resolution, and though he handled it like a pro, he was left feeling like he’d been kicked by a mule. Even simple conversation was a chore.

What advice do you give an empath suffering from energy drain?

For starters, rest. Rest is critical for empaths, who for very organic reasons need more of it than non-empaths. Meditate. Seek positive interaction. And yes, seek other empaths who are in a position at that time to impart good energy back into the vacuum.

What Is an Empath?

Empathic gifts are difficult to explain to non-empaths. The word “empath” itself makes one assume that it’s all about commiserating with others and even telegraphing thoughts and feelings. While those things can be part of an empath’s toolkit, they are far from the most dominant aspects of this calling.

Emotions are the empath’s wheelhouse. Not that they’re experts—empaths are often overwhelmed by emotions, both theirs and those of others around them. They frequently need hours to decompress, in isolation, requiring a great deal of “alone time” and space. They take on the moods of other people to the point it’s often impossible to distinguish them from their own thoughts and feelings. Empaths easily pick up mannerisms, habits, and accents of people they spend time around. They’re emotional sponges, absorbing both positive and negative energy from the ether. For these reasons, while being around a positive and encouraging atmosphere can supercharge an empath to nearly euphoric heights, exposure to negative energy can nearly incapacitate them.

There are ways to shield against this and most empaths learn quickly. But shielding in itself can be an energy drain. The more powerful the empathic gift is in a person, the more energy is required to restore balance when they suffer a deficit.

Skilled empaths can learn to influence the energy and mood of an entire room. I’ve seen it happen—a crowd of people having tense discussion, and then a quiet, unassuming person slips into the room, offers a few smiles, a bit of casual conversation, and before long, loud voices become modulated, stern expressions become soft, and conversation shifts to something more pleasant. People will often be drawn to this newcomer without knowing why. In this situation, the empath is often able to recover some of the positive energy they expended from the room’s new energy itself. If not, they’ll need an eventual retreat to a quiet place to recover.

Are Empaths Telepathic?

As a general rule, no. Nor are they psychic, and they don’t see dead people. Empathic gifts are about emotion. Not thoughts, not spirits. Dual gifts can coincide in the same person, but empaths target the energy from a live and beating heart. They often just “know” things, but they don’t read minds. The things they “know” are extrapolated from the emotions they sift from the energy fields of other people.

Animals can also possess empathic gifts. Service animals are notoriously insightful about what their human companions need. Human empaths often seem to attract animals to them, even wild animals and birds. The empathic calling is a legitimate psychological phenomenon, not at all mystical although it is indeed full of mystery for those who need concrete and tangible proof of a thing’s existence.

One thing is sure: empaths who understand their gifts are a force of nature. Possessing this gift can be grueling for the bearer. But when nurtured and cared for properly, these people have an effect on the world around them that is unequaled in any other aspect of human existence. If you know an empath, please tend their emotional needs carefully. Watch them for signs of stress and exhaustion. And love them unconditionally. They’ll sense it if you don’t.

More reading about this topic:

How to Know if You’re an Empath–Judith Orloff, M.D.

10 Traits Empaths Share–Judith Orloff, M.D.

All the Traits and Signs of an Empath: Are You One?–Exemplore

Soul Searching

A recent study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reveals that animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers. This is the highest suicide rate among American workers; a rate shared only by firefighters and police officers. The national average suicide average for American workers is 1.5 per 1 million.

More than three decades of data shows that veterinarians are up to 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than members of the general population, according to new a study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.



These statistics have been a grim reality for me, in a very palpable way. The veterinarian who spayed and neutered most of @tarc’s rescued animals over a period of three years took his own life in 2016. It was a devastating loss for TARC and for the entire community. Before that, in 2014, renowned veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin died by her own hand, presumably as a consequence of compassion fatigue. She was 48.

I have a strong frame of reference for relating to this problem. I’ve worked in animal welfare and rescue full-time since 2013, and it has taken an incredible toll. Compassion fatigue is real. So is secondary post-traumatic stress disorder. I’m experiencing both.

No, I’m not contemplating suicide. I’m risk-free in that regard; if I didn’t pull the trigger in 2004 when the worst thing that could happen to me happened, I certainly won’t pull it now. So don’t send me crisis hotline numbers. I’m stronger than that. I’ll get through this. Alive.

But I do have to make some tough choices about my lifestyle. I’ve written several poems lately just to get the anger out, the hurt, the pain. I’ve kept them carefully obscure, since my private life is exactly that—private—and I pick and choose who I share details with. Currently three people on the face of this earth know what’s been happening in my “real world.” Two of them are on Steem. One is not. They are trusted confidantes who weather the brunt of my hurricane emotions. And believe me, right now my emotions are a tempest.

None of those three people asked for the responsibility of keeping me grounded. But between them, it’s working. Two of them talk these matters through with me at length. One says very little but is such a source of positive energy in my universe that few words are required.

Everyone else gets to see the game face. Am I being fake? No—I think I’m just being practical. We have work to do, the Steemhouse publishing group and I. There’s no time for Rhonda to have a meltdown. So I do that in private. Even my three most trusted friends in the world don’t get to see me at my lowest points.

So how did I end up here? How does anyone end up wrung out, strung out, and empty-handed after an entire lifetime of trying to strike the Libra balance and do the right thing by everybody?

I’m not sure if there’s a good answer to that question. I’ve put my confidence in a lot of wrong people. I know that much. Have I learned anything from it? Je ne sais pas. But I certainly hope so. I have to surround myself with positivity, even if this means eliminating every source of negative energy in my life.

And that will be a complicated exorcism.

Since 2013, I’ve given everything I had to this rescue. Central Appalachia is such a horrid place for animals—the cruelties here are unspeakable. I often compare this region of the U.S. to a Third World country, and I don’t think I’m far off the mark. Lack of pride in the community or its appearance—almost every residential and commercial structure is run-down and gone to seed. Children are exposed to barbaric acts of neglect and abuse against animals and other people until they’re utterly desensitized. The entire culture here is unwilling to learn a better way of life because “this is how we done it forever.” To quote my latest novel High Kill, which is set in this region and based on many of my personal experiences: “…if your way of life is destroying your children, you don’t get to treasure it, and you don’t get to hang on to it. You figure out where the hell you went wrong, and you fix it.” Well, nobody has been interested in “fixing” anything in Central Appalachia for a long time. And I’m tired of fighting for a cause nobody here seems to believe in but me.

In five years, I’ve exhausted my savings. I’ve run the wheels off my personal vehicle hauling hundreds of dogs to safety in New England, dogs dumped on me by people too sorry to fulfill their obligations to lives they took responsibility for. Tempted to defend them? To imagine the pitiful circumstances that would cause these poor mountain folk to surrender a beloved pet?

Think again. Backyard breeders are Appalachia’s puppy mills. They crank out litter after litter to support their pill habit, selling unweaned, unvaccinated puppies in the classifieds of the local bargain paper who are typically too sick to survive more than a few days in their new homes. These are the same people who have consistently attacked me on Facebook, sent law enforcement to do “welfare checks” on my animals because I posted asking for help with a vet bill, who knifed my tires, shot dogs in the head that rescuers were on their way to rescue from the side of the road—and ooooh, just let me make a public appeal for donations and see how fast they line up to accuse me of fraud, thievery, and greed. Happens every time.

I’m tired, folks. This war has exhausted me. All give and no take—I’m empty. I can’t do this anymore. I will carry the scars from this for the rest of my life. It’s no secret that I want to leave this place. I want to move far, far away and never think about Southwest Virginia again. This is the most hostile, ungrateful, self-destructive community I have ever had the misfortune of discovering. More than a decade and a half of living here has nearly killed me.

Some of you know how long I’ve been asking people in Appalachia to help and support my 501c3 nonprofit rescue. But here in these mountains, most charitable efforts are looked upon with disdain and suspicion, to the point that the benefactor actually begins to feel and behave like someone guilty of a crime. I’ve gone without proper nutrition, heat in the winter, reliable brakes on my vehicle, and indoor plumbing for almost three years now. I keep the bills paid and the animals properly vetted. I need glasses with a prescription more recent than ten years ago. I need work done on this house. I need a working refrigerator. Stove. Washer and dryer. I need to start over. Just cut my losses and walk away.

Some of you know that during this last cold snap, the water lines in this very old house froze for the first time in more than seventy years. Upon thawing, they burst. I did have someone loan me the $140 it took to buy supplies to replumb. I didn’t mean to borrow the money—that’s just the way the universe worked it out. I’ll repay it. Soon.

But then what of the supplies that I bought? I ended up replumbing the whole house by myself. New water line, all the way from the feed coming into the house to the kitchen sink. Let’s hear it for self-sufficiency…but any sense of pride I have in the accomplishment is buried under resentment toward all the people who could have helped me and simply refused to do so. Only one person has bothered to congratulate me for successfully completing a project most women would never dream of undertaking. One person. Everyone else seems to take for granted that I should just do these things, because I deserve to be alone with no help ever no matter how urgent the emergency, because I somehow brought all of this on myself, because I’m endlessly expected to give and ask for nothing in return.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s not congratulations I need. It’s for someone to recognize—finally—that my ability to give and to survive is finite. It’s for somebody to give back into my life just a portion of the time and energy I’ve poured into others. It’s for me to wake up once—just one day—and not realize I’m facing the last half of my life alone, even though I’m surrounded by people who think they know me. They don’t. Because really—who has ever taken the time to ask what my favorite song is? Or why I don’t like freshwater fish, but can eat the hell out of anything pulled in from the ocean? Who has ever cared about these details? Anyone? These are the kinds of questions I ask other people all the time, because I’m truly interested in the answers and what they’ll tell me about that person. But I’m starting to realize nobody gives a shit what those answers would tell them about me. And let me tell ya—realizing this is one of the loneliest feelings I have ever experienced.

So I’m done. If I’m living life alone, then I will live it truly alone and unencumbered by anyone else’s baggage. I will pick my friends by the amount of time they invest back into me, and the takers and the emotional vampires and the endless sources of negativity will be banished from every corner of my life. If this means giving up the rescue, giving up the property I currently call home, giving up everything I’m still hanging on to in hopes it’ll get better someday, then so be it. I’m tired of turning black inside while everybody thinks I’m just fine to go another round. I’m not. I promise you, I’m not.

I had a long talk with myself about whether or not to publish this post. Every other time I write, I weigh the value other people might get from my words. Rest assured, at this point I no longer care. I wrote this one all for me. And I published it all for me, because I have something to say and I will say it to the wall if nobody else will listen. I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m damaged. And now I have to figure out how to climb out of this hole I’ve let myself get pushed into. Once I do, you will never see me back in this place ever again.






Lake Walk


The distance around Lincolnshire Lake is approximately one mile. Today I walked every step of that mile without a struggle, up and down hills and didn’t once think I might die from the exertion.

I’ve been taking good care of myself for the past couple months, trying to eat healthy, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of rest. I took up yoga. I meditate. And I walk around this lake as often as I can.

I try to actually stay out of the lake, and so far I’ve been successful despite a tumble down the dam the last time I made this walk. That was no fun, and I have no desire for a repeat performance.

I always take doggies. What good is a walk without them? A couple weeks ago I took Milo, my big Anatolian Shepherd. Today I took Princess. She told me on no uncertain terms that she appreciated the trip and loves me for including her.

Normally I have more to say when I write a post. Tonight I don’t feel very eloquent, so I’ll let the photos speak for me. I had a great time walking around the lake today. I’ll do it again every chance I get.


Christmas in the Holler

To a great extent, Christmas is Christmas everywhere. Routines, traditions…most of them vary, but only by degrees. Different regions have different customs, and families within those regions make their own habits within those customs. Somehow, someway, though, there are always presents and lots and lots of food.

Appalachian Christmases tend to be throwbacks to simpler times. Relatives gather at the family homeplace, people eat until they waddle, and opening gifts is the high point of the day. If kids are involved, Christmas morning is the big deal. For adults, it’s Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas night–and sometimes both. It’s basically a two-day bonanza of home-cooked goodness and gift wrap.

One cool feature of my recent Christmases is that they’re celebrated in the “Holler.” For those who don’t know, “holler” is Appalachian slang for a valley between mountains, usually where families have settled. I took the following photos tonight as I rolled into the Bandy/Sparks Holler. Every house you see belongs to a Sparks family member, most of whom descended from the Bandy clan several generations ago. There are no strangers here. The unpaved road is maintained by the county, but it dead-ends at the driveway of the last house. The Sparks are Christian folk, friendly and loving. One holler over, the same might not be true for whatever family settled there.

Take a look at all these family homes and imagine they’re inhabited by pillheads who may or may not have a meth lab in the basement. Then imagine being a tourist and getting lost, and ending up down one of these little back roads. This is why you don’t go joyriding in Central Appalachia without a native tour guide.You’d survive a wrong turn down the Bandy/Sparks Holler. You might even get fed a hot meal and get to hear some authentic Appalachian pickin’ if you catch Bill and Ronnie in the right mood with their guitars. But mess up and find yourself surrounded by the wrong bunch in a bad mood and you don’t have cell service–let’s just put it this way: if you’re ever in Central Appalachia, stick to the main roads.This isn’t the place for hikers and bikers and adventuresome travelers to get curious about where the road leads.


On a lighter note, when I got there this afternoon, I arrived to the raw sound of axe on wood. I looked up the hill in the photo below and saw Moose out splitting logs for his heater. He threw up a hand and waved. To the left of the woodpile is an ancient root cellar, built into the side of the hill for preserving perishables. Lots of history on that land, including an old road that leads over the mountain to the family’s original homestead and a cemetery from bygone times.

Dinner today was a small affair compared to the smorgasbord we had last night. In the Bandy/Sparks/Kay clan, Christmas Eve is when all the inlaws and outlaws and cousins and aunts and uncles and all the strays who have nowhere else to go congregate for Christmas on a grand scale. It’s standing-room only in MawMaw Spark’s old house on the hill. I didn’t get a photo of the food last night, even though I ate my share of it. Tonight I snapped a quick pic before the Kays descended on the meal Loretta so skillfully prepared.

For those unfamiliar with down-home American country cooking, let me identify some of what you see in this informal but scrumptious spread. Back row, left to right: sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, ham, and biscuits with cornbread underneath. Nearest row: beans, kraut and sausage (kraut is homegrown and homemade,) deviled eggs, gravy for the biscuits, potato salad, and in the front right corner, veggie bars. Dessert was homemade cheesecake. YUM

Thanks to some kriyas I’ve been doing recently, for the first time in years I was able to sit cross-legged on the floor and open presents the way I always enjoyed. Pictured below is my haul, the gifts I got tonight. Lots of textiles to keep me warm and other assorted neat things to use at home.

I’m sure the following scene is familiar to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas–the pile of wrapping paper in the floor. LOL It grew and grew as the night went on. Yes, the original photo includes their heads. I cropped the pic as a courtesy.

Here we have the yearly prank gift from Moose to Loretta. Seems like they get funnier and funnier as time goes by. Loafers! Real, true loafers, in the most literal sense. I got quite a laugh out of this.

And no Christmas would be complete without Paige, my beloved biter-of-children and killer-of-rodents. Paige is her own person, but she is wholly devoted to me and can’t tolerate being separated from me for any length of time. It isn’t herself she fears for. It’s me, although I’ve yet to figure out what exactly she thinks will happen to me in her absence. It’s kinda nice to be worried about, though, so I roll with it. And Paige goes along everywhere I can possibly take her. She and I are working on service dog qualifications, although she still isn’t quite sure she wants to perform on command. She already meets requirements for ESA (emotional support animal,) but those aren’t allowed public access to the degree that actual service dogs are. Time will tell if she makes the cut. I hope so, because leaving her behind is torture for both of us.

That was my Appalachian Christmas. Feel free to respond in the comments with photos of your own! I’d love to see them.