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An empath in the time of a pandemic | Savvy Cooperative | #AskPatients

This past weekend I found myself laying in bed with knots in my stomach. I was starting to experience symptoms of COVID-19.

But I was not sick, at least not how we are currently classifying the impact of the disease. I was so devastated by what I was reading. So overcome with worry, worry not only for those I love, but the world. I was scrolling through Twitter and was brought to tears. We are in crisis.

I hope we are all seeing this isn’t just something that happens to people on the internet. It is in every community. We are all affected. And we all must do our part to protect the most vulnerable.

My mother and sister are both HCPs, I’ll leave it at that to not disclose where they work. But the idea of them on the frontline of this crisis consumed me until proper precautions were taken. My mother is extremely high risk.

My father told me he was at the grocery store at 5:38am for senior hours and it was packed. I pleaded with him to just let me order whatever he needed.

I have a long history of worrying about people I care about. My grandmother was an expert worrier, and she used to joke she gave it to me. (Gosh wouldn’t it be nice if that was the contagion we were dealing with — caring too much).

I haven’t lived in the same place as my family since I was 18. I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, and my parents (who split) and my sister and her family are still there. I moved across the country to California before relocating to NYC. If I hadn’t heard from either of my parents in a reasonable amount of time, I would make the other one go check on them.

You may have started to experience this from me personally. Like, have I stalked you in a Twitter DM to make sure you’re ok (you know who you are)?

But it’s not just worry. Being an empath, I have a high tendency to take on the feelings of others. If you’re sad, I am sad. If you’re scared, I am scared. When you’re joyous, I’m joyous. But with self-isolation, I’m not getting much of a fix of feeling other people’s joy (I do follow various Instagram accounts for just this reason though!).

And right now, with the world in disarray, I feel it all. I also feel consumed with trying to figure out how to fix it.

What can I personally do (stay home, obviously)?

What can our co-op, Savvy Cooperative, do?

I am still working on answers.

I was explaining what I was going through to others close to me, who expressed that they are just not wired this way. It’s important to remember we all process the world differently (that’s a reminder to myself).

It also reinforces that those of us who do experience the world in this manner may be struggling in a particular way.

My guess is there is a spectrum of how people perceive the world. And while I am no Mantis level empath (Avengers reference), I can’t speak to how it feels to be living through this pandemic at the other end of the spectrum. I imagine they are struggling in their own way.

So without knowing words of comfort for those who feel what I feel, let alone those who don’t, let me at least acknowledge that you are not alone. Intellectually I recognize that we do not need to carry the weight of the world. So perhaps if we acknowledge that we have these shared emotions it can at least feel, in a small way, that we carry it together.

Stay home. Something about self-care (I am not an expert at that). Stay safe.

Jen Horonjeff, PhD, is an autoimmune disease patient and the founder & CEO of Savvy Cooperative. Savvy is improving healthcare for patients by helping companies create products and services that patients actually need. Savvy provides an online marketplace where companies and innovators can connect directly with diverse patients and consumers to obtain patient insights for clinical, user experience and market research. Using a unique co-op model, Savvy Cooperative is the first patient-owned platform that empowers patients to use their health experiences to advance research, resources and product development. For more information about Savvy Cooperative, please visit and follow Savvy Coop on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Jen Horonjeff
Post by Jen Horonjeff
March 27, 2020
Jen Horonjeff, PhD, is a life-long autoimmune disease patient and brain tumor survivor turned human factors engineer, academic, FDA advisor, and now the founder & CEO of Savvy Cooperative.