All my life, I had been told I was very sensitive and emotional. Even at a young age, I was very uncomfortable in crowds or in small places with a lot of people. For years I dismissed this as claustrophobia, but it didn't make sense, because I was perfectly at ease in small spaces by myself.
As I grew up, I started noticing that my friends and even perfect strangers would open up to me about their problems or seek me out when they've had a bad day, as if they were drawn to me. I always found it odd that after talking with them, they would feel better and I felt emotionally drained. It became so bad, I would avoid certain people that always seemed to have a lot of personal problems, which had a huge impact on some of my friendships. To make things worse, after college, I worked in a hospital and would often come home at the end of the day feeling as if I were the one that were sick or had a loved one admitted. Eventually, I transferred out of the hospital to the corporate offices, which seemed to improve my mood drastically.
About five years ago, I met a couple of people who, after getting to know well, helped me realize that what I had been experiencing throughout my life was empathy. At first, it wasn't something I had wanted to hear. I thought it a curse, until I learned how to control it. I'm now 35 years old, and have embraced it, however, I'm finding it more and more difficult to shield and control. I've had a couple recent experiences of being in crowded venues and being around some good friends that were going through a difficult time. I came home feeling like I did years before, only this time, feeling overloaded to the point of a near emotional breakdown. I felt so much anger, not directed toward anything in particular, and then cried non-stop. I honestly thought I was going to go crazy. I put on some uplifting music in hopes to improve my mood, which it eventually did, but it took quite a while for me to come out of the emotional "gutter", so to speak.
Is it normal to have such strong reactions after going years without one? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.