If you are struggling with your own circumstances at present it is not a selfish thing to give yourself some distance.
Many of us here are conflictive with what we believe we must do as empaths as a means to `heal` others and we very often neglect ourselves in the process - This in turn serves no one because the energies bouncing around become a lot more intense and inevitably you will suffer.
I can see you already know this saying you have to find a safe place in which to work from with this lady- This is a problem though hon. You have identified yourself as a healer in which to work with her and have already burdened yourself as someone with the must to (I am sure many of us here have and, still do - hence the ongoing conflict of us all)
This lady I can imagine has many issues in which you have said has `ripped you apart`- This is dangerous ground because you are opening yourself to someone else`s traumas that can indeed become your own.
It took me a year to identify I was with someone else`s energies/thought processes, it took me months to recover via cutting all ties in deep meditation - even now I have had twinges of a connection still.
As empaths there is a very profound need to want to do what is right for others but, empathy is about you foremost - The who and what you are - It is not about healing everyone that unleashes their burdens upon you - On the contrary many of us here will admit we will at times run a mile because we know too much is too much. This is not an `un-empathic` thing to do because we are not superheroes
You say yourself you take breaks because it is an overload - Please take this hint as a need to take care of yourself.
- You have to see it from the angle - If you knew someone was in distress, would you unleash all your burdens upon them? - By this I do not mean you are allowing others to unleash upon you. I am saying you are allowing yourself to unleash upon you too - Its like an attack on the self - you would not treat others this way but, its okay to treat yourself this way...
It is not. You deserve to give the love and kindness to yourself that you offer everyone else (I think this is where we differ from many - we see a duty to heal pain from others but, never our own)
You say/ask, `I feel defeated but, its only feelings right?`
- Feelings are the absolute everything of who you are, without emotion you would be a zombie robot..... Feelings are everything that you are and shape your whole life around you - The way you are and how you are will reflect back upon you. - If there is anyone upon this earth you need heal it is yourself - once in a state of this you will be ready to heal others
Shaking with a panic attack is a sign to at least distance yourself from any external sources at present. I honestly believe the only way to centre yourself here is to focus on you