As long as I can remember, the subtleties of life screamed at me.
From noticing the contrast of blending color on a rose petal after the strike of sunlight to feeling deep sadness when looking at an aged man walk hunched over using a shopping cart to ease his trip, I knew there was something different about me. I wouldn’t just feel, I would ponder, grieve, and ruminate.
As a child, I had an imaginary friend named Zach, not because I didn’t have siblings or family, rather my mind just never stopped. I wanted a boundless fantasy that was non-judgemental and freeing. This sensory overload quickly projected me into creativity. Drawing became an escape because it allowed me to develop my own world. My characters could be superhuman. They could fly, run at the speed of light, and had the strength to carry the world. It was amazing!
These characters could do what I could only dream of doing. All the wrongs in life could be corrected, tears dried, and injustices destroyed. Soon, however, these strong feelings reached an unprecedented level, and I found myself engaging in obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
Here is my story, and how my life changed when I realized I’m a highly sensitive person.
I Felt Like My Life Was Over
Over time, I became a germaphobe, believing if I brought any sickness home to my immunosuppressed mother, I would be to blame. Every homework assignment I struggled with became a personal barometer of my intelligence. No longer was I unique in my abilities, now I was dumb and slow, requiring extra attention because I didn’t “get it.” Each attempt to gain confidence faded into a bleak pool of self-doubt, and sometimes self-hatred.
On top of all this was my seemingly birth-righted role as caregiver. I constantly bore the pain of being a witness to suffering and taking in the barrage of hurt from family, friends, and anyone who was sick. I couldn’t process my own emotions due to absorbing the infinite amount of others’ emotions. As I battled to find myself and my place in this world, I became more depressed and socially defunct.
It seemed the more I cried for help, the lonelier I became. In many ways, it makes sense, because if you have a physical disease, people can readily empathize. You then have an ailment totally outside of your control.
However, when you are depressed, you become a draining liability. In other people’s minds, you don’t have a disease, you have a problem. So the thinking ensues: “Since I have a problem, I must be a horrible person, and if I’m a horrible person, why am I here?” It’s funny how the emotions which make you human can also make you miserable.
I reached the point where reason was non-existent, and everything was huge and insurmountable. Life felt like a boa constrictor squeezing out all hope. My relationships suffered because I was gone, completely lost. I had no direction and became so desperate that I lost friendships that made life bearable, as unhappy as I was. Once priding myself as a helper and burden-bearer, I was now no help to anyone.
My life felt like it was over.
How My Life Changed When I Learned I’m an HSP
One day, I came across an article about highly sensitive people (HSPs). Initially shrugging it off, I thought: “Ah, this is just another light bulb feature chronicling some abstract psychology that doesn’t really exist.” But as I kept reading, I started to see more of myself.
What previously felt like a maze of wonderment became a clear path of understanding. Could I be one of these people? The more I read, the more peace I felt. Finally, the elusive answer to the question, “Who am I?” beaconed. Yes, you are an HSP!
So now what?
I wish that revelation came easier. In my years of existence, the intense emotions I live with daily have been exhausting to say the least. People are very critical of this circumstance, and while frustrating, it is understandable. As independent creatures, we are supposed to hold all control over our emotions; if we choose not to do so, then we become victims of our minds and insecurities.
For me, high sensitivity isn’t an excuse, it’s an explanation. It’s a realization of a deep-seated power that the world needs and should utilize more. Thankfully there are places such as Highly Sensitive Refuge, where you discover you are not alone, an excuse, nor an outcast.
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HSPs Have a Place in This World
While I do not have all the answers, I do have a pulse to educate and vindicate the qualities of the highly sensitive. Stepping back to reflect upon the world and what it holds dear — such as self-love, assertiveness, and confidence — I recognized that these qualities are great in and of themselves, but they must be tempered with the accent of the highly sensitive.
HSPs know that to love yourself, you must love others, and to love others means not only feeling, but taking action that shifts the minds of those being given that love. The little things matter. For example, when HSPs give gifts, they do it with style. That gift is likely wrapped strategically, encompassing all the favorite things of the recipient.
That’s the difference of the highly sensitive person. That’s the power we hold.
As far as assertiveness, that is who we are. Although at times we may prefer to remain in the background, when someone is needed to rise to the occasion, that is absolutely what we do. Our emotions push us to go above and beyond because we care that much. To us, overachieving is achieving.
Now confidence, that is a bit tricky. I know my strengths, but I also stew over my weaknesses. This is a war I think many HSPs deal with on a daily basis. This is one area I would like to learn more about and gain perspective from others in the community.
However, one thing is guaranteed: HSPs have a place in this world. We exist to spark hope in humanity. We exist to break barriers. We have the power to succeed in a world where we are the minority.
So to all my fellow highly sensitive people, let’s stand up, let’s carry our emotions, and let’s teach the world that caring is strength.