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Sufferings of the Sensitive

Updated: Sep 22, 2020

"The sensitive suffer more, but they love more and dream more." -Augusto Curry

Ah, I see you've met our inspiration for today's post. Of course it's a quote -- what did you expect?! I was flipping through an old journal today and found an entry from 2017 with nothing but this quote scribbled under the date. How mysterious of me to leave behind for my future great-great-grandchildren to find in a dusty attic one day long after I've left this earth. They're going to be pretty disappointed in how simultaneously cheesy and seriously bipolar my journal makes me out to be. I'm trying to be happier and have more excitement in my life, for their sake, but it's not looking great.

This succinct little quote seems to say just as much as the long rambles of confusion and fear I found it tucked between. It basically sums up my entire existence. I am a sensitive human, there is no denying that, and this has often felt more like a curse than a blessing. Not being able to hold back tears when someone is unhappy with me, or even when I make a mistake as trivial as spilling food on the comforter for the third time in two hours (I should note that I'm also very clumsy and grew up with the self-evident nickname of "Spill Queen") is not a quality I like about myself. I would prefer to handle a little sternness without my throat tightening and my eyes welling up with tears, but I simply wasn't made that way. It's on the long list of things I thought I would grow out of. Sadly, at 24, I still look under my bed for murderers and can barely sleep one night in a house alone without checking that each door is locked at least three times. And I still cry when faced with any form of scolding, no matter how mild. Did I miss a crucial step in the process of becoming an adult? This can't be right.

I'm not necessarily saying that my tears at inopportune times and my inability to sleep without first thoroughly inspecting my room for intruders -- ones with an indeterminable motive to kill me, but a motive nonetheless -- make me suffer drastically more than the rest of the world. (Although you must admit, this really is quite unfortunate for me.) But my being sensitive goes deeper than this, if you can believe it. Everything just sits with me on a more personal level. I can't even watch a damn American Idol audition without crying for the people who are rejected, especially if it's a man wearing glasses. Don't ask me why. I have no clue why it pains me so deeply to see a man in glasses feel any emotion other than pure joy. It's a weird soft spot I've always had, among many others. I also feel second-hand embarrassment maybe more than the person actually experiencing the embarrassment themselves. I'm hyper-sensitive to things that probably shouldn't get to me as much as they do, but this is, unfortunately, the way I am wired.

On the positive end of being sensitive, as Augusto Curry points out, it is possible that I love and dream more. I believe this is true, but don't be fooled; dreaming too much isn't actually a good thing. I would almost go as far to say it is the opposite: the more you dream, the less certain you are about the things you truly want, and the more lost in your ideals and fantasies you become. I spend a lot of time in my head. I know we all technically spend the same amount of time in our heads because that is how this whole "being a human with a brain" thing works, but I have reason to believe my time up there drags on longer than most and is more unbearable than that of the average person. You see, all this time dreaming means less time doing; less doing means more thinking, and more thinking means less doing. It's a vicious cycle. Even my night-time dreams are often rooted in reality and leave me with an anxious pit in my stomach the next morning -- and yes, I am distinguishing between dreaming and actual night-time dreaming because that is how much time I spend dreaming even while I'm awake. If something is stressing me out about work, that pesky worry makes its way into my not-so-sweet dreams and robs me of the eight hours of freedom I'm supposed to have from my prison cell of a brain! It's hard enough to spend your waking hours consumed by fears of failure and incompetence, let alone having them haunt your hours of slumber too. After a long day of thinking, I can't even be rewarded with a calm, restful night's sleep?! It is cruel.

Of course, there are upsides to being a sensitive little human like me. While it's inconvenient to take even the most minor put-down on an unreasonably personal level, my being sensitive allows me to really connect to and empathize with people. I don't consider myself a people-person, as we all know. I'm a people-pleaser, but being a people-person is entirely different. I'm simply not someone who enjoys making small talk, and I will panic if left alone in a room with someone I barely know. (Unless I'm drunk. None of this applies if I'm drunk. I'm fantastically outgoing when I'm drunk. Maybe I could get rid of all these problems -- and take on a whole set of new ones -- by simply becoming an alcoholic.) But this is maybe a misconception I have about myself, one that my boyfriend kindly pointed out to me recently. I am so quick to call myself an introverted, shy, and awkward human, but it turns out I'm not quite as bad as I think I am. Sure, I'm not the first one to think up a new topic when there's a lull in conversation, but I love a stimulating discussion and spending time with interesting people. Surface-level talk not only bores me but gives me serious anxiety. Don't get me wrong; I really, truly am dying to know what you do for a living and if you actually enjoy it and if you make decent money and if it's something I would be good at and if you could please get me a job (this all leads back to the whole "I have no idea what I'm doing with my life" thing), but I'm mostly interested in hearing the stuff that doesn't often come up casually in conversation. What is your greatest insecurity? Does it hold you back? What has been your most life-changing realization? Are you truly happy with your life? Do you regret anything? Do you resent anyone? Would your younger self be proud of the person you've become? What makes you angry? What is your biggest fear? Give me the good stuff!

I think, at the end of the day, we all want to feel like we're not alone. We all want to know we have things in common with other humans, but not just that we like the same music and enjoy the same foods, but that we share our fears and insecurities, our regrets and uncertainties, our failures and misfortunes. We want to know that other people have been where we are, or that they are right there with us now. We want to be free of that gnawing, aching feeling of being alone in our struggles. And we will never find that if all we ever talk about is the weather and what Netflix shows we've watched recently. I guess it all starts with vulnerability; we have to be willing to open up about the darkest parts of ourselves to give others the freedom to do the same. When one person is vulnerable, other people feel comfortable peeling back their layers too. We all put on a front -- and it's especially easy to do in this phoney age of social media where you can manicure your online profile to look like you have an unrealistically perfect life -- but when one person speaks up about their inner turmoil, their insecurities, the fears that hold them back, we all feel a little more at ease sharing our own. And that, I think, is the only way to make life feel more bearable in the hard times and more meaningful in the good ones.

So, I'll start. We all know by now that I'm an anxious mess. I get myself all worked up almost every single day because I want so badly to figure out what to do with my life. I change my mind on the daily, and sometimes it feels like I can't even keep up with my own damn thoughts. It's hard to move in any direction when you have no idea what direction you want to go in. People always say going in some direction is better than staying in the same place. I know this is true, but when you're so uncertain about what you want, the thought of potentially moving towards something you'll end up hating is terrifying, and it is enough to keep me stuck where I am. I'm paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision and spending time and money on something that will not make me happy. I'm always told life just "works out" and that you have to start somewhere, but for someone who overthinks every little decision, it's hard being at the starting line with no clue where it's leading.

Anxiety can be described as living in the future. Without a doubt, that is where my mind lives. The answer, to pretty much everything in this life, is living in the present. I'm learning to do this, very slowly. I'm trying to make meditation part of my daily routine, and Lord knows I need it. It's been said that those who find meditation the hardest are those who need it the most, and it couldn't be more true. My mind feels impossible to quiet, so I'm obviously in desperate need of just ten peaceful minutes of thoughtless bliss. I've also found watching trashy reality shows to be a form of meditation in the sense that it is completely mind numbing and requires zero mental effort. While I wouldn't recommend spending hours consuming mindless TV, I do think it's healthy to shut your brain off sometimes and not be overrun by your thoughts. I'm also making a conscious effort to enjoy moments while I'm living in them. I have a horrible tendency to dread the end of something good while I'm still in the midst of the goodness. I get bummed on the third-last day of vacation because the end is on the horizon, and I sometimes even go into a fun weekend already sad knowing it will fly by. So, now, when I feel content and at peace, I make a point of acknowledging it. I tell myself "ah, this is a wonderful moment. I am enjoying it." It sounds silly, I know, but for me, it's so important to recognize a good thing while it's happening. It's helping me to appreciate my life for what it is, which is something that has not always come naturally to me, but is probably the key to happiness, or whatever.

The final thing -- and likely most important thing -- is realizing that a career is not what defines me. This is something I have been struggling to grasp. For some reason, when I think about my future happiness and success, all I can think about is having a job that I genuinely like. I think the reason this gets me down so much is because I don't know what that will be just yet. I've also never considered myself to be super "career-oriented," not that we have to put ourselves in boxes like that. But the thing I've always been most excited for in life is having a family and being a mom one day, and I think because I'm so very far from the motherhood stage of my life, it seems like having an amazing career is what matters most right now. But it doesn't. Some wise, wonderful people in my life have reminded me recently that life is so much more than how you make money. Of course, we would all prefer to not hate our lives for eight hours a day, five days a week, but the place most of us find our joy will not be at work. It will be in the moments with the people we love. It will be in the moments doing the things we love. It will even be in the moments of suffering and struggling. These are the moments that will define us. These are the moments when we are just human, and maybe that is enough. Maybe life is all about learning to be kinder to ourselves, to soften our expectations and allow ourselves to be flawed, uncertain, and still worthy. After all, our value comes from within. If you don't like yourself, you will always be seeking outside validation, and you will always be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. As usual, this is easier said than done. I know it feels good to have someone appreciate you and see your value, but if you don't see it yourself, you'll never be truly happy. Probably. I think that is what a wise person would say, but I wouldn't know.

As for being sensitive, I'm learning to see the beauty in it. At the end of the day, I'm happy to be an emotional and compassionate person. It makes me who I am. I'm not some cold-hearted boss woman who can easily detach herself from other people's feelings to get what she wants. Sometimes I wish I was, but that's just not me. And that is okay. I'm not meant to do the things those people are meant to do. I'm meant to use my sensitivity in other ways. Accepting that I don't have to force something that isn't natural and genuine to me is one of the most freeing realizations I've ever had. So if you're holding on to some idealized version of yourself you aspire to be that just isn't true to you, maybe you should let it go. I think life becomes infinitely more enjoyable when you decide that you are perfectly valuable just the way you are, and that you don't have to pretend to be something you're not.



PS. Since drafting this post a few weeks ago, I have made the decision to go back to school this fall to become a teacher! I'm very excited about it, and I will probably write another post all about this soon. After this ramble of career anxiety, you, my dear readers, can rest assured that I am finally at peace and happy with my decision. Hallelujah, it is a miracle!


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