The conundrum and nemesis of highly sensitive people
I have a confession to make. Years ago, I sold my soul. In my defense though, it was before I had any concept of time, space, or that chocolate was the best thing in the world I could find as I crawled around the floor popping anything and everything into my less than one-year-old mouth: a coughed up hairball from the cat, a dead spider, small bits of old dry bread, pieces of words from a torn newspaper. (Words of which I had no understanding at the time, but most likely was when I first learned my extreme distaste for “wasted words”: the media, politicians, and most meetings — all a big waste of words and time).
It was somewhere around this time that I made a deal metaphorically, probably scribbled a signature of sorts, (resembling something more likef a bunch of crooked lines and frantic circles rather than an actual name), giving my life away for promises of riches and an eternity of everything I could ever want or dream.
Many years later, I found myself becoming distressed and lifeless. I could still find quiet solace enjoying the layers of a fudgecicle (it was chocolate after all). My soul, if I had an ounce of one left, felt like it had deserted me, so completely sucked dry and not even having the decency to take any chunks of chocolate body fat along with it.
Though I had signed up for a life of kindness, selflessness and compassion, I felt so drained and began to question if I had signed the right deal. There was another guy at the time, who had been quite insistent on buying my soul. I don’t have a real clear recollection of him and possibly the bits I do remember of him are more from movies or TV shows than my actual memory. He appeared to be quite charming, charismatic and with abs that I was certain you could run a car full speed into, leaving the car totaled while the man with the steel abs would remain unscathed. Perhaps, after careful reconsideration, it was his contract I should have signed.
The two horns on his head were a bit too creepy however, and he appeared to be the type that might have a bit of a temper if things didn’t go exactly his way. He also pitched selfishness, manipulation, deceit and malice, which sounded a tad bit too evil, and left my proficient tastebuds, with a bitter aftertaste.
The contract I chose that touted self-sacrifice, empathy, love and compassion, and sounded so much sweeter and as divine as the flavor of my first taste of a Hershey’s chocolate kiss that melted in my mouth and my taste buds were ecstatic But choosing this divine contract proved to be a lot harder than I had anticipated.
As a young girl, I signed up for as many service projects as I could. I helped elderly people clean their homes and mow their lawns. I babysat for free for families I knew were struggling and couldn’t afford a night out without the kids. I washed cars to earn money for families in need (and no, I was not wearing a bikini while being splattered with a hose and slithering across the top of cars). That might have made more money, but unfortunately the contract I had signed would not allow it.
I gave money to strangers on the street who would ask for a quarter or two for gas or a hamburger (both were real cheap back then). I would spend hours in church listening to sermons preaching that “when you are in the service of your fellow men, you are only in the service of your God,” while contemplating on more ways I could spend time, money and energy helping those in need.
I was a very shy child, which had its pros and cons. I couldn’t speak up in class without my heart pounding, and stuttering as I tried to answer a question, but I could watch and listen closely to all and everything around me. I would pick up subtle signs, expressions, body movements, unspoken words or actions that told me things were not quite right and someone needed help. I learned to be extremely sensitive to everything around me.
I made up my mind that my abilities to be sensitive to others would make a great career as nurse and a mother, as they were compassionate, loving and empathetic jobs. So, I became a full-time nurse and had four boys of my own and five stepchildren.
I’m not sure when it happened exactly, but I began to feel myself start to crack. I was so excessively sensitive to needs of others, that it became my nemesis. I wanted to help fix everything, even if someone didn’t need or even want anything fixed. There were actually times I would feel perplexed, even perturbed that others would become angry at me when I demanded to help them (like the time I offered to paint my neighbor’s house, which was in dire need of a new paint job and the old paint was peeling off in large clumps everywhere. They grew angry at my persistence as they did not want their house painted at all, especially not a cool bright neon, glow-in-the-dark lemon-green color, which I thought would make their darkly lit home a whole lot easier to spot at night).
I came to the conclusion that I was being emotionally depleted from spending too much energy on others and not enough time on myself. You can wear youself out unless you learn to be a little more selfish about your own needs and wants.
Before all you boys and girls get your panties up in a bunch, hear me out. Nowadays, there’s just too much crammed up our butts (sticks, heads, several years of constipation, lost rodents). Getting agitated underwear up your butt will not provide any additional solutions.
I can specifically pinpoint the time when I felt I was just starting to become unhinged. While a single mom of four very young boys, I was asked by one of my church leaders to work in the the nursery on Sundays (an unpaid position). After recovering from my initial shock, I did what is considered to be a major faux pas and said, “no thank you,” except I left off the thank you. In my head, I shouted all kinds of obscenities (though I never used swear words at that time, not even in my head, so it was a lot of apologetic darns, shoots and flips).
“How can you even think to ask me to do that?” I imagined myself saying.
The leader tried to explain that they had prayed about it and God wanted me to take this position. I again replied “no thank you,” walked out, slamming the door (loudly and angrily, in my mind).
Somewhere between impervious bitch and empathic saint, there lives compromise. But for those of us who have mastered (suffer) from high sensitivity, attempting to procure a middle ground may sometimes feel like an intransigent coup d’état. It has been a struggle at times as I walk past a beggar asking for some change and the devil in me blurts out, “I have nine kids that I’m working my ass off to support. Get a damn job!” I then wonder if I’ve been too harsh, as I really had no clue what his situation was. Perhaps I was wrong not to offer some kind of assistance. On other days, a different situation can arise where I see someone I know struggling, and I will gladly pull out my pocketbook and hand them some cash. It’s a conundrum, but it’s one for which I’m trying to find footing.
With all the evil in the world today, there’s definitely a need for more considerate, thoughtful, sympathetic and compassionate people. But for those of us who are highly or overly sensitive, a balance needs to be obtained — too much selflessness can be draining. You can end up giving yourself, your personality, your soul away, if you’re not careful.