I posted this on my Instagram feed this morning because I found it on a fellow student’s timeline and it resonated with me; the timing was pretty spot-on as well which also gave me a touch of the serendipitys. I like to act on impulse and intuition if I’m in a brave (or half-asleep) state of mind.
It’s only been faily recently that I’ve come to realise that I’m an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and that this is not a bad thing to be – contrary to the opinion I was brought up to believe (see title: what does THAT mean anyway?).
I’ve grown up imagining that the little stabs of pain that I get if someone says something which I find hurtful and cutting, are merely (merely…) because I’m too sensitive for my own good because that was what was drummed into me. “You’ve got to toughen up, young lady” was another instruction I was given when I felt like my world had collapsed around my shoulders. And, as I told my therapist this week, I would stand, bemused at this not very helpful piece of advice from the first teachers I’d ever known and whom I looked up to and trusted and believed every word they told me, because they weren’t telling me how I could do this.
So these words of wisdom never helped me; of course they didn’t. I hadn’t the first clue about how to toughen up. Sometimes I’d think it meant I’d have to be cruel and sharp like the bullies who teased and taunted me throughout my formative years, and then I’d think of the friends (never more than 2, tops) who’d think there was something wrong with me if I changed into a different person overnight. It didn’t make sense. Nothing did. Ever. All I took from situations like these was the absolute assurance that there was something inherently wrong with me. I wasn’t doing things right. I needed to be different because that was how normal people got by – they didn’t spend every evening crying into their Bunty annuals and making deals with a God they weren’t even sure existed.
Praise was seldom bestowed on the Cooper children. Accusations and blame were far more common. ‘And what makes you think you’re any better than anone else?’ ‘I don’t know who’s put ideas like that into your head…’ (actually my own ideas, but I wasn’t allowed opinions growing up… ‘not while you’re under our roof’)… the list is endless, and these weren’t occasional instances – this was daily. Hourly during school holidays.
When you grow up beliving you’re nothing more than an irritation, an inconveniece, something that doesn’t warrant a voice or space, then this becomes hardwired. It becomes so ingrained that it affects everyday life to the degree that ‘normal’ is something you don’t even feel able to aspire to. You feel like an outsider watching from the sidelines whilst everyone else is tearing about on the playing field of life and scoring goals all over the place and all you can do is admire; envy. And envy isn’t great when you truly believe you aren’t even worthy to aspire.
Feeling this way makes you question everything you do and everything you say. It makes you question things as small as what shoes should I put on today? to larger things like if I say something how stupid will I sound? And growing up being told it’sa BAD thing to think about yourself ‘always Me Me Me, when will you start realising there’s other people on this planet besides you?’ then it’s a tough call to balance the healthy ‘believe in yourself/think of others’ seesaw, where others have always been placed more highly, creating a tangled-up mess inside an already over-stuffed mind.
I make a joke about a lot of things that hurt me; that’s always been my armour. If I turn it into something that will make people laugh then a) it’s not heavy anymore and b) it won’t make others feel uncomfortable. And I’m all about not wanting to make anyone feel uncomfortable. I’m a people-pleaser – which is something I hadn’t realised I was – I just thought I was Nice. I’d much rather listen to somebody talk about themselves and encourage them to continue speaking, than launch into talking about me. because Me doesn’t Matter. Other people’s lives are interesting; have greater significance; mean more. On Monday mornings at work, I used to dread the ‘did you have a nice weekend?’ query because in my mind I hadn’t done anything worthy or reporting, so I mastered a response of ‘yes thanks, how was yours?’ resulting in listening to somebody else’s grand weekend and of them being none the wiser to what I’d done – because they were never really interested im me to begin with. And after 12 years of having this one-sided relationship with people I worked with, I eventually came to the bleakest conclusion that I was still worth nothing. Nobody actually gave a shit. It was all plastic. Acting. Words. And it was a horrible place to be for a Highly Sensitive Person. I didn’t feel I could trust anyone.
And so it shouldn’t (even though my therapist has banned the word Should and all its counterparts) come as a great surprise to find that I continue to be hurt by things friends/people say or do to me. Because I’m a grown up and I always imagined grown-ups had a handle on life – they certainly don’t go around with little pieces of their heart still being torn off. Do they? Um – yup. This one does, at any rate.
I’m a nice person. I’ll go out of my way to help anyone who needs it. I’ll offer assistance if it sounds like someone could do withsome. I believe these are good things to do and I genuinely enjoy the warm fuzzies it gives me when it turns out I have helped in some way. I never expect a return. It doesn’t cross my mind and I’d certainly never ask for it. When friends (they’re dwindling, let me tell you) say to me: ‘call me if you ever need to talk/cry/let off steam’ I never do. Why? Because I don’t want to be a bother, to burden them with my insigificant worries and silly emotions that overwhelm me so much at times I think I might drown in them, and I shrink back to where nothing can touch me and no one can hurt or even see me at times, until my bruises are healed enough that I think it’s okay to ease my head back out and start again. That’s what I do. I wasn’t brought up with parents who sympathised, encouraged, empathised, wrapped an arm around my shoulder or even patted my hand to my recollection, and so this self-shrouding continues today. All I’ve ever had is me. And that’s why I’ve always written. To me. For me. To get it out of my swollen head and into some kind of order – at least to get it following lines on a page/screen.
Which is why I find it so hard sometimes to do what I’m doing right now. Blogging. What’s that all about anyway? It’s putting personal thoughts down and firing them into the ethersphere for the world and his wife to read them. (‘What makes you think anyone will pay the slightest bit of attention to anything you’ve got to say?’) To me it’s a selfish act. I’ve been brought up to believe it’s vain to think anyone would want to listen to or read anything that comes from me. I was brought up to believe I should just knuckle down and get on with it, whether you like it or not. And yet these old-fashioned statements really ranckle with me now. In fact one of my earlier exercises with my therapist involved writing down every (bad) thing that was ever said to me (parents, bullies, colleagues, ‘friends’) and then destroy it.
I did better than destroy it. I wrote these things down, beautifully, neatly as if they were worth something, on a length of toilet roll.
And then, dear reader, I wiped my arse with their comments.
It worked for a long time. But life, things, ‘friends’, words happen that allow the darkness to seep back through whatever cracks in my armour they espie. I can put up a brave battle for so long and then I’m thoroughly exhausted by it, so sadly at times like this I don’t cope at all well and unfortunately I’ve been to some very bleak places recently.
Be Gentle. Some of us are not as balanced as we try to pretend we are.