When I was 18, I moved from Alaska to Washington and got my first apartment. I didn't have roommates, I didn't go to college, but I had a job that paid me decently and I had a deep desire to be on my own, to create my own life.
I associated sensitivity with neediness; it was weak, wimpy, and it created dysfunctional relationships. I was ashamed when I'd get homesick and proud when I'd do things without the help of another person. I wasn't being honest with myself and hid some of my anxieties underneath layers of who I thought I was supposed to be.
During the early period of my independence, I even decided it was unlikely I'd ever get married. I'd go on dates for free meals and movies, but entering into a relationship agreement was where I'd jump off. I didn't think I'd meet someone I could stand every day of my life.
And then I met Mat, and in five years we were married.
I've changed my mind about being sensitive.
As a newlywed, I wanted my husband to be there for me but not take over doing things that I could do myself. I needed to carry the heaviest bag of groceries, change the light bulbs, take out the trash, manage the bills. I wouldn't even let him open the door for me. It was a point of tension between us; I thought he fell in love with me for my independence, and he did, but he felt I was taking away opportunities to show me how much he loved me by these simple, kind acts of service.
We both began working toward balance, and in time, the scales tipped.
As I've uncovered more about myself, I have found I'm quite needy and highly sensitive. I spent years burying my sensitivities because it wasn't an attractive characteristic to have. Or so I thought.
There is nothing wrong with being sensitive.
One evening, Mat was gathering his keys and wallet to meet some friends for a night out. I can't recall what other things were happening in our lives at the time, but I know I was feeling more vulnerable than usual. I knew as soon as Mat left the house, I'd break down in tears and drown them with a glass of wine and a melatonin tablet. Sleeping it off was the only way I knew how to deal with my sensitivities. But I didn't want to sleep it off. I wanted to give myself permission to feel whatever it was I was feeling, and I needed someone to be with me.
Mat opened the front door to leave and turned toward me, "Are you sure you're okay?"
I burst into tears. He called his friends and canceled without hesitation, despite my snotty assurances that I would be fine and he could go.
That night I learned how much I needed my husband, and that my being sensitive is simply being more in tune with who I am. Nowadays, I don't cringe when I feel the bite of emotion. I embrace it, I'm grateful for it.
"The highly sensitive tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions - sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear.
Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments - both physical and emotional - unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss - another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly."
Susan Cain, QUIET
I am a rhino.
Did you know that while rhinoceros have thick skin, it doesn't necessarily mean it's strong? The rhino's skin is actually quite sensitive; it looks like armor but is vulnerable to irritation and they have to be mindful of it. They have to employ self-care. They come across as battle-ready beasts when really they only appear tough.
More recently, I've begun to accept my sensitivities to certain environments. Crowds overwhelm me. All I have to do is give Mat a look and he encircles me with his arms to create a barrier, sometimes opening an escape to move through people announcing, "Hot coffee! Hot coffee!" He has been my greatest champion and support in exploring my sensitivities with the care they require.
In my job search, I've tried out different roles to see if my days of office work were behind me. I lasted six days as a hostess at a local restaurant chain and six days as a crew member at Trader Joe's. Every day on each of these jobs I fought back a constant wave of anxiety due to the sheer number of interactions I was having with strangers in such a short period of time.
I've hidden this part of myself because I've been ashamed. Learning about my introversion helped, but I still thought I needed to maintain a certain toughness.
I don't think that anymore. I'm simply a rhino.
Are you a sensitive woman and feel like you can't be yourself? Meet my friend, Amber Rochelle, who is devoted to helping highly sensitive women thrive in an insensitive world.