I'm No Longer Apologizing for Being 'Highly Sensitive'

No one knew my gender until I came out kicking and screaming. “It’s a boy!” my mother exclaimed, tears of joy running down her face. “Actually, it’s…a girl,” the doctor corrected. “She’s eight pounds flat.” I’ve been told the story many times, in different ways, but the end always stings the same. She exclaimed with pride that I was a boy but then reality set in that I was all girl. It can be said that my first “sorry” came when I was just a few seconds old.

As a child, I always hoped for a sister — not because I didn’t value my younger brothers, but because I desperately needed a co-pilot to help navigate the vast range of deep emotions, overwhelming anxiety and extreme sensitivity the women in my family are prone to feel. I struggled to stifle and walk the line of unachievable perfection that was set out before me. My world taught me that girls needed to be quiet, sweet, pretty and good. No one wanted to deal with my “larger-than-life drama,” intense anxiety, “silly” emotions or colorfully creative ideas about the world. I’m a highly sensitive person with generalized anxiety disorder. My personality was too much, too raw, too real. “Be carefree! Focus on the positive! Why are you being so negative?”

Instead of choosing to ignore negative emotion or find unhealthy refuge in various means of self-medication and avoidance, I craved to dive deep into my emotions in an effort to reach a place of self-understanding, acceptance, love and healing. I was truly incapable of doing anything else and had to give voice to what I was feeling in order to move on. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable and process our emotions is actually an act of bravery; I just didn’t understand that yet. Because this necessary process was not allowed in my world; I came to the conclusion that I was broken, in need of fixing. Whenever sadness, anxiety, or anger leaked out, as such emotions often do, my world told me I needed to stop acting that way immediately. The way I was feeling was unacceptable because it was different, rough around the edges and hard to contain. I struggled to quiet my truth and often apologized for feeling. A simple “sorry” would do.

Friends would exclaim, “Don’t be so sensitive! I was just joking!” Knowing that I had upset or hurt someone would literally crush me for months. I’d lie awake at night, rehashing how someone’s words had made me feel or replaying what had been said. There was no forgetting or ignoring; I remembered everything. My tiny attic bedroom was where I found refuge. I’d listen to a song on the radio and actually experience the lyrics. Each word would touch something deep within me. Tears would fall at the sheer beauty of it all, of life and the opportunity to live it. The color of a balloon, the shape of a rock, the smile on his face: It was all so breathtakingly beautiful and overwhelming. I was the one to bravely share my poetry at my grandparents’ funerals and the one who somehow knew it was OK to cry my way through it.

At the tender age of 8, I opened up my first journal and never stopped writing. I’m sorry I felt my emotions too loudly today. Sometimes I’m emotional. I’m sorry I’m sensitive. Sometimes life hurts. I’m sorry I yelled at him. I need to feel angry. I’m sorry I’m aloof and quiet at family functions. I felt shy. I’m sorry I relish time alone in my room. I need time alone to recharge. I’m sorry I am not athletic. Sports are boring. I’m sorry I didn’t get an A in Algebra. I was too focused on my music and art. I’m sorry I’m overweight. Food sedates anxiety. I’m sorry I can’t stay pregnant. My body wasn’t made that way. I’m sorry I was sad when she died. I needed to grieve so I could move forward. I’m sorry for saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry. 

In time, I’ve found that my unique capacity to feel deeply is not a weakness — it’s a strength I believe can aid a broken world. Any anxiety or negative emotion I am feeling is just a sign that I need to take time for self-care to process, reflect and write my way back to my truth. And my truth is absolutely stunning. I’ve become the person I needed when I was younger. I speak up when others do not. I feel when others cannot. I help without judgment when others walk away. I do not turn away from the pain of others. I accept, I encourage, I listen, I understand, I love. My unique level of sensitivity is a remarkable gift. I’ve explained my differences to others. I’ve hoped for unconditional love and acceptance. Most were understanding, some were not. Being honest about our emotions and resolving conflict in a healthy way is not for everyone. Unfortunately, some people have chosen to walk away from me because all they are capable of seeing is “drama” and have no room in their life or hearts for compassion. I do not hold a grudge and wish them well. I understand they are doing what is best for them, just as I am doing what is best for me.

I have learned to let go of the judgment and intolerant behavior of others and believe what I know to be true about myself. Instead of apologizing for all I am not, I have learned that it’s perfectly OK and healthy to express myself and choose to surround myself with people who understand and celebrate my heart. The dreamers, the doers, the encouragers, the helpers and the beautiful minds: These are my people.

Although my writing is often raw, it is real. I am not sorry for that. Perhaps you find yourself within these words. Take heart that a sensitive soul is always welcome in the arena. Please share your heart and truth with our broken and beautiful world. I’m no longer sorry I’m not sorry. Because of that, I am free.

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