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My Secret Gift As a Highly Sensitive Person

I’ve been holding onto a huge secret: I quit grad school a couple months ago. Growing up as the “quiet one,” the anxious perfectionist, the one who always did what she was told, the one who always prioritized academics — I felt like I would shock everyone with this news. Heck, I even shocked myself with this news. And so I’ve been holding it in — my dirty, little secret.

But I’m tired of holding it in; I’m tired of feeling like I need to be ashamed of my choice. Because the truth it: my decision to quit grad school was the bravest, most authentic choice I’ve ever made, and I’m proud of myself.

As a highly sensitive person (HSP), I feel deeply in tune with myself — my thoughts, my emotions, my physical sensations — to the point it’s often exhausting. Things move me so deeply, for better or for worse; a beautiful piece of music will bring me to tears, but so will a harsh voice from a co-worker. And as much as I sometimes wish I could, I can never turn that part of myself off.

Which brings me to my decision to quit grad school.

When I first applied to the program, it was less about genuine desire to learn, and more about wanting to please others. Since I had always been the quiet/academic/goody-two-shoes, I felt shame that I still hadn’t gone to grad school, when I knew others had expected that from me. And so, I applied to a program that was relatively easy to get into with my previous experience.

But I was miserable as soon as school started. I mean, truly miserable. I cried each time after class, while also fighting off horrible headaches. My confidence shrank. I became depressed. I started having panic attacks again. I couldn’t sleep. I went back on antidepressants, not wanting to be a “quitter” or a “failure.” I kept telling my husband I felt like I was in prison, trapped in a program I didn’t like, for a career I realized I didn’t even want.

Being highly sensitive, I couldn’t ignore what my body was telling me: this was not the right path for me.

But I began to realize — it is such a gift to be sensitive. It is such a gift to be deeply aware of my body and the messages it sends. And it is such a gift to be able to honor those messages.

For HSPs, it is almost as though we have a superpower. The body serves as our compass, and we have the gift of intuiting direction; all we must do is listen to the gentle nudges that arise from deep within.

Maybe it’s a chronic headache. Maybe it’s a swelling sense of hope. Maybe it’s a deepening fatigue. Maybe it’s a returning appetite. Whatever the message our body is sending us, it is imperative that we honor it, and that we advocate for ourselves. Because, as HSPs know, taking care of ourselves is crucial for wellness.

So if there’s something your body is telling you, I hope you take the time to sit with it and listen. I hope you honor it, even if it’s in a small way, such as getting a drink of water, pursuing a passion, or setting boundaries and saying “no.” And I hope, more than anything, you place your hand upon your heart and say thank you.

Thank you, body, for pointing me in the right direction.

Thank you, sensitivity, for being my secret gift.

Photo by Natalya Letunova on Unsplash