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When You've Been Told Your Whole Life You Are 'Too Much'

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Too sensitive. Too intense. Too much.

My whole life I’ve been told some version of this sentiment. Because my way of being in this world is outside the realm of “acceptable” and “normal.” I’ve been told to make myself “less” because my natural way of relating to others challenges the bounds of our social norms.

When I was in elementary school, I was told I was “too talkative” and “too bossy,” so I learned to censor myself and be quiet. When I was in middle school, I felt my feelings “too much.” I was “too sensitive” and took everything to heart. I was told to “have a thicker skin” so I started self-harming instead of sharing my hurt with others.

In high school, I was “too intense” for my classmates. I was perpetually in forward motion, achieving at a rapid pace so I could put the torture of high school behind me. I was prescribed psychiatric medications to quell the existential angst of adolescents and plowed through high school a year ahead of my peers in an attempt to escape the hell that is high school.

By college, I was labeled “too anxious” and “too rigid.” I was given more mental health diagnoses and subsequently medication to smooth out my rough edges. The medication made me more palatable — more pleasant to be around.

“Meghan, take your medicine,” I would be told when my words couldn’t keep up with my thoughts or when my emotions superceded what was “appropriate” in a given situation.

Then I got pregnant. Then I was told I was “too impulsive,” “too young” and “too inexperienced.” If there’s ever a time in life when judgment is astonishingly harsh and people ordain themselves experts in your life — it’s new parenthood.

Everything about my life became free reign for commentary. From my financial situation to my emotional stability to my perceived lack of life experience — people of all sorts felt entitled to openly share their judgments of me. When you add in the nitty gritty of individual parenting decisions (breast milk vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. crib, cry-it-out vs. no-cry sleep solutions), I soon discovered it didn’t matter what I did, I couldn’t get parenting “right.”

It was in my inability to get parenting “right,” that made me feel woefully inadequate — not “good enough” to care for this incredible little human. How was it possible that I’d been “too much” my whole life and now I was pretty sure I wasn’t “enough” of whatever it took to be a good mother?

One would think if there is “too much” of something, then by definition, there is more than enough. Turns out, I was “too much” of what society told me not to be, and “not enough” of what society said I should be.

But who gets to decides what’s “enough” and what’s “too much”? I had been told for years that I was “too much,” so I did everything to tone myself down, make myself small, unobtrusive and disconnect myself from my intuition and natural desires… all to be convinced I was somehow inadequate in the end?

I had the realization I was being measured by impossible standards in all aspects of my life. The determination that I was “too much” of anything, simply meant I was “more than” someone else. That didn’t make me bad, or wrong, or inherently unworthy — it made me different from another individual. Contrary to what we might be taught to believe, variation isn’t a moral issue — it’s a fact of life.

This got me wondering: how much of my mental illness might really be non-problematic neurodivergence? How many times have I been treated for symptoms that were normal reactions to difficult situations? How often have I been pathologized and made to think something was wrong with me when in reality, the problem was outside of myself?

I’m not saying there isn’t a very real and biological component to mental illness, however, I am purposing that telling people they are “crazy” for their legitimate experiences and natural reactions is probably not helping anyone feel validated in their experiences.

I believe society often uses the threat of criticism, discrimination, pathologization, oppression and abandonment to keep us in line when we begin to step outside of the social mores. I’m told I’m not “good enough” at fulfilling the cultural norms of a woman in this society by being “too much” (of what? Myself?) and then punished with (unsolicited) criticism, the threat of abandonment, the bestowing of mental health diagnosis and the discrimination that comes with having mental illness.

Inevitably, I internalize this sentiment and am convinced that something is fundamentally “wrong” with me simply because I’m different. This leads to me devaluing myself because I can’t do the things our society deems “normal.”

I see people who are fully rested with six hours of sleep when I require at least 12 and I think, “Why can’t I do that?!” I see people walking through the grocery store with ease and serenity while I’m having a panic attack in the produce section and think, “What’s wrong with me that I can’t even grocery shop like a normal person?!”

But what if I’m fundamentally OK the way I am? What if my intensity, sensitivity, rigidity, reactivity, impulsivity, emotionality and any other labels that society wants to throw at me are fine? What if we made more space in our culture for those who are neurodivergent, emotional and sensitive?

It’s abundantly clear from my short time on this earth that no matter what I do, I will be “too much” or “not enough” for someone. While I must exist in the culture we have with its flawed understanding of how a person “should” be and its oppressive institutions, I will make the moment to moment choice to not internalize the lies that tell me I’m wrong for being the way I am.

I challenge the notion that to be emotional, sensitive or in any way “too much” is a flaw. I believe those of us who feel deeply, who challenge cultural norms, who think about the world from a less popular point of view are stronger than we know. We have the tenacity to battle push back from society all day, every day and still choose to be true to themselves.

So to anyone who has been told they’re “not enough,” “too much” or not doing it “right” — I see you. I validate your existence as you are right now, in this moment, and I appreciate the gifts you offer to the world in your uniqueness. You are just fine — you really are.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via berdsigns.

Originally published: September 26, 2017
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