Who’d have thought this would feel like a confessional? Yet here we are…
When I was a girl, we moved house a lot. It seemed like I went to around eighteen primary schools in total. This meant that every time I made friends I had to learn how to say goodbye to them, ready to start all over again in a new place with new friends. As a child I hated change to the point of experiencing actual physical sickness, but learned to endure it – and my extreme reactions to it – while trying not to rock the boat too much. I’ve dealt with these over-emotional responses to what others might consider everyday things from a little girl of five all the way to the woman of forty-eight sat here writing about it all now. And I can tell you it never got any easier. Every year I couldn’t sleep for the full on, heart-hammering, panic-attack I experienced the night before the first day of school and would cry like a baby in class the next morning, becoming so distraught at the idea of a new teacher that I recall my older brother, Barry, being hauled out of his own class on at least one occasion in order to help me cope. Then I would become unconsciously aware of Barry’s discomfort and embarrassment at being put in this situation so would settle down fast in order for him to be able to go back to his day in peace. I learned to mask things where possible, often suffering my discomforts alone where I was able in order to make things easier for others around me. I didn’t want to be the little girl that made people I cared about feel uneasy or unhappy. Lord knows why I was protecting Barry though; the kid who once told me a bag of Maltesers I’d just eaten that all had holes in them had been injected with poison. For the rest of that night we were both wide awake in our beds; me crying, sweating and panicking in the genuine belief that I was going to die, and him riddled with remorse, desperately tried to convince me he’d only been (malt) teasing. It was no use, I was suffering the Slow Death of Dodgy Maltesers in my overthinking, overreacting mind. There was nothing he could do, my poor, picking-on-me big brother. Haha.
Everyone is a little afraid of change. We all have our struggles with feeling anxious in new and unfamiliar situations. But for me, every feeling you can get is magnified. I didn’t just experience trepidation at the thought of changes to my routine; I was riddled with angst to the point of sickness and meltdown. As a crying child in school I just wanted my old teacher back, the person I had spent twelve months learning to feel safe with – always after having suffered the same anxiety attack at the thought of going in to their class at the beginning of the previous year too. What was wrong with me, I wondered? Why was everything new so terrifying?
Fast forward to the year my son, Kyle, started at a new primary school and I received a call at work to tell me that the person taking him to school for me had been struggling to get him to go to class because he was having an attack of the terrors. She said the headteacher had begun allowing her to take him in a different door to all the other children, so that he could avoid the line up with the rest of his class. This, she said, seemed to placate him. Remembering my own experiences, I took the next day off and went in to school with him myself, holding his hand as we walked together into the line of his friends into class. I told him that I understood how he felt, that it was perfectly okay and natural to feel those things and that the only thing to do with the terrors is to face and walk through, not around them. ‘Every child is nervous on their first week in a new class,’ I said. ‘It’s just your scared leaking out. But you know what, Kyle? Your scared leaking out lets all the other kids know theirs is okay and perfectly normal too, so everyone gets to feel better. Isn’t that cool?’
“It’s just your scared leaking out. But you know what, Kyle? Your scared leaking out lets all the other kids know theirs is okay and perfectly normal too, so everyone gets to feel better.”
The thing about sharing all your feelings out loud is also that you discover, as I hoped Kyle would that day, that among the inevitable slew of indifferent eye-rollers you come across, there are always people who care nearby, ready and available to hold your hand and walk you through the terrors life inevitably throws in your path. There’s actual power in sharing your vulnerabilities. Sometimes you have to stay in line with tears in your eyes to get to goal.
I don’t know if Kyle believed it was cool to help others by showing your soft side, or just needed to hurry the woman that got too deep and talked too much away, but he let me leave him as soon as we crossed the threshold to his classroom and went to school quite happily from that day. There’s power in being a mum that goes on a bit too, I think…k…
I didn’t know what both my son and I were learning to live with back then; that our particular personality trait has a name. We’re highly sensitive people. I only recognised what he was going through and had a natural inclination towards knowing what it was he needed to do to conquer it. That natural inclination to know what someone needs is also a trait of the highly sensitive person. HSP’s feel everything for everyone; in a world and society that seems perpetually inclined to tell us all not to. Yet to me, now that I know better, having the courage to share the kinds of feelings that make us vulnerable is nothing short of a superpower. The truth is that over the years my children have actually been the only people I’ve felt safe to be myself with up to now. They were used to mum’s odd way of knowing things; her deep thinking and need for quiet at times. It can get lonely being misunderstood, yet they where witness to the ways my intuition helped us all grow together as a family, and I could very often have the deep and meaningful conversations about life that I craved with all of them.
We are teaching tomorrow’s adults that we need to avoid the sight of everyone’s fears when we point them, crying, towards that other door, under cover and away from the watchful eyes of their peers. We encourage them to hide their feelings from view as we ourselves learned to do.
Hide your fears.
Hide your hurt.
Hide your grief.
Hide your weakness.
Hide your love.
Hide. Hide. Hide.
Why do we instinctively fear letting our authentic hearts see the light of day? In case others might ‘catch’ our grief? ‘Catch’ our feelings? Become infected by, or in some way associated with, our weaknesses? Will we cause everyone that comes near us to suffer the dreaded transference?
I didn’t have an equally highly-sensitive parent to understand and help me through the dilemmas I had in having a heightened awareness to people and their feelings at such a young age, so I grew up afraid and ashamed of it. I thought I was a little bit crazy and have been made to believe that I am by people that don’t understand me in the past. Someone recently alluded to my thinking that I may be in some way ‘special’. What if I am special? Aren’t we all? Aren’t we living in a world where we’re all unique and where we should never be made to feel ashamed to admit that we are? No, is the honest answer. But we damn well should be and we damn well can be with the collective effort of acceptance. I know I’m different, and I’m finally okay with that. In fact, I can say out loud for the first time in my life that it’s bloody wonderful. In learning and acknowledging who I am I’ve become less concerned with the indifference of people that don’t ‘get’ me. I’m at peace with that and, most importantly, with myself. What I might say to that little girl that used to be me, who grew into the woman that once allowed too many people to make her feel crazy, is this:
“Accept yourself. Accept your feelings. Accept who and what you are, what you truly love and what you believe to be true without shame or fear of your own vulnerability. Go out and do that despite all those who told you you couldn’t or shouldn’t.”
As I wrote in my Insta-journal last week:
To quote Sarah Ban Breathnach, today and everyday, take as your personal mantra: “I am what I am, and what I am is wonderful.” My whole life I’ve never been able to say or even think that about myself without feeling uncomfortable because a) it felt icky to blow my own trumpet and b) I never ever believed it. I do now; I know who I am. The people that have my heart are holding an everlasting diamond. I love so deeply, so completely; and it’s against my nature to hurt anyone. This is me at long last realising my own worth.. and that’s pretty damn wonderful too. “I am passionate, I am deep, and if I’m misunderstood I’m finally okay with that.” What if we could all know our own worth and not be afraid to shout about it? What if we could all be ourselves, as my son Ryan always was, in a world that made us feel safe to be so?
We can. We can choose. It begins with you. 💖
These are simple acts that could change the world, and the most exciting part is that they can indeed begin with you.
*If you, your child or someone close to you is a highly sensitive person, there’s lots of wonderful, helpful information to be found HERE*
“Transference is inevitable, Sir. Every human being has an impact on another.”
– Patch Adams
***I’ve been lucky to have had so much help from the many great friends I have of late. On 15th June my son, Ryan, would have turned twenty-six. I reached out prior to that day on Instagram and Facebook asking for help and suggestions to get through what I thought would be the darkest day of 2019 so far for me. In doing so, Ryan’s birthday was changed from one I was dreading to one of my best days of the year thanks to my friend, Craig from SOUTHWEST SCOTLAND TOURS, who took Mandy and I on a free tour of Ayrshire, Dumfries and surrounding areas that day. Here are some photos from my tour. I hope, in the spirit of paying it forward, that you might LIKE his Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to give his brilliant and very new business a boost. I wish him so much luck! Thank you, Craig.