What if your sensitivity was a good thing?

Last night I hit a wall. Again.

I admit I have hit the wall a few times during this pandemic, but last night was different. All of the feelings hit. The images of cars lined up for hours before the food banks even open, the articles about small businesses that probably won’t survive, the stories of people losing loved ones and not being able to be with them as they take their last breaths. Suffering and pain seem like it is everywhere, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. More unknowns, more cancellations, more suffering.

I share that not to be depressing but to do something counter to what I have done for years. Honoring my sensitivity and acknowledging the reality of what we are living through. To stop pretending that everything is fine and that I can move past these icky, hard feelings if I just busy myself with life.

I now know there is no pushing down. There is no busy enough. Those feelings always come back.

Here’s something very few people know: People with high functioning anxiety are sensitive. We feel a lot, but we hide it. We push it down and bury it deep inside hoping we can busy it away with work and the to-do list. We appear to be perfectionists and all business, the responsible and always on top of it folks, not the sensitive folks. But here’s our dirty little secret: We are sensitive.

One reason I am so passionate about helping people with high functioning anxiety is that I love their sensitivity and I know that sensitivity is a gift that needs to be shared with the world.

Yes, we appear strong, together, and unphased, but inside we are thinking of all the people suffering and how we can help them. You might be outwardly putzing with the kids’ homework and figuring out dinner, but internally you are thinking: What if I get COVID? Or worse, what if one of my kids gets COVID? You might be externally obsessing about what game you should play for game night while internally grieving for the friend who lost her Dad but can’t have a funeral.

We care a lot. We care so much that it is overwhelming.

Throughout our lives, we were sent messages that being sensitive is not appropriate and feelings are not okay. We might have been shamed and belittled for being sensitive and feeling deeply, so we learned to hide those feelings, to attempt to stuff them down and pretend they don’t exist. We learned to show our caring by doing. Doing more. Doing better.

But what happens when you can’t do enough?

When you can’t fix it?

When no one knows the right way?

When the sadness and suffering is overwhelming?

Well, all you are left with is your feelings.

Think of feelings like a beach ball in the ocean. Like our feelings, the ball bounces along the top of the ocean. Always there, always bouncing. We were taught that you can’t leave the ball out there in the open, that it needs to be hidden. We were told that bouncing balls are not appropriate. That they are just a distraction. So we try to pull the ball underwater and hold it down. We can do that for a minute or two, but then—poof!—the ball always forces it’s way up.

That is what our feelings do. They usually come out as anger (yelling at our kids for being too loud), frustration (nit-picking at a co-worker), or shame (hello, Monger! She has been particularly mean these days).

Here is my reminder to you:

It is okay to be sensitive.
It is okay to feel deeply about all that is happening.
It is okay to cry.
It is okay to feel helpless and filled with grief.

That doesn’t mean you are negative or too much or overly dramatic. It means you are a human living through scary, uncertain times. It means you are kind and generous and feel.

The reason you are so good at doing, caring, and being on top of things is because you are sensitive to the world.

Which brings me back to my tears last night. The dam finally broke. Allowing myself to cry, to feel helpless and sad was healing. Counter to everything my Monger was telling me, I could let go of the beach ball and just let it bob there. Try it.

Give yourself a break. We can’t fix this. We can’t make it okay for our friends, family, and loved ones. But we can be present. We can slow down. We can give back. We can be honest with ourselves and our loved ones. Speak our needs, listen to their experience, and share what we are experiencing, as well. We can show up for ourselves and be kind.

New on The Happier Approach podcast

All of my clients would list loyalty as one of their highest values. People with high functioning anxiety are the listeners, supporters, lovers, givers, cheerleaders, and fans. But here is the irony: some of the kindest, gentlest, most giving people in the world never quite feel kind, gentle or giving enough. Why? They are so busy devoting themselves to their family and friends that they bypass themselves. They have been trained to care for everyone else but themselves. So on this week’s podcast episode, I’m talking about how to get off that hamster wheel of stress. Listen to the full episode here.