Why Being Labeled Sensitive is Bullshit

I think everyone has heard this at least once. You may have even said it. I know I have. “You’re being too sensitive. You need to lighten up.”

I’m here to tell you those words are utter bullshit.

sensitivity

Think about every time you’ve ever been called sensitive. Chances are, you took words that someone said to heart and it hurt you. Maybe you called them on it. Maybe you withdrew a bit to protect yourself. Maybe you just changed the way you dealt with them. Or maybe you started to question yourself, and your reactions. Maybe you blamed yourself for feeling hurt.

Let me be very clear: we are not always right in our interpretation of others’ words. Our feelings, however, can’t be wrong. How you feel inside when you hear someone’s words is never invalid. And when someone tells you that you are too sensitive, that is exactly what they’re saying. Your feelings are invalid; my right to say what I want is more important than your feelings. So suck it up.

Bullshit. Don’t let them get away with that.

I’m honestly the worst with this. People don’t even have to tell me I’m too sensitive; I just naturally think they think that about me. So if something that someone says hurts my feelings, I hide the hurt and make a joke. Or I just smile and nod. I bury it and keep it with all of the other things that poke at me at night when I can’t sleep.

It’s time to stop that shit because my insides are beginning to feel like a worn out pin cushion.

Yes. I am a sensitive person. I feel deeply All. The. Time. And you know what? That’s a goddamn super power. If I tell you I love you, you can be sure I feel it from the tips of my toes all the way through every inch of my hair. If I believe in a cause, I will support it with every fiber in my being. And if I don’t like you, well … I guess we’re done then. Because I feel that to my very core as well.

fucks

I also apologize for myself pretty much constantly. I caught myself today. I was walking into Wawa (a local convenience store for you non-PA people out there) and a gentleman held the door open for me. As I walked in, I nodded and said thank you. And then, almost immediately, I said, “I’m sorry.”

Sorry for … what, exactly? Walking into the store? Taking up space? Existing? Seriously, there was no reason to apologize, but I did out of habit. It made me think about how many other times I apologized for no good reason. Let me tell you, it was a lot.

This all ties into being “too sensitive.” I’m not sure what it is in our culture that makes some of us feel the need to apologize for our very being, but it is there. I have a number of friends who apologize when they give an opinion, when they missed a phone call, or when they didn’t find something funny. Why are we so eager to apologize away our very existence?

If you are a sensitive person, like I am, and someone tries to make you feel bad for feeling bad, put your foot down with me and say enough. You don’t have to be mean, but offering a small education would do all of us a favor. Instead of laughing with them, next time say something like this: “Actually, that hurt me. And you probably didn’t mean to hurt me, but you did. I’d really appreciate it if you could find a different way to say that.”

And DON’T apologize for requesting that they respect your feelings. You’re going to feel exposed and vulnerable. Trust me; I know from experience. But if the person is your friend, I genuinely believe that they will understand. It might open up a dialog that in the end will benefit everyone involved. And if it does offend them? Maybe that tells you all you need to know about them right there.

I’m going to try to do this right along with you. I say try because, honest to god, I’m having a minor anxiety attack just thinking about speaking up. But I’m going to give it a go. I encourage you to do the same. Let me know how it goes!

In other news, I’m running a weekend contest over on my Facebook page. If you’d like to participate, head on over to the page, like it, and then comment on the contest post with something that makes you happy. It could be a picture or a sentence. At the end of the weekend, the comment with the most likes will win a $25 Etsy gift card for a little bit of Retail Therapy! Hope to see you over there!

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Celebrate Little (and big) Victories

I love big victories. I mean, we all do, right? I love the days when I can look at what I’ve accomplished and go, damn… the world is lucky to have me.

Yesterday was kind of like that for me. I got to teach a seminar on basic self-defense with fourteen young women. I was nervous; these were teenagers and teens aren’t exactly my best age group. But the day went fantastic and the girls had fun. Most of all, I think they walked away feeling stronger and more prepared. I had a hand in that and it makes me feel pretty awesome.

Now, I’m not exactly saying that I do nothing most days, but there are days when the best thing I did was take a shower and feed the kids takeout. It’s really easy on those days to look at all of the things I didn’t accomplish. In fact, I think even on days when I’m pretty productive I tend to focus on what I didn’t do. And really, don’t we all? Isn’t it so much easier to criticize ourselves with our failures than to praise ourselves for the good we do?

self talk

I don’t think this is a habit linked solely with depression. In fact, I’d argue that our culture kind of teaches us to focus on what more we can do in all aspects of our life. We’re conditioned to never be satisfied because if we are satisfied, we become complacent. And if we become complacent, we will stagnate and never grow. I do, however, think this trend can be exacerbated by depression and turn a normal drive to do better into self-defeating, negative internal talk that is actually quite counterproductive. Let me explain.

As I’ve said numerous times in previous blog posts (Battling Invisible Wraiths, Parenting While Depressed (part 2)), depression is a dirty, dirty liar. It tells us how completely unworthy we are no matter what we do. It tells us that there is nothing we can do to make up for how awful we actually are. Add on to that society’s message that we should never be satisfied and, well … you see the dilemma.

I would like to say that I’ve conquered my inner demons enough to celebrate big victories in my life. I’d like to say that, but dude… that is why I pay my therapist top dollar. The truth is, I struggle with taking credit for even the big victories. It’s like I’ve conditioned myself to brush it off as nothing because, well, I think I am. Nothing, that is. So when all I have to celebrate is not smelling icky? I struggle hardcore.

Now, I’m not looking for reassurance. The one thing I’ve learned in my year and change in therapy is that self-confidence cannot come from outside. People can blow sweet smoke up your ass all day long about how amazing you are and you can find a million and one reasons not to believe them. They’re just being nice. They feel bad for you. You’re burdening them with your self-pity. Oh look! There’s another reason you suck.

Catch my drift?

I decided to write this blog post because teaching that class yesterday was a huge personal victory for me. As I mentioned in my last post, it has been a rough few months for me. Anxiety has been a major bitch recently and it has been preventing me from doing some of my favorite things. I find myself ignoring my phone, refusing play dates, and even skipping teaching at karate, which is one of my favorite things to do in the world. All because the thought of getting out there in front of people is crippling me with anxiety.

So getting up in front of a group of girls I didn’t know was going to be a challenge. I was nervous: about teaching them properly and about having a panic attack in the middle of presentation. In the end, I sucked it up and dealt. I taught, with the help of my best friend at my side, and those girls laughed and learned. And I did it without popping a Xanax or having an anxiety attack.

Win!

change-your-thoughts

And you know what? I still feel like that’s a win today. Which is a huge step for me. Four or five months ago? I’m certain I would have come up with a reason why I shouldn’t be proud of myself. I’m keeping those voices at bay today and I’m counting it as a win.

If you too struggle with allowing yourself a savor victories, do me a favor today. Find something in your day to be proud of. Catch it before the negative voices trounce on it and grasp it tight. Now sit with it for five minutes and think about how amazing it is that you had a win today. Protect that win from the voices in your head telling you it isn’t enough. And when you wake up tomorrow morning, I want that to be the first thing you think of. Can you do that for me?

Come back here tomorrow and tell me how you fared. I promise I’ll do the same for you. Maybe together we can beat back the voices telling us we aren’t enough.

Refilling the Empty Cup: The Danger in Giving it All Away

I’m not good at setting limits. Not when it comes to the people I love or things I care about, anyway. My best, I find, is often not enough to meet all of the needs that are out there. That doesn’t stop me from bleeding myself dry in order to try, however.

Times have been rough for the past month or more. I put on a good face, but inside I’m full of turmoil. I recently left the therapist that I’d been seeing for over a year and took about a month off of therapy. My timing sucked as my month off happened at one of my lowest points ever. But this week I started with a new therapist and it looks promising. It’s draining though, opening up that closet door and letting a stranger poke through all of the skeletons and dig through the dusty drawers.

I find myself exhausted most of the time. Exhausted and exhausting. I literally exhaust myself with my circular thoughts of what I’ve done wrong and how I could be better. This exacerbates my anxiety issues. I just don’t have the reserves to keep it under control and so I’ve been having more panic attacks. Which leave me – even more fucking exhausted.

several days

i feel like this defines anxiety attacks. it feels like several days just up and jump on your back all at once.

Yeah. I’m kind of over all of this shit.

You’d think, then, that I would relish the time I get to replenish. There are things that do that: sitting with a good book and hot coffee in quiet, plugging in my headphones and filling my head with music, sitting with a special friend and having a beer … all of these things help to refill and renew my energy. I just wish I could appreciate those things for longer than the time it takes to do them.

I spent last night with a good friend. Someone I can be totally honest with and put aside the mask completely. We had dinner, drinks, and watched a funny show. It may have honestly been the best medicine in the world even though it was completely mundane. Spending those few hours without the weight of a mask was refreshing. I felt lighter, able to relax for the first time in a week or more.

glad you are alive

it’s great when things that make you glad to be alive are people too.

I woke up however, to discover that in the midst of everything that I needed to accomplish yesterday, I’d forgotten a commitment I’d made. I’d forgotten a lesson I was supposed to teach and left my student waiting without any notice that I wouldn’t be there.

That kind of carelessness is completely unlike me. Promptness and reliability are things I pride myself on, even in the midst of my worst breakdowns. But I let it slide and instead, I took time for myself. It wasn’t a conscious choice, mind you. I didn’t say, hey! Fuck this lesson. I’m going to have dinner with my buddy. No… I just forgot that it was scheduled and did something for myself.

And the guilt is crushing me. I know that it was a mistake. The student is fine. I spoke with them and they completely understood: lesson rescheduled and no one is the worse for it. I know that it could happen to anyone. But it was me. It was my responsibility. And I failed.

Times like this, it becomes so very difficult to silence those voices that say I am not good enough. That I let everyone down. That I don’t deserve friendship, relaxation, or ease. It’s really hard because I feel like that mistake damns me in some way. It’s not rational. I should be able to let it go.

I can’t.

And this is why my cup is almost always near empty and why I feel like what I have to offer is never enough. Because I pour out so much more than I refill.

I’m working on it. I have friends who remind me to take time for myself. They remind me when I feel guilty that refilling the cup allows me to give more. It doesn’t help the guilt.

And this is why I need therapy. *sigh*

peace

peace: what i hope to gain from therapy.

How an Internet Quiz Changed My Life

Scrolling through facebook this morning as I was avoiding getting up for the day relaxing, I saw about fifteen friends who’d recently taken quizzes. These ranged from “Which Disney Princess are You?” (I’m Mulan, bitches) to “What is your Patronus?” (Phoenix, baby).

I like quizzes. I like things that attempt to take information from seven questions and diagnose my entire personality. And by like I mean I find them funny as hell. I’d really like it to be that simple; and when I see a part of myself in those results, it makes me feel like maybe I’m not as fucked up as I sometimes feel. Often, however, I get such varied and ridiculous results that it just makes me more confused. Maybe that’s why the results of a test that I recently took had such a profound effect on me.

tom

this is me. i’m tom. different from the crowd… except i give a shit. lots of them actually.

A friend posted a link to the Myers Briggs Personality Test (MBTI for all of you psych nerds). I’d never heard of it before, but it sounded really interesting. Answer seventy odd questions and they’ll tell you four letters that define your personality. Being a quiz nut, I was in like Flynn.

The questions were strange; they weren’t probing queries into my inner soul, but more statements about my habits. “You are more interested in a general idea than in the details of its realization.” Yeah, pretty much. “Your actions are frequently influenced by feelings.” Can I get a HELL YES? “The more people you speak with, the better you feel.” Good God, no. And so on.

I was anxious to see where this would lead. I took my time, weighing each of the answers and being more honest with this test than I usually am to most people I talk to. In the end, it took me about a half hour to wade through those seventy-two questions. When I pressed the “Score This” button, I eagerly awaited the result.

INFJ: Introverted iNtuition Feeling and Judging.

infj2

the storm amid the calm. i’m confusing like that…

The words were familiar, but the combination was foreign to me. So I did what I do best. I researched the hell out of it.

INFJs are the rarest of the sixteen personality types, accounting for less than one percent of the entire population. We’re considered by many to be the most extroverted of the introverts, enjoying and often even seeking out groups of people (of our choice). We’re dreamers who focus on doing, and we are considered the most empathic personality type out there.

The more I researched this personality type, the more I saw myself in it. All of the quirks that I couldn’t explain, the strange curse ability to take on others’ feelings as my own, all of it was described as normal for this personality. Normal.

I’m not saying that everyone who takes this test will find meaning in it. But I am saying that for me, it was exactly what I needed. INFJs seem to be the most misunderstood personality, maybe because there are so few of us. We are often mistyped by others because we appear extroverted and very often adopt the characteristics of our closest friends. We want to be noticed and understood the way we notice and understand others, but we also hide like champs. We are a walking dichotomy.

infj1

Understanding more about my personality type has really helped me understand how it plays into my daily life and my battles with mental health. I’ve only recently begun to honor the empathic side of myself, and a lot of that stems from the understanding I gained in this test. I’ll give you a for instance.

I really dislike crowds. Always have. The noise, the extreme closeness of so many bodies, all of it combines for a truly uncomfortable experience for me. If I go to a crowded area with a stressed out friend, I find that I am more likely to suffer a full on panic attack than if I were to attend with someone more laid back.

I always dismissed the correlation, focusing more on the panic attack than the cause. But it makes sense now that I know about this empathic side of myself. It’s not just that I notice people’s discomfort; I actually feel it. If someone I care about gets hurt, I physically hurt for them. If someone is sad, I am sad. And so on.

I’m not trying to be dramatic or exaggerate. I’m just somehow more tuned in to the energy that others provide than most other people. I experience that energy in a very real and palpable way. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can approach people better. I don’t always look inward when I begin to feel sad or stressed or hurt; sometimes I need to look around me and see where that energy is coming from.

I know all of this sounds like New Age crap. And believe me, when I first started reading about it, I thought the same. The truth is, it isn’t all about crystals and auras and shit.

There is an energy to a room full of happy, celebrating people, yes? You feel it the moment you walk into the room and it carries you into their revelry. The same can be said of a room in mourning. The somberness is palpable as you walk in and without even thinking about it, you become more subdued. More quiet.

Every person carries that same energy inside of them. Some of us are just more in tune to the little changes than others. Whereas it might take 50 or 60 happy people to create that joyous energy I spoke of above, I can feel it from one person sitting next to me on the train. And it affects me. Happy or sad. Knowing that about myself makes me more careful of who I choose to be with when I’m not in a good place and it helps me take care of myself in much healthier ways.

This link is to the best, short explanation of INFJ I’ve ever found. If you’d like to know more about this personality type, start here. If you’d like to type yourself, you can go here. If you’d like to talk personality types, visit me in the comments section. I adore talking about this stuff and I love to hear from my readers. 🙂

My People; My Arsenal

I have this friend. Really, she’s the sister that I never had growing up. We just met like three months ago, or maybe now it’s three years (that’s an inside joke, by the way). Anyway, in the grand scheme of things, we’ve known each other only a fraction of our lives. And yet, she is one of the most important people in my life. And I’m going to tell you why.

I was having one of those weeks. If you have depression and anxiety, you need no further explanation. For the rest of you, let me expound. Something triggered my anxiety. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but I was revved up beyond even what I normally consider high alert. It was really bad: cold sweats, heart racing painfully, irregular breathing, and this overwhelming inability to concentrate on anything.

anxiety

It’s exhausting, physically and mentally. When you get that way, you cannot come down. Simply holding it together for an hour long play date is like running a marathon, but no matter how tired you get, you can’t get into low gear enough to truly rest. Sure, you might sleep, but you wake up just as exhausted because the entire time you are running away from the voices in your dreams. The anxiety follows you everywhere.

When it gets bad like this, I will admit that my coping mechanisms are not the healthiest. I stress eat. I drink more than I should. I’ve engaged in cutting behavior. But it all boils down to the fact that I hide. The stress of dealing with that anxiety is so extreme that I go into self-preservation mode. And I tend to pull away from friends and family. I know that I’m in no shape to be a good friend to anyone and I can’t summon the fortitude to ask for help. So I just wait it out in the bunker of my subconscious until the tornado passes and I can pick up the pieces.

At least that’s how it worked before I had a person.

Do you watch Grey’s Anatomy? I actually don’t, but I kind of love the friendship between Meredith and Christina. I’ve seen enough of it on Tumblr and Pinterest to know the gist of it, but my favorite part of their friendship is this little phrase that they pass back and forth to each other: “You’re my person.” It’s kind of become a thing for my best friend and me.

I’m lucky enough to have a couple “people” in my life, not just my surrogate sister. They work in very different ways to keep me semi-sane and functioning. The truth is I’m not easy to work with. In fact, I’m kind of a bitch. I fight against help when I’m in a bad place and I seldom reach out when I really should. I wear this mask, exhausting though it may be, to hide the pain and appear normal. It protects me from the reality that I’m really not coping well. It protects me from the knowledge that in those moments, I’m about as far from OK as one could get.

My people can see through the mask with little more than a glance and keep me from self-destructing. Everyone needs different things in life and in the midst of anxiety attacks; knowing what one person might need is an incomparable gift. Sometimes, it’s as simple as pulling the person out of their own head for five minutes so they can just breathe.

I’m not saying that it always works. There are times when they try their best to pull me out and I only retreat further. There’ve been times when they’ve tag-teamed me just to get a result. In the end, I’m here. I’m writing this blog for you. And in many ways, I owe that to my people: my personal arsenal against a truly badass opponent.

friend

Thank you. I know you know who you are.

Battling Invisible Wraiths

As I poured the second tall glass of whiskey into my tumbler last night, I knew I was in for a long one. I’d been here loads of times before: mind rushing in fifteen different directions with no end in sight. Anxiety, man… It’s a bitch.

Yup.

I don’t come across as the anxious type most of the time. I’m a laid back mom when it comes to my kids’ choices, electing to let them make their own mistakes as long as they don’t break their necks in the process. But I have a monster inside of me, nonetheless. Or perhaps monster is too big of a word. Wraith might be better.

 

It’s so quiet, the way the thoughts take over. One minute you’re having the best time with someone you love and the next, this insidious voice in your head has convinced you that you’re a stupid buffoon who no one wants to be around. It’s the same voice that keeps me smiling and laughing at a party long after I’ve exceeded my delicate introvert tolerance for people and noise. And the same one that keeps me from calling up old friends because “why in hell would they want to talk to me?”

 

The combo of anxiety and depression is a double whammy that so many people live with. I’m not here as an apologist for my quirky behavior, or even to make you understand other people’s behavior. They truth is, everyone’s experience with these illnesses is unique. I am here to write about my experiences with this disease and try to understand my own recovery process. And if my journey toward recovery helps someone else, all the better. If, perchance, my experiences help you to understand me or someone you love better, I will be thrilled.

 

What we want

 

I know I can’t speak for everyone here. Hell, I barely know what I want on a day to day basis. But I think I have a generally sound idea what depression suffers most want from people they love. And it isn’t a cure, surprisingly. It seems that everyone assumes that, because as soon as you tell someone you’re depressed, they give you a laundry list of things you need to change in order to “get better.”

 

It probably seems to those on the outside that we don’t want to get better. After all, you hand us these nuggets of wisdom about positive thinking and the power of choice and we just stare at you as though you are speaking a foreign language. The reason I look at my “positive thinking” friends so deridingly when they say things like this is because I fucking am being positive. You see me standing here, right? I’m out of bed! I’m dressed! There’s something that resembles a smile on my face! Do you have any idea the amount of positive thinking I had to do to accomplish that? I want a damn medal.

 

What we want, what I want, is validation. When you feel like everything inside of you is being held together with pins, needles, and a little bit of week old duct tape, you can’t see that on the outside everything looks normal. You feel on the brink of falling apart. You feel like you are two steps from the hospital because everything hurts, nothing feels good, and you just want to curl up in the dark and let it all fester. So when we reach out and say, “I am hurting,” all we want is for someone to tell us that they can see the pain, it is valid and true, and that their friendship won’t go away.

 

I know what you are probably thinking right now. If I tell my depressed friend that their pain is valid, that it is ok, they will just continue feeling that way. I need to fix it.

 

Newsflash: we’re gonna keep feeling that way whether you validate it or not. Chronic depression is not something you turn a light switch on and magically make disappear. It is not something you can tickle out of someone. And despite what you may think, it doesn’t go away just because the sufferer is smiling and happy. It’s a cancer that eats at us, as real as any disease that eats away at a human, just silent and deadly invisible.

 

The greatest gift a friend ever gave to me was acceptance. I struggle terribly with feeling weak. Most people do, but I pathologically fear appearing weak in front of people that I value. So the decision to let someone inside these walls, to show them just how bad it can be, takes weeks of indecision and anxiety. I have about two people on my inner circle. And it was the last person I told who gave me my greatest gift.

 

I expected pity. I expected to be met with understanding and perhaps sympathy. I never expected the words that I received. “Jen, I know you’re fucked up. I’m fucked up too. And I love you because of that, not in spite of it.”

This is lovely.

Do you see what they did there? “I love you because of it.” Holy shit, they love me because of my depression and anxiety! What a jerk!

 

No, not exactly. They love all of the parts that make up me: the quirky, inappropriate humor, the indecision, the fear of being forgotten, and yes, even the depression. They love me because those things make me into the person that I am. And they saw that and accepted that. It was a first, and it started me on this long journey toward finally accepting it in myself.