“These meetings always make me anxious and paranoid that I’m doing tons of stuff wrong,” I said. “Ooohhh, is that new territory for you? Anxiety?” One of my coworkers snarked.
I have a reputation for being anxious. It’s not a secret.
I tend to be highly organized, very sensitive, and sometimes compulsive when it comes not just to my work, but to life in general. But to hear my coworker mocking me for it left my jaw hanging open.
Of course he was just joking with me, and he didn’t know I was having a really raw week. I don’t think he meant anything unkind by it, but it left me feeling sad and, yes, even more anxious.
I don’t need to read the book to know I am the poster child for the Highly Sensitive Person. I’m introverted, emotional, and have a hard time not taking things personally. I worry almost constantly about how I am presenting myself, what others think of me, and startle easily. I spend hours contemplating things I’ve said, or how I’ve reacted to things. I get almost unreasonably obsessive about little things like books and TV shows and dreams I’ve had. I need a lot of alone time, and I’m a daydreamer for sure. My heart leaps before my head.
I also have a hard time trusting not only that others will accept and understand the dimensions that the facet of anxiety adds to my personality. I have a hard time trusting my own self, and my own instincts and intuition.
Highly sensitive people who are highly evolved own their traits as strength, and wear their empathy, creativity, and emotionality like badges. This is something on which I am still working.
I heard beautiful Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, describe our flaws as manure. Our jealousies, insecurities, anger, fears, and sorrows may just be the shitty stuff about us, or about our lives. But one does not just throw away the shit. We use it to nourish and grow our gardens.
I am eternally grateful to Ani Pema for this little pearl of wisdom. Because a lot of the time, I feel like a pretty shitty person.
Anxiety is shitty. Panic attacks are shitty. If you have ever gone through a period of intense anxiety, you know it is not a naturally beautiful emotion. It is not easy to accept. This tender analogy has helped me be more accepting and nurturing of myself.
It’s not always easy.
I often feel like a shitty person because there are times, as a HSP, I don’t know where I am going to be emotionally from one hour to the next. This is rough not just for me, but for the people around me, especially my spousal unit and children. Let me make it clear that I do not spend my days ranting and raving– I AM STABLE. But there are days where life can feel like a roller coaster. If you are a HSP, you get what I am saying.
It’s like this: One moment I am driving to work in a bliss of music, and I catch some wild flowers on the side of the road and tell myself to bloom where I am planted. And that feels incredibly inspiring and I walk into work feeling awesome and confident. Ten minutes later when my phone is ringing and I have three intakes waiting for me, my heart starts to race and I am feeling angry and anxious because fear I won’t meet everyone’s needs and expectations.
But it’s not all bad. Anxiety and sensitivity motivate me to do better all the time. I have learned to practice mindfulness, and when I start creeping down Anxiety Avenue, I know enough to tug myself back and slow down. Anxiety keeps me organized.
My traits as a highly sensitive person also allow me to attune with my clients. For some reason, it is harder for me to attune to my family, when I am exhausted and drained and prickly at the end of the day, but I am working on that.
I wanted to tell my insensitive coworker that if he knew anything about anxiety, (which he SHOULD since he is a mental health worker), then he would never, ever say something like that to someone WITH anxiety. I know he didn’t mean anything by it. He was joking with me, probably because he feels comfortable enough with me to do so. But I still felt belittled, judged, diagnosed, and mocked.
My first instinct was that I needed to do something to change myself, be someone different. I ruminated on this as I tried to find ways to present myself as cool, calm, and collected.
My second instinct was to scream, “FUCK. THAT!”
Have you ever looked at your own reflection and said, “You are beautiful and amazing, and you do incredible things,”?
My hero, Mister Rogers, said, “The greatest gift you ever give is your honest self.” He also said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
There is something simultaneously grounding and liberating about accepting who and what you’re all about at any given moment. It opens up a world of endless possibility and infinite love.
It’s not always easy.
While it made me uncomfortable in the moment, at the end of the day, I was grateful that my coworker’s comment gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my honest self. So, yeah, maybe that was new territory, or at least another visit to a place where I am not yet overly familiar.