A Celebration of Sensitivity
(BUT FIRST, A BIG OL' RANT)
The following is a speech I did at an International Women's Day event earlier this year. I was asked to speak on something to do with women. As I don't usually like to talk or write about things in an overly gendered way, I was a bit lost. But after a turbulent internal debate I turned to circumstance for guidance.
At the time I was in a train wreck of a relationship. I had just endured five days of torturous silent treatment from my then partner and I was fucking furious. We'd been having a lot of issues, or more specifically, I'd recently realised that I had been dismissing a lot of my concerns, and this was causing a lot of issues.
Previously whenever something went wrong, or I got hurt, I would simply convince myself that I didn't give a fuck. I would just throw all the feelings into the feelings room and close the feelings door. This was preferable to the other option of FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS, but still much less preferable - as my psychologist pointed out - than being able to voice my concerns and get my needs met.
So I'd made the big inside leap, and decided that I wasn't going to dismiss my feelings anymore. This strikes me as a memorable and significant moment in my personal growth. It's a decisive moment that I feel will forever be plotted out in my timeline, akin to the pointed memory I have of myself sitting on the couch on my back porch in the dark and the bone-brittling Melbourne cold, watching my housemate chew through cigarettes whilst I vowed, vehemently, to never fake an orgasm again. This moment, stuck forever in my story.
So we tried that. I did the voicing of the feelings. As I'd haphazardly thrown all my feelings into the feelings room, it was an intense unloading of jumbled-thought and things-you-said-off-hand-ages-ago-that-actually-really-hurt. Ouch all round.
We both tried, but it was fucking exhausting. We had this unfortunate dynamic where he would say things that I would get really hurt by. I don't want to go into detail (but let's face it I probably will sometime) but there was a lot of "I'm just being realistic" or "I was only joking". There was also, a lot of understanding, a lot of genuine care and love and effort, which was why it was so hard to get anywhere solid for so long.
But those five days of silence. That's when I realised that this was no good. Circumstance and situation is not really important, and I'm not interested in gossip, but I think this process is worthy of a mention because it was significant for me, and I think it might be something that is of importance to others.
For as long as I could remember I did not trust my feelings. This was pretty fine amongst the company of sensitive souls like myself, but it got problematic around people who lacked the same tentativeness I did. The problem was, my interactions with these kinds of people were validating all of the awful thoughts I had about myself. So when someone would say "I'm only joking" or "you can't get upset about that, I'm just being realistic", my response would be like "well yeah you're right, I am too sensitive, can't argue with that".
At that point I'd spent seemingly endless arduous months in therapy, discussing almost exclusively, my problems with this relationship and why I kept feeling like shit. Up until then, it had felt hypothetical, but those five days of silence, that was exactly what I needed.
This was when I fully started to accept that I am sensitive and that is fine.
Repeat, I am sensitive and that is fine.
Previously, under all the empowered person that I was, I could not budge my unshakeable belief that I was too sensitive and that my feelings weren't reasonable. Most of my romantic relationships included this complaint, or query, or concern, so I just took it as fact.
And I knew all this, I knew that this was what I was doing. But knowing in theory and knowing through action is two very different things.
So that's where this talk came from. It came from hurt, and it came from fury. Usually I'm not one to publicly display these emotions. But anger serves it purpose. It tells you something is wrong, it is a call to action.
So here is my call to action. May it help you call on yours.
I cry a lot, I always have. I hear a song on the radio, I cry. I listen to a particularly touching podcast, I cry. I think about how much I love my friend, I cry.
I am emotional. And emotionality, is often thought of as womanly, as women’s work, as weakness.
I’ve struggled with my relationship with emotions for a long time. Because the world, it’s structure, it’s forms, they're not made for them.
The world tells me I am too sensitive. What's more, the world tells women we are too sensitive. That we overreact. That we shouldn’t take things so seriously. That we are crazy.
We’ve probably all heard it before:
Stop worrying about it.
And my personal favourite, I was joking, can’t you take a joke?
Last year, the world officially told me that my emotions were wrong, that my response was crazy. I was diagnosed with a chronic mental illness that simply put, meant I had too many feelings.
After being told that my feelings were abnormal, I was terrified of them. I told myself all my reactions were crazy. I hurtled through emotional space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity, just trying to grab onto something solid. Constantly in fear of the endlessness of space, the foreverness of feelings.
Even now, sitting here, as someone diagnosed with “too many feelings”, I feel out of place talking about how we’re told we have too many feelings. But being in this position, I’ve thought and learned a lot about them, and in this implosion, this boxing ring with me pitted against me, I saw how I made myself crazy, and I saw how others made me crazy.
The theory behind my diagnosis is something called a bio-social model. Basically it means that there are biological factors and social factors that intermingle and make a little disorder soup. Story goes, Person A is born with a higher emotional vulnerability than most. Not such an issue on its own but when Person A also finds themselves in an environment that invalidates this emotional vulnerability, well that's when Person A becomes Person A Fucking Crazy Person.
An invalidating environment is one that says, your emotions are wrong and you can’t trust them. They can be awful situations of physical or mental abuse. But they can be totally normal environments, ones we all know.
They can be your mum telling you you have nothing to cry about. They can be your teacher telling you to stop worrying. They can be your friend telling you “at least you have a boyfriend". These situations tell you, your response is wrong, don’t trust it, and over time, they can erode your sense of reality.
For me, it was simple things, understandable things. It was my mum telling me when I was “just tired” when I was upset. It was my babysitter hitting me with a spoon for crying. It was tears met with bewilderment.
When I grew older, it was relationships. It was boyfriends who told me I was too emotional. It was boyfriends who told me that they knew me better than I knew myself. It was boyfriends who told me I deserved it. And it was boyfriends that convinced me that these things were true.
All these things, they told me I was wrong, that I didn't don’t know how to feel. They made me feel weak, then they made me weak.
But what I’ve learned is this, emotions don’t make you crazy. People telling you your emotions are crazy, that makes you crazy.
And the world and people that tell you your emotions are crazy, they are wrong. It’s not their fault, we're born with emotions but no instruction manual on how to use them.
Emotions are reactions, they aren’t choices. Telling someone they’re too sensitive is like telling someone they’re too human. We take it to mean that there is something innately wrong with us. But really, what they're saying is, I am the barometer for human emotion and you do not measure up in the way that I would like. They're saying, your reaction is not convenient for me. No one is the barometer for human emotion.
And no one has the right to tell you how you should feel.
Emotions are instinctive guides and they are motivators. They tell you, “hey I don’t like that” or “hey I do like that” or “hey I want to change that”. They are not good. They are not bad. They are messengers.
This year I started collecting my tears. I carry tissues with me everywhere and whip one out when I get any eye juice happening. I number and date them, give them a description, and pack them up in a little box. When I started, I wasn't really sure what I was doing, I just had this pull to assess, to document. But now I know, it's about facing my feelings, and not being afraid of them anymore.
Since the 14th of January, I’ve cried 101 times. That’s once every 1.5 days.
Some might think that this is too much, but I don't. Cause now I know that this is not good, this is not bad, this just is.
I am sensitive. This is not good. This is not bad. This is just me.