I took a quiz from this month's Oprah called "Are You an HSP?" -- HSP standing for Highly Sensitive person. I laughed when I saw it, because I didn't need a quiz to tell me what anyone who has ever met me knows -- I am definitely an HSP. My skin is too sensitive for certain fabrics, I startle at the drop of a hat -- not an expression, I have actually jumped at the sound of my fedora falling from my desk to the floor; I can't watch scary movies or violent scenes without having the images haunt me for years; just walking past the perfume counter at Macy's triggers a migraine, flashing lights hurt my eyes; a thimble full of caffeine will make me climb the walls; and I cry, a lot -- when I'm happy, when I'm sad, when I'm scared, and yes, even when I'm angry. So it made sense to me that I scored a perfect 60 out of 60 -- a perfect score for being highly sensitive. Which like I said, I already knew, but somehow seeing it on the page made me sad. You read me right, I was oversensitive about being oversensitive. Because it is exhausting sometimes living in a constant state of feeling. There was a good reason Deanna Troy was my favorite Start Trek Next Generation character -- I could relate to the burden of being an empath. Mostly I was sad because I felt like there was something wrong with me, like being highly sensitive was akin to being radioactive somehow. Like Karen Silkwood must've felt when all of the sirens went off and people fled for their lives to get as far away from her as possible. Look! Kara's crying again! RUN!
I have often remarked to friends or family members (when I was feeling wounded or vulnerable over something that most people would shake off right away) that I am just too sensitive for this world. And deep down, I think I felt like it meant I wouldn't be able to contribute to the world, to make a difference for the good in it in the way I had always hoped. That I was too fragile to make any impact, too breakable to matter. But then something wonderful happened the other night. I woke up at 4:30 am, a pretty common thing for me as I am a very light sleeper and will be instantly up and awake and ready for anything at the slightest noise (we call it my "Earthquake? Gunshot? Monster??" process). Anyway, I walked into the bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, shaking my head and lamenting "you are just too sensitive, Kara." I stared back at myself, waiting for mirror me to agree, but what met me instead was a voice deep inside, a warm and gentle, wise and firm voice that I instantly recognized as the voice of God that said quite simply, "You are not too sensitive for this world -- you are exactly as sensitive as this world needs you to be."
Well, I'm sure you can guess what came next -- I burst into tears. Tears of relief, because in that moment, a burden lifted. That burden to stop being so sensitive, to try and be stronger and tougher just drained right down the sink leaving me with the startling realization -- I was made this way. Sensitive by design, not by mistake. Made to notice the way the breeze gives breath to a weeping willow, helping it to dance through the grief; made to see the confusion on the elderly woman's eyes as she stands on the corner not knowing who to ask for directions; created vulnerable enough to know how it feels to hurt so it can be credible when I say to a friend in pain "I understand." And what greater gift could there be than to be able to offer understanding to the misunderstood, tenderness to the bruised, a silent ear to the unheard?
What a perspective changer -- the thing I had most lamented in my life, I was now beginning to be grateful for. Heck, I would never have discovered cashmere if my skin didn't break out in a rash over wool:) And I never could've experienced the pure bliss of my heart being healed in love if I had't felt the agony of it shattering first. I recognize that not everyone is an HSP, but I do think that in each life we have a choice when faced with something that makes us feel more vulnerable than we would like -- we can feel weak and ashamed by it and try to ignore it and shut it out -- or we can be grateful for it knowing that if we are feeling something, that means we are alive. And if we are alive in this world, it's because this world needs us -- exactly as we are.
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