I think everyone is born with a different level of sensitivity to the world around them. For better or worse, I feel everything. By everything, I mean the whole enchilada. As a kiddo, I had no way to manage the intensity around me, and was consequently perceived as rather odd. When people are in pain, I can physically feel it. If they are emotionally distressed, I know the root of it. Not in a psychic way, but a feeling and empathic way. I've come to understand that this isn't a "typical" human experience. Luckily, over the years I have managed to figure out how to navigate my feelers to help others, and not fall down the rabbit hole to Wonderland in the process. It's not uncommon for highly sensitive people to suffer symptoms consistent with depression and anxiety, but the fact is, it's not pathology- but a gift that needs a little wrangling.
A new documentary came out last week on Netflix. Audrie and Daisey, a story of teen girls surviving (and not surviving) sexual assault. I'm always a little weary of watching these stories, because I am not exactly sure how my insides will react. I might feel nothing, or experience a rush of images that I can't shake for days. You might call it a crap shoot. In this case, I was willing to gamble with the hopes this film would provide an insightful and "true to life" depiction of what it feels like to survive something so personally invading, that it would be seen by the masses, and de-stigmatize all the blame that goes on. Like "she was asking for it," or "she was dressed the wrong way." I'm not sure if that hope was entirely quenched, but it did a wonderful job at telling a story about how a teen's innocence can change in a moment, and things get broken. Sometimes forever.
You know those commercials with Sarah Mclaughlin and all the animals that are shaking and covered in flies, as you hear "in the arms of an angel" and start ugly-crying on your couch? That feeling you get? That's big fat compassion. We don't want little fuzzy creatures to suffer. I don't know about you, but if I make it through one of those commercials, my poor dog gets attacked with excess snuggles and treats. That's a little projection of my compassion. A compulsion to sooth my sad heart. While most of us can agree that compassion toward abused and neglected animals is pretty much a given, few of us practice the same compassion toward ourselves. In my world, I hear a lot of folks being extraordinarily hard on themselves. I mean- BAD. For some reason, we expect to have the wisdom and foresight to make perfect choices as children and beyond, even if we didn't have understanding or guidance to project such flawless judgement. It's not fair. Do we hold others to that standard? Rarely.
As I was enjoying a hike with a good friend this last weekend, we started bantering on the topic of personal paradigms. I first heard this term in my freshman year of college in 1995 (time keeps a turning doesn't it?) I was taking a western civilization class from a very controversial professor that was known for her feminism, but also taught about history from the "loser's perspective." During her first class, she informed us all that we were about to undergo a radical paradigm shift this year, and to prepare to question everything we thought we knew about our culture, our faith, and even our country. Wow. Those are some big words. I didn't know exactly what a paradigm was, but I suspected that it was important to me, and shifting it may be slightly uncomfortable, or itchy. A paradigm is defined by dictionary.com as: such a cognitive framework shared by members of any discipline or group. Now, living in Idaho, it's not uncommon for the majority of my culture to be caucasian conservative christians. This is the opposite of my comfort zone, but my culture nonetheless. The paradigm this professor shifted for me was like a pandora's box of "holy @#%&*!" moments that left me feeling lost, alone, and at times depressed.
Codependency sounds like such a naughty word. When educating a patient on codependence, I start by explaining it simply, "you just care, but a little too much." That's the thing. It comes from a place of concern, of love. It just mutates into frantic attempts of control over time, and feels like your insides could spill right out onto the floor. What is codependency? Well, while this umbrella term can refer to many interpersonal relationships, often times this takes place between intimate partners, family members, and even friendships. I try to simplify it through the following illustration: within an interpersonal relationship, there are two people. One person is broken in some way (sick, mentally ill, an addict, underachiever etc...), and one person wants to fix and/or enable the other one, or at least ease their burden. Enabling is a hallmark of codependency (engaging in activities that allow their person to continue their dysfunctional behavior without consequences).
Jealousy is a rotten emotion. As far as human emotions go, this one evokes more distress than I would like. What's even worse than feeling this way, is to realize where it comes from- pure unadulterated insecurity. Yuck. Who wants to fess up to that? Not me. You may find yourself reeling about a neighbor's new car, your co-workers promotion, your best friend's marriage...the list goes on and on. We often want what we don't have, and spend far more time thinking about what is lacking, than what is already within our grasp.
Abuse is a sneaky thing. I recall growing up seeing depictions of abuse on Little House on the Prairie, or hearing horror stories of women killed by their boyfriends and thought, "How could anyone allow themselves to be treated that way?" With my fiery personality and draw to rebellion, I thought I would be the last person at risk for this dynamic in a relationship. I knew right from wrong. I knew my worth. I remember thinking- I would find an all-American snapshot of a sensitive "nice" guy and enjoy my teen years wrapped up in innocent romance, making memories to tell my grandchildren about high school dances and late night strolls. That's not what happened. I experienced the excitement any adolescent teen girl feels when given attention from a charismatic and mysterious individual, with whom they share an attraction. Of course. It happened so slowly. I even think now, when was the moment? When it became something dark?
While I can sit around itemizing all the reasons being a single parent is stressful, overwhelming, and a Groundhog Day of misadventures in scheduling conflicts, you've heard that tune before. There is no shortage of bitter co-parents badmouthing the other for sport. I've been playing this game for a while. Since our kid was the size of a peanut. For all the reasons I have to grumble in my collection of journals over the years (and I have), I have just as many reasons to embrace gratitude for the dynamic I have savored with my daughter for over a decade.
There are days when I feel like Superwoman, due to the generous nickname I have been dubbed with. While there are other days, when my internal monologue is similar to a tug of war with a greased rope- a mess! Part of this is the type A perfectionist in me, while the other is due to residual trauma. Since the majority of my adult life has been spent healing, learning, and doing that "Phoenix rising from the ash thing"- I've got a pretty great handle on it most of the time. But what do I do when I feel myself sinking into that nasty self-talk?
I remember my early adult years, totally engulfed with romanticism, and the hope of eternal bliss. The majority of my journal entries were dedicated to a crush, a lost love, or the dream of something wonderful that was surely on the horizon. But then something horrible happened. Perhaps it was the realization that all the RomCom's starring Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock are just scripted projections of our collective desires, simply manifested on film- to give us all unrealistic expectations of love. When in fact, this world appears to be littered with potential mates that fall well below the curve. Sure, a select few get it right the first time around, and live to grow old, applying their wedding vows to real life- that whole for better or worse thing. While others, consider it a good run to last over a decade in marital bliss. This stark realization hit me around the same time I became a single parent. It doesn't always work out.