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I’m going to share how I found the strength in my sensitivity in hopes that it helps you see what’s possible for you.
It’s not easy to be vulnerable, but what I’ve realized is that the more I honestly share parts of myself with people who are going through the same things I have, the more other people feel understood. This is huge, because it’s the first time some of you may realize that you are not alone. This makes my heart beat faster because I get it. I understand how important it is to transition from the feeling that something is wrong with you to feeling like maybe, just maybe, you are normal, and to take it even further, maybe there is something amazing about you. Maybe you are amazing. And let me tell you something: you are.
But this part of my story… and I’m stalling, because it’s scary to get vulnerable… is about why I do the work that I do.
If you’ve seen the rest of my site, you may be thinking, “Heyyy… she looks like she has her shit together.” In fact, I’ve gotten an angry letter or two from people who think, “She can’t possibly be highly sensitive!” I mean, I look pretty polished, right? All shiny happy people? But that’s exactly it! You can’t tell from looking at someone’s outside what is actually going on inside them, and if you’re at all like me, you’ve gotten really good at “looking the part” of who we think we are supposed to be.
And: I AM. I am a shiny happy person… Most of the time. 😉
It’s how I’m wired: To feel intensely. Which means the highs are hugely and radiantly high. Blissed-out high. (If you’re highly sensitive, you can probably relate!)
And: the meltdown lows are pretty friggin’ low. It was light and dark – a cycle that persisted for years. I would suffer through the hard times. Times when I was felt withdrawn and overwhelmed, like the world was just too much, all the while judging and criticizing myself. Finally, the sun would come out and I would feel so relieved to feel happiness again that I would then try to desperately hold, squeeze, and freeze the moment in time. (You can guess how well that worked).
Which means that—the picture wasn’t always this pretty.
The thing about results is that they look “effortless” from the outside. Like the movie star who suddenly emerges into the public eye. The truth is, there are no overnight sensations. Those stars worked their asses off—often for years—before being “discovered.” I could show you a before and after picture, but on the outside, I would look the same (albeit a little bit older). 😉 What you wouldn’t see are the changes that happened on the inside. There is no before and after for that. My before and after is this story.
One of the things I used to run into a lot as a nutrition and fitness coach was the reaction I would get when I told ladies I could help them rebalance their health and lose weight. They’d look me up and down and sometimes even say what they were thinking: “Easy for you to say, skinny Minnie! What do YOU know about what it’s like?”
Answer is: Plenty. Before I turned my own health around, I was 20 pounds’ overweight and so dizzy, sick and depressed I thought I had a neurological disorder.
Before I learned about the care and feeding of the highly sensitive person, before I even knew what a highly sensitive person was… I spent most of my life feeling broken.
If you’d met me a few years ago, you wouldn’t know me. Life felt heavy and gray, peppered with rare and precious moments of shining brilliance. I was either caught up in life’s beauty, inspired and feeling on top of the world, or I was caught in spirals of overwhelm with a barrage of negative thoughts and feelings of defeat. I just couldn’t get my act together and if I’m being honest, I hated myself for it.
I couldn’t understand why I needed to withdraw from the world. What was wrong with me? I felt like I couldn’t survive on this planet, as if I were allergic to life. Easily overwhelmed, highly emotional, overly empathic and sensitive, I cared so deeply about things that it often left me in pain—and by the time I reached my 30s, that pain had become physical.
As a baby, I never slept, and couldn’t stop screaming.
At 3 days old, the doctor – at a loss to explain my constant discomfort – diagnosed me with then-new ADHD. At 6 months old, he recommended Ritalin. My mother refused, but my life’s pattern of intense emotions and scattered energy was established.
As an adolescent growing up in LA, a terrible dread began to surface. I felt that something awful was about to happen at any moment. I constantly sought my mother’s reassurances. I was incredibly lucky that she is also highly sensitive and understood me on an intuitive level.
Painfully uncomfortable in my skin and worried about everything, school was torture and it was hard to make friends. I just wanted to find a safe place and hide until the feelings went away.
Now, don’t get me wrong—it wasn’t ALL bad!! I loved life! I was curious and a major goofball. (That part hasn’t changed!) Being in nature soothed me, and I loved to laugh.
There was good stuff—often as a direct result of being highly sensitive—like the way music was such a saving grace, easily and reliably transporting me to happiness.
Music was my obsession, and remains my escape. By age 5, I knew the words to every song on the radio. I had my own record player and collection. Attending my first concert, I jammed out in a front row seat watching Shawn Cassidy do his thing, feeling totally at home, and totally in love. I wore that Shawn Cassidy t-shirt until I couldn’t stretch it to fit anymore.
And the highs and lows taught me so much: I learned what environments supported me, versus the ones that sapped my energy. I realized that I was so happy in summer, a fact which became critically important later, when I was diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder…apparently, I’m highly sensitive to light as well.
As a kid, I spent a good chunk of my year in an urban area, surrounded by concrete. I experienced the polar opposite of this environment for 3 months out of every year when I went to Rhode Island: near the ocean, in nature, with the sun warm and comfy on my skin. Such a different energy. I was so happy in nature; blissful… Summers were the best. I dreaded September when I had to go back to the city.
Rhode Island FED my sensitivity in a blissful way. Experiencing this and its opposite in my daily urban environment taught me powerful lessons about what nourished me—and what didn’t.
I had a lot to be grateful for… There were plenty of sunny moments. And yet, I still felt profoundly unhappy, isolated and alone.
Junior year of college, the shit really hit the fan. By February I cried daily with a deep, inexplicable sorrow. I lay awake at night, obsessed with the idea that I was dangerously ill. After all, I could feel every minute change within my body. Doom felt imminent and only nightly calls to my mother calmed me down.
I eventually broke down and went home for a week, where I was officially diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): unable to produce sufficient serotonin during the winter due to reduced sunlight, I experience debilitating depression. Although it was a relief to understand some challenges I faced, it didn’t account for so much more. It was only a piece of the puzzle.
While my friends and roommates went out and partied all night, I was “that girl” who wanted to stay in when everyone was getting ready to go out. While my roommates went out drinking, I relished Saturday nights alone in a warm, candlelit bath, incense burning and a good book between my fingers. I gave it the “old college try” a number of times, but felt miserable whenever I went out. This was not my idea of fun and my friends looked at me like I was bonkers.
It reinforced the idea that everyone else was fine and I wasn’t. Feeling separate, broken and weirdly different stayed with me until my late 30’s… 25 years of not good enough. Of never amount to anything. Of silent suffering.
Well… silent except for my relentless inner talk: Why me? This sucks. Other people don’t have to deal with this. It’s like I’m handicapped. Something is wrong with me. Why can’t I just be normal?
In my 20’s, I struggled to find my life purpose. I was fascinated with health, spirituality and wellbeing but frankly, I was interested in everything and I couldn’t decide where to focus after college. I ended up in Architecture school, which I loved because I was surrounded by beauty and had an outlet for my relentless creativity. However, despite earning a master’s degree, I still felt lost. So when I met my beloved, I swept easily into love, marriage, and children. My new little family gave me purpose and joy. And: I subsequently threw all self-care right out the window.
“Family comes first” became my mantra. I thought I had to sacrifice my own happiness, interests and desires; I stopped doing things I loved. At my 15-year reunion, when a friend and fellow music-lover asked, “Who are you listening to these days?” I drew a complete and total blank. I couldn’t answer him!
The one pleasure I allowed myself was food. As a sensory person, eating can be like a spiritual experience. Can you relate? So I ate. And ate. I gained weight, became very addicted to sugar. I vividly remember going to Starbucks every single afternoon to order my Grande No Water Soy Chai and my cinnamon scone. I lived for that moment of peace and quiet that was just for me.
In the Fall of 2009, I had a health crisis. Not only was my weight at its highest, I developed chronic heartburn and digestive issues. I was bone-tired every day, suffering from dizzy spells, twitching in my legs and tingling in my legs. My lower back was a mess, and I was having daily panic attacks. Depression and anxiety were at an all-time high. The cherry on top was that my husband, the bread-winner, got laid off after the recession and we were having marriage issues. We had just moved into our “dream home” – a home we spent over a year renovating and our mortgage payments were draining us financially. I was terrified, emotionally drained and depleted, stressed out of my mind, and my happily ever after felt like it had turned into a nightmare. Not pretty.
Other people I knew didn’t seem to have such a hard time with life. I felt so different. I spent years trying to solve the mystery of me in hopes that I could just be normal. I wanted to function like other people in the world. I wanted to feel good. I wanted to thrive. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to like myself. I had no idea that 20% of the population was just like me.
It was around the time of my breakdown that I discovered Dr. Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person.
What a revelation!! I checked through the traits she listed and thought, Holy crap. This is me! This is me! I thought back to my childhood and how many times I heard, “God, you’re so sensitive!” (Never, you know, as if that were a good thing.)
Being highly-sensitive put my whole life into context. Knowing that I was not alone was a tremendous relief.
It explained why I was overwhelmed with sadness when anyone around me suffered. It explained my intuitive nature, empathy, sensitivity to my physical environment, and highly-tuned connection to my body.
It explained my ability to feel deep compassion and love for people I didn’t know, my need to be completely alone, my aversion to crowds and loud noises, the fear I experienced as a child, my inability to sleep when I was young, and my sensitivity to the lighting in the room. My deep feelings of connection to something greater than I am. My ability to know how to put people at ease, adapting to their mood and meeting them where they are. My intense reactions around people who are negative or angry. Even my perfectionism.
It also put the depression and anxiety I experienced in context. By – unwittingly – putting myself in situations that stressed my highly sensitive nature, I actually exacerbated both conditions.
After my initial joy at this discovery, came the next phase: anger.
I had been dealt a highly sensitive shit-sandwich… and I was pissed. My husband would sneak up and grab me in a bear hug and, startled, I would snap, “Stop that! You know I’m highly sensitive!”
Everything became a “highly sensitive” moment. I started using it as a crutch, an excuse. I felt fragile and weak. I felt like I had finally hit rock bottom.
I had this vision of who I wanted to be: Amazonian warrior princess mom with a kick-ass career who laughs, plays with reckless abandon, has great sex, makes amazing home-cooked food, crafts, hikes, travels with babies on hip, showing them what true living was all about.
Instead, I was fat, cranky and directionless, constantly fighting with my husband, and too sick and depressed to pick my kids up from school. I’m not joking. I called on friends more than once to pretty please drop my kids off after school because I was too tired to leave the house. This was not living.
I am the same highly sensitive Cortney with Seasonal Affective Disorder and anxiety… but I’ve figured out and applied the step-by-step strategies and tools needed to take exquisite care of myself while having fun – closing the gap between Overwhelmed-and-Stuck Cortney and Empowered-and-In-Love-With-Life Cortney.
I repeat: I LOVE MY LIFE. (For anyone who’s lived as many years – or more – as I have thoroughly NOT enjoying their lives, then you know how revolutionary that statement is).
I now show up as the best version of myself, most of the time: loving, curious, creative, purposeful, driven and downright hilarious. Or so I like to think. 😉
I am now happy on a regular basis, have a career that I adore, am the mom that I want to be and am totally unafraid to show the world who I am. I live a fully-expressed life and feel as though every day, I get closer to touching the magic of who I truly am.
I have shed the excuses and victimhood. Tossed the blaming and the shaming. I feel capable of tackling any challenge that comes my way. And: I am a work in progress. Most days I get closer and some days a bit farther – but this is the ebb and flow of life. However, instead of having a fit whenever I feel out of the flow, I’m riding the wave with excitement.
So how did I do it? To put it as simply as I can: I took back my power and took action.
I had to do the work to get where I am today. And—I may be popping a few bubbles when I say this—it’s an ongoing practice. (Sorry!! No quick fixes here). It’s not like I figured it out and “cured” myself of being highly sensitive. Because there is no cure… Because there’s NOTHING wrong with you.
Building the habits that feed my soul so much that I have enough room to be highly sensitive AND thrive, rather than be overwhelmed by the onslaught of stimulation, is a practice that continues to this day.
And now that I have mastered it, I am on fire to help other highly sensitive women do the same – in less time, with guidance, support, and community.
Request a complimentary 30-minute Clarity Call to:
This session is complimentary with no pressure, but it is for people who are serious about making themselves and their happiness a priority in their lives. Could one call change your life? Click here to find out.
— Sara Rogers, Feminine Empowerment Coach, www.sararogers.ca
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