A few days ago I finished reading Open Heart, Open Mind by Clara Hughes. For those of you who don’t know, Hughes is a six-time Olympic medalist who is the only Canadian Olympian to have won medals in both the Winter and Summer games. More importantly (to me) she is also the face of the Canadian mental health initiative, Bell Let’s Talk, and is never hesitant to speak about her struggle with mental illness. If you follow my blog you know that I’m a little more than slightly obsessed with her. She has inspired me to share my mental health story and every time I hear her speak I am reminded of her strength, bravery, and her general bad ass-ery (that’s a word now).
Near the end of the memoir, Hughes talks about life after sport and how it had allowed her to push down her vulnerability and childhood trauma. Now that she no longer had sport to distract and punish herself with, she is forced to face her pain.
…[T]o rescue the part of me still locked in that closet, I would have to admit to my vulnerability. I would have to let my beautiful tears flow.
I, as a child, had suffered through really dark, painful situations that were not my fault, leaving a powerful residue against which I had struggled all of my adult life. I recognized that I carried an ocean of grief inside of me, some of it held back for so long that I no longer knew the cause. My warrior self had served me well […]. Now, I needed to have the courage to accept my wounded self.
Hughes and I come from very different backgrounds, but my own childhood has left the same “residue” that I still struggle to wash from my body. No matter how hard I scrub, it’s still there. Painful words are indelibly inked on my broken heart. I have been told to “forget about it” or to “get over it already,” but I have never actually faced the pain.
Like Hughes, I spent my life running from it. I have spent my life trying to be so perfect and good that it wouldn’t matter what others said about me. I tried to be the skinniest. The smartest. The coolest (that one never worked because I just don’t like cool things. But I became very good at imitating what made people “cool.”) But no matter how hard I tried, I was never good enough. And to this day, I am still striving for this ideal that only exists in my mind.
Except trying to rid myself of this “residue” has been more than striving for perfection in all aspects of my life. Certain situations and my own biological make-up have made me a deeply sensitive person. Over the course of my life, I have repeatedly heard:
“Marisa is so sensitive”
“You’re being too sensitive
“Why do you have to be so sensitive?”
Being sensitive has only ever been portrayed to me as a negative quality. Sensitivity is a weakness that makes you vulnerable to a world that is hard and cruel. The world has no place for a girl with skin so thin that you can almost see through her. My sensitivity has made me prone to depression. My heart is sometimes too big that I over extend my willingness to help others that I no longer have any love leftover for myself. The world becomes an overwhelming place when you haven’t learned how to protect yourself against the cruelty. The negativity that bounces off of you, pierces my core. I absorb emotionally charged situations until I go into emotional overload and I’m crying.
I begrudgingly admit that I’m a “crier.” Crying is my go-to emotion. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I’m angry. I cry when I’m frustrated. It’s all I can do to release the sea of pain that swells in my chest as others around me argue and fight. Like the salt water of the ocean, each day leaves a coating on my skin that burns like acid. I cry to wash it away but it just makes it worse.
Although more and more, and Hughes’s book reminded me of this, what if it’s not me who is wrong? What if our perception of people and the world is wrong? What if my sensitivity isn’t a weakness or flaw, but a strength and an advantage? My sensitivity allows me to read situations and people. I believe it’s what makes me a good writer, friend, daughter, and partner.
Instead of wanting, aching to be tough like the rest of the world, imagine how different life would be if everyone was as sensitive as me? What if everyone let their beautiful tears flow?