Living As A Highly Sensitive Person & Learning To Manage Your Mind
I’ve been a highly sensitive person with anxiety, and depressive moods my whole life. But I’ve never been officially diagnosed.
It should have been obvious from the beginning. My parents moved house to send me to a safe junior school. My first school teacher told my parents I needed to be treated with ‘soft hands’. And I told my late mother as a child I was worried, as I didn’t have anything to worry about.
Reading that now, it’s clear I’ve been a highly sensitive, anxious soul right from the beginning.
Being highly sensitive isn’t a choice. It’s how your brain works. At its core, it means your heart, your soul, you mind bruises way more easily. The threshold for being hurt, feeling violated, betrayed, is much lower – and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The only power you have is how to respond to it – and if you don’t even know how it works, or that it’s even a diagnosis, you’re helpless against its power. It controls you, and you have no idea – other than you’re hurt, upset, violated, offended and no one understands.
Take a lack of confidence, add a dash of not being streetwise, mixed together with shyness and a huge dollop of naivety and innocence, and it made me a prime candidate for psychological bullying once high school started.
It wasn’t physical. In fact, I only remember one incident of physical bullying in my life. But psychological bullying, for me, was far worse. I was anxious before I got into school, nervous about what the day held. My whole body was physically tense, I could feel the tension in my bones every morning. I never consciously acknowledged it, but I remember how my body felt each day.
Sadly there was no relief at home. During my teenage years, my parents happened to be going through a long, alcohol ridden, violent breakup. There was no physical abuse going on. I was being neglected, and emotionally abused. I was usually caught in the middle of my parent’s fights and often had to break them up.
And then, a few years later, my mum passed away.
Being a highly sensitive, shy, anxious, introverted teenager, this did a lot of damage to my already vulnerable mind.
You see, when you’re highly sensitive, you internalise a lot of things. You can be hurt, uncomfortable, unsettled, right deep down – and consciously be unaware of it. Or if you are aware of it, you can believe that there’s something wrong with you. That you are the guilty party, that there’s something wrong with you for being upset, offended or hurt. Most highly sensitive people are empaths, which means we often take other people’s hurt on ourselves.
When you’re a naive young, sensitive teenager without this awareness, and the eldest in the family, it’s easy to take responsibility for the pain going on around you. So I blamed myself for my parent’s divorce and my mother’s death – even though they had nothing to do with me, and neither was my responsibility.
I internalised this blame. I subconsciously decided I was not worth anything. Not worthy of love, success or happiness. Not worthy of health or a long life. Not worthy of friendships. And I began to sabotage my life. I pushed people away, sabotaged friendships, stopped taking care of myself, and got really unhealthy. I built some bad habits, I trained my brain this way, so this way of treating myself became not only automatic but even safe and comforting.
As a result, I became lonely, I didn’t have many close friends – and I ran up debt. My childish ego fantasised about being famous, being a well-known author or pastor, popular, rich, in demand. I even pursued writing with this childish attitude – not that I was aware of this at the time. And I never, ever believed I’d actually have success. In many ways, I’d trained my brain to be afraid of it, to resist it, to sabotage any chance of it.
I used busyness to avoid dealing with my pain, confronting my anxiety, depression and loneliness. Because that’s what most people do. We avoid dealing with our own pain, we treat the symptoms, not the real problem. And when we have mental illness, we can allow ourselves to get overwhelmed.
But then I quit my job. I took some time away. I began to have more space to reflect, listen and talk about these core issues. I wasn’t busy anymore. And I consciously chose to confront these issues.
Life didn’t get better straight away. In fact, it got worse. I became more and more depressed, more lonely, more anxious. But in truth, I was only getting in touch with the depression, anxiety and loneliness which was already there.
As I worked these issues through, did some forgiveness, talked it through with experts, I began to be set free from the strongholds which held me back. I began to learn about how my brain worked. Crucially, I learned that although I cannot choose whether or not my anxiety, low moods or high sensitivity will kick in or be trigged – I DO have power over how I respond to those triggers, those emotions, those feelings, and thoughts. So I began to learn how to respond to these triggers in a healthy way.
But now I realise this was only the beginning. Because now that period of my life is now over, I soon realised it was only the beginning. Because now I’m left with all the bad habits, routines, thought patterns – and now I have whole new set of barriers to overcome, insecurities, fears, and emotions to confront.
I’ve had a major victory over my mental health issues. I’ve taken control and more power over how I respond to my mental healthy triggers – but the journey goes on. However, now I know what I need to do to overcome these barriers, I’m better prepared. And I firmly believe that if I can do this, we all can.
James Prescott is a blogger, podcaster, writing coach and author of the several books, including ‘Mosaic Of Grace’ & ‘Dance Of The Writer: A Beginners Guide To Authentic Writing’, available free at his website, jamesprescott.co.uk, where you can find all of his work. He hosts the ‘Poema Podcast’ on spirituality and creativity and co-hosts the ‘Creating Normal’ podcast, which covers creativity and mental health issues. Connect with James on Twitter at @JamesPrescott77