I’m a sensitive person. All of my life I’ve heard, “Don’t be so sensitive” or “You cry all the time”. I’ve been teased for showing my emotions and for feeling “too much”.  I’ve frustrated my family members when I’ve made a big deal about “nothing” and I’ve made good friends feel bad when my tears show up.

I’ve felt deep shame for the sympathetic part of me that I can’t control.  I’ve long been embarrassed for being seen as “emotional”. How does one decide to wake up and stop feeling so much? I’ve never quite figured that out. I’m just naturally inclined to feel my way through moments with emotion.

I recently attended a college graduation. I teared up when the valedictorian shared her journey. I felt my chest tighten when I heard the thunderous applause from 5,000 supportive family members, friends and colleagues cheering the graduating class. I watched my dear friend walk across the stage to receive her well-earned degree. My heart could have burst open from the pride I was feeling. She got it done despite working 40+ hours a week and raising three amazing kids on her own.

If this is what being too sensitive means, then I’m glad I have that quality.

I almost parted ways with my best friend of 22 years. I let little moments of hurt feelings and miscommunications build-up until I reached my breaking point.  When I shared these upsets, through tears, she said, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner? I forgot you were this sensitive. I didn’t know my actions and my words were affecting you this way.”

The two of us talked it through over several weeks and we both experienced a deepening of our sisterhood. Our conversation invited us to get raw and real about our lifelong insecurities, our perceived flaws and the stories we tell ourselves about the world around us.

I discovered the reason behind my tendency to close up and walk away from friendships. I hadn’t known how to express my truest feelings.

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I couldn’t tell someone I preferred my freedom to their barbeque, or that I’d like to split the bill because they never paid me back, that it hurt my feelings when they called me flaky and random, that they shouldn’t have used me as a cover, that I was scared when they abandoned me on a fourteener.

I didn’t even know how to recognize what I was really feeling so it was impossible to relay the truth to anyone else. I didn’t know how to express to them that I was angry from being teased. I only explained days later that I was quiet because I was upset.

I was too prideful to tell them I was insecure about my clothes and my hair because of their commentary. I just closed up inside.

I didn’t know how to tell them I wanted to stop talking about how fat we felt because it’s what we always talked about.

I didn’t know what to say when I didn’t like being kissed on the lips when we greeted each other.

I left friendships because it was easier to put up a wall than to communicate my deepest feelings.

My sensitivity has led me to major self-discoveries and for that I’m eternally grateful.

I run 5ks and I get choked up when I come barreling towards the finish line and strangers are applauding my efforts. I look around at all of those people who are supporting the cause because someone they know was affected by breast cancer, MS or diabetes. It touches my heart to know they’ve created a community that supports healing. I’m in awe that they’ve chosen to fill their lives with a sense of purpose despite the heaviness of their personal experiences. I remind myself that my problems are small in comparison.

If this is what it means to be sensitive, then so be it.

When I’m driving down the highway and a car cuts me off or tailgates me, I remind myself that we’re all human. I acknowledge that I’ve accidently cut people off and I’ve spaced out and followed someone too closely. I think about how there could be children in the car and that we all live busy lives. I recognize that they love their family as much as I love mine. It’s rare for me to be upset when I’m driving if I’m feeling connected to everyone.

Who cares if I overthink situations because I’m sensitive!

A previous colleague called me “big girl” and made a fat lady joke. He thought it was okay because his wife is heavy and he assumed I was comfortable being talked to the way he talks to her. I wasn’t. It hurt. I made time to sit down with him and tell him how upsetting his jokes were to me. I talked to him about his young daughters being raised to hear fat-person jokes and what kind of damage that can lead to in their adolescence. He teared up and told me he gained a new understanding.

If this is what it means to be sensitive, then sign me up!

We recently moved and as I unpacked pots and pans for our kitchen, I pulled out a little, grimy plastic tube of cupcake liners. I laughed out loud. I’ve tried multiple times to throw away this 1980’s store-bought cylinder stuffed with pink and yellow papers. I just can’t bear to get rid of it.  These baking papers came from my grandfather’s house. He died in early November 2011, just a couple of weeks after Mike and I married.

I examined the cylinder roll and once again contemplated trashing them.  I knew I would never use them. I don’t bake. But then I realized Pappaw didn’t bake either. This meant Mamaw must have bought them at the commissary and Pappaw couldn’t stand to part with them either.

Mamaw had died in 2004 and Pappaw moved to Colorado in 2008. This meant he packed those delicate papers from their ranch-style home in Texas to live in a smaller house near my mom’s home. I missed him and I thought about my mom losing everyone in her family.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I looked at the cupcake liners with a new appreciation. Mamaw’s hands had touched those cupcake papers. Of course these were going in my pantry.

If this moment is what being sensitive means, then I’d rather be sensitive.

I empathize with the world around me. I tear up when someone gives a heartfelt toast, when I hold newborn babies for the first time and when my husband writes me love letters. My heart strings are pulled when I witness a wedding proposal or see videos of soldiers surprising their families with homecomings.

I cry with people when they tell me about their own stories of eating disorders and body shame. I listen to their tales of self-loathing and tell them I understand. I relate to them from the bottom of my heart.

I know what it feels like to hate yourself enough to punish your body.  I’ve seen how dark life can be when it’s ruled by secrets.

When these same people talk to me about their recovery, my tears turn into joy.  I’ve discovered all of that goodness too. All my hopes that once felt impossible are now my daily saving grace.

If being sensitive means feeling my feelings enough to recover, then I’d rather stay sensitive.

Whitney Gale Signature