The Beauty of the Blues: High Sensitivity and Feeling Out Loud

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving

I saw a woman standing at a bus stop the other day, crying. She made no attempts to hide her tears or even wipe them away. She simply let them flow down her cheeks, releasing the occasional whimper. At one point, she lifted her face toward the sky. As the sun struck her moist, glistening cheeks, I wondered if I’d ever seen anything so beautiful.

sadness

I’ve been thinking a lot about sadness lately. Numerous friends of mine are enduring difficult times, and I’ve experienced a few recent bumps of my own. I’ve also been pondering the tendency many of us have to bottle it up inside. I might, if I were capable. As a highly sensitive extrovert, it’s not in my DNA. Even so, I don’t recall a time I’ve emoted freely around others without a trace of self-consciousness.

The more we allow ourselves to feel and express our emotions, the better—but that’s not always easy. Rare is the person who lets her heart show like the woman at the bus stop. Even if we manage to, there’s a fine line between showing our sadness and blithering all over the place in a not-so-socially-acceptable way. Given the choice, I say feel out loud. There’s far more risk in the opposite.

One tremendous perk of being a highly sensitive person is the ability to experience mind-blowing joy. One downside, the capacity to feel a greater depth of sadness, is worth it, and very often beautiful.

Particularly for artists, whose lives are anything but linear, marked peaks and lows are common. We’re also less understood when lows happen, which heightens our sense of loneliness. I tend to embrace such pitfalls, keeping faith that good will come, though some tumult we can’t help but chalk up to “sometimes life sucks.” One of my dearest friends lost a loved one recently; there’s little silver lining in that.

Regardless, I’m grateful anytime I can reach out to others who “get” it, and to support loved ones in similar need. Knowing that we’re not alone in our loneliness can turn the fog into a more manageable, sparkly mist. I’ve learned that repeatedly. I also know that given the opportunity, we can cultivate growth, happiness and euphoria in our lives if we choose to never give up. Sometimes that means not rushing out of sadness, but feeling our way through it with open eyes. No good comes from “snapping out of it” advice, in my opinion. More strength comes from letting ourselves feel.

5 Beautiful Facts About the Blues

1. They make us tender. There’s a lovely tenderness about sadness and heartache. There has to be, as most of it derives from love. The more tender we feel, the more empathetic and capable of giving love we become. And we want to give love, because we know what it’s like to crave it.

2. They help us appreciate what we’ve lost or hope to gain. Occasionally we’re blah “just because,” but usually, there’s a reason. That reason reveals what we care about, which makes way for gratitude and hope. I can’t think of stronger fuel than thankfulness and hope. They make us damn-near unstoppable.

3. They help us savor sunshine and rainbows. I never used to understand why Minnesotans plant tulips. They’re beautiful, sure, but they don’t last very long. Last winter, I saw first-hand the magic of those vibrant, colorful tips poking through the frozen ground. After 17 centuries five months of blizzards and subzero temperatures, spring knocked on the door! I’ve had a flower-crush on tulips ever since. Greatness doesn’t seem nearly as magical amid sunshine. Life’s rain plus sunshine equals rainbows, always.

4. They bring us closer together. Low moods can draw us closer to loved ones when we have the wherewithal, courage and fortitude to share. They also show us who we most wish to be close to, and with whom such closeness is possible. I’m pretty sure we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t grown closer to a loved one due to hardship.

5. They inspire us. While the occasional pity party is perfectly fine, and arguably encouraged, there comes a point when we stop settling for what we’re enduring and start dreaming up a happier near future. If life were spiffy 24/7, whey would we strive to grow or change? We really can turn life’s lemons into lemonade. Sometimes it takes a serious case of the blues to recognize the recipe.

And because this made me smile, here’s a bit of Peanuts fun. (Music! Such great medicine.) There’s not a THING wrong with crying our eyes out, or wishing to.

sad

When have the blues helped you grow? What were the rewards? Do you let your feelings out? Do you agree with the above benefits? If you relate because you’re enduring a tough time, I hope you know that you’re not alone, not really. Lots of love, friends. 

For an inspiring post on calmness after storms, check out KM Huber’s Compassion Totters on Friday the 13th. To explore the importance of embracing our emotions for the sake of writing (and any art form, really), read Tiffany Lawson Inman’s Emotional Barrier in Fiction: Why is it so important for you to learn how to cross it? (Part One) via Writers in the Storm.

“Am I Happier Single?” Learning to Love and Hyper-Sensitivity

Toward the later part of my acting career, I noticed a pronounced pattern. When I was single, I booked more work. And though I had a fairly good idea why, the partnered-up me was often too deep in a relationship to snap out of my funk for the sake of auditions.

Once a boyfriend and I passed the initial dopamine-drunk stage, something would happen that zapped the light clear out of me. And I’m not talking major brawls. An issue involving work…a misunderstood remark…his fear that I loved acting more than him. I marveled at friends who laughed or complained about relationship strife, then carried on with relative ease. And here I was, cowering in a metaphorical corner, angst invading my every pore. I could see it in snapshots and the mirror—in ways that couldn’t be photo-corrected or concealed. In severe cases, I felt contagious, as though this cloud of heavy, visible smog could choke me and others, bringing them down with me. Even when my low moods didn’t directly involve my partner, it affected him. In both cases, I sensed his frustration, disappointment, confusion, hurt and sometimes anger, which made everything worse. Exhausted, I usually ended up holing myself away somewhere, crying my eyes out and wondering what the heck was wrong with me. Not exactly the most camera or step-into-character-friendly state…


One particularly sad day in 2006, I took this self-portrait in the mirror for my photo-a-day journal. Below it, I wrote: Sad, Swollen Rudolph—but rainbows are coming. I feel it…and hope.

I analyzed my feelings, sought therapy and eventually got through them—usually after a makeup or breakup. Then came the recovery time—getting over the exhausting turmoil. A sort of “I just need time” flu. To quote my optimistic mother, my love life was like a “very diverse and interesting movie.” For a while, I dodged serious relationships, thinking that they were the problem, aware—and fearful—that the common denominator (i.e., problem) was me. It took some time, growth, strengthening single time and effort, but I gradually learned this wasn’t the case.

Numerous people suggested I read The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron throughout the years. Each time I looked into its philosophies, however, I dismissed the personal relevance. Highly sensitive people are often perceived as shy, timid and extremely introverted, I read—and that ain’t me. Then I came upon an article that discussed the highly sensitive extrovert, or “sensation seeker,” and a Home Depots-worth of lightbulbs went off. Ah-ha! Perhaps I wasn’t so strange or broken after all…

This revelation combined with maturity, transitioning to writing and meeting my awesome, understanding husband have led me to embrace and understand my sensitivity in a whole new way. And I’m happy to say the “Sad Rudolph” days are far fewer, milder and further between.

I’m not crazy about labels and realize that biology only accounts for  a portion of who we are. But since I’ve found exploring high sensitivity empowering and pacifying, I thought you all might like to read and chat about it, too.

Facts about High Sensitivity

  • Psychologist Carl Jung came up with the concept, using the term innate sensitiveness.
  • High sensitivity affects about 15 – 20% of the population.
  • About 30% of HS people are social extroverts. The other 70% are introverted, but not necessarily shy.
  • Highly sensitive people are believed to process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly due to nervous system differences. This often leads to a low tolerance for violence (on TV and elsewhere), physical and emotional pain, loud noise, foods/flavors, bright lights and more.
  • High sensitivity is not treacherous, weakening or a life sentence.
  • High sensitivity brings along many perks.

Benefits of High Sensitivity

We have rich inner lives, and thrive on alone time. In a world where many people fear being alone, this is a particularly awesome strength. Thoughtful alone time deepens our understanding of our lives, our work and ourselves.

We’re highly empathetic, which makes us valuable friends, spouses, listeners, artists and caregivers. Others may deem us “psychic” for sensing so much about other people or situations, when in fact, our senses are highly attuned—from my experience, anyway. (DUDE, we could make serious ching. Kidding. ;))

We’re more in touch with our intuition and can pick up potential harm easily. If food tastes slightly off, we’ll notice first, potentially saving ourselves from toxicity. Our heightened ability to perceive sights, sounds and other sensations alert us to harmful people giving us odd looks or invading our personal space. We also pick up easily on others’ good hearts and trustworthiness.

We have a crazy-high capacity to feel love, joy and other positive feelings—not merely negative emotions. Our hearts may break bigger, but we love larger, too.

We’re extra-sensual and can reap more pleasure from sex than less sensitive counterparts. Highly sensitive people can be “turned on my subtle cues,” says Aron. She also says that the extraverted, sensation-seeking sensitives tend to enjoy sex more than the average person, want more of it and have the ability to “enjoy sex without love.”

We’re more selective about commitment, and fiercely loyal in relationships. We also can’t much handle staying in “wrong” or damaging relationships or careers. This can inspire us to do what must to get out of not-the-best relationships and seek work we love, where less sensitive folks might “grin and bear it.”

We’re creative. Sensitivity and artistry go hand-in-hand . It takes a deep feeling person to be able to express themselves in profound ways. If you’re like me, powerful emotions almost force you to express yourself through writing or other creative mediums when talking and feeling aren’t enough. And who better to depict colors, tastes, smells and other sensations than those who perceive them the strongest?

Are you or a loved one highly sensitive? Any prime examples or lessons learned to share? What behaviors help you maximize the perks or minimize challenges?

Dodging the Blues by Letting Things Slide

Last week I interviewed Katrina Leupp, an up-and-coming sociologist and researcher at the University of Washington, on behalf of EHow.com.

Leupp’s latest research, involving 1,600 stay-at-home and working mothers of small children, showed a significant link between “super mom” attitudes—i.e., believing you can “do it all” with ease—and an increased risk for depressive symptoms. Women who were more skeptical about balancing work and motherhood prior to child-rearing, were less depressed.

The good news, according to Leupp, is this: “You can happily combine child-rearing and a career, if you’re willing to let some things slide.” Mothers should ask for help, she advised, not aim for perfection and learn to properly prioritize. (Read the full article here: Why You Should Let Things Slide. Love to hear your thoughts!)

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Leupp’s findings and the writer’s life—a practice I’m prone to, perhaps partly because I’m not a mother myself.

If we believe that writing our novel, short story or screenplay will be simple, a piece of literary cake, we’re in for a none-too-pleasurable surprise. The gooey chocolate turns out to be carob. The frosting may be bitter or the filling too sweet. Writing, particularly amidst a hectic lifestyle, is not supposed to be easy. If we develop “super writer” attitudes, thinking we can easily “do it all,” we, too, may be prone to sleep problems, foggy thinking, loneliness and tears.

Successful writers don’t write because it’s easy or stop because it’s not. We write because we love it. Because we feel we must. Because we’ll feel sad and empty later if we don’t. And if we stick with it, doing our best and allowing for mistakes, the end prize is worth all the cakes in the world’s bakeries combined…in MHO. 😉

So what can we let slide? Maybe it’s not going to every social event we feel obligated to attend, turning our cell phones off during work time or allowing dirty dishes to wait a while longer. Each time we sit down before an empty page, we can give ourselves permission to simply write, without thoughts of “This better be great or else!” Sometimes it means allowing ourselves to sit and daydream before we start typing at all. It most definitely means listening to and following our instincts.

What about you? What are you willing to let slide? And more importantly, what is doing so worth to you?

NEWS: I’m pleased to announce the winner of the Amazon.com gift card drawing, for last week’s “comment of the week” contest: Ellis Shuman. Offer congrats and check out his fabulous blog, Ellis Shuman Writes here.