by Anne Taylor
The summer before my freshman year in college, I went on a 12-day backpacking trip with my school. It was the middle of hot and sticky August in upstate New York, and I had never been camping for more than one measly night. Part of the course requirement was a two-day, two-night solo in the wilderness. Let me tell you, the bushwhacking made me uncomfortable, but the idea of being alone in the middle of the dark woods was terrifying. For a highly sensitive person who can’t stand being dirty, who is afraid of the dark, who hears every small sound in any room, who has trouble sleeping, I was sure that I wouldn’t survive even half of one night.
If you’ve never heard the term “highly sensitive person”, there are some amazing books on this topic, including this one, but let me describe as best I can what a HSP is using myself as an example.
First of all, I feel emotion in a deep way, especially sadness. When I cry, I cry hard. When I am feeling lonely, I can easily slip into a fearful state of anxiety. I can’t see any scary movies—I can’t even look at the DVD covers. I have a hard time falling and staying asleep. And don’t even get me started on crowds, bright lights, loud noises and stressful experiences. All of that puts me over the edge, into straight up exhaustion.
Any of this sounding familiar?
I am not an expert in this field, but I am seeking to be an expert in my experience. Feeling emotion deeply, suffering from an eating disorder and poor body image, and wrestling with anxiety and loneliness—these are my truths. And if any of my truths resonate with you, know that you are not alone in this fight. We’re in it together.
As the night began to fall on that first night of solo, my guide Paul came over to give me enough water to last me until the morning. I immediately began crying, “You have to let me come back to camp. I am too anxious to do this.” I explained that I couldn’t stop thinking of home, and how much I missed my family.
And what he said next changed my life.
“Anne, you and I are a lot alike,” he began. “We feel emotions deeply. When we are sad, we feel so dark in our despair. It doesn’t seem like we will ever get out. In this way, our ability to feel is a burden. The beautiful part of how we are made, though, is that when we feel love or joy or excitement, our hearts are ignited with a passion and vigor for life. Everyone in our life who feels our love knows that we have a special gift. They know how deeply we care for them, and they are so blessed by that. You see, the depth of our emotion is both a burden and a significant blessing.”
The realization that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way helped me calm down. And then Paul challenged me to finish what I started.
“Don’t let the anxiety take over. You are strong, and I know you can do it.”
As a highly sensitive and relational person, my biggest fear is being sad and alone, basically a solo experience. But even more powerful than any dark feeling I had was the community I felt with Paul, and the hope that I discovered in our shared trait. As someone who knew what I was going through, he believed in me and told me so. With that realization, I knew I could do it.
I strongly believe that this is the time when we need to come together and be honest with one another in love. We desperately need to share our experiences, and be compassionate to each other as we work to get out of our pain, whatever that may be. This is such a difficult step, to be truthful that we are in a place of sorrow. However, it is the first step towards grace and freedom. When we are bound together in our lives, we cannot be stopped.
The next morning of my solo, I woke with the sun. I stretched and slowly climbed out of my sleeping bag. It was only a few minutes later that I saw Paul coming towards me, in a full out jog. He had a huge smile on his face.
“Anne, you did it! You did it! You made it through the night!”
I will never forget the joy on his face, the look of sheer pride that I had faced my fears and had accepted a challenge to know myself in a deeper way.
You and I may be so emotional and sensitive that even the slightest prick of pressure or fear can send us toppling over. But we are not alone in this. In our community, we will strengthen one another, encourage, and praise each other’s accomplishments. And in the end we will know and trust ourselves, and the world, in a deeper and more fulfilling way.
“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.” -Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)
How is your difficulty holding you captive? Who in your life could benefit from you sharing your story? And how do you feel you’d benefit from feeling community throughout this journey?
Anne Taylor is 24 years old and lives in Denver, CO with her husband. She is currently preparing for graduate school where she will pursue a PhD in American History. When she isn’t reading, studying or cycling, she writes about her everyday adventures on her blog Anne the Adventurer. Anne is passionate about people and storytelling, and seeks to inspire people daily to reflect on their past so as to live and create better futures.