Sensitive One

[Exercise: In ten furious minutes, tell the story of your life.]

When I completed the first draft of this assignment I wrote in the third person. I could have chosen to alter the perspective, but I don’t like to filter what comes out of the writing process, at least not initially. My guess as to why this happened is that it’s difficult to write about one’s life directly. It’s much easier, as Natalie Goldberg suggests, to approach writing memoir “sideways”: to pick topics that seem harmless and to start writing; to write about the memory of something specific and to let it unfold from there. I chose to keep my first draft, but I also rewrote the piece in the first person to see the difference.

First draft:

She’s the sensitive one—the one who sees and feels, but keeps quiet. Those around her are bigger, stronger. Sometimes their words are kind and loving—other times, they’re strange or funny. Sometimes no words are spoken and the people are sad and there’s an emptiness. Things can be difficult for the sensitive one to process and she wonders how to navigate this confusing world.

The sensitive one eventually grows in size—but inside, she still feels small and the same. People prod and she responds. Sometimes she barks and lashes out. Other times she feels numb and disconnected. Others feel her passion and come close, but not too much lest she implode, or explode. Only a few make it into her inner world. She hopes to come out, more fully. She’s brave, but feels afraid, some times.

Rewrite:

I am very sensitive, always have been. I see and feel a lot, but I often keep these things to myself. When I’m around people who are sad, angry, or anxious, I feel similar emotions. Sometimes I have a hard time processing these feelings, and I mistake the feelings of others as my own. This is why spending time in meditation is essential to my well-being—so I can distinguish what’s mine and what’s not.

At times I feel like those around me know something I don’t; they seem comfortable in their own skin. I keep thinking that one day “when I’m all grown up” I’ll feel more comfortable being myself and in the world—but I’m 40 and it hasn’t happened yet. Some of these feelings are natural for introverts, so I’ve learned from reading Quiet, an eye-opening book by Susan Cain.

Some people don’t have a sense of appropriate boundaries, especially when approaching sensitive types like me. When offended, I either lash out, become aloof, or politely deflect the situation. By nature, however, I’m very engaged, curious, passionate, caring, and generous. I’m just slow to trust people until I get to know them better. I think a healthy degree of skepticism is a good thing.