This is a sensitive fern.
It doesn’t look like most other ferns. It is fleshy and light green, very distinct.
does not equal
However, I am sensitive. Extremely sensitive. Inconveniently sensitive. Limitingly sensitive.
Part of it is energy.
The more energy one has, the stronger ones walls and the easier it is to regulate what gets close and what is pushed away.
Losing that regulation was part of why life was so painful for the first year and a half of my injury. No umph to push things that didn’t belong out of my energetic field. An inability to mentally focus enough to control the barrier between myself and the rest of the world. Certainly not enough energy to maintain said barrier.
That meant every passing person, every passing through, every passing moment could – and would – hit the core of my being. No shields. No buffer. No protection. Damn, that sucked.
Now, things are rather different. Somewhere along the way I came up with enough energy to manage my energetic boundaries, even when tired. Or, if not manage, then at least chant my name over and over to myself while pushing ~whatever~ away from me and picturing an impenetrable layer around my skin.
Try it some time. It works.
My emotional responsiveness has become manageable again, too. I don’t cry at every sad thought, nor fill with fury at every frustration. At least when I am not overly tired. Appreciated, brain, thanks.
But sensitive. I am sensitive. Much more sensitive than I use to be.
Today, I was wandering the local newspaper’s online site and stumbled upon a picture of a police officer comforting their horse who had been hit by a car. I immediately closed the site, tried to do something else, divert my mind – but too late. It was stuck. Not every detail of the picture, but that feeling of sadness, that knowledge of tragedy.
Seriously injured horse = dead horse. I felt not only the tragedy of a beautiful animal damaged for no good purpose and its pain and confusion, but also the sadness of the police officer who cared for that horse every day for years.
Normal response, or at least pre-injury response = no response, or at most “Oh, that’s too bad” with no feeling attached. We are bombarded with so many images trying to hook us in, one more appeal to my ethos would have just rolled off.
Post injury response = No words, but a deep sadness. A struggle to push down tears during that moment, and then tears unexpectedly resurfacing an hour later. Enough tears to run down my cheeks.
Dude. Really? Is this really who I am right now?
Yup. Yes it is.
I have to manage what I “see” carefully. How much energy can really be spent on something that has no relevance to my basic daily functioning? A lot, if not careful. Hence, I am careful. Avoid violent video clips. Avoid pictures of injured animals. Avoid national and international news. Shut down the avenues that tragedy can find me, so that I don’t spend all of my energy feeeeeling for the beings involved in those tragedies. I do my best not to inadvertently undermining my ability to function in my daily life.
Yes, it would be nice if I could both feel and have energy to function. It would be nice if one didn’t take away energy from the other. But it does, dammit. It just does.
Picture it – a very normal evening last week. Mary comes over to me reading on the couch and starts talking to me about something she read/saw/heard on the news. My anxiety level immediately spikes. Dammit. I was so relaxed, so enjoying my down time in the evening. What will be the kicker, the painful twist of this story. Will I end up deeply sad or crying uncontrollably? Maybe. I don’t want to. I want to relax and not process difficulty nor worry. One advantage of privilege, I suppose.
I tell her I can’t listen. I say I don’t want to hear about it. I let her know I can’t talk about what’s happening in the world at large. Really.
And all she wanted to do was chat with me. A normal thing. A reasonable thing. And, given the news, 95% of the time I cannot chat without becoming completely, emotionally, subsumed by the content.
At least I am aware of it now. At least I know when to run away, when to duck. At least I can see it coming, usually.
In some ways, I suppose, it makes me more human – a better human. More accessible and responsive to the world around me.
My coworker told me about her husband’s fight with cancer a few months ago. Seeing her exhaustion and frustration, feeling the sadness not mentioned by her words brought me to tears. Uncontrolled tears for probably half a minute, and then I was able to reign myself in. But, that empathic response happened. I could not withhold empathizing about hurt someone in front of me was experiencing.
Pre-injury, I was a fan of controlling my emotions. The head injury changed something – maybe it knocked loose the thirty eight years I had spent gaining control of my responses. Now, staying emotionally neutral is not quite the option it once was.
This summer, walking at my work, I swung by the Fallen Heros Memorial. It is just what it sounds like – a small memorial for Vermont soldiers killed in battle. Pre-injury, I had been there dozens of times. No problem. When I thought about stopping by the memorial that day, it was just to draw out my time outdoors while walking between two buildings. It was a beautiful summer day and I was feeling good.
That changed as I approached the memorial. Suddenly, I was filled with a deep sadness. A hopeless grief that reminded me of how I felt the day Otis died. I looked around – no one was there – but this heavy sadness now weighed me down. Somehow, this place, where others had spent so much time grieving, now filled me with their sadness.
I quickly turned and left the site. I spent some time leaning against a few trees, grounding and waiting for the heaviness to pass. Eventually it did.
I haven’t been back.
But this sensitivity is part of me now. It is part of who I am. As I type this, I look at my post-it note, “Today, I accept and love myself exactly how I am.” Hmmm… I guess that means accepting and loving this part of myself, too. That means validating my experience, not discounting it as craaazy. And, it means accepting that I need to be aware that I might absorb emotions from sites or people while walking this earth.
Just one more thing to pack into my new backpack of shit-I-need-to-remember-to-manage-my-brain-injury.
It is not always fun to stumble upon these new challenges. If you would have told me three years ago that I would be experiencing these non-concrete emotional responses to the world around me – I would have laughed. Yah, right. Sure. At least, now, today, I have the brain power to make sense of it.