You wear your heart on your sleeve.
You need to hold back a little, develop a thicker skin. Don’t let it get to you so much.
I’ve heard it so many times. Am I a natural victim?
I am walking down a crowded high street pushing my little boy in his trike. He is nearly two but looks much older – already in aged four clothing. He is giggling excitedly because he loves the view the trike gives him; he can look all around – so curious.
A lady in a wheelchair mutters as she is pushed past “Ohhh look at that. Whatever will they think of next? Children are so lazy these days. I think it’s disgusting. He should pedal himself or at least walk!” He couldn’t pedal. He couldn’t walk. I struggled to contain myself, racing to the car. I sobbed when I got home.
I try to introduce myself to someone I know in passing but not formally. I smile, say my name, begin a sentence. But I am cut off; the person doesn’t stop, doesn’t break their step. She does not even smile. A just audible ‘oh hi’ floats by me as she strides past. She don’t want to talk to me. Why would she? I am beset with self-doubt. I must have offended her. She must dislike something about me.
A colleague wants to argue; they feel passionate about something and feel my view is wrong. I want to try to clarify but I am bellowed down. They do not care. They shout, ridicule, rub their eyes in exaggerated mockery of my tears. Boo hoo! Boo hoo! Their pitch is raised to imitate a child crying. I have felt sick for days. Stomach in knots, hands weak and shaking when I remember.
The lady in the wheelchair did not know that I had just taken my son to the doctor due to concerns over developmental delays, that he would later be diagnosed with autism.
Who knows what that my not-yet-friend had on their mind – maybe she had an excellent reason for brushing me aside, maybe she was fighting her own shyness, her own demons.
My colleague felt that I was foolish, my argument weak. I deserved to be set straight. I admit though, I am struggling to find any justification for such cruel and callous derision.
In the blackest hours of the night, I replay conversations that happened years ago, over and over again. The pain of those encounters blooms fresh, like new wounds. Sometimes I shout out, involuntarily, so potent is the sense of despair, so uncontainable. I toss and turn and make imaginary speeches, explain why what they have said and done hurts me so deeply. But catharsis never comes.
And neither does sleep.
Is it my responsibility to get over it? To grow a thick skin? To learn not to take things to heart? Perhaps. I try, every day.
There are huge disadvantages to becoming a quivering wreck at the slightest sign of scorn or bad feeling or being terrified at even a hint of conflict or danger. There are days when I am resolutely selfish, when the plights of others might not register above the buzz and roar of my own discomfort. Sometimes I cannot be the mother I want to be because I am marred by anxiety and anguish. To wallow in such feelings is supremely self-indulgent, addictive almost – at least for me.
But my sensitivity gives me other gifts – empathy, compassion, generosity. I never aim to be intentionally cruel. There are fleeting moments when the bitterness of some hurt makes me lash out – but they are rare and instantly regretted. I do not treat people with disdain and mockery. I judge, yes. Lord knows, we all do. But I would not seek to deliberately make anyone feel despair, even those I judge, those I dislike.
There is nothing to our place in this world but love. That is it. That is the sole point, the reason for existence – whatever your belief system. Love is all. Compassion is all. To forge relationships, make connections – you will find no greater purpose. To find love, to spread it, is the greatest endeavour any of us can hope to achieve, whether through friendship or romance, family or the wider world.
We are by nature imperfect, petty. But our very greatest achievement, and lesson, is love.
I worry about the things I teach my children. They see mummy destroyed by a word, unable to function because of one cruel act.
Do I want them to feel like this? To feel the searing jab of heartbreak that comes when I know someone thinks poorly of me?
No, I would wish to spare them that.
But do I want them to grow thick skins, hide their hearts, bury their feelings, give up one jot of that sensibility that allows love to flourish so readily?
A thousand times no.
I do not doubt that the excessive nature of my struggle is linked partially to anxiety; it is too extreme, too all-consuming, too entrenched.
Managing my severe reactions to things may well be my responsibility, my challenge. But kindness, love? That should be everyone’s responsibility, everyone’s challenge.
Don’t you think?