If you have an open wound you are susceptible to all manner of unpleasant things; infection, disease and loss of blood, the life force. It is imperative to have your wound cleaned out, stitched up and healed over. Perhaps you’ll be left with a scar, a badge of experience that you’ll wear with pride or hide from inquisitive eyes. But even if others are unaware, you’ll know it’s there; you’ll know you’ve been wounded before. Even as time passes, you’ll be able to brush your fingers against your fading scar and remember.
Recently, my mother fell ill and was rushed to the emergency department for a four-day stay; a mini-vacation. We can laugh about it now because the storm has passed. Retrospection and humour can be a sweet and comforting thing through challenging times. Thankfully, she is well now; however, those early hours were harrowing as her condition was dangerous. It doesn’t matter what was ‘wrong’ with my mother – that part’s irrelevant – but how I felt seeing her like that isn’t.
Anyone who has dealt with illness or grief will know what I’m talking about. Anyone, who has suffered at all in their lives (and I’m positive that’s most of the human population) will understand. The experience left me ‘open.’ I walked around for days and weeks after as if a wide cavity had opened in my chest and as the chasm grew wider, it made it difficult for me to breathe normally. My anxiety rose steadily as my heart pounded incessantly. I was quick to tears. In fact, I couldn’t stop crying; just talking about my mother would make me well up. I have never been so afraid before in my life. As she recovered, I tried to clean out my wound, stitch myself together, heal over, but it proved difficult. It appeared I’d already been infected.
‘You’re sensitive,’ my sister told me, offering her diagnosis as we drove from the hospital where my mother was in the process of recuperating; happily eating her hospital sandwiches and watching The Bold and The Beautiful.
‘But why do I still feel like this even though she’s okay now?’ I asked my sister, through tears.
‘Because you’ve had a huge shock and you’re very sensitive. You’ve always been like that. It was scary for all of us but we all deal with things in different ways.’
I stared at the sky through tear-filled eyes.
‘Being sensitive is a good thing,’ my sister continued, ‘especially for someone like you. As a writer you need to be sensitive in order to express yourself; to feel all of something, take it into you and then write about it and hopefully make others feel it too.’
Wow. An unlikely epiphany as we pulled into her driveway.
She was right, of course. As a writer, I need to be sensitive. I need to remain ‘open.’ If I did not feel or care deeply, I don’t think I could write. I suspect it’s like this for most creative people. Ernest Hemingway once said, ‘There is nothing to writing – all you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.’ Yes, and bleed you must, if your words are to have any resonance.
I’ve been sensitive all of my life. It’s why I write. Not only does being sensitive help put words on the page, but it makes me observant and able to pick up on the tiniest subtleties and nuances others may miss. I’ve always been a crier too. It’s a lovely way to release pent-up anxiety that comes with being sensitive. My sister was quite willing to just sit with me while I cried, reassuring me: ‘It’s okay to cry you know, just let it out.’
That is a comforting thing to hear as crying is traditionally and stereotypically viewed as ‘feminine’ or ‘weak.’ After all, a tree needs moisture to survive and thrive; humans are no different. Someone who cries is deemed ‘too emotional’ or ‘too sensitive’ but it’s quite the opposite, actually. To show emotion takes great courage because you leave yourself ‘open’; open to judgment, ridicule and rejection. Remaining closed is not an option; that would be akin to an artist having only three colours in their palette to create. It would lead to limited experience with no diversity. You would be fooling yourself if you believed you could protect yourself by being closed; why deny yourself the full gamut of human emotions essential to living a full life.
My recent experience has adjusted my perspective on life and the way I live. I don’t think I ever really accepted all of myself as I’m beginning to now. I always told myself I had to ‘stop crying’ and ‘be stronger,’ but, that’s not me. It’s with clarity that I accept my sensitivity for what it is: a strength rather than a weakness that enables me to empathize. Over time, my old wounds will heal but the best part of me, the part that makes me human, will always remain open.
Image: Jorge Gobbi