Guest Writer Wednesday: Hiding in Plain Sight

Guest writer, Chelley, invites us into her world as a highly sensitive person and an empath. Her world can get overwhelming at times, and no one around her would be the wiser. She chooses to share her story as a step in “dismantling her perfectionism,” as she insightfully points out below. Let’s welcome the lovely Chelley to the Unicorn Mission! (Cover photo credit: martin-adams-707912-unsplash.jpg)

Five years ago today, I moved away from New York City. If you would have run into me on the train during my time there, let me tell ya, you wouldn’t have recognized me! If I didn’t have my headphones in, and a book at the ready to distract myself, merely walking through those doors set me into a tailspin of sensory and emotional overload.

Daily survival depended on my ability to check out, put my “back off” face on and my emotional armor up. I knew I had to leave the city because shutting off as a human in order to operate everyday was not something I was able to sustain.

Photo credit: victor-rodriguez-753741-unsplash.jpg

Photo credit: victor-rodriguez-753741-unsplash.jpg

I’m a bit different from most folks I know, and that’s OK. Maybe you are too? Perhaps we have more in common that you realize, and it’s possible no one ever gave you the terms to describe what you were experiencing. I’m a highly sensitive person and an empath, and by simply knowing this I am better able to make peace with these invisible experiences and find the tools to help me cope.

Being an empath is different than having empathy, which is the ability to understand and relate to the feelings of another (a trait I highly value, and find essential for living!). For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term empath, it means being highly sensitive to and intuitively picking up the emotional and intellectual energy of those who are around.

I don’t just understand what someone is going through, I take it on as my own. I’m naturally susceptible to everyone’s energy, like a sponge, and if I’m not careful, my emotions can dip to a very low place with me being unable to distinguish what is mine and what belongs to someone else. This, at times, can leave me so drained that I must abruptly leave a situation and recover.

This may be surprising to anyone that knows me as the dancing and karaoke queen with twenty years of professional work in theatre under her belt. This social butterfly has events on her calendar almost every night of the week, between young professional organization networking events, parties for non-profits that I support and good old-fashioned happy hours with friends I adore. I truly love connecting with others! Relationship building is one of my favorite things to do as I am genuinely curious about others, and learning their stories brings me so much joy.

What not everyone knows is that I will hit a wall during events and find I have to leave immediately. My battery drains to zero and I have to retreat into my cave. It isn’t a preference or a choice, I  simply can’t function at that same capacity anymore. Something shuts down and, since I now know why it happens, I don’t question it anymore, I just go. I’ve gotten quite good at this and nobody's the wiser.

Growing up this confused me. Why do I always have to be the lame one at the party asking to leave early? I learned to stop relying on friends to carpool with as I learned I need the freedom to leave at a moment’s notice. It was exhausting picking up the thoughts and feelings of others, sometimes without them saying a word to me, or at times, psychically dumping problems on me as they sensed a sympathetic (and empathetic) ear.

Photo credit: sharon-mccutcheon-654900-unsplash.jpg

Photo credit: sharon-mccutcheon-654900-unsplash.jpg

I’ve since picked up some energetic tools to prepare me for going out into public, like grounding and protecting my energy. Boundaries have always been tricky for me as I’m a natural helper, but I’ve learned it’s very hard for me to be there for someone if my own bucket is empty.

Additionally, having five very sensitive senses adds another level of discomfort. For example, a sea of people with no personal space for me feels like an attack on my system. General admission concerts are a nightmare for me if everyone is on the same, flat surface. Instead of fighting it, and asking myself why I can’t enjoy live music like normal people, I just accept that it would just be better not to go (or go but get a seat with a view).

Two different songs playing on opposing speakers in the same section of a department store is enough for me to go bananas. My senses can’t handle the competing pieces of information at the same time, my mind becomes overloaded, my mood will alter and I will have to leave the space. Music itself has a vibe to it, and if there is a song that is playing by itself but isn’t in alignment with me, I will have a physical reaction and change the station. Strange, right?  By and large I’m the only one who ever knows it’s going on. I try not to voice these discomforts, I just look for ways to adjust and not call attention to it as it happens.

I must admit that I’m guilty of trying to always maintain a demeanor of having it all together, so sharing this is a good step towards dismantling my perfectionism.

My journey has led me to see all of this through a positive lens. What seems like a problem can actually be a gift. As challenging as it can be, I have been blessed with the opportunity to know people from a very deep place and developing loving, lasting friendships. I’m able to help those around me intuitively and pick up on cues that may not be otherwise visible. I’ve also really learned how to define my boundaries and that saying no to certain situations is a way of radically caring for myself.

I just went back to NYC for the first time since I moved away, and I was so relieved to learn how much growth and self knowledge has occurred since then. I was able to walk on that train, far more embodied, and actually enjoy the ride through those underground tunnels. Some days are better than others, and thanks to the tools I’ve collected, it gets better all the time.

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Bio: Chelley is a Denver based budding entrepreneur, writer and performing artist with a firecracker spirit in a form that can hardly contain it. As a voracious reader and lover of learning, her curiosity about life is insatiable. She will be speaking at TEDxCherryCreekWomen on 11/30 and will be launching her spiritual wellness company, lighthouse/haven, in the coming weeks.

Chelley headshot.jpeg

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