Growing up, my parents called me the princess and the pea. They were alluding to one of my favorite fairytales - the one in which a girl's hypersensitivity allows her to detect a pea beneath a stack of twenty mattresses. In the story, this hypersensitivity is honored and taken as proof that the girl is indeed a princess, but when my parents said it, what they meant was "stop being so sensitive." And they were right that I was especially sensitive.
I had a doctor tell me so when I was in college. A canary in the coal mine, he called me, referring to the coal mining practice of carrying a caged canary into the mine. If the canary died, the miners knew that the air had become toxic and it was time to get out. The point being that the environment affected all of them, but the canary felt it first.
This doctor was trained in both Western and Eastern medicine. I visited him for acupuncture when nearly every system in my body began experiencing debilitating symptoms. Though my blood tests were consistently normal, I was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases by the age of twenty-two. Eight years later, my symptoms have all nearly completely disappeared.
Healing through Energy Work
They started disappearing six years ago when I began meditating and practicing yoga, and they increasingly vanished as I explored more and more alternative wellness practices. Plenty of studies have shown the numerous health benefits of meditation and yoga - from managing anxiety to chronic lower back pain and lowering cancer risk - but the question remains, why do these practices work? According psychosomatic theory, the mind and body are connected. The state of the mind affects behavior in the body and vice versa. As a canary, I was especially sensitive to my environment. Meditation and yoga - as well as tarot, astrology, and energy work - taught me how to process my environment differently. They gave me increasingly greater control over my mind, and in turn, my body began to heal itself.
As my health improved, I began noticing a different dimension to my sensitivity. I began noticing its power and strength rather than the ways it made my body sick and weak.
Being an Empath
My first year in New York, I saw a therapist who worked out of her apartment. I'd visited her there many times. One day, I walked in, and the moment I crossed the threshold, I stopped dead in my tracks. Something was different. My eyes scanned the apartment looking for what had changed, and as someone who was called the princess and the pea for being persnickety and whatnot, I was very familiar with the precise placement of everything in that area of her apartment. But as I looked around, I realized that nothing had moved, yet I could feel an immense change in the space. My eyes continued to search for the cause, but they never found it.
What's wrong? my therapist asked.
Something's different. I can't figure out what it is.
She gasped a bit, and she told me: I didn't move anything, but I decided to move, and this week I began emotionally disconnecting from the space. You must be able to feel it.
I'd certainly felt something. It'd hit me like a thud. Perhaps her emotional connection had previously imbued the space with a particular energy? Who knows, but since that time four years ago, I've increasingly worked to harness the power of my sensitivity.
The same sensitivity that drew me to choose my Grandpa's high school yearbook from hundreds of books in a used bookstore.
The sensitivity that warned me when something was wrong with one friend and told me when another friend would find a home.
The sensitivity that allowed me to feel the mountains in the middle of New York City.
And the sensitivity that allowed me to smell faulty wiring in the half bath of my parents' home and sense its danger and beg my mom to call the firemen. It's a good thing you called, they said, this would have started a fire at any moment.
It's really this sensitivity - I'm learning - that lies at the heart of every one of these stories. And in the last four months, my understanding of that sensitivity has expanded and taught me so much more. Teachings I'm sure I'll share in the months to come. And this hypersensitivity is neither proof of any special royal status nor an insult. It is simply - I think - another mode of experiencing the world. A way of processing that's both a blessing and a curse, but it's also - always - good fuel for stories.