I have an exceptional imagination.
Unfortunately, that often means that my mind turns to all the things that might, just might go wrong.
When that happens when I do that too well is that I end up resisting just doing the thing that needs to be done.
Most things, I have found, do not have better outcomes when you avoid them by procrastinating. In fact, they often tend to start to decay.
The big problem with my imagining the worst and then resisting, I suspect, is that the only person I have to listen to is me. There isn’t another voice in my life which is reassuring, supportive and encouraging.
Mining that huge vein of “what if?” that runs through my brain is great for a visionary, a prophet who can see the connections between things.
For a human with human needs, though, it’s not so useful. In fact, it is the key thing that shuts me away from my best possibilities.
It’s not that I am unable or unwilling to be supported in change. It’s mostly that supporting me is a challenging task. I don’t just need a simple “Shit, just do it fer crissakes!” I need a bit more stroking and easing.
A lifetime of denial, loss and scarcity, well, add that to a highly sensitive nature and an optimistic outlook doesn’t come easily. Not being safe enough to trust the people who cared for me, knowing that, for example, my mother would rather scapegoat me than engage me, well, that means I don’t have a model of faith I can return to as a touchstone.
I know how to bite the bullet and get things done, but that process comes at a cost which leaves me exhausted and in need of solitude.
My awareness of the sensible, logical and appropriate choices are no assurance that I will overcome my long term feelings and my overactive imagination to make a rational choice. In this behaviour, I am very, very human, very frail and very emotional.
Apparently, I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP.) That’s a self diagnosis created by Elaine Aron in her book “The Highly Sensitive Person.” It’s not a construct that has found favour in the psychological community; the Wikipedia entry is being considered for deletion because it doesn’t connect the idea to mainstream research, staying in the circle of believers. Being self diagnosed, HSP is a big tent idea. The diagnosis doesn’t come with contraindications, why you might not fit, only with a list of irritations.
I know how to be part of a community, a family, a tribe, a village. In that case, I am one voice which adds balance.
As a transperson, though, my journey has been alone. I don’t live in the kind of network that can value and support me. That means my exceptional imagination for what could go wrong has no counterweight, nothing to pull against except the limits of my own will, which got used up a long time ago.
It would be interesting if everyone could choose their traits, but if we could, does that mean they would come with no cost, no downside? Somehow, I doubt it, as every amazing human I ever knew always wrestled with the flip side of their gifts.
Just because someone else can do what you find hard to do doesn’t mean that they can do what you find easy to do. Life doesn’t work like that.
I know that I sometimes see monsters that aren’t there, sometimes magnify my terrors which ends up in my staying small and isolated. But, as Joseph Heller noted in “Catch-22,” just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t after you.
It’s not my imagination about external monsters that is the terror. Like most people, the monsters I fear are inside of me. I am concerned about being crushed even by the lightest touch in a way that I can’t recover from, concerned that if I have to be who others demand I be, silent and strong and conforming, my own frayed heart will just shred apart.
Which is worse, to be destroyed or to just be emptied out from inside while others around you continue to miss the pain that lashes you?
I have been around enough to understand it isn’t battles that count, it is the war. If you want to play, you have to be in it for the long term, ready to do what is required to counter anything you are up against. It’s not good enough to be smart; persistence wins. You have to keep standing, keep fighting, and that requires endurance.
Being a warrior changes you. Even after being on the cover of Time magazine, Laverne Cox can still end up crying at the intrusion of a TSA patdown, always a moment of challenge for transpeople, a third gotcha where we are reduced to our body.
Strong has a cost, it does. It isn’t infinite. It needs replenishment, from family, from people who are really there, seeing and affirming you in a nourishing way.
Like so many, I know how to fight for my family, bearing the cost, but as for me, well, I’m sort of a highly sensitive person with an exceptional imagination. I chose long ago to use that sensitivity to explore the emotional terrain around trans stories rather than to be political, putting up the armor a warrior needs to keep fighting every day.
To understand the trans experience, we need to examine it with great sensitivity and creativity, teasing out what connects us over time and space. Fighters need to be focused for the next battle, not looking back and across to reveal and venerate our stories.
Of course, that’s why people don’t know how to value my contribution, as focused as they are on the challenges they face today and tomorrow. They need to stay strong, ready for the next gotcha.
For me, my exceptional imagination, which is part of my high sensitivity, keeps me on edge. I end up being so aware of what might happen that I end up staying in an inquisitive examination rather than going out and fighting to make my hard-won understandings heard, seen & felt in the world.
Every gift has a price as well as a reward. I struggle to make the most out of what I was blessed with, looking deeply everyday and struggling to share the results of my examination with the world, even if the world doesn’t really have time for it.
Would it be great if I had the kinds of connections which supported me entering my weak spots and challenging my emotions? Maybe, but not at the cost of degrading my strong spots, my own exceptional vision.
“See Something, Say Something,” the signs on the front of local buses flash nowadays. I have been doing that for a long time. Could I, should I do more, becoming not only a visionary but also a missionary, fighting to carry the message to the world?
The only thing I can say to that is this: God, I am tired.