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I have always been told I’m hyper-everything.
Hyper-sensitive, hyper-flexible, hyper-active, and when I was a kid, I used to see this as curse.
Being too much of anything made it more difficult to fully open up and be myself. Particularly if someone told me that I was too sensitive, it would be really difficult not to take it personally. This would make ideas like vulnerability distant and unappealing.
It would even ignite escapist daydreams! For example, sometimes, I would get so overwhelmed by how noisy the world seemed that I would climb inside the wardrobe and wish it could take me to Narnia. Or I’d build a pair of wings out of twigs, run down the slide in my grandmas garden, and visualise myself flying off to another planet.
This didn’t ease as I grew up; on the contrary, this hyper-sensitivity grew to be so desperately overwhelming that when I was a teenager, I started to have panic attacks. I found it especially difficult being in busy spaces—often people’s voices would sound so loud that the world seemed to just dissolve into a mass of crazy flickering energy, like a faulty television screen.
This lack of solidity and focus made it incredibly hard to engage with those kinds of situations, and I drew an even larger wedge between myself and my vulnerability. I found I would avoid large gatherings and places of “sensory overload” to try and protect myself.
This continued into my adulthood and it wasn’t until I was solo-traveling around Italy that I began to see my sensitivity from a different perspective.
During one defining moment, I was eating ice cream at a restaurant in Rome when a familiar feeling took over me. My throat started closing, pins and needles tingled in my hands, and my pulse began to race. In the midst of a growing panic attack, I became aware of a beggar asking for money at a nearby table. His face looked so sad, so exhausted and broken that despite my anxiety, my heart started to ache. It was as if his vulnerability became words inside my head shouting at me loudly to take notice. These thoughts triggered a memory to a book I had read, The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho.
In this story, witches possess superhuman abilities, such as being able to levitate, travel through time, and not feel pain. One of these gifts that really stuck in my head, however, was the power to hear other people’s thoughts. This idea seemed to suggest that maybe what I was experiencing wasn’t necessarily a curse after all. What if it was a superhuman power that I’d been given to better understand and serve the world around me?
All of a sudden, in the middle of a beautiful day in Rome, eating ice cream, surrounded by people both happy and sad, it was like a bulb lit up in my head, and the most beautiful sensation of calm came over me. It felt like some kind of angel was holding my hand and telling me, “Vulnerability is your greatest gift; you just need to learn how to use it.”
Reflecting on this experience, I’ve noticed that my understanding and appreciation of my own vulnerability has shifted and, as a result, I have also noted a marked change in my anxiety.
Gone is the child who would create fantasies to escape being sensitive. Instead, whenever the old feelings of anxiety rise from experiences such as being in a busy environment, rather than freaking out, I remind myself that I’m simply connecting with the energy of the people and environment around me.
This gift has allowed me to engage, to listen, and to empathise more deeply with others and has become one of the main inspirations behind why I teach yoga. Yoga as a platform allows me to work with other people’s energy—not only on a physical level, but also with mental and emotional aspects. My experiences allow me to support students in understanding themselves, understanding others, and confidently connecting and communicating with the world around them.
Skill can get you far, but maybe that experience in Rome was the nudge I needed to engage more deeply with my vulnerability in order to reach out and encourage others to do the same.
What would be your superpower if you could have one?