My story starts in the first minutes of my life.
In the moments after I was born, the nurse touched the stethoscope to my tiny chest. My parents watched her eyes grow wide with fear as she turned towards them, unable to find the words.
My parents looked on in confusion and horror as the doctor quickly took me from the nurse to perform his own examination.
Something was wrong… my heartbeat didn't sound right. There was an extra noise in there, a "shhh" sound, that was upsetting the natural rhythm.
The doctor informed my parents that my heart was leaking blood into the wrong chambers. The odd sound was the blood moving through a hole in the middle of my heart.
I was literally born with a hole in my heart.
Talk about cosmic foreshadowing…
He followed up quickly with the certainty that I would be okay although this would take some extra attention. He had experienced this before, unlike the horrified nurse, and informed them that it was a heart murmur.
Hesitant relief slowly started sneaking into the room as my parents took me into their arms and welcomed me into the world.
When I think about it now, it's kind of weird that the first thoughts anyone ever had about me was "what's wrong with her?" I too would wonder that for most of my life…
I was always an extremely sensitive and empathetic kid. The veil between my inner and outer worlds was razor thin.
When I was really young, my imagination was so intense that when I thought about the monster in the corner of my room, I could see the reflections off of its eight glistening eyes staring back at me. I would throw the covers over my head but no amount of hiding could save me from my own mind.
And as I grew up, so did my monsters.
My frequent overstimulation and enormous emotions became the monsters that I couldn't escape. Sometimes I didn’t even know if my thoughts and feelings were mine or if I borrowed them; other people's experiences affected me just as viscerally and deeply as my own.
I grew up in an imperfect and sometimes dysfunctional household like most of us do. While I do have great memories and I loved my parents and siblings and they loved me, I didn't feel validated or safe emotionally.
My senses picked up on every detail around me. I could feel the sadness and anger of others whether or not they displayed these emotions to me. It's like I could see through people and know instantly that what they were saying was not really what they were thinking and it confused me.
My sensitivity made me a target for my own bullies, but in middle school when my little brother was struggling with Asperger's in a "normal kid's" world, protecting him came first and absorbing his pain and confusion followed automatically.
Around the same time my dad was dealing with depression that I was too young to understand. We had always been goofballs together, but this time he got really sad, and no matter what silly tricks I tried, his smile never lasted.
I was sensitive to my mom’s struggle and saw that although she was the one who always made sure everyone was taken care of, underneath the façade was an overwhelmed woman in need of some help herself.
With constant stress and uncertainty hanging in the air, it was difficult to predict the emotional tone of the day, and at times we would find ourselves walking on eggshells. Harsh words and reactions seemed to be triggered by inconsequential events. When things went wrong in the household, I internalized them.
I felt constantly overlooked because my problems seemed small compared to everyone else's. I didn't want to be a burden by adding to the stress so I tried stifling my needs for the greater good. My monsters told me no matter what I did, I couldn't make anything better for myself or anyone else and that no matter what I said, nobody would listen anyway. It felt like it was too much to handle.
I unconsciously realized that the nurse was right in those first seconds… something was wrong with me.
In high school, although on paper my grades and extracurriculars reflected a well rounded teenager in the top of her class, in reality I was a mess.
I felt like I was putting in all this effort and energy into belonging, but ultimately I always landed on the outskirts, even as the black sheep in my own family. The truth is, by this time I had unconsciously fallen victim to the belief that the only way to get attention and love from others was to be broken and in need of fixing. This manifested outwardly in high school and I became the poster child for emo (emotional) kids everywhere, and the butt of many jokes. Additionally, in my first year of high school I came out as a lesbian… in Texas of all places.
After finally building up the confidence to come out to my parents, they told me that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was too young to make that decision. I felt deeply hurt and invalidated once again, and after that point I didn't care to keep them updated with the things I really cared about under the assumption that they would never understand me.
Shortly after, I got myself into an unhealthy high school romance with a girl who was going through a lot herself. By this time I had made it a point to take care of other people's needs and happiness before my own so I dealt with mistreatment, constant cheating and emotional manipulation, and put myself in some uncomfortable situations with others because I valued being a people-pleaser over respecting and loving myself. That had always been the easiest route growing up, and the best way to avoid certain confrontation.
All through school I soaked up and internalized the comments I received from those around me. I judged myself for being too emotional and stupid and called myself crazy when my feelings would overflow. I felt misunderstood. All of the great things I was capable of seemed to be overshadowed by the world around me. I was angry, hurt, sad and confused and I beat myself up constantly for feeling this way.
This would cause an endless self-defeating loop that would create such discomfort in my body that I thought I was going to implode at any moment. Sometimes my thoughts and the subsequent sensations would become too loud for me and I would literally make audible sounds and faces to distract myself from them.
By college, I struggled immensely with chronic anxiety, deep-seated insecurities and crippling emotional baggage. I started self-medicating and hiding my self-doubt and low self esteem behind partying, alcohol, drugs, people and new experiences.
Freshman year I met the person who I would date for the next two years. Things seemed better than great until one day I realized she was becoming more than friends with someone else we knew. I continued to invalidate my feelings in the relationship knowing intuitively something was wrong, but choosing to ignore my gut just like I had always done. When I finally couldn't ignore that she was secretly seeing someone else, we ended things.
I felt like I lost everything. I didn't have friends of my own as I had borrowed hers. Old pain and new hurt combined and I became the most depressed I have ever been. I felt like I didn't have anywhere to go and no way to cope with my heartbreak. My parents kept saying it would be fine, but I wasn't sure this time. Nobody seemed to understand how much pain I was in, so I shut down and just went through the motions. I continued to self-medicate with food, alcohol and drugs and only left the house to partake in more of those things.
Several months in, I realized that I was headed down the wrong path by constantly numbing myself. I was so lost and desperate for change that I knew I had to do something drastic…
I wanted so badly to feel peaceful, happy, clear-headed and unrestricted to live my life the way I really wanted to: authentically, free and in harmony. I was so tired of everyone and everything dictating my life and emotions.
Little did I realize that my answers would begin to flow to me in the form of a science documentary series…
There I was on my couch watching "Through the Wormhole", a show where they pose an existential question and scientists from different fields explore the answers. To my surprise, a lot of these scientists that I looked up to and respected were talking about this divine cosmic intelligence. As a scientific-minded atheist at the time, I was very confused but also compelled to know more.
I went online and lost myself in a sea of information about the universe, enlightenment and spirituality. I thought most of these people sounded absolutely crazy, but there was an energy about them that I couldn't explain or ignore.
I was so depressed at the time that I decided I would rather be happy and crazy than sad and miserable, so I continued down the worm hole. I soaked in as much as I could and I started to realize my true self for the first time. Not the self in the sense of the small me, Lauren, but me in the sense of the bigger picture - the awareness that sees outward from me and the awareness that sees outward from you.
I started to understand why my life had been unfolding as it was - because I was giving away all of my power to other people and my environment instead of understanding that I was the only one in control of my experience.
With all of this new information and excitement, I was finally able to take responsibility for my life for the first time. I started to make changes: I made new friends, I lost 120 pounds and I even met my future wife. I felt like I was experiencing reality like a child again: full of wonder, excitement and playfulness.
I thought I had managed to find the answer to life, yet there continued to be this underlying part of me that still felt broken and unlovable. It's as if I couldn't integrate the spiritual understandings practically in my daily life for too long before I would get overwhelmed or emotional and then judge myself for that again.
A few years later, I came across information about highly sensitive people and my entire life and way of being made sense in one instant. I realized that not only was I not alone, but that being sensitive and emotional does not make you irrational, it just means that you are processing information more deeply. I realized that there was never a part of me that was broken.
I realized that most of my life struggles stemmed from a lack of personal understanding and emotional education. It became obvious that the reason I had never learned about dealing with my emotions and overstimulation was because I was surrounded by adults who were unaware that this information existed and who never learned to take responsibility for their own emotions.
This understanding started to change my relationship with myself in a way that is hard to express.
Since then, I have become deeply devoted to harnessing my sensitivity and creating an extraordinary life for myself. I realize that healing myself and continually progressing forward in life will be an ongoing process and practice as it is for all of us. It's not a ‘one and done’ kind of event like I naively believed before, where lightning strikes one day and everything is perfect. But it's also not about getting everything you think you need before you can live in harmony and be happy either.
My personal quest for self-expansion and uninterrupted joy has blown my mind and turned my "average everydayness" into the most extraordinary journey of my life. A journey of holistic healing, personal discovery, and self-love. The things I have accomplished along my journey never seemed possible from my previous state of anxious overwhelm and overstimulation, but the results have been amazing.
I don't see my high sensitivity as a curse anymore or as something that was done to me, I now see that it was FOR me. I now know that my intense suffering was a blessing in disguise. I held in my possession a superpower that I was simply never taught to use. I had to discover my own power and then teach myself how to harness it and use it in my life to thrive.
Life becomes easier when we know what we need and how to take care of ourselves.
I know this journey of self-discovery and expansion will never end, but unlike previous versions of myself that were scared of life, this new me is excited to see how life unfolds.
Cover photo by Alex Andrews