How To Hold On To Optimism – Part I
“A man must understand evil and be acquainted with sorrow before he can write himself an optimist and expect others to believe that he has reason for the faith that is in him.” – Helen Keller
About five years ago I was diagnosed to be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). At the time it sounded, and felt like, a disease. For the readers who are not (very) familiar with this feature, it may still seem like an illness one’d rather not have.
Over the years, though, I have learned how to deal with the fact that sensory data come in more strongly for me – sometimes overwhelming – than for most other people. The cause of this trait has been proven to be a biological difference in the nervous system, so it soon became apparent to me that I’d have to learn and deal with this particular characteristic of my being. By now, I have learned to use those strong sensory data to my advantage as I can be more empathic to what other people feel. Also, I have learned to avoid the downside of feeling too tired and overwhelmed by making sure I get enough “alone time” every day. The diagnosis that seemed a bit scary and uncomfortable at first changed into an optimistic prognosis for me.
Optimism is being defined (by Oxford Dictionaries) as: “Hopefulness and confidence about the future or the success of something”. I’ll admit, with regards to my newly discovered trait of being highly sensitive it took me a while to attain the confidence that I would be able to use this sensitivity to my advantage. The funny thing about hope, though, is that the hope was instantly there. That hope, however, came paired with the fear and insecurity about how to handle this newly discovered “sensitivity thing”. Hadn’t I been overly sensitive all my life? Yes. But not knowing why I could not get out of bed after one stressful day or why my head would start to hurt when someone near me suffered a headache had so far been things that just “befell” me. Now there was a diagnosis for it, now I knew why.
Knowing why certain feelings and reactions befell me (because of my being highly sensitive) also made me responsible for other possible outcomes. Up till then I didn’t know how to not feel overwhelmed by others, by circumstances, by life. For the first time I felt this much responsibility for my own life and choices, and it was a scary thought at first…
Looking back, the process of recognizing that this highly sensitive trait meant not only that I myself became (mostly) responsible for not getting overwhelmed, but also that I became more capable of connecting with others in a very profound way. All in all, this has made me respect Helen Keller’s challenges even more. Helen Keller was born healthily, with the ability to hear and see, but an illness caused her to become seemingly shut off from the world at 19 months old. Nevertheless, during her life Helen found a way to communicate, with the help of her companions, and even became a world-famous speaker and author. She felt most responsible for the happiness in her life – perhaps even more so due to her sensory challenges.
Examples such as Helen Keller make it possible for me to hold on to my optimism when circumstances seem (too) tough and bloom. It’s usually not to be advised to compare yourself with others, but I take Helen’s words and accomplishments as inspiration more than as a comparison. She must have thought she was bigger than the challenges she was facing, so why shouldn’t I think, and act, the same?
To convince you even more of Helen as a source of inspiration, I’d like to share a paragraph from her essay Optimism:
“Once I knew the depth where no hope was, and darkness lay on the face of all things. Then love came an set my soul free. Once I knew only darkness and stillness. Now I know hope and joy. Once I fretted and beat myself against the wall that shut me in. Now I rejoice in the consciousness that I can think, act and attain heaven. My life was without past or future; death, the pessimist would say, “a consummation devoutly to be wished.” But a little word from the fingers of another fell into my hand that clutched at emptiness, and my heart leaped to the rapture of living. Night fled before the day of thought, and love and joy and hope came up in a passion of obedience to knowledge. Can anyone who has escaped such captivity, who has felt the thrill and glory of freedom, be a pessimist?”
So, why is this blog post called Part I? Because there’s more to tell…in next week’s Part II!