Hiding vs Visibility as a Highly Sensitive Person

I was recently invited to give chair massages at a birthday party in a coffee shop. But when the time came, I went inside to scope it out and see if it was really worth the effort. I can’t think of a time when I’ve set up my chair and no one got a massage, but that fear is there. I’ve definitely had moments at events where I stood awkwardly by my chair, smiling at people who seemed confused about my presence. But I always attracted *somebody*. So I’m not sure why I have this fear.

I walk in and look around, not sure what I’m really looking for. Someone shouting about how badly they want a massage therapist to set up a chair? Probably. Yes, actually, that always helps. But no one seems dismayed by the lack of a massage chair, so I order a coffee and sit down to observe the largest bluegrass jam circle of guitars I’ll probably ever witness. I consider how I’d massage to this particular bluegrass music. I decide it would probably be fun…but I just feel awkward sitting there.

I meander to the bookshelf and find “Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person” (HSP). There’s a chapter about HSPs hiding themselves. Perfect! I flip to it and immediately relate to every paragraph in there. I didn’t feel overwhelmed in grad school (not anymore than anyone else does, anyway), but I certainly did when I was on my own, trying to explain myself to employers. There’s a story about a web developer graduating and taking a job as a maid because she couldn’t handle the pressures of explaining herself to get a web job. I took a job as a dog walker, and tried to get various other menial jobs….including a massage job. My intent was to do massage until I get hired as a UX Researcher or Experience Designer. I had gotten so bored with massage therapy that I had sworn it off when I began grad school. I was tired of the “happy ending” jokes. I was tired of people thinking I was a sex worker. I hated that when I told people I was a massage therapist, they’d talk down to me, whereas when I said I went to Georgia Tech, or that I was a game designer, I got a total opposite response. So in my mind, taking a job as a massage therapist again was degrading, and temporary.

But everything *was* different after grad school. I guess I was smarter now, after all. Because now I don’t limit myself or my career, and I have the confidence to work the way I want to. I didn’t do it all at once – it started slowly, with small changes in the type of music I played. The positive response was empowering, so I kept taking it further.

The chapter I read in this book spoke directly to me. She writes that HSPs need to follow their calling. Work environments are usually too sterile, bright, loud, and unfriendly for HSPs, so it’s hard for them to thrive. On the other hand, we have this extra sensitivity that can be put to great use if you allow yourself to follow your path. The sensitivity then becomes a huge benefit, no longer something to hate about yourself.

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