Here’s the long version of that story:
In September, Ane Axford (of Sensitive and Thriving*) tweeted that she LOVED an article in the New York Times that profiled Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. So, of course I read that article here.
As I read it, I started to feel sick to my stomach. Not nauseated but sad tension. I made up a word for it; I call that feeling “florginess” because no other word quite describes it.
That “florgy” feeling turned into that very familiar feeling called envy. I envied her ballsiness and her enthusiasm and her obsession with moss (I’m not that excited by anything) and her childhood and the fact that she wrote a play that was put on by her high school. Of course I envied her success with Eat, Pray, Love which I absolutely loved.
And then I cried.
Not just a few tears but ugly, snotty, exhausting sobbing. It was a ten tissue kind of crying.
I cried because I wasn’t brave or driven or even doing what I wanted to do let alone being a success at it. I cried because I wish I had written a play in high school and I was never going to be able to have that opportunity. Ever again. I cried because I wanted what looked a really great life and I have a really crappy life. I let myself cry for all those reasons.
And then I stopped. And I became curious about all that crying. I think I’ve cried three times in like five years. I’m highly sensitive but not a big crier so I wanted to know what about Gilbert and that article created such an intense reaction.
As a highly sensitive person, my whole life has been about intense and excessive emotions. When I love something, I love it so much I want to marry it. If I could. When I hate something, I hate it with a passion. I take pleasure in hating stuff. I hold grudges for ten years. Whatever emotion exists, I’ve felt it and never just a little bit. And envy is no different.
I’m also an introvert and as an introvert I never have to look far to feel envious. Our world is geared towards extroverts and they navigate it with ease and seem to be having a lot of fun doing it while I struggle to be comfortable in my own skin.
For HSP and introverts, our green-eyed monsters are huge, really nasty, and ever-present.
But then I remembered something Susan Cain wrote on her website about finding work you love. She wrote “pay attention to what you envy. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, but it tells the truth. You only envy those who have what you desire.”
And I wanted to be like Elizabeth Gilbert. I didn’t want her fame or money but I did want to be a writer. She seemed to have figured out how to be a sensitive, ambitious, driven writer and to do it all her way. That’s what I wanted and knowing that was like a light in my dark life. Things became a lot clearer after that.
Envy doesn’t have to be destructive. It can be instructive.
It can be like crumbs that help you find your way home in a dark, confusing forest.
Ane Axford wrote that maybe all these feelings HSP feel can be used. She asks “what if you could stand on your sensations. Not even just be with them and be OK with them, but use them. What if you could own your anger? Sadness? Frustration? (Envy?) What if you could trust them? Instead of feeling consumed by them, what if you decided that they were just right and you used that information to stand on and move you forward?”
That’s what I did. I used my envy to move forward and I started really dedicate myself to writing and eventually started this blog.
I do not find it helpful to label some emotions bad or good. I also don’t think highly sensitive people should put a lid on their feelings. Like Ane says “your sensitivity, this ocean of emotion, is your super power.”
Louis C.K. discovered that when you let yourself cry when you listen to a Bruce Springsteen song, you feel happy afterwards. I discovered after letting myself cry with envy that I feel motivated to do what I love. On the other side of these “bad” emotions like sadness and envy is something good.
I re-read the article on Gilbert yesterday and I didn’t cry. I felt happy for her and I felt hopeful for myself.
The green-eyed monster can become your friend.
*January 2015 — Ane Axford has discontinued her site Sensitive and Thriving. If you click the link it will take you to her new site, Sensitive Leadership. I don’t know if the old articles on Sensitive and Thriving will be available on the new site.