“Something I’ve noticed…in my career and as a therapist…is that, people who’ve been through a lot, seem to have a look to them…you can just kind of tell. They all have that look” is what she says to me, her eyes glowing and serious. I had just relayed how I’d noticed the ways people react- a stiffening, or a gaze of uncertainty, unsure what to say. I had either been overly paranoid, reading into things too much, or remarkably perceptive- that session, my therapist confirmed the latter for me. I trust what she says, thinking about how many faces she’s seen and raw emotions drawn. I let her words sink into me, and I allow myself to feel reassured – and even a little proud – of my own intuitions.
You start to notice more after going through something that tears your life apart. As I grow up, becoming more educated and learning more about people and the world, I also know more about myself. I now know that I am and have always been highly sensitive. Through experience, the world around you changes because you change. You learn to discern subtleties in people- hue of the eyes, the meaning of a smile. Some people have a warmth, or innocence, or serenity, or something else that’s indescribable but nonetheless present. If there’s something in others that I see, then others see something in me, and I notice. We are mirrors facing mirrors.
I think of my own tragedy sort of like a boulder that’s been unexpectedly dropped into a still lake. When it happened, it created a tidal wave- a tsunami. Water and sand and pebbles were displaced as the giant rock was dropped in, and little pools of water formed on the surrounding shores. Even after the waves settled into ripples, and the ripples eventually subsided and dissipated, things were different. I am not the same. I’m different relative to how I used to be, and different relative to everyone who hasn’t had the same experiences. People pick up on things too.
I remember the way people treated me when everything was fresh. Obviously people knew very clearly (as clear as what I knew at the time, anyways), and were very much affected too. Fake smiles are unmistakable. It’s the eyes that always got me the most, though. Seeing something in you, and searching your own eyes for answers to questions of “what can I do? Are you okay? Will you survive?”. You learn that people feel useless, or guilty, or even angry if there’s nothing they can do in the moment to help.
I think about a passage from a book that resonates with me, and how it really hits home for me:
“But there is a kindness here, a complicated kindness. You can see it sometimes in the eyes of people who look at you and don’t know what to say. When they ask me how my dad is, for instance, and mean how am I managing without my mother. Even Mr. Quiring, the teacher I am disappointing on a regular basis, periodically gives me a break. Says he knows things must be a little difficult at home. Offers to give me extensions, says he’s praying for us. I don’t mind.”(A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews).
People, they mean well and are kind, even if it’s moreso for their own consolation. If that’s all they can give, it’s the best they can give.