The voyage of the highly sensitive

Lady in a boat – Edward Burne-James

Often I pick up a magazine and self diagnose. Or, there is a pop up ad in my Facebook feed. Are you tired, emotional, moody? You might be suffering from lack of sleep. Well, yes. Isn’t everyone? Are you lack-lustre, flat, hard to motivate  – you may need more Vitamin D! I recently picked up a book at the library called Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity. How to manage the emotions of a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). This one made me say aloud. “Oh, God, that’s me.”

I have always felt different to everyone else. I feel more. I’m more emotional. It can be difficult. I love it when I meet a kindred spirit who has similar idiosyncrasies. I get up early and crash out exhausted, early. Sometimes I just need to shut everything out. I sleep with an airline mask to block out light, but I have to leave a lamp on in the house somewhere, in case I wake up to complete darkness and can’t find my bearings. I am a light sleeper and wake at the slightest sound. I remember once my sister visited when my second daughter was a baby and she said to me in the morning “You must have one of those babies that don’t cry!” I told her I was so attuned to her, I could detect changes in her breathing and know when she was awake. I’m the first to get up for the puppy in the morning as soon as he yawns. Whether this is 4, 5 or if I’m lucky 6am. I sleep, but I wake easily. I’m sensitive to noise and light.

If there are two televisions on in the house, the volume has to be low. I can’t stand too much light and have several lamps. I know this annoys everyone I live with. I’m constantly calling out “Turn it down!” or “Do we need all these lights on?” Lately, if someone is calling me from another room in the house, the dog is yapping and the jug is boiling at the same time I have to go to my room or the bathroom to shut the door. I have to recalibrate. Too much going on at once bombards my senses.

I noticed when I walked the puppy to the main street last week, he was skittish and kept trying to jump into my arms. There were cyclists, cars, more people than he had ever seen and dogs everywhere. He was only used to walking around our neighbourhood of quiet cul-de-sacs without any traffic. This was me the first time I walked into a Westfield’s in Sydney. Competing music from every shop, lights, advertising, people and then the combined overlapping smells of the food court. Too much of everything! My friend couldn’t understand why I wanted to leave.
So it was interesting to find a list of the flip side to being sensitive, the positives.

According to Mensa (America Mensa Ltd., 2017) people who are gifted with greater sensitivity have the following qualities:
• Unique perception and awareness
• A sense of humour and creativity outside the norm
• Intuitiveness
• Insightfulness
• Relentless curiosity
• Heightened creative drive
• High sensitivity, acute awareness of complexities and consequences and the expression of others
• Easily excited
• Possible consistent high energy level
• A regularly activated nervous system

I’ve only flicked through the book and read a few pages and headings. There are eight or nine books on my bedside table I am also flipping through, as well as a few podcasts on the go and a beautiful non-fiction book of Venice. The book goes on to explain how to protect your energy, the use of boundaries and building emotional resilience. I can also see that for me, getting highly excitable is a thing. I need to watch that to make sure I don’t get wiped out. The author Imo Lo talks about feeling drained in large crowds and taking on the energy of the people around you, she mentions empaths, vivid dreams and encounters with the metaphysical world, there is a shadowed box saying “What if I am crazy?” And finally I see the word psychic.

Mystical experiences – this is where it gets unapologetically woo-woo
I’ve had various unexplained things happen in my life. When I was a teenager and secretly smoking, my dead grandfather appeared in my bedroom doorway and told me to come outside for a ciggie. I wasn’t okay with this. IT FREAKED ME OUT. I knew I wasn’t dreaming, because I was awake. I couldn’t tell anyone and so began sleeping with my head under the blankets.

When I lived on my own, I woke one night to see the roof of my bedroom filled with otherworldly beings dressed in strange costumes. I have vivid dreams where I can smell, see colours, touch the texture of things. I dreamed my Grandmother told me the first three Melbourne Cup horses. It only happened once. Many times, asleep and awake, I have felt things touch me which weren’t there. Many things are more like a sense of seeing, something I know or see in my mind or feel in my body.

I’ve told my husband about dreams and feelings with his work, which have later happened. All of these experiences have often made me feel like a freak and a weirdo. I watched a manager in front of me melt to the floor like wax, she died within a year. Sometimes I don’t say anything, or do anything and later find out the feeling was right. When I speak to my intuitive friends, they know this can be a blessing and a curse. It is not always wonderful.

It’s not something you can tell everyone. I know the only people reading this are the people who get it. The others stopped reading after the first paragraph. I know you will understand and you may even have had similar experiences. I’m now accepting my gifts as a sensitive. I once saw broccoli floating around my friend’s head at work and knew when another’s dog was sick. My grandmother speaks to me often, I get guidance in traffic, I sometimes know where places are although I have never been there and although I have no sense of direction, I have strong feelings about the location of places which are often right.

I have now been able to incorporate this sensitivity into everything I do. I use it with friends, clients and family. It is helpful with my children. It helps me to check in as a parent but also to understand other things the girls experience which can’t always be explained. They are learning to meditate and we speak about their dreams and emotions. They know more about their feelings and why sometimes it hurts when their friends are unkind. We can be a little more skinless than everyone else.

Energy Work and insight
Twice in Reiki sessions I have had to ask women if they were pregnant. The feelings were so strong. I could see babies. They were both in their early stages, one didn’t even know. I have seen eggs in my mind, sperm, foetuses and issues with female health. A few times I have seen inside bodies and sensed blockages of emotional or physical pain. When I do energy work, reiki or massage, words and images come to me, voices of people who have passed and messages and visions which I can’t explain. It doesn’t always happen, if the person is not open or not interested I keep it to myself. Sometimes if it seems urgent or I keep seeing a particular thing, I may slip this into conversation and that becomes an easier way to deliver the message.

When these things first started happening for me over 20 years ago, I was nervous, frightened and sometimes I took on the anxiety of the person or the energy. I discovered that for empaths, or people who are highly sensitive, energy can easily cross from one person to another. We are like sponges. The first time this happened I had worked on a man who was very fit and a bit of an adrenalin junky. When I got home from the clinic, I vacuumed my flat, did a load of washing, cooked two meals, when I found myself cleaning windows I had to stop myself, and finally I was able to sit in the bath until my heart stopped racing. I had so much energy I didn’t know how to get rid of it or where it came from. That was my first lesson in energy transfer. Now I know. I know how to protect myself and I have rituals and ways to dispel energy.

Tapping into the added dimension
In counselling sessions, I often see, hear or know things, I haven’t been told. My senses are able to expand more fully and I am now able to switch this on and off. Sometimes it can be a symbol, a wave, or a shape. I may sketch this or draw it, if it is helpful for the person. We can often explore deeper into issues. This can help and assist in times of confusion or to get some peace or clarity. Often a client will leave and I still receive messages or information, which I text. The counsellor I see now, is an Intuitive Counsellor. She sometimes talks to my ancestors. I am learning so much from her and about myself. The experience has been mind blowing, to say the least.

For most of my life, I have doubted things like ESP, sixth sense, and psychic ability. I have rationalised it, I read a lot, I’ve traveled a lot and  have a vivid imagination, or maybe I am making this up or hallucinating. I’ve tried to push it away, because it is too weird, freakish, unexplainable and sometimes frightening. I have studied intuition, spiritualism, yoga, meditation. I have books and books on dreams, spirits, psychics and mysticism. I sit with a group to meditate and have seen things which are too strange to explain.

Recently I was asked to speak at a gathering to share my story. I spoke about being a person who feels more than normal, who sees things which aren’t there and who senses things. I spoke about how this had popped up at inconvenient and convenient times in my life. I told a few stories. I watch the lady in the front row as her eyes grew wider and wider. After this I gave mini healings and intuitive messages to the room. It was successful, empowering and I’m grateful to have been given such an opportunity. I was never brave enough before. I never trusted. The responses have been amazing. Phenomenal even. These extra sensory gifts have given me additional insight into people and they have opened up telling me stories which are amazing, honest, sad and beautiful.

Taking the crunchy with the smooth
I am learning to take the crunchy with the smooth. With these beautiful gifts, come some additional issues faced by the highly sensitive. Interrupted sleep, crazy dreams, unexplained senses of foreboding or excitement. Seeing things that are not there, hearing things and knowing things. I know I have to take care in large crowds or around certain people. I need to watch what I put into my body, good food, enough water. I have to make sure I get outside and walk, exercise and connect with friends. I need to consciously make sure I re-energise and protect myself. I have learned the importance of self care. I am now understanding the need to push away doubt, the importance of asking permission and, the most difficult for me, has been to learn to trust my inner guidance in order to pass on messages of love, truth, courage and hope.

Rachel Wilkinson is an Author, Holistic Counsellor, Massage Therapist and Reiki Practitioner. She practices from Step into Health Clinic in Mansfield and a private practice in Wellington Point. You can email for appointments on or visit her website to make an appointment.

You can purchase my New e-book here: Hell in a Handbag.

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