A Highly Sensitive Activist

Our cultural and political climate has been weighing heavily on me lately. This happens more intensely for me because I am a Highly Sensitive Person, which means my nervous system is on high alert, I pick up on subtleties in my environment, and I feel things on a massive scale.

Sometimes I feel like there are so many injustices happening that I can’t pursue the one that stirs me the most because I feel like it’s the incorrect choice. That I’m prioritizing the wrong crisis. That I can’t be vocal about one issue because there are so many others to be vocal about, too.

The trouble I run into in wanting to be vocal about all of the issues that move me is that I am highly sensitive. As a Highly Sensitive Person, my availability to absorb the crises in our world is limited. When I see or hear these things, my empathy is triggered and the pain that others’ are facing amidst these issues penetrates deep within me. I am still learning the best way to move through that empathic pain in order to break through to the other side. And as much as I want to prioritize all of the injustices I see in the news every day, I also know that I need to prioritize and protect my sensitive brain and nervous system, so that I will have the capacity to tackle more issues in the future. I don’t want my sensitivity to get in the way of my activism, but rather I want my sensitivity to be a catalyst of activism.

An excerpt I just finished in Untamed said this:

“The magic of heartbreak is that each person’s doorbell rings in response to something specific. What rings your bell? Is it racial injustice? Bullying? Animal cruelty? Hunger? War? The environment? Kids with cancer? What is it that affects you so deeply that whenever you encounter it, you feel the need to look away? Look there…The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Glennon struck a chord with me here. Because there is an issue in particular that rings my doorbell every single day. There is an issue that keeps me up at night and interrupts my daily thoughts. There are images that hurt me so much I almost can’t bear to look at them. There is a crisis that has me brainstorming ways I can draw attention to it so that maybe, somehow, change will happen.

That issue is climate change. Every single day I think about the animals who can’t do anything to prevent themselves and their planet from dying, and grow more and more furious at the human race for causing such destruction. I think about how we can do something to prevent these things, with such simple solutions*, and I feel like I must do something to bring about this change. I must keep these poor animals alive somehow. I must make people feel what it is that I feel—an absolute betrayal of humankind and utter devastation that these animals can do nothing to stop their species from dying out or their environment from getting too hot or their water sources from drying out or their homes from becoming uninhabitable—because if people can put themselves in these creatures’ shoes (or paws/fins/hooves, if you will), surely they will start taking this climate change thing seriously. Right?

I will say that just because I feel the fire burning inside me, calling me to do something about our home that’s dying because of us, doesn’t mean that I don’t care about other extremely important issues. This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, which I think is why I struggled writing this post (and tackling this issue within me) for so long…I was worried that I was wrong somehow for choosing to act on one injustice while ignoring other crucial issues our country, citizens, and neighbors are facing. But the thing is, I’m not ignoring them. It’s not so black and white.

I am choosing to listen to the call I hear within me (my Knowing, as Glennon Doyle calls it) to try and make a difference for the sake of our planet and its creatures. And while I do that, I will continue to speak out about the other issues that make me feel big things, and do more self-reflection and education on issues I don’t fully understand or may even be contributing to. I will do these things in ways that are healthy and protective of my body and its sensitivity so that I don’t damage my ability to answer the door when someone/something rings the bell.

I’m still figuring out what this looks like. I’m not comfortable not having all of the answers yet. It’s difficult being a Highly Sensitive Person and a perfectionist. I want to be the perfect activist and I can’t. I also recognize that it’s much easier for me to do nothing than to grapple with these things, but I’ve sat in silence for far too long. And, as I’m learning from my brilliant new role model, Glennon Doyle, I can do hard things.


*If you’re interested in learning about the simple changes we can make to save our planet, David Attenborough lists them in his film, A Life on Our Planet, available on Netflix.

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