LifeWorks Highlights & Insights

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In this issue:

Is Everything Okay?

What I've Learned

HSP Poem,
Charles Gulotta

Notes from Fall 2003 East Coast Gathering

2004 East Coast Gathering
March 15 - Early Registration Deadline

2004 West Coast Gathering

Making Work Work,
book review


About LifeWorks

HSP Gathering Info



A newsletter from Jacquelyn Strickland   |    March 2004 Vol. 1 Issue 1

Notes from the Fall 2003 East Coast Gathering

By Charles Gulotta, Prince Edward, Canada

It was my first HSP gathering, and I didn't know what to expect. I didn't completely want to be there. I didn't even know why it was called a gathering. HSPs don't meet, apparently, they gather. What are we, dust?

Then one of the first discussions was about coming out. "Have you come out yet? Who came out in the last five years? The last two years?" I hadn't been there three hours and I was already getting nervous. Come out? I thought about my neighbors. This is what I need, more blank stares? More people walking away shaking their heads? What's the point of trying to explain something to someone who isn't going to know what I'm talking about, and worse, isn't going to care? I decided that maybe I could learn to like myself more, but I was staying in.

There were twenty-four of us. We sat at long brown tables arranged in a big rectangle. And we talked. We talked about how the world made life hard for HSPs, and the things that would make it easier. We talked about relationships - wives, husbands, parents, children. We talked about what makes someone a highly sensitive person in the first place, how many of us there are, and the value of contact among us. We talked about the rules at our gathering place, the food, the lighting, the heat, the cold, the rain, the bathrooms, the beds, the chairs. We discussed noise levels, blood sugar levels, and energy levels. We listened as individuals tearfully described the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or just feeling lost in general. We agreed that we had to take care of our own needs, set boundaries, respect ourselves. It was exhausting. And exhilarating.

Every time I spoke, I noticed something unusual about the others in the group: they were listening. No one was rude, no one ridiculed, no one condemned. It was safe. When I left the room for a break, I didn't wonder if the others were talking about me or laughing behind my back. When I returned, I had that feeling you get when you've been trying on new clothes for a while, and then you put your old things back on. Comfortable. Free of resistance. Strangely familiar. There was a gentleness in that room I had never experienced before. I tried to soak in as much as possible. I tried to inhale these people, their kindness. I needed to fill my lungs with them, because I knew when I went back to my life, I'd be holding my breath a lot.

The physical setting for the gathering was less than nurturing. The staff seemed, especially to HSPs, somewhat cold, rigid, and uncaring. We sensed that we were in their way. And maybe we were. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It would have been fine to find ourselves sealed in a loving, supportive cocoon, where we could have roamed blissfully in our safe little world. But I think maybe we learned more in that environment of harsh reality. We got to see the sharp divide between highly-sensitive and not. It was like on-the-job training. Frustrating, but valuable.

During the closing hours of the gathering, we talked about what we had accomplished, and what we'd be taking home with us. I began the process of reapplying my armor. I would use what I had learned to protect myself. I would take these wonderful souls with me, and they would keep me company and help motivate me during difficult times. I would go back and stop hiding behind loneliness and sadness. I would hold on to these feelings of connection, secure in the knowledge that, although these new friends wouldn't be sitting with me around that rectangle, they were out there somewhere.

We had met on a Thursday afternoon. Seventy-two hours later, we were hugging through long goodbyes. We had assembled in that room, most of us, as total strangers. Yet somehow we knew each other well enough to avoid the usual posturing that accompanies initial encounters. We didn't need to put on an act. We settled in easily, a natural lending of individuality and togetherness. The cocoon was there after all, but it had less to do with what any of us said or did; it was just about being.

And that's when it hit me. Coming out isn't about announcements. It doesn't mean you run around, flapping your wings and saying, "I'm an HSP! I'm an HSP!" In fact, it doesn't have to involve words at all. Coming out simply means being who you are, no matter the circumstances, and no matter who else is around. I guess I had come out a long time ago. The gathering helped me understand that, gave me unexpected insights about it, and brought me a large measure of peace. Because now I know I'm not out here alone.

Charles Gulotta
Prince Edward Island, Canada

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Creek and woods photos: US Fish and Wildlife Service