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  • sezserena

My story part one: growing up sensitive & the tragedy of hiding

Updated: Dec 23, 2023

Growing up, I was often labelled 'shy' by teachers and 'oversensitive' by my family. A strange thing happens when you hear those things repeatedly, which is that you start to identify with them.

In kindergarten, I struggled with reading out loud. In the classroom I became overwhelmed, dys-regulated and anxious. When I was sent to one-on-one support program called 'Reading Recovery', the tutor was dumbfounded - I was actually far ahead of the class. I had just developed a habit of SHUTTING DOWN.

This preceded a lifetime of feeling as though it wasn't quite safe to exist in the world. At any moment I could make a mistake and be criticised, rejected and deathly humiliated. I could write an essay about the root causes (the predictable consequences of chronic invalidation and a general lack of attunement in childhood due to well meaning, emotionally immature, traumatised care-givers) but the point is, tragically, that I felt terrified to express myself for most of my life.

Despite this intense fear, my soul lived quietly waiting in the wings for opportunities to express its own flavour of magic. I spent hours locked in my room, making cards and artworks and playing out imaginary scenarios with my teddy bears and dolls. I lived in a world of fantasy, but held it close to my heart. It was surely not safe to risk annihiliation.

By age eleven I had become obsessed with fiction writing. I spent hours brainstorming elaborate storylines, creating fantasy filled worlds and typing up 'work' on Dad's computer. I knew what passion tasted like. My soul had stories to tell, and I didn't question it. In response to a year 6 assignment, I wrote a full length novel. The problem was, I didn't want to hand it in. The wall of beliefs (eg. that it wasn't safe, that the book wasn't perfect yet, that it was embarrassing) was almost impenetrable. Mum (who wasn't all that bad) dragged me kicking and screaming to hand it to my teacher in the Holidays. Mrs Pinzone was gobsmacked at the standard of my work and suggested I enter some short story competitions. I never did. Instead, on a deep subconscious level, I dug in my heels. It was not safe. I was not good enough. I might die.

In high school, the pressure to do well socially and academically took over. I unconsciously abandoned my creative self along with all of its potential for exposure, ridicule and rejection. I existed in a perpetual state of inauthenticity, people pleasing, hiding and achieving.

For the HSC I steered clear of all 'subjective' classes and stuck to advanced maths, science and english, to ensure the highest marks to get into the best degrees at the best universities. My fear of failure was epic, and yet I had no idea why I was alive and what all this striving for success was about anyway.

I found myself a third of the way through a combined degree in commerce and science, suffering from an existential crisis. In bed at night, thoughts played on repeat: 'Why am I going to uni to get a job to earn money to sit around doing stuff I don't like to be stressed for years on end to then die?'.

I was in hiding, but I didn't know I was in hiding. I didn't enjoy what I was doing, but it never occurred to me that JOY was an option. My modus operandi was: be seen to be smart. Do not, under any circumstances, risk vulnerability. This extended to relationships in my life - I was friends with the cool crowd. I concerned myself primarily with how I looked. I was highly avoidant and fearful of intimacy. In this arena I maintained a secondary persona: 'the aloof blonde'. You can't get hurt if you're an ice-queen. I dated people based on the validation they provided me with. I never let them get too close. Deep down I longed for belonging and connection (like we all do) but had no idea how to get there.

In order to connect with others, we need to be connected to ourselves.

Finally I crashed, both literally and metaphorically. Chronic fatigue and depression provided me with a great excuse to drop out of uni (which would've otherwise been shameful). After a little more time spent in hiding (this time under the guise of 'recovery'), I had a moment of grace. On some level I recognised that I was on a path that could only lead to more despair. There was a part of me waiting to be expressed, and whilst I knew that it was potentially going to be a scary undertaking, I had reached the point of no return.

And so, by some miracle, I took a baby step (which represented a giant leap for my long lost inner artist) in the direction of recovering my authenticity.

I enrolled in a part-time acting class.

I had always dreamt of performing, but identified as inferior to the confident girls at school who excelled at drama. I was a shy, small, tiny, invisible person. Not a person who lights up the stage.

Those words 'shy' and 'sensitive' which had been planted as seeds in my unconscious childhood mind, had grown into a dense thicket of identity weeds, obscuring the light of my soul and keeping me hidden, even from myself.

Taking that class, which lasted a year, was the first step in challenging these faulty beliefs. I discovered a whole chunk of untapped 'self'. I played characters. I performed. Acting was FUN. It was the most fun thing in the world. I tasted joy, and in doing so, started to live a life true(r) to my highest self.

This is only the beginning of the story, and even though self-doubt has been an ongoing companion on my journey to creative freedom, the ultimate lesson has been that no amount of external validation will ever fill the void that is created when I am living disconnected from my joy.

I both chuckle internally and feel a degree of sadness when parents try to tell me their kid is 'shy' or 'sensitive'. Because if the kid is anything like me, they are probably receiving a whole range of mixed messages about their worth and emotional safety. Whatever the case may be, don't be so fast to put them in a box.

They might end up becoming a famous actor one day.

The fear to be seen can hold us back from pursuing our dreams and living a life true to our deepest creativity. I hope my story inspires you to see through the illusions of your fear brain and take baby steps in the direction you know you want to take.

Today's affirmation is 'I am gifted and intelligent and I deserve to be seen'

With love and blessings,

Serena x


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