The Wounds of Being “Too Much”; Feeling Intensely

By age 17, when my mother died, I had already attempted suicide more than three times; hanging myself from the top of my mother’s four-roomed house roof, slitting my wrist and, lastly concocting washing powder, bleach and other detergents and drinking them. And they all didn’t work! There must be a pretty good damn reason for God to be so adamant that I live… right?!

Throughout my childhood I struggled with some sort of existential depression. I experienced a deep sense of pain, longing for more and meaning, and really grappled with understanding others’ suffering. I had an ability to feel deeply and intensely, at this age my emotion regulation skills were lacking, which led to psychological wounding associated with shame and loneliness.

I was a bright student and would be among the top 7 students of my class throughout my school career, well except my Matric year; the year my mother died of a dreadful disease! I failed grade 12 and had to spend the following year preparing to rewrite grade 12, so I could obtain a Matric certificate.

I was the apple of my mother’s eye and had a fairly-decent upbringing. So, one would wonder… why this deep sense of pain and inner turmoil.

I was in grade 10 when one day after school I asked my mother if we could live with a little boy called Thato. He was just 7 years old, and literally living on the street. His mother was terminally ill, bedridden and had no one looking after her and her little boy.

After my mother and I went to see where Thato’s home was and realised his mother’s health condition, my mother agreed that we could live with him provided I bathed him every morning and night and washed his socks and school uniform after school. I agreed, and Thato lived with us. My mother would go to his mother’s two roomed shack to give her food, clean her up and make sure she was ok.

Thato was attending school and had what I saw as an opportunity at life. A few months later his mother died, and family we had never seen before came to claim him. I tried to convince my mother that we should go to the Social Workers and fight for him. My mother explained to me that we were not his blood family and his relatives have a right over him.

One day I was walking back from school, my heart broke when I saw him (Thato) wandering the streets, dirty, and not looking like a child who had been to school. He called out my name “sisi (older sister) Mmabatho”, he smiled, I greeted him back and that was the last time I saw him.

My point with this story is that I have always cared, wanted to help and thought people deserved more — I still do. I have always been extremely sensitive to my surroundings. I would have an unbearably heavy, almost suffocating feeling in my chest when I saw a person suffering — I still do. I still have a grave concern for others and the wider world.

So, the question for me was, where does the longing for openness, sensitivity, attentiveness, a sense of justice and fairness come from, where does this deep sense of compassion arise from? One of my major life struggles has been my expectation of others to hold the same values. Some call me an idealist, maybe I am. I am bothered by hypocrisies and unfairness and struggle with inauthentic people and situations. I often get myself into trouble because I cannot help but be the one who points out the ‘elephant in the room’.

In my spiritual growth I have come to understand that not only are our greatest challenges rich with meaning and purpose. The suffering and inner turmoil has provided a path out of that suffering. My suffering has become a vehicle through which I have explored and understood myself.

I have learned, painfully so, to step into embracing my unique qualities, to learn to trust my unique ways of relating to the world and how to connect to what I have to offer. Themes such as authentic existence, the meaning of life, and purpose of being have been and continue to be at the forefront of my growing awareness and now, I am embarking on a true journey towards my full potential.

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.

To him

a touch is a blow,

a sound is a noise,

a misfortune is a tragedy,

a joy is an ecstasy,

a friend is a lover,

a lover is a god,

and failure is death.

– Pearl Buck