“I’m So Sensitive, But I Wouldn’t Give It Up for the World”
A naturalist with ADD uses her fine-tuned emotions to succeed in the workplace and life.
I was diagnosed with combined ADHD at the age of 13, and dyspraxia at 23. My mum always said I was a sensitive, gentle child. I rescued drowning bugs from the swimming pool on holiday and made sure the new kid at school didn’t feel left out.
Being sensitive is a blessing and a curse. The world may see you as overly emotional who takes everything to heart and who needs to lighten up. Or it may see you as having a gift or special insight.
Being a woman with ADHD, I fell out of the “sensitive tree” and hit every branch on the way down. When I am criticized or make a mistake, I look back and assess all the negative remarks I have received in my life. I often conclude that I’m a disaster in a matter of seconds.
Trying to hold back my tears in front of a hardnosed boss, who has made it clear that he finds crying women irritating and uncomfortable, is as difficult for me as trying not to laugh in church. Once the floodgates open, there is no stopping it. The only way to avoid the humiliation is to find a quiet place and gather my thoughts.
What is it about having ADHD that makes me so sensitive? Being reminded that I’m different contributes to it. Being corrected by others when I make a mistake or do something differently makes me take everything to heart. I also lack emotional filters. Because I can’t focus on just one thing, I am tuned in to everything in my surroundings, including the body language and emotions of others, their strengths and weaknesses. I am unable to shut out what it must feel like to be them.
I can be a good friend and a big comfort in a time of crisis. I can reel off all the positive things I have noted about the person/situation that others hadn’t noticed. I am deeply moved by injustice, and I will passionately defend those in need.
My sensitivity extends to animals. At work, as a zookeeper and a naturalist, I am the first of my colleagues to notice if something isn’t right with an animal.
“We can’t call the vet just because you have a feeling there is something wrong with him,” my boss said, after checking over a meerkat I was worried about.
“But his fur is fluffed up and he is moving gingerly,” I replied.
“Well, the other guys have looked at him, too, and they say he seems fine. Just keep an eye on him.”
Sadly, a few days later, the meerkat took a turn for the worse and suddenly died.
“The autopsy revealed that he had heartworm,” my boss said, while handing me a pen and paper. “I don’t know how you saw that, but I want you to write down all the animals you have been worried about and we’ll get the vet to check them this afternoon.” Pretty much every animal that I checked that day had some form of subtle ailment and was treated.
Being sensitive doesn’t just help others. It gives those of us with ADHD our creative flair. We absorb the world around us like sponges and take note of the subtle details. Sensitivity is often linked to creativity and problem-solving skills. By being sensitive to our surroundings, we develop unique observations that give birth to the ideas that can lead to our success!
There are many examples of entrepreneurs, performers, and brilliant minds who were diagnosed with ADHD, who have used their sensitivity and observation skills to tap into the needs of others and make the world a better place. For example:
- Being sensitive to what makes people laugh is what made Jim Carrey a comedy legend. Growing up, his mother battled depression. To lift her spirits, he would wear tap shoes to bed in case she needed cheering up in the middle of the night.
- Being sensitive to the ways of the universe and constantly questioning and exploring how the world works is what made Albert Einstein a unique kind of genius. He once said: “The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is good as dead.”
- Richard Branson’s sensitivity to the needs of others led him to discover gaps in the marketplace and to create products and businesses to fill them. He is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world today.
Sometimes the flood of emotions is distressing—and embarrassing. I have learned to deal with them, but not to ignore them. Our feelings are valid; otherwise, we wouldn’t feel them. They remind us of when something isn’t right. They guide us out of situations that are unhealthy and lead us to places, people, and things that make us happy.