Such a sensitive child

I am what is called a sensitive soul – I feel things deeply. As a child I was called a ‘cry baby’ because of my frequent lapses into fits of tears. Anything could set me off weeping, and anything did.

I couldn’t watch nature shows because I couldn’t bear to see animals get hurt – even to this day, the sound of David Attenborough’s voice turns my stomach, presaging death and dismemberment.

When I was eight, while my brother was prodding my dad about his inheritance, I was sobbing in my bedroom about the fact my dad would one day die. When I was ten, my dad and brother decided to have an insult contest, and of course I was in floods of tears within a minute. It was like my nerves were always exposed, susceptible to be hit at any moment.

As I grew up, I had to toughen my shell, encase my heart in ice simply to survive. But even as an adult, I have a few weak spots.

I can’t bear to see anything suffer; obituaries break my heart; and if I see a child’s grave I go to pieces.

And movies – movies get through.

I’m not just talking about widely-acknowledged tearjerkers like My Girl, Marley and Me, The Notebook, or Legends of the Fall. Nor do I mean those that are kind of understandable, like Toy Story 3, Forrest Gump, Inside Out or Lone Survivor.

I cried at Return of the Jedi. I cried at Independence Day. I cried at It.

I’ve had a four-decade conversation with my mother about whether being sensitive is a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, experiencing emotions beyond what people normally feel is a great pathway to sympathy, empathy and compassion; on the other, it’s a painful, debilitating, irrational punishment that makes you suffer things that never happened to you.

Is it good? I think the answer depends on whether it’s you yourself, or somebody else.

For me, it’s part of who I am and I wouldn’t be me without it. As a parent, I hate seeing it in my eldest.

Since this lockdown started, we’ve been watching movies, and we are yet to watch one that doesn’t make my four-year-old sob her little heart out. Barely five minutes goes by without me glancing at her to find her wide eyes glistening and big fat tears rolling down her cheeks.

And I’m not showing her anything particularly sad. Babe was ninety minutes of misery. Paddington. Matilda. Nanny McPhee. Happy Feet. Even Frozen.

So I decided to go old school. The Wizard of Oz was a bucket-fest; Annie might as well have been Saw; Dumbo was torture porn and even the original Doctor Doolittle had her gushing.

So today I tried Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and even fast forwarding through the scary-ass boat ride, it was an ordeal. There were tears when Charley didn’t get a golden ticket; tears when he did; tears when Wonka shouted at him; tears when he gave him the factory. Happy tears, sad tears, excited tears, frightened tears. And in between? A chocolate river more tears.

Golly gosh, I wish she wasn’t so like me. Not because there’s anything wrong with being me, but because I know what’s ahead of her. Life is full of pain and suffering – beauty too, and majesty, and joy – but the lot of this life is often to be drawn-out on a rack of despair, and it’s better not to feel the thorns and blades as they cut you, than feel them all too keenly.

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