The adversities, adventures, and heartaches I experienced over the course of my life could only be described as immense! However, that is entirely from my own perspective. You see, our understanding of hardship is measured only by our previous experiences and not by others. Sure, some try and put themselves in the footsteps of those we empathize with, but its never truly absorbed as an experience we have had, that is, until we have it.
“Think about all the starving children in the world” a parent may say to a child, as they sit in front of a large plate of food. Not quite the same as feeling the empty belly those hungry children feel every day. It is this understanding I hold when I attempt to reveal just a few of my own experiences to the rare ones interested in hearing them. Some would not relate at all, the rarest of them who could would follow up by saying “Dude, you need to write a book.” And so, I did. Not for fame or glory and certainly not for money as book writing is a very expensive venturer with little to profit. I did it in the hopes that by sharing some experiences, someone out there may benefit. Sharing these blogs is but a continuation of that hope.
Deep Emotional Experiences Overseas: One of My First Encounters
Being both a highly responsive man as well as an adventurer seeker meant that I purposely exposed myself to the world’s adversities not to prove anything to anyone, but to learn. It still surprises me to this day how many people prefer the sanctuaries of their caves believing the light beyond the entrance brings death and destruction.
Figure 1. The light beyond the entrance of the cave of comfort zone is freedom, not otherwise.
I recall being in Madagascar in the first few days. I felt like a child, alone and vulnerable, newly exposed to the real world. Exposed to poverty and raw pain of people on this earth. Those starving children my parents used to remind me about were now standing right in front of me. As a Highly Responsive man, that pain still rings in my heart. I certainly have no expectations that those sitting in their luxury cars and homes, watching brain-washing Tel-Lie-Vision shows that twist their mental state and drains them from their own capabilities of thought would understand this. I, however, have experienced many deeply emotional experiences, and as a High Responding man, I have been devastated on many levels. I wanted to help all of them at once, in anyway I could!
My empathetic nature would soon be transformed to a valuable lesson, for I soon learned that humans are not all nice, regardless of their privileged situation. While I kept hearing the cries of small children yelling at me “Comrade, Chop Chop” as they placed their hands towards their mouth begging for food, my sense of empathy was on overload, and like all emotions in my body which I struggled to control, it would burst out uncontrollably in ways that were so unrelated and confusing.
Figure 2. Seeing all the suffering, poverty, and hunger in the world, we HSPs tend to cry blood sometimes.
The Heaviness of the World at Large and its Toll on my Emotions
When I flew back home, I wasn’t the same man, not in a long shot. I walked into the house and there laying on the couch was one of my teenage boys watching yet another re-run of “The Simpsons.” I stood there looking at him as the thoughts of these starving children raced through my mind. He looked up and saw me, then suddenly realized who I was.
“Dad!” He yelled, “I didn’t know you were coming home?”
I was gone for three months; his mother knew I was coming home that day and neglected to inform them. I couldn’t help but believe that I was not important enough nor loved to have a family even aware I was returning, let alone excited about it. Yet, none of that mattered anymore for I was haunted by those kids in Madagascar who needed help, help I could offer in some small way.
I tried to explain what I had experienced to my family and how I felt about it, but I could see they did not understand, nor did they want to. Western Society tends to turn a blind eye on those in true need. I honestly didn’t expect them to understand either, for they live extremely shelter lives, lives I created for them and now deeply regret. They were trapped in the material wants of western society, and I was emotionally destroyed for I had been ripped from my roots and exposed to the true atrocities of this world and had no one to talk to about it as feelings were not something my wife felt men should have.
Figure 3. A visual depiction of emotions that we HSPs feel often.
Divorce when I was most Vulnerable; and Me Mistakenly Letting 100% of my Possessions go to my Wife
My time and exposure in Madagascar, combined with my weakness in controlling my emotional intelligence ended in divorce. Not only that, I lost my children as well. Instead of a family pulling together (seeing that one of them is clearly injured), they saw me as weak and chose to strip me of all my belongings and leave me standing naked in the cold.
I have spoken to other parents who lost their children, through death. And can only imagine how devastating that would have been. But having your children choose to never talk to you again without any explanation, well, that’s just cruel human behaviour. Behaviour that is taught, by the way.
During the divorce, I was told by the “mediator” that I would have to give up 50% of everything I had, including the house, cars, and bank accounts. Material things really meant nothing to me anyway. I wanted a mediator, as being a High Responding man, we tend to avoid conflict wherever possible. I felt that was fair, considering all the effort I had given to create the lifestyle my wife and children enjoyed. That effort included working 10 to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in an industrial setting where people with my trait are abused each and every day. Something my family would not understand.
Figure 4. Work at industrial settings may be very financially rewarding, it is tough nonetheless.
It was when he said, I would have to pay her $7800.00 a month for spousal support that I nearly had a heart attack. “Why” I asked, in shocking desperation. The answer blew me away. As it turns out, because I had elevated her lifestyle, I was now obligated to maintain it for the rest of my life. She smiled greedily as the mediator presented the news.
I was in construction, which by the way, is a temporary job at best. Sometimes we have work, other times we don’t. There was no way I could commit to that kind of payment, and seeing how my children had graduated high school and were on their own, it wasn’t about supporting them, just her.
My reply was purely reactionary, one I now regret deeply to this day. I said, with a lump in my throat, “she could have everything, all I wanted was a few clothes and to keep the relationship with my children as that was the most important thing in my life.” I shouldn’t have said that, as I now had given her a means for revenge!
How do other HSPs Avoid Such Mistakes
She permitted me two small duffle bags of clothes and that was all. She even kept my baby pictures out of pure vengeance. Back then, I had little management of my responsive trait, it was more reactionary. As a result, I made some very bad decisions as I believe many do who hold our trait and have yet to learn what I now have through much pain, but learn I have. Having acquired a great deal of education and experience about our trait of High Responsiveness, I was able to teach myself over the last few years valuable lessons. Especially the critical management skills that allow me to advance my emotional intelligence. This management I speak of is not control, for control by definition means to exercise restraint or directing influence over something, kind of like dictatorship.
Management, however, is coordinating and administering specific tasks to achieve a set goal. It is far better to manage our emotional state rather than control it, for one might easily lose control. Traveling to 50 different countries, working in some of the most hostile places on earth, and dealing with some exceptionally diverse people has enabled me to learn this. I literally exposed myself to the intense adversities I wright about on purpose in an effort to learn emotional intelligence. This is something I hope to share with fellow Highly Responsive people, when they’re ready.
Figure 5. Travel is one of the biggest teachers of life and it has taught me well.
Back to Madagascar: One Particular Moment I Carry with me Today
Although there are many, one of the most defining moments I carry with me about Madagascar was when I was visiting a small village in the jungle. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the country and would use my one day off a week from work to venture out. Most of my colleagues would stay in camp and drink, but I have this insatiable thirst for knowledge that never seems to quit.
I stumbled across a woman with two small children. I would guess the two boys were no older than 7 or 8. All three were squatting in the hot sun, each with a hammer in hand taking large rocks and breaking them into smaller ones, the size of the tip of my thumb. I asked my interpreter what they were doing. He explained to me, they were making gravel to sell to the market. My mind instantly raced back home, a home I no longer had. There we have large machines like crushers to do such work. My interpreter then told me if they make enough gravel, they will get 1000 Ariary. Ariary being the local currency. Again, my mind raced to calculate what that meant in my currency, and then it dawned on me, “That’s twenty five cents!” I disappointedly stated. He nodded his head. I asked if that was each? To which he replied “no, it’s based on quantity, and it takes all three to work about 10 hours to earn that.”
Once again, I recalled my two boys laying on a couch watching the Simpsons, where Homer is depicted as a bumbling idiot of a father and thinking they no doubt see me as Homer. I pulled out my camera to take a photo, when the women jumped up with nervous excitement waving her hand back and forth clearly telling me no!
My interpreter equally proclaimed with an anxious voice, “Sir, you cannot!” Quickly withdrawing the camera I asked why? He explained to me that in some parts of Madagascar, villagers believe that taking their photo will steal away their soul. I pondered what I had already learned about spiritual belief from a man who I worked with years ago, a story for another time. I was just beginning to understand the power belief held, spiritual and otherwise. Being highly responsive often carries with it the trait of generosity, and I unfortunately had it bad. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a 10,000 Ariary note, a whopping two dollars and forty cents, give or take, and handed it to the women.
What happened next was nothing more than life-changing for me. Just one of many, it appeared I was going to be exposed to in the future. She looked at me and instantly her facial expression went from concern to….love. She did not take it. She only looked at me. I motioned to her that it was ok, it was for her and her children. Gently, like a timid animal takes food offered from an untrusted human, she reached up and took hold of the note. She did not pull it from me, only held it gently with her badly battened fingers. The woman then said something to my interpreter in Malagasy to which I did not understand. My interpreter replied to her in Malagasy and she nodded her head in agreement, saying “Eny, Eny”.
She took the money as my interpreter spoke to me in broken English, “Sir, she said you can take your picture.” Shocked at this, I asked “I don’t understand, won’t she believe it will steal their souls?” He replied, “She said you were sent by god, and it was ok.” I was mystified and extremely grateful, but I was also very upset. Upset because this was happening in a world where there is so much over indulgence, so much greed. I put my hands together in a prayer like fashion and offered my gratitude. Part of me did not want to take the photo out of respect for their belief. But another part of me wanted to take it back to show my own children just how fortunate they were. Children sadly who would not speak to me again.
Figure 6. A photo that brings me back memories of my time in Madagascar
After we left, the image in my mind carved its way as a defining moment in my life. As I thought about what my boys would think of such an experience, it dawned on me. I had worked away from home for so long. I did this because I was made to feel I wasn’t providing enough to support my family. As a man, that was my job and I was reminded of that regularly. Even though I was working full time, I needed to do maintain the basic lifestyle my wife expected. When I heard about the oil fields looking for people, my wife immediately made it clear I needed to go there. My boys were only four years old; they were now eighteen. I know now I didn’t spend as much time with them as a father should, but being in the industrial construction industry does not afford such a luxury. The money I earned was four times what I was earning at home, but at a cost I would never be able to reclaim. I sent all my money home for years, as such, my children grew up naturally thinking that it was their mother that provided for them, not me. I went from the loving dad, so proud to be a father, to the guy that just showed up once in a while. Now, sitting there in that truck as we returned to the camp in Madagascar, I realized in a blink of an eye how easily one’s world can change by experiencing real life on this planet. I set my goal to not collect old rusted pieces of metal as described in an early blog, but to collect as many experiences as I could. Some joyful, some painful but all extremely educational.
My Next Adventure: Iraq
After the three and a half year brutal schooling I had in Madagascar, I was offered a job in another country. A place where most have no idea of the life that is lived there, especially me. That place was Iraq! Iraq, during the ISIS occupation where my worldly education would be tested yet again.
Figure 7. What most of us envision when we hear the word “Iraq.”