What Is It, and How Does It Work?
Backstory: I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder seven months ago. At the time, I didn't see it coming at all, but as soon as I heard the words, it made a lot of sense. I'd always felt out-of-step with the mainstream and cautious in a way others around me didn't. I was drawn to people who were open about their vulnerabilities and frailties. I loved the early work of Albert Brooks.
Since learning that what I felt was called anxiety, the mountain of information I've had all of these years inside of me now has shape. It all makes a lot more sense.
Here's an example: For years, a friend of mine has asked how I manage to create fun group conversations at parties.
I told her that I'd hunker down in a corner and look to see if anyone else is doing the same. I'd toss out random topics to that stranger. By doing this, it was easy to get into engaging, non-small-talk conversation that others, in turn, were drawn into.
Pre-diagnosis, I had this information: "people want to talk, but they don't always want to talk in big groups. Sometimes it's more fun to do it off to the side, about random, small topics." I didn't know why it was the case, but I knew: "The off-to-the-side people seem to be my people."
Now that I understand that I'm highly sensitive and experience anxiety, I've merged this new understanding into my approach to parties. I'll sometimes admit that I'm feeling stressed out to the person I'm talking to in some subtle way. If it makes sense, I'll even cop to some anxiety. This is me extending my hand for the secret handshake.
Here's the shocking part: 9 times out of 10, that person will admit that they, too, feel the same way. They respond with their own confessional acknowledgement, taking my hand for the other half of the secret handshake. We end up having even better conversations (and needing to drink less). I'm getting fewer migraines and making more and better connections with others using the secret handshake.
Does this happen because I have a special ability to nose out other beautiful voyagers? Not more than any of us do. I think all of us who are highly sensitive have access to the secret handshake. It's an incredibly powerful skill, and not just in the party setting. If you were to know that the person you were about to be interviewed by had experienced anxiety, as you do, don't you think it would help you perform more naturally in that interview? Being able to read people and understand where they're coming from is like having x-ray vision. But it comes at a cost. It starts with making yourself vulnerable.
The hardest part of the secret handshake is that you have to drop the first clue about yourself for the other person to pick up. But you will find that as you do it over time you're going to be shocked at the number of people in your life that experience similar things that you do. They just don't talk about it or may not even realize it, as I didn't. In the past seven months, I've had more people say to me, "Wow, I thought I was alone in this." Or "It was so great to meet you" in a more deeply genuine way than ever before.
The secret handshake: another tool for the superhero arsenal.