Anja Snellman


Tim Plowden/Alamy


Cautiously Curious

Since her childhood, Anja Snellman has been fascinated by deer—their graceful alertness, constant vigilance, and instinctive readiness to react in less than a heartbeat. Fragility, timidity, and wildness, with an air of delicate calm that can suddenly spring into chaos.

It was not until ten years ago that she understood why: when studying for certification in psychotherapy, she listened to a lecture on highly sensitive people.

“Something clicked inside of me, and my life history began to make sense in a new way. I was writing a novel about Greece at the time, but I had to stop that because my life story was pouring out of me.”

SNELLMAN REALIZED she was born with a neurological condition that made her a highly sensitive person.

“Understanding this has clarified many things for me. I was an introverted child, timid and shy, and I realized I was that way regardless of the dynamics of my childhood family,” Snellman says.

“That was a relief. I no longer needed to search for reasons.”

SNELLMAN GRADUATED as a therapist in 2015. She works as a therapist in a psychotherapy center, alongside her career as a writer. Around one-third of her clients are highly sensitive.

“I have proved to myself that many issues—fear, shame, loneliness, and insecurity—can be turned into resources,” Snellman says.

She considers herself fortunate to have reached a point in her life where she can enjoy inspiring synergies: literature can have the same effect as therapy, and a good therapeutic dialogue can resemble literary art.

“An author listens and asks. A therapist asks and listens,” says Snellman.

THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT is from My Life as a Deer, the novel that Snellman wrote after having realized she is a highly sensitive person—a book that she feels she had to write. The book will come out in English in 2024.

Occasionally, I visit the city, forgetting that I’m wearing rubber boots, a plaid shirt, and denim overalls. No makeup—just soot and soil on my face. As always, my hair is in a ponytail.

I talk about what has been going on in my neighborhood: rare plants, and the sound of melting ice on the lake.

Silence falls over the restaurant booth. My friends and colleagues are glancing at each other. Something from the past comes back. I can feel the circle closing in front of me, a cool breeze on my face.

I become the listener, the nodder: Oh, I see. Wow! Really?

I adapt, agree, echo, ask more.

They know how to open up. They know how to play the game.

For it’s all a game. Right?

You must be careful not to forget or break the rules and play yourself out.

I’m at my purest when I return home by bus, lonelier than before. When I hang pieces of myself on the branches of trees and on the rocks by the lake. When I peer and lurk like the animals who often venture into the yard at dusk and dawn.

One of the deer often comes close to the veranda, as though she wants to see the orchids on the windowsills.

New Terrain Press 2024. All rights reserved.

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