I first began seeing the term HSP or Highly Sensitive Person about a year ago. I thought, Wow! So there’s a name for this, and I’m not the only one?! Today, I read an excellent article on Introvert, Dear that made me wish I could force everyone in my life to read, but since I’ll never find the courage to even approach such a topic with them, I will share and discuss here: 12 Things People Do That Actually Mean ‘I’m A Highly Sensitive Person’
I have been hyper-sensitive in countless, seemingly senseless ways for as far back as my memories will take me: Sensitive to my emotions, to say the very least, but also to my external environment. Sensitive to what food textures I could tolerate. Sensitive to how certain fabrics felt against my skin. Sensitive to heat and cold… As I grew older, the list only became longer, and limiting my exposure to things of discomfort became increasingly difficult. Looking back, I shouldn’t wonder why I was seen as a fussy, picky, temperamental child.
In elementary school, I was given the nickname Waterworks. Before that, my family had already been singing to me anytime I would cry- which was often:
“Crybaby crispie rolling in the dirt. Crybaby crispie are you even hurt?”
It is still a running joke and it still makes me cringe, because I was hurting- a lot. And I didn’t always understand why, and I certainly didn’t understand why my emotions always seemed to illicit hostility from others; why they always felt the need to belittle or mock me; why there was never any compassion. Ultimately, it only fed my own compassion until it finally became bigger than me, bigger than anything I could ever control. It made me look at the world so much differently than I ever might have otherwise.
Being highly sensitive is a blessing and a curse. There are plenty of things I tend to avoid because I just don’t have the energy to feel on that level. Something as simple as watching a movie can just be too much for me. Because of this, I have come to avoid any movie that falls under horror, suspense, drama, and sometimes even romantic comedy. That doesn’t leave much to choose from! I know the stories aren’t real. The characters aren’t real. The situations aren’t real. But I feel them. I am there. I am the person in that portrayed emotion, living it, at that moment: I am terrified and traumatized. I am so anxious and afraid of what is coming, I can hear my heart thumping in my ears. I am so angry for the injustice I feel the fury rise to my throat and the blood in my veins heating. I am so broken-hearted or so happy-in-love I sob like a baby who cannot speak.
As much as I love to read, I have quit a book with only 20 pages left because I just could not handle what was happening in the story. A character’s tragic death felt like I lost someone I had known and loved a lifetime. The story was fiction but my grief was real and it was devastating.
I can’t count the times I have been tormented by some recounted graphic medical experience or forced to look at a healing wound I didn’t wish to see. No, I do not want to see what that cut looks like under your bandaged hand! I can literally feel it! I can feel the knife piercing and tearing my skin. I can feel the burning sensation left when the skin has been ripped away. I flinch and grimace as you retell how the knife mistook your hand for the meat you were cutting. My face contorts itself, as if you speaking the very words has left me a twin victim. I cannot help it, cannot control it. But you think me too dramatic, too squeamish to be real. You roll your eyes. Or you laugh and push me further into panic, taunting me with graphic words until I have been overloaded. Until I break. Please stop.
I flood ( become mentally and emotionally overwhelmed) often, especially in public and it is hell for me in the moment. And the moment usually turns into several, or many, or it ripples all throughout the rest of my day. I’m feeling every possible thing and the energy from every thing is raging through me. I want to scream. I want to shrink. I want to disappear and turn off everything. But I can’t and that is the hell of it (and I can’t even name what “it” is!)
I had a recent episode like this while at the wedding reception of my partner’s brother. My breaking point came about three hours after the wedding began, but I had been uncomfortable and overwhelmed from the beginning. Everything inside of me wanted out of my skin. I barely missed losing all composure and being the side-show of the event. I am lucky enough to have a partner (I’ll call him C.) who understands that I can only “people” for so long and he excused us early. I made it to the car and then I broke. And C. gets it, but he doesn’t…
“It’s just my mom and dad, and you know my aunt and uncle…” (referring to with whom we shared a table.) But it had nothing to do with whom I knew or didn’t. I was flooding and I didn’t know why. I couldn’t explain what I was feeling. I only knew that it had overwhelmed me and I was desperate to escape. Hours later, I was still a tangled mess of nerves on edge. Mostly because I felt so misunderstood. And guilty. Guilty for always taking the fun out of any social activity. Guilty for barely ever participating in any social activities. Guilty for how I leave saying, “They all think I’m weird.” Guilty for needing C.’s reassurance that they do not… And the guilt fed my anxiety… This has to be frustrating for C. … When will he decide that I am just too much?
And maybe one day he will decide that I am just too much, but maybe he won’t.
I am not always on the brink of collapse, and it takes so little to make me happy. I read extensively. I write poetry. I write my thoughts and memories. I paint. I create. I discuss the world; its history and its coming end with C. Our home is my shelter, and here, I am content.
I find beauty in the ordinary. I take the greatest pleasure in the simplest, smallest things.
I love, to a fault, unconditionally.
I could do none of these things with the passion they bring if I were anything other than an HSP. Being so sensitive has not made life easy, but I would never wish it away permanently- in certain moments, absolutely! But I have always said that I would never want to live a life where I didn’t feel so deeply. Our existence is emotion- I want to feel it with every fiber of my being. And I do.