A little while back I saw an article—somewhere. I recall it being about a condition called ‘highly sensitive person’. My gut reaction was—“an article about whiners? I don’t think so.” I never did actually read it. Recently, however, in one of my self-reflective—what the hell is wrong with me moments I let the concept seep back into my consciousness.
Perhaps it was because of uncontrollable crying while watching TV. Maybe it was the NEED to change the radio station during a “phone tap”- AKA prank, that caused me horrible anxiety. It could have been one of those television shows like America’s Funniest Home Video’s–even THAT can make me uncomfortable. Though honestly, it very well could have been the overwhelming empathy that I have never been able to begin to explain.
Everyone knows I hate crowds—A LOT. Most people know I like to have very minimal lighting at home. I often watch TV with the sound extremely low or with headphones on so I can just turn it down or off and have complete silence. I sometimes just turn the sound off and READ the closed captions. I am completely incapable of watching commercials for sick children or abused animals. I MEAN INCAPABLE. I cry at happy events just as emotionally as I do at sad ones. I NEED to have scented candles to calm myself. The list of my secret weirdness is long and I have been this way for so long that I contributed it to everything from my being born a Cancer—and we are sensitive, to believing it could be depression that might have lingered… for geez… decades?
A couple of weeks ago, thinking that perhaps it wasn’t just the holidays that had me crying at Christmas shows, or commercials, I decided to spend a little time Googling whether this is depression or something else. I honestly didn’t think I was sad. Perhaps I am just going mad! To most people, no one would ever even notice these things about me. I am funny, outgoing, friendly and engaging. One would think that a “highly sensitive person” would be an introvert. I am NOT. I needed to understand what this “highly sensitive person” condition really is. I was excited to think I was getting closer to some sort of authoritative explanation for how I have always felt. I was not looking for a ‘cure’, though being able to watch a movie around people without balling my eyes out, certainly would be be a bonus.
This is what I learned. First and foremost I am NOT alone. Whether or not people understand or admit this newly recognized condition somehow didn’t matter to me because I have read the studies and they speak to me… In fact they scream to me to the point—you guessed it—I cried. It is not a condition that describes a personality type. Being a “HSP” is defined has having a hypersensitive nervous system. This would—in my case—explain my sensitivity to light, to sound, to extreme temperature and even smells! Dr. Ted Zeff, a psychologist and author of The Highly Sensitive Person’s Survival Guide, believes that HSP’s do best in nurturing environments. They are more likely to be artists, musicians, teachers, counselors and health practitioners. And, they’re likely to be popular because they’re so in tune with the needs of others. I wouldn’t say I am popular, but I do feel as if my empathy makes me a special kind of friend, even to people I might only come in contact with briefly.
From the outside, looking in, the majority of the world would have a hard time believing the sheer amount of tears I shed for an equal amount of happy and sad events. In fact, since I am so hyper aware of my crying at the sad, I try to avoid it, which of course has changed nothing. I cry at every happy ending in a movie, at all ‘feel good’ stories on the news, the interview with the hero kitten rescuer, the lottery winner and just now on Fox and Friends Weekend—the interview with the woman who adopted a blind, 14 year old dog who had lived on the streets—YEP, balled at how loved that doggie must feel. I have often felt the anxiety of loving to dance, loving music but having a complete meltdown in a dance club, where my only solace is a few minutes in the restroom or walking outside with the smokers just to be able to calm myself. These are overwhelming emotions. I feel other peoples emotional pain, sadness and stresses. I am attuned to worldwide tragedy’s more than I understand. It is an amazingly intense kind of empathy, that I have often wished I didn’t have. Other times I am happy I feel strongly when I encounter people that seem not to feel at all. The studies and articles I have been reading, explain this in a way that I have begun to be less hard on myself for what I perceived as weaknesses or flaws. I have long ago learned to cope with my feelings, if only to try and mask them to the masses. But, it is what it is. And apparently, it IS a condition. I admit that helps.
The article I read—Here, in The Telegraph—has helped me to understand why I love the quiet, and the dimly lit, the smell of lemon verbena to calm me, or even my love of children’s movies, where they rarely make people feel badly and always have a happy ending. This condition explains why I was never able to watch those early episodes each season of American Idol, where people were so incredibly horrible—I literally can NOT watch people do that to themselves. Don’t laugh, I cringe!, and if I didn’t change the channel I felt physical anxiety.
I am hoping that people who wonder why some of us just “FEEL” more, will realize it actually IS a nervous system condition. I put on the ‘tough girl’ persona as my mask. But being sensitive is just who I am, not something to be controlled, because it can’t be. To me, I feel as if it is no different than a sneeze. I can no more control these feelings as I could squash my sneezes. So if you see me sniffling while reading a book, or wonder where I went at the concert or why I can not stand Times Square… Know that I am just your Highly Sensitive Person—friend. Thanks for understanding.