(If you’ve landed on this page by accident and don’t care to read about high sensitivity, you can go back to my “mainstream” About page here.)
This blog started as a place where I could share my experiences as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) who finds comfort in connecting with the natural world. I hoped to help other HSPs—and those who love them—learn to deal with some of the ways that being highly-sensitive makes life difficult. Just becoming aware of this “way of being” can make life a lot easier and less confusing. In fact, my life changed instantly when I learned about it. More about that in a minute….
My childhood was difficult because of my misunderstood sensitivity. I’ve been called everything from shy to rude to stuck up, when really I just want people to understand me and allow me to be myself. I grew up being told, “Stop being so sensitive!” My siblings harassed me because it was easy to make me cry, and I guess that entertained them. My sister now admits that they thought they could “toughen me up” by pushing me beyond my tolerance levels. My parents didn’t understand me either…there was no research about high sensory processing back then, so nobody really understood it.
For forty years I thought something was fundamentally wrong with me. I even started taking antidepressants because I thought I must have a chemical imbalance in my brain. Those drugs helped a little bit, but they made me feel less, almost like I was numb. I hated that. Too much feeling is painful, but too little feeling isn’t the answer either.
Then I discovered the book, “The Highly-Sensitive Person,” by Elaine Aron. Her words were life-changing, bringing the realization that there are many other people like me in the world. And more importantly, we’re not defective. In fact, we have very special gifts; we just have to find the right ways to use them. And we need to proactively surround ourselves with people who can appreciate us, while ruthlessly weeding out those who don’t understand or respect our way of interacting with the world.
Being a highly-sensitive person means more than just being someone who cries easily, which is what most people think when they first hear about this. It also means that we soak up the emotions of people around us and feel those emotions as physical sensations in our bodies. Often I’ll walk into someplace and instantly feel my back and shoulders tense up because I can sense that somebody there is either sad or angry or worried about something. And that leads to tension headaches for me, sometimes leading to migraines that disable me for 12 hours at a time.
I also find that I have an unusually strong connection with animals. Taking my cats to the vet was always an ordeal because I felt how scared they were. When I see a bird tangled up in a banding net, even though I know it’s not being hurt, I get upset because I feel how terrified the bird is while it’s hanging there watching a gigantic human walk up to it and wrap big hands around its wings. Having such a physical reaction to emotional experiences is exhausting, and that’s why people like me need a certain amount of down time to recover from the intensity of our daily lives.
My occasional withdrawals from socializing are often misunderstood by people around me, leading them to think I’m being rude or that I don’t like them, or just that I’m weird. I’ve had a couple friendships disintegrate when the other person misunderstood my behavior and responded with hostility. As a result of those experiences, I’ve become much more careful about allowing people to get close to me, lest I get hurt again. It’s a bit of a dangerous cycle, because the more I get hurt, the more I withdraw, and therefore the more people are likely to distrust me or think I’m strange, and therefore I withdraw even further. So I have to really make an effort to not let myself get too isolated and fall into that unhealthy cycle.
So you see, living like this is a constant challenge, with days where I feel valued and other days where I feel like an alien species on this planet, with nobody who understands my perspective on the world. I hope my writing about all of this will be helpful to someone else out there, and I really love to get your comments and emails if you feel like sharing or discussing anything. Thanks for stopping by, and don’t forget to subscribe if you think you’ll want to check back from time to time! (The subscribe link is in the sidebar, or if you’re a WordPress user you can just “follow” me.)
A little bit more: I grew up in the beautiful Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, spent five wonderful years in Tokyo, Japan in my twenties, and lived in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan for 15 years. I now live in NW Ohio.
If you’re game, you can jump right in with these get-to-know-the-HSP posts:
How being an HSP affects my life:
Walking in the woods: