I can distinctly remember a shirt I hated as a child because it was itchy. I remember throwing a fit because of it. I still hate itchy or restrictive clothes. I have to have 400+ thread count sheets and they have to be cotton, not sateen. Otherwise they feel scratchy and I can’t get comfortable.
I’ve also always been keenly aware of scents, and it’s helped me in cooking to know just the right type and amount of seasoning to add to get a certain flavor.
I used to love horror but always hid my face when I knew the scary parts were coming. I can’t watch anything where a bone is broken or out of place. It creates an overwhelming feeling of disgust in me.
Starting in middle school, I could play music by ear. I would put on a CD and find the note and play with it on my alto saxophone. I could read music, too, but that wasn’t nearly as fun. When I played in a ska band, myself and another musician once jammed and found this groove and harmony together and it was blissful. That was over 30 years ago and I’ll never forget that feeling.
I was in the gifted classes and loved to write. I loved to create in general. I was bad at drawing, but I loved photography and making “movies” and eventually creating things using apps.
I would stop the car to stare at sunrises or sunsets, or the way the light was hitting the dew on the ground. I still stare in awe at the stars on a clear night. Sitting in nature feels like home, even when its just my backyard. It always has.
I didn’t know that there was a term associated with these things, coupled with my intense feelings of empathy and emotional responses. I had no idea others didn’t see the world like me. Apparently I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, or HSP. This isn’t a disorder, but considered a personality trait; an innate, unchangeable part of who we are from birth.
Of course, the downside to all of this is it also came with intense anxiety/OCD and depression. While the beauty of the world always astounds me, and I can pick up on emotions and connect with people deeply, I also pick up on anger and fear and hate. I learned to cope with OCD. Anxiety became my security blanket, keeping me “safe” from the negative feelings that overwhelmed me so much. It also became a fantastic scapegoat.
In high school, I developed the anxiety and depression. It was like a switch flipped when I started dating my first boyfriend, who wasn’t the best person, and my world went dark. I started failing classes I would have easily passed. I stopped going. I dropped out my senior year, halfway through. I didn’t understand how to handle everything I felt. I was overwhelmed by just existing at that point. I somehow went back to night school and got the final credits I needed to graduate with my class, but the darkness was still there.
Eventually, I found the right combination of medication and therapy to bring me back to life. I’m still here now, and I’m still learning about navigating life as a highly sensitive person at almost 40 years old. Some days, especially now during the second year of the pandemic and after years of political turmoil and hatred sprouting up everywhere, I retreat back to the safety of my anxiety. And most days, I still haven’t figured out how to be alone in the world, to go do something I want to do just because I want to. I constantly worry about being judged or not doing it right or “what if…, ” the worst phrase in an anxious person’s vocabulary.
But I also still stop and stare at the sunset. I still sit outside and feel the breeze and it brings me back to my true self, my core, my energy. I still connect with people deeply and fully, and I’m finding more people like me who understand and can walk with me. I have survived trauma others couldn’t dream of, and I’m still here, able to see the beauty in the world and grateful for the life I’ve been given. I will always have more growing to do, more practices to learn to break the chains of anxiety and embrace who I am at my core. But at least I can do so while fully appreciating the feeling of the sunlight on my skin and the colors of the sunset sky and the brightness of the stars.
Being highly sensitive is difficult in this world, but its a gift I would never trade.