How do you feel when more than one person talks to you at once, or there is lots of background noise?
How do you feel when you have to make decisions with multiple choices, or need to respond to messages and emails?
How do you feel when you are in a busy space?
Paying the price of being sensitive
I can, and do, deal with these scenarios on a daily basis. In fact I used to do a job that meant I had to do those things for 12 hours at a time, at pretty much 100mph, lives at stake.
But doing these things takes a toll on me; each exacting a small but incremental price, demanding more from me than I have at that given moment. They don’t lift me up but instead weigh me down. I am sensitive, often highly, to stimuli. That job, when I had it, exhausted me, and I now believe contributed to my breakdown.
I used to talk a lot in therapy about feeling overwhelmed and I’ve written about that feeling before. And it describes somewhat how these things make me feel, and what a large proportion of my days feel like. But it’s more than that.
Why there is a toll to pay
The truth is I’ve always felt a little different. A little isolated, a little in my own world. I used to worry about not dealing with things well. About not fitting in socially.
But reading around what I experience it appears there are some other people like me out there who relate to others in a different way. I fit into a group of people who aren’t the ‘norm’. It is more than simply lacking desired characteristics; confidence, self-esteem, drive, which points to deficiency rather than differences.
There is a bigger picture to look at.
That knowledge fills me with relief.
I am finally growing a better understanding and acceptance of myself. The concept of being a highly sensitive person (HSP) has been axis-turning for me, a variation on the theme of introversion that I can really connect with. The idea that heightened awareness can contribute to that overwhelm.
Things have fallen into place.
I understand the relief I felt when I gave up work. I know why I am finding our current building project difficult and disruptive. I understand my interest in (if not obsession with) minimalism and decluttering. I realise that more often than not I attract friends who are similar to me anyway.
I know why being in a room with a lot of people or a car with three children can trigger negative responses. I recognise that busy places, like a shopping centre in December, make me exhausted. I know that having a supposedly relaxing massage can in fact leave me decidedly unrelaxed.
What I experience has been reframed into a reaction to stimuli, rather than a negative personality trait.
Working with sensitivity
And the interesting thing is that knowing what affects me and how, means that I make better choices. I can avoid situations I can’t deal with well. I can prepare myself better for situations I have to deal with. I can give myself a break too after dealing with something that has been difficult for me.
Accept who you are and work with it, don’t try to fight it. I know I am no good at responding to people in what some would say is a timely manner; quite simply I need time to consider my response and not doing so pretty much always results in me saying something that isn’t what I quite meant. So I make sure I allow myself time to think, and I set aside time to respond.
Plan everyday life carefully. I know how it all mounts up, one thing after another, that incremental drift that suddenly ends with a big bang. So instead I pace myself to avoid overwhelm. At the moment with builders in, other things are not happening, like as much writing and blogging as I would like, but it’s about balance. Being proactive about life is much better than being reactive.
Allow time for desensitisation. You need a portion of time that you can breathe, relax, and enable you to cope with the onslaught of sensory inputs. It’s very clichéd but taking a step back and a big breath can often be the key to taking a step forward. For me time to read at the end of the day is something I’ve always done to escape into another world under my control. Downtime after a big event to counterbalance is important and I also find meditation useful.
The idea of the HSP is only one piece in the jigsaw puzzle of my life, but the insight I have gained is certainly helping me deal with life more positively.