Last summer, I had the incredible blessing of being near home for the summer – to make it even better, Nicholas and I were able to visit our hometown and spend the Fourth of July holiday with our best friends. Looking back on it now, I can better appreciate how blessed we were to have this happen.
The whole holiday was a blast, including the fireworks (no pun intended). Afterwards, we wandered down to the water to watch the carferry, whose home port is at our city, back up and dock. As we waited, a small boat with a cute family drew up alongside where my gaggle of friends and I stood. Although I didn’t understand immediately what was happening, it eventually registered to me that they were trying to pull up to the ladder by us so that a few people could disembark. I stood and watched, unsure what to do. Without prompting, one of the people in our party, Kyle, stepped forward and offered a hand so they could pull up level alongside the pier. Once they had pulled up, they even handed him a small dog to hold onto as an older lady and a young girl hopped onto land from the boat. He handed the dog back, thanks were exchanged, but that was it. They never asked for the help, he just anticipated it. There was no exchange of names, just pure human connection. I thought the whole thing was wonderfully beautiful and I began to cry. The act of remembering it and writing it now has my sappy ass tearing up in a Starbucks.
When I relayed this story to my therapist the following week, she asked me if I had ever heard of “highly sensitive people”. I had seen the phrase floating around but chalked it up to another internet personality test or something. She informed me that there was actually some interesting science behind the personality type, and even produced a book from which she began to ask me questions.
Are you easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input?
Yes, I replied.
Do you find yourself easily affected by the moods of people around you?
Do you avoid violent television or movies?
I sure do.
She went on and almost every thing she read brought on an affirmation by me. There’s actually a test you can take if you’re so inclined over at https://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-test/.
Although I knew in general that I was a sensitive person, I didn’t think it was anything worth labeling. However, I’ve found a sort of sense of relief ever since she brought the concept of highly sensitive people to my attention. There are enough people out there just like me that we have our own little diagnosis. Our club includes a lot of crying and a preference for quiet, comforting scenarios.
I think the most interesting thing now that I’ve had some time to digest the concept of being a HSP is how it relates to my other diagnoses. A HSP without childhood trauma probably passes through the world with a bit less difficulty than someone whose brain was probably fucked literally from conception. It alters the lens through which each of my neurosis acts out.
HSP and BPD
These two together make perfect sense. Interacting with a person who has borderline personality disorder has been described as “walking on eggshells”. It’s incredibly difficult for anyone, including the person with BPD themselves, to know what might trigger their rage, their fear of abandonment, their emotional instability. Being a HSP on top of this makes every emotion feel that much more volatile.
I’m fortunate that at this point in my life, I’m considered “cured” of BPD. I don’t meet enough of the diagnostic criteria. There are still thought processes and behaviors that I have to be aware of creeping in to my everyday life but overall it’s not as much of a challenge for me as it used to be. Thank God. I’d rather deal with spontaneous crying any day of the week over the anger, the unpredictable mood shifts, the self-inflicted violence that characterized my behavior as a person with borderline.
HSP and GAD
I would be willing to wager that highly sensitive people are most likely to develop generalized anxiety disorder out of all the mental health disorders. Being hyper aware of sensations, the emotions of others, and the state of the world just lends itself to anxiety. I would imagine it might manifest as other related anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety. In my older age, I have found my social anxiety is more or less non-existent. One day, I basically woke up and thought to myself, “If people don’t like me, they can go fuck themselves.” If I had any idea what triggered this switch to flip in my head, I’d tell you. Like most mental switch flips I’ve had though, they just sort of happened. Except for the decision I could never commit suicide. That was the LSD.
HSP and PD
Panic disorder as a highly sensitive person absolutely sucks. I’m triggered really easily and hyper aware of the various sources of my discomfort while panicking. On the more optimistic side, I am comforted by soft fabrics, quiet, warmth, and anything else I find comforting perhaps more easily than others.
It’s not all bad!
After all, like I just mentioned, I find simple things very comforting. I take an increased amount of pleasure out of beautiful art, poignant music, and other things I love. I’m actually more likely to cry because I love something than I am because I’m upset. And I’m at a point in my life that I’m relatively unashamed of my tendency to cry at everything. The only time it really sucks is when I cry because I’m angry. People tend to misinterpret my unbridled wrath as sadness. Bastards.
Although it took until I was 33 years old* to discover this about myself, I’m glad that I did. It makes me go a little easier on myself when I get upset or excited easily. It also helps me make better decisions about how I spend my time, where I want to spend it, and for how long. Label or no, I think I would have put all of this together eventually but having it all wrapped up neatly under the title “highly sensitive person” does help. If you or someone you know sounds like they might fall under the description of a HSP, send them that link above! And then maybe offer some nice hot cocoa and snuggles. Even if they’re not a HSP, I bet they’d still enjoy them. See you next Monday.