When I was a child, I was an emotional whirlwind. Little things would make me laugh, cry or scream in rage. Like most young children, I had a hard time controlling my emotions, but there seemed to be more to it than that.
As I grew older, I noticed that I had a gift for noticing small details in what I saw, smelled, heard, felt, or tasted. I didn’t call it a gift back then. It felt like a curse. It was very distracting and, at times, it even seemed overwhelming.
I realized I over-analyzed everything, including myself. I felt the stress and pain of others as I sat next to them. I disliked the chaos of crowded streets and busy shopping centers. I felt torn by the multitude of classes at school. There were days that I needed to hide away and recover from the endless information overload. As it turns out, I was showing many signs of a highly sensitive person.
High sensitivity or “sensory-processing sensitivity” isn’t a disorder. It’s a born trait that can be greatly affected by environmental stimuli. This is not the same as Autism, ADHD, or anything like that. People with high sensitivity seem to process sensory data more deeply due to the nature of their central nervous system, according to psychologists Elaine and Arthur Aron. High sensitivity affects 15 to 20% of the population.
Highly sensitive people experience the world a little differently. We don’t have special abilities like Superman. Although, I wouldn’t mind flying. We are more aware than others of subtleties. This can be good and bad. Some people are so sensitive that they startle easily. Others are more sensitive to pain, hunger, or rough materials.
We often see a sensitive person as weak, especially in western culture. On the contrary, being sensitive has made me stronger. Yes, we can be strong AND sensitive. These two aspects are not mutually exclusive. They work in conjunction.
Many sensitive people are strong; think of Mother Teresa or Gandhi. They are stronger because they can embrace who they are and use their sensitivity to help others. I now consider my sensitivity as a gift instead of a curse. It has enabled me to be more aware of my environment and adjust quickly to certain situations. It has made me more intuitive and empathetic to others. I enjoy helping people and leaving them with smiles on their faces.
I also have a deeper appreciation for the beauty in the smallest of places. I wish others could experience the world through my senses, if just for a moment. A simple walk in the woods is like a cornucopia of stimuli. I wish you could hear the faint rustling of leaves that echo in my ears like a flock of starlings taking flight. Feel the cool green grass on my feet as it envelopes my toes. Smell the fresh scent of soil and taste the sweet scent of blossoms in hues of every color, each rich and distinct.
My sensitivity is one of the reasons I write. To someone with high sensitivity, an average day can be difficult. A busy day filled with chaos is overwhelming. By the end of the day, my brain couldn’t process it all. I couldn’t shut down. I found that writing it out, putting my feelings into words, released it from my head. It quieted the storm.
Writing also gave me the opportunity to share what I experience. Some may see a flying moth, but I see a tiny creature fluttering on powdery paper wings. Guided by a scent on the breeze, it alights on a stubbly tree trunk, vanishing into its environment.
I have learned to temper the anxiety of chaotic situations. I now see them more like a buffet for the creative senses. That busy street or tiny bug can be woven into words or painted with a brush. I am strong enough to accept my emotions. Do I get angry at the news? Sure. Do I tear up when I see a man grieving? Yes. Do I laugh out loud for no reason? Heck, yeah. But I am thankful because it reminds me that I’ve been given a gift, I feel, and I am alive.