Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author, Pearl S. BuckÂ said,
“A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create~ so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.”
And we now know Buck was an HSP – A Highly Sensitive Person, as it is colloquially called by the pioneer in this research, Dr. Elaine Aron, PhD. Perhaps ironically, HSPs also have the ability to be more adaptable than the average person, if for no other reason than we HAVE to be to survive, and I suspect that the HSPs who aren’t able to, for whatever reason, end up being overwhelmed to the point where they can descend into isolation or even suicide. Especially if they have little support from friends or family.
But HSPs are uniquely qualified to problem-solve. They have a unique brain architecture known in the literature as Sensory Processing Sensitivity. There is a difference in what they feel, as opposed to most others in our society. If two people are being poked in the leg, and one is an HSP and one is not, the one who is not HSP will interpret that as a finger poking them, the HSP might interpret this as an ice pick. So while they might be feeling more pain, they are also more motivated to make it stop, and because HSPs tend to be analytical and creative problem solvers, they are the ones most likely to find the solution.
With the Holiday coming up this weekend, I’m having to deal with many of my least-favorite things. No, I’m not talking about shopping or relatives. I’m not doing either. I’m talking about that dreadful set of decisions I have to make, which I not only want to avoid, but wish I could just sleep through.
I am in that mode where I’m fighting off depression and sadness because the holidays are always a source of pain for me. I can’t even recall the last time I had one I enjoyed, and most of them, I’ve spent alone. It’s made worse when I look around me and so many other people I know are all glowing and happy because they have someone who loves and wants them…it makes me feel sad. I’m happy for THEM, but sad for me, because I don’t have that, and haven’t, for a very long time. Even worse, is when one of those happy people is someone you recently fell for, and they didn’t fall for you, but then went immediately into another relationship and DID fall for the other person; and you watch as they say things about that other person you only wanted them to say about you, and they post happy pictures and remove the ones that had you in them. I want to be happy for them, and I am, but it always comes with a sadness. Why couldn’t it have been me? Why can’t I ever find love? And then the tears come, and the scar on my heart gets opened up again, and I sit and bleed…wondering when I’ll find a spark of hope or inspiration again.
So it’s helpful if I can be social with the friends I do have during the holiday season, since I don’t have any family, but it’s often difficult to catch them on holidays, because they have families and established friends to do that with, and I still don’t know that many people here. I’m not going to be on the list of first chosen to spend time with. Am I having a pity party? Hell yes. I feel pitiful. It feels unfair. And I’m once again feeling terrible about it all. Thanks to the wretched holiday season.
Here’s the crux of my dilemma. As an HSP, my Sensory Processing Sensitivity means I’m easily overwhelmed and stressed by certain situations. Some of those are chaos, loud noise and too many different types of noises, crowds of strangers, all crammed together in a small space, driving and parking downtown, drunk people. Now, tell me, doesn’t that sound like your average holiday party at a pub? So I am always forced into this awkward position: I don’t want to disappoint any friend I might have who invited me, but I also don’t want to put myself through it, especially since the holidays are already really difficult for me. And sometimes being among drunk strangers just makes me feel more alone (and there’s the added insult that they are all straight people, and I’m gay–another source for feeling like an outcast–why would I want to pal around with a bunch of drunk straight men? Especially when they’re usually putting their hands all over me–or trying. I have had moments when they run the risk of pulling back a stump).Â And then, there’s also the parking issue. The last two times I went downtown to socialize, I got two tickets and also got my car towed (and of course this was after I had to spend 300$ on a brake job–so 550$ later, I’m aware of my aversion to going downtown). Driving downtown is also very stressful to me because there’s too much information pelting my senses–
Turn here? [looking at GPS on iPhone]…oops BRAKE LIGHTS!Â Nearly rammed someone…Crap! I need my reading glasses because I’m wearing my contacts…what’s that sign say? I can’t read it! oh, take off my reading glasses…. my hands are shaking…oops, I should have turned there…I’ll turn here OH MY GOD THAT’S A ONE-WAY STREET….[backing up]…STOP HONKING AT ME! I CAN’T have an accident….I finally get a decent vehicle and if I have a wreck, I’ll be so upset…I smell something burning…I hope it’s not something under my hood….SAME FINGER TO YOU BUDDY!….plus worrying about paying for it, and being trapped with no transportation….that screaming Serpentine-belt I need to get fixed…so embarrassing when someone hears it, need to get that fixed, but it’s going to be a couple hundred dollars to do…the noise of it is so irritating…is this where I turn? fuck!Â I nearly ran over someone on the cross walk…STOP HONKING AT ME!! Did I bring my wallet? What if I have to park in the street? Do I even have change? DO I NEED CHANGE? Stop Honking at me!!
Now, compare that to a low-impact or pleasant sensory experience….
Wow…the snow is so pretty and there’s so many trees….know where I’m going…it’s three blocks down on Vance, turn rightÂ then into the free parking area. Got a good space up front….walking into the shopping district…it’s so clean, here… the air smells clean, too…yum, this Juicy Fruit gum smells and tastes so good….it feels good to walk, the rhythm of it is soothing to me…I love all the holiday lights strung on everything here…people look happy, walking along…my life is good….I smell barbeque…and popcorn…mmmm……now I’m hungry, but this place has really good food too, so I’ll just order something delicious….the theater is right there…maybe we could catch a movie matinee tomorrow…oh, that’s my favorite Xmas song…..[singing] “have yourself….a merry little christmas….” just around the corner, my friend waits and we’ll have a drink and conversation, and enjoy our connection…maybe we can sit in front of that fireplace…I love fireplaces…so cozy…I love it when she laughs and smiles…she’s a good friend, I feel lucky to have her in my life…this time, I will hug her and not let go first….I’ll just have a nice relaxing drink or two…if we’re there a while, and I drink more than two drinks, I can just walk home…this is my neighborhood, and it’s familiar and safe…what a beautiful night it is tonight….
See the difference? Having that sensory sensitivity might be bad sometimes, but it can also be extremely pleasant other times. That’s why HSPs are generally highly creative, and spend a good deal of time doing creative things–music, writing, art–all three of which I ACTUALLY DO. And HSPs also need to have some control over their environment and their schedules and their social lives., so that they can create a balance of sensory experience.
So, when I am invited into chaos, I always try to make alternate plans so I can see the people I DO know and care about; but they don’t always want to sit in a quieter place and have a cocktail and talk . I guess I really am odd, because that’s one of my favorite things to do. I want to connect with those I care about or am interested in getting to know. Can’t do that in a loud bar where you have to shout at each other, or when the goal is to get hammered.Â And by the time I even GET to that location I’m stressed out. Then I can’t have more than two drinks, because I have to drive home, and I just DON’T drink and drive.Â And just when I needed a drink the most. Not to mention I’m really nervous because I know that a lot of people DO DRINK AND DRIVE and I’m afraid one of them will hit me.Â Call me a party-pooper, but it’s just not the sort of interaction I enjoy. Some HSPs can handle it better because they’re Extroverted HSPs. For the most part, I am an Introverted HSP. I love interaction like conversation and communion in a soothing atmosphere, watching movies, playing a game…but the more chaos and the less control I have, the more stressful it becomes for me. And I’m so weary of having to explain it, and so tired of being made to feel guilty for being who I am. Is it any wonder that it’s easy to become isolated? Or depressed? Is it any wonder why I question the reason for my existence?