For decades my mom has said  I grew up in an entirely different world than everyone else and she was never quite sure what to do with me.

I spent most of my childhood and well into my adulthood wondering what was wrong with me, why was I so different from my family? Why was I so odd and why didn’t they seem to like me very much? I often felt like the heart-shaped, hulked out strawberry with three humps on the bottom that makes all the other strawberries look dainty and normal.

Earlier this year my therapist asked me if anyone had ever talked to me about being a highly sensitive person (HSP.) Sensitivity has such a negative connotation anymore, so to be highly sensitive sounded awful. But as she asked me questions about my childhood and current reality it became very clear that I most certainly fall into the category of highly sensitive. It turns out my mom wasn’t completely wrong, while my sister and I grew up in the same house with the same experiences — the way I experienced the world was, and continues to be, entirely different than those closest to me.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain is with a football game.

Cody at a football game: Watches the players play the game. Is happy when his team scores, is unhappy when something bad happens.

Me at a football game: LOOK AT ALL THE PEOPLE! LOOK AT THE SEA OF COLORS AND ALL THE DIFFERENT SHIRTS PEOPLE ARE WEARING. Look at all the relationships and friendships and interactions! THEY LOOK SO HAPPY TOGETHER! OH! The must be in a fight. LOOK STRONG PEOPLE ON THE FIELD PLAYING A GAME! Wait, what are all those lines for? What is that guy doing over there in the corner with that stick? CHEERLEADERS! I smell popcorn! SOMEONE IS SMOKING BY ME I WILL END THEM. I wonder where the cameras are. These benches really do make your rear go numb. Wait, where did we park? Look at the shadows on the field! I hope it will be a good sunset. When is my next dentist appointment? THEY SCORED! EVERYONE IS SO HAPPY AND LOUD! Look at that cute baby coming up the stairs, I wouldn’t bring a baby to a football game. When was my last period anyway? Is Cody having a good time? I really like that girl’s hair. Did I go to high school with that kid? OMG COTTON CANDY! I always forget which is offense and which is defense. I wish football season lasted longer, it’s so much more entertaining than baseball. Do I correct the people behind me who think the stadium was built in 1998 or do I keep listening to the couple in front of me talking about where they’re going to eat after the show? OH! That guy over there brought a flask! I CAUGHT YOU! I wonder what it would be like in a suite. I wonder if we’ll ever be in a suite. Is football the same everywhere you go? That player has nice arms. WAIT WHERE DID THE BALL GO? Why is it called ‘seeding’ or is it ‘seating?’ Neither one makes much sense. OOH BAND! AND CHEERLEADERS! Wait, who’s that guy with the flag? He looks out of place. How much longer? I do love how cozy this sweatshirt is, I’m glad I brought it. Cody smells good. Whoops, forgot to watch the actual game again and now everyone is cheering so I’ll just go along with it. FOCUS ON THE GAME! Oooh, but look at her hot dog, I could go for a hot dog. I wonder if they have dill relish. Sweet relish is the pits. Should I go to the restroom now or wait until halftime when everyone else goes? Maybe I don’t even need to go? What if there was an earthquake? Would we make it? If there were a stampede where would I go? How would I find Cody? *check pockets for ID and cash just in case*  IT’S SO LOUD. THERE’S SO MANY SOUNDS. A CACOPHONY OF FOOTBALL NOISES! But wait, wow, it’s getting really loud. I’m kind of overwhelmed. Whoa, I’m exhausted.

And that’s just the first five minutes.

So take this example and apply it to any number of situations. Concerts, holiday shopping, church, backyard BBQs, road trips, the DMV, watching TV or even getting a pap smear. All five senses are on all the time, which is rich and wondrous in many settings, but absolutely exhausting in others. Sometimes even scary.

Tulip Time-2947

You see, up until a few years ago I didn’t see the worst case scenario in every situation. PTSD will really eff with you in that regard, anxiety will turn up the volume, and sensitivity will have a person completely and constantly on edge and high alert. Fight or flight all. the. time.

I’ve never known anything else.

I’ve only found two others in my orbit who score higher than me on the HSP test, and both of them practice reiki. So I’m just sensitive enough to know when you’re having a shitty day, but not sensitive enough to heal your life energy. It’s probably a good thing too, as I’m the only extroverted HSP I’ve come across as well. If you give an extrovert the power to heal through energy they’ll likely crumble in a heap in an attempt to save the world. (Or at least that seems like what would happen.)

Most of the time I like being the giant strawberry. Means I can show the other strawberries what they’re missing out on (when I feel like sharing, that is.)

tl;dr: If you’ve always felt like a hacky sack in a world full of tennis balls, you may be highly sensitive. And if you are? Cool. Me too.

 

Comments

  1. 23. I’ve never heard sensitive as being described they way you just have. Logically it makes sense but it feels like it is being stifled by negative connotation.

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    Casey Reply:

    @Angela S, That’s what I thought too! ‘Highly Sensitive’ seems so…terrible. When in reality it’s more of a heightened awareness? Time to rebrand it!

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  2. This sounds like a running commentary from my 23yo daughter! And sometimes me, but not quite as ‘loud’. Our daughter has also just been assessed for ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and is on the spectrum which makes so much sense. Though she tends to be an introverted lass, and needs time away from everyone after working four half days to refresh and recover and restore. (Also has a lovely boss who understands her limitations :) ).

    Love your words.

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  3. 20. I knew this about me. My sister describes the noise in her Bipolar II head in a very similar way.

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  4. OMG, I scored a 19. I frequently have to leave loud places. Even my kids know that sometimes we need “quiet time” in the car with complete silence, and they’re cool with it. I’m a sensitive strawberry too.

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  5. I scored a 20. I’m not at all sensitive to other people. But am sensitive in general. Overwhelmed easily. Extremely sensitive hurt feelings. Need quiet and dark and calm. Avoid upsetting TV; I call it, I want to watch something happy.

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  6. I worked reception/front office at a Massage Therapy school when I was 24, they had the HSP book and when I read it I just cried and cried that something finally described why going to Disneyland requires one full day of quiet afterwards and why things take so much out of me but yet I am still chatty and sociable. <3

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  7. If you give an extrovert the power to heal through energy they’ll likely crumble in a heap in an attempt to save the world. (Or at least that seems like what would happen.)

    I’m both an extrovert & HSP as well (scored 24 on that test). I can only imagine you’re right on this front, the sheer will of wanting to fix everyone and everything is too overwhelming sometimes.

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  8. 19. And I tend to test right on the line of extroverted and introverted and can go either way depending on my mood that day. I’m never strongly one or the other. I tend to think I’m slightly extroverted, my husband says not. But he’s super introverted. But, especially sensitive to noises, lights, etc.

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