Friday, November 9, 2018

Trigger Warning

No one is ever going to accuse me of being hardy. (Note: I routinely spell this word hearty, which is a delightful pun as I grapple with the existential meaning of arrhythmia.) If I were an artist, I'd be a consumptive poet (long have I felt this deep within). If I were a bug, I'd be of the potato variety, stuck on the rigid shell of my back, flailing my legs. If I were a flower I'd be night-blooming jasmine, fragrant but consigned to the time when everything sleeps.

I've spent my whole life grappling with my differentness - how I think, how I feel things, how I struggle, how I excel. And yet, I pass. I mean, in every way. I'm a person of Puerto Rican and Italian heritage who's as WASPy-looking as they come. (Actually, ask anyone and they'll tell you that, if I were a cultural sterotype, I would be a WASP.) I'm an introvert who somehow manages to present (as if without effort) like Auntie Mame. I'm a person who feels physically bereft at the sight of clouds, living in a place that (admittedly due to climate change) comes off like a cross between Ireland and Vancouver but with ice storms and bitter, damp cold - and without any of the charm or good geography. I love, love, love people and community and I am all too often limited in enjoying these things up close and personal - though as infrequently as possible - because the constant stimulus can start to feel like the singe-ing of hair on the back of my neck. Weird sidebar: I used to have the worst time having my hair cut because I could feel the energy of the scissors (and the holder of the scissors) tickling me and poking at me, even while each was still a foot away (and even if I didn't even know they were behind me).

But my most masterful play, dare I say it, is in my very normal affect given that I am often in excessively irritating to utterly extreme physical pain which (mercifully) cycles from place to place. Let's not dwell on diagnostics here. They don't matter.

Make no mistake - stuck with pain and given the choice, I would much rather appear entirely unphased, totally healthy, robust, energetic and carefree. But I imagine it's challenging for people to understand how, given that I always finish the job on time and generally with a smile, I'm nonetheless on one specific plane falling apart. Lord knows I've been wondering this for as long as I can remember. And the bitch about planes is that they all end up intersecting at some point.

It's never been an easy time to be a sensitive person, but I do think today presents its own array of terrible obstacles - particularly if you live amongst millions. I'm not here to define sensitivity. It's everywhere - dust in the corners. It's as you see it, as you feel it. Some people - we might call them lucky - can push it away at will. In my anecdotal experience, those peeps seem very hardy. They're the ones who can, unhindered, run marathons, lift heavy boxes, work 20 hours straight. The stimulus bounces from them (likely ricocheting to me!) Some even thrive in the fray. Of course, in my anecdotal experience, I don't know how many of these people are also passing, but I've done my "research" (via a casual little conversational questionnaire I've devised) and most of the ones I see as hardy actually are. Or they're lying. These people can push themselves to the physical limits without pain, not that they necessarily do. When a noise goes off without warning, they're not the ones who jump a foot and then spend the next minute doing self-devised, vagus nerve stimulation exercises.

I've been given the opportunity (and I'm not being entirely glib) of pain for years, in all kinds of places, pain that comes and goes like the cycles of weather - but less predictably. Why? Because it has revealed to me that sensitive people of a certain sort have limited filter separating sensation between body and mind (that's a hardy person thing) and you can't begin to manage things if you don't see them. Spoiler alert: Most likely, management doesn't involve powering through which is rather unfortunate since, to date, that's been my primary MO.

I love to compare things. Everything. It's the basis of whatever envy I have, my natural curiosity, my pattern-seeking way. But I'm not here to compare the hardy to the sensitive. We look the same but we might as well be dogs and cats. The world doesn't show itself to us equivalently. We live harmoniously in the same domain but we are not in the same place.

I am not inferior because I am physically weak. I am physically weak because I'm intercepting every fucking feather-brush of stimulus in my proximity. My brain gives me something that others don't have. Sure, most wouldn't take it, but it's still a grand experience - the beauty and depth of which they may never be able to appreciate. By my nature, IMO, I'm also expressing generational epigenetics - and probably actual crap genes. This is neither science nor magic - it's the convergence of the two.

In the way we are physically changed by music when we hear (or better yet play) it, by the patterns of numbers in code, by the stitches of fabric being formed, I am changed by the slightest flutter. I'm your canary in the coal mine. I have something big to give. I just don't know how to do it.


  1. Well, keep talking, because it's useful.

    Although, I will say that learning to pick up heavy things reduced my overall level of frazzle. Maybe there's a connection there. It helped balance me, weightlifting did.

  2. Oh yes! I'm constantly amazed by the difference in mine and my husband's awareness of stimuli. It's abundantly clear, if I'm thoughtful about it, why I get frazzled and sick and spend the early hours awake far too often, and he can keep going and going. We have a houseful of family right now, including a Very Active Three and a Seven-Month Babe, and I'm desperate for an hour on the flour of a dark, closed closet-- whereas he cranked out handmade pasta for the spaghetti and meatballs he served with roast vegetables last night for eight of us. And then did the dishes while we ate my contribution, the lemon tarts I picked up at a very good Patisserie nearby (so my discernment, basically, was my contribution). Granted, I did some kid-wrangling and dispensed plenty of loving Nana vibes, but with a day and a half of the visit to go (and a 24-hour stint of having the two Littles on our own while Mama and Papa go play, as they should), I'm already beginning to panic about my stomach cranking up the GERD. Whereas he'll wake in another hour full of energy for another day (helps that he sleeps so well when he has the chance -- I'm so envious of that!). But yes, it does help for me to know that our different levels of sensitivity do privilege me in some ways. I could do without the crazy adrenaline spike--never mind the embarrassment of having shouted out my shock-- every time someone comes too quietly into a room and then speaks to me. . . (combine high sensitivity with poor hearing and you find me yelping at least five times a day -- so wearing, and I doubt that cortisol does my waistline much good ;-)

    1. Whoa! I let that get away on me, didn't I? Excuse the babble. . .

  3. I think high sensitivity is good for writers. Evidence here tells me so:). As long as you can find ways to sit above the flow of stimuli, rather than it peck you death (she says as she cuddles on her sofa in the early afternoon, feeling energy ebb and waiting for it to flow back.)

  4. Such a treat to find a new post from you, Kristin, and with the replies from Frances and Lisa my three favorite internet writers are here. (Not meaning to leave you out, hearth, I just don't know you.) Reading all this, I am reminded of Dabrowski's work on overexcitabilites in gifted children. It is very hard for highly sensitive adults, as well as children, to live in our world.

    1. No worries. :) I write too, actually. But I really did knock a lot of my unpleasant oversensitivity out with heavy weightlifting and progesterone cream. I'm sure Kristin has tried that kind of thing, not a urge-to-change. Just a "hey, this thing that looks like it's hard is actually a thing that makes my life better".

  5. Love this, lots. Sensitive people for the win. I wonder what we would be like in the same room together -- I feel emotions so viscerally, over my arms and the back of my neck and in my chest and wheeee-eee the list goes on.

    I found you through a review about EM, as I was searching for deconstructed EM bras. I'm currently trying to write an algorithm for custom bra patterns. It's... very difficult, and I'm trying to figure out some geometric relationships at larger sizes. Any thoughts? I feel like we should hang out. \o/