I’ve always been highly sensitive—to everything, from emotional and intellectual stimuli to physical stimuli—to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures. As such, I am opinionated—not because I am trying to be difficult or judgmental, but because I truly sense and feel things to a sometimes extreme degree. For the most part, I consider my ability to feel everything so intensely a gift—but sometimes, it can be a real pain in the ass.
I never knew that being highly sensitive was considered by some to be a “disorder” (BS, if you ask me). Apparently, a bunch of psychiatric scholars needed to fill a few spots in the DSM in order to meet their word count. I will admit that it’s a double-edged sword, but, without this ultra-sensitivity (personally, I think it’s more like just being human), I would not have been able to have become a writer. I would not be able to be an editor, either, which involves recognizing the nuances and subtleties of language that can determine the flow, mood, and cadence of an article, essay, or book.
Being sensitive keeps me attuned to life. It helps me read body language and facial expressions and other nonverbal cues. It has made me intuitive, empathetic, caring, and perceptive. But it’s also made me at times anxious, melancholy, or depressed. Sometimes I feel as if my nerves are like electrical cords that have been cut, leaving the ends of the live wires exposed. That’s great when you’re experiencing pleasure. But, when it comes to pain…I guess it’s a trade-off. As the Swiss author Madame de Staël once said, in life, “One must make a choice between boredom and suffering.” Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on how you look at it—it’s not always a choice.
But sometimes it’s the little things in life that really get to me (I’ll get to the bigger things in a later post). There are lots of little things that bother me, and I’d venture to say that they bother me more than they bother most people. I’m not trying to be difficult or curmudgeonly. I am simply aware of and sensitive to the tiniest “niggles.” Here are a few, in no particular order of insignificance:
- That thing where you buy a cup of coffee and the server aligns the opening of the lid with the crease in the cup, thereby forcing your mouth to feel the top of the crease when you sip. Not very comfortable. And, sure, you can just reposition the lid, but that’s just another niggle. And, what if you’re in a hurry? What if the coffee is filled to the top and you spill it on yourself when you take off the lid?
That thing where, after you’ve made your bed with nice crisp, cool sheets—you know, the kind that “snap” when you shake them out as you’re making the bed—perfectly tucked at the bottom, along with your comforter, your husband gets into bed and moves around so that the crisp sheets, which had been laying comfortably and lightly on top of you so that you barely noticed them, are now tucked against your body, crumpled at your feet, making you feel hot and uncomfortable and acutely aware of every wrinkle, and the now-warm fabric clinging to your skin.
That thing where you hold a door for a stranger, even though your arms are full and you have to stretch your body to keep the door open, and the stranger walks right through (usually talking on a cellphone) without acknowledging.
3(a) When a cashier answers “uh-huh” or “yep” when you say “thank you.”
3(b) When you congratulate a neighbor whose kid was accepted to Brown and she just smiles coyly and slightly smiles, as if to say, “Oh, that’s so darling of you, you poor peasant, to try to engage me in conversation.”
4. That thing where you’re on the parkway in the center lane with your turn signals on, trying to politely get into the left lane of cars merging onto the interstate (as the center-lane cars, which are well behind you but getting closer, are doing 60 MPH), and the driver of the car that you wave to and smile in order to say “please let me in” pretends not to see you and speeds up to close the gap between his car and the car in front of him.
- That thing where a young, able-bodied man in line ahead of you at the supermarket checkout not only has a huge order of heavy cans and bottles, including 75 individual cans of different flavors (aka different SKUs) of cat food and 90 individual jars of different flavors and sizes of baby food, but also stands there while the 65-year-old woman behind the register loads his bags.
5(a) Haughty women who present checks and don’t take their checkbooks out until after the order has been bagged, when they begin searching through their handbags as the line grows behind them.
5(b) Obnoxious cheapskates who insist that the cashier to call the manager to see if their 18-ounce box of Cheerios is included in two-for sale, when the sign and the circular say (and the display clearly holds) nothing but 8.9-ounce boxes.
- That thing where a friend marries a prominent doctor and suddenly “Come on over” becomes “I want to have you up to the house.”
That thing where you have dinner at a friend’s house with a group of people and, as you go to take a sip of water, you notice that your glass has a residual “smell” to it—like milk or juice or whatever was in it previously. You’re thirsty. You can’t ask for a new glass or sneak out to wash it, so instead, you excuse yourself to the bathroom, and cup your hands under the faucet and drink water from your hands.
That thing where a mother and her young children are walking along a busy street on a cold day—and the mother is dressed in a warm parka with a scarf and gloves, and her tykes are trailing behind her with no hats or mittens as the cars race by. (This happens quite often.)
That thing where someone is speaking and he or she has a tiny, barely visible string of sticky saliva on their top or bottom lip and every time they close their mouth, the string sticks to both lips, and when they open their mouth it breaks again, and you can hear it each time. How can that person continue to speak without wiping the spit off of his or her mouth with a tissue?
That thing where you hear the opening notes of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” (“In the Arms of the Angels”) on the radio, and tears burst out of your eyes and your heart hurts as you picture every dog that’s ever been hurt or abused or spent any time in a shelter.
That thing where you have to have a Dohm white-noise machine on your desk because you can hear every tiny sound in the office and you find it so distracting, you can’t concentrate on your work. The Dohm makes a nice, steady hum.
Being sensitive can be exhausting. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I can’t imagine going through life not feeling deeply—though it might be nice to take a vacation from sensitivity every once in a while.