It’s nothing deadly or anything of which to be afraid. It is not even a mental disorder. It’s a personality trait. It stands for a Highly Sensitive Person. You probably know some. I do. Perhaps you are an HSP.
We are a country full of them. It is estimated by Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D. that 15-20 percent of the population are HSPs. They are not rare. Dr. Aron coined the term in 1996.
She published her research in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.
A therapist recommended I read it. It is excellent.
It is a perfectly normal and healthy thing to be. It comes from a gene some people are born with.
A little summary of HSP
In the Preface of her book, the first line is, Cry baby! Followed by, Scaredy Cat! and Don’t be a spoilsport! And there was always the well-meaning, You’re just too sensitive for your own good.
She had me at Cry Baby.
Oh the number of times I remember hearing that from my mother when I was growing up.
Her other favorite when talking to people was, Oh, you can’t talk to Yvonne, all she does is tune up and cry.
I was referred to as high strung. Yes, words hurt, but also words heal. The pathway to healing came later in life. I hated being called a cry baby, but after all, what are friends for? Ha!
Usually the four main signs of an HSP are:
- Depth of processing
- Sensing the subtle
I can relate to these. You may, too.
HSPs are also sensitive to sounds, lights, smells, loud noises, clutter. Their responses to art and to music are heightened.
Over the top
What I notice as I age is I feel these emotions a tad more intensely compared to days gone by.
You are born with it and you die with it. Your nervous system is in overdrive, which I attribute to why I’m rarely calm. HSPs experience the world slightly differently than people without this trait. It is neither better nor worse just different.
At the crossroads with bipolar, an HSP’s overstimulation from the environment can be a trigger for a bipolar mood episode.
This happened to me just recently. I didn’t know what was going on. I was confused and unfocused.
I had more than three things scheduled on one day. This is a big no-no for me. One was unscheduled. I rarely schedule more than one outing a day.
One activity a day is about all I can handle. On my gym days, I can get by with a morning workout and afternoon lunch with a friend. I usually go to the gym and have a haircut the same day.
The last couple of weeks have been harried. Along with usual things, we were looking to buy a car.
We had an upcoming trip to Birmingham for a memorial service for a family relative, who was a phenomenal woman. I would be driving a car we’d had only a few days.
It is bigger than my little Mazda. My hands were glued to the steering wheel. My eyes were bouncing around from mirror to mirror. Happy to report we arrived home safely.
The day after we got the car, word got out I was selling my Mazda. Someone wanted pictures. Sent them.
Then they wanted to test drive it. They were here in an hour. We hadn’t even thought about price or what Paul felt he should do to the car before selling.
The pet sitter we had lined up canceled on us. The pressure to find a new sitter was stressful. (Thank you so much, Cheryl, for coming through for us.)
The dogs were barking like there was no tomorrow. I’m asked question after question about the dogs’ needs while we’re gone. Questions had to be asked but by now, emotionally, I’m about to collapse. I want this all to stop.
I had in place in my mind things to do to keep me from these kinds of stressors. But things had been building for over a week to this crescendo, and I was emotionally spent.
This was the worst shape I have been in for quite awhile. Surprisingly, I handled all this without crying.
Thankfully this was a mild case of whatever. While writing this, it seems to me there is overlap with bipolar and HSP.
After reading up on bipolar, I think the only thing they have in common is overstimulation. HSP is not a diagnosis. So if I am self-diagnosing, what happened was I became overly-stressed, which can trigger a bipolar episode. This was bipolar lite.
I did experience some traits during this time:
- I was losing a little interest in my days. I just wanted to be home.
- I was anxious. This is a no-brainer because I’m diagnosed with anxiety and a little OCD, which never helps anything.
- Sadness. I’m usually a tad depressed — at least that’s what the professionals say.
- Euphoria at getting a car but not manic.
- Of course, there are plenty more traits I didn’t exhibit.
I spent the next two full days in bed. I was sick. No, not from surgery, a broken leg, or the flu. I was sick in bed with mental illness. Please don’t attach the word stigma to what happened to me.
I attribute this mild occurrence (and not a hospitalization) to my conscientiousness in taking my medicines the way they are prescribed. Sometimes when dutifully taking your meds, the dam breaks and the next thing you know you’re in the hospital.
It happens to millions of us every day, every hour, every minute. It’s how we live our lives — taking drugs. There is little or no advance warning that today your mental illness is going to pay you a visit.
While resting in bed I had one thought only. All I have to do is make it through Saturday, the day of the trip to Birmingham.
I had talked to my therapist a while before the upcoming service. I asked her how I was going to make it through.
I was so concerned about sobbing and sobbing and embarrassing myself. I think Paul’s family is already wary of me. My psychiatrist prescribed just a little Xanax.
I picked up the prescription. Since I had never taken this pill, I decided a trial run was necessary. I certainly didn’t want to stagger into the church looking like I’m about to pass out.
The trial run was perfect. I felt like I could manage without crying all over the place. In full disclosure, I cried only once.
A talented female singer sang “How Great Thou Art” to soft organ music. I’m a goner but I maintained my composure. Surely, at least people’s eyes moisten just a little when this song is sung or played. It’s beautiful.
I have wanted to write about HSPs for a long time. I found my courage. I was afraid some people might consider it narcissistic in a weird kind of way and they may.
I worry about that because after all The Bruno Papers is my personal journal where I share heart and soul and good and bad.
I never want to come across as self-absorbed or thinking highly of myself. Quite the opposite, I like to think my low self-esteem helps to keep me aligned.
As always, thank you for reading. It is much appreciated.