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I’m kind of a jerk, but it’s my nervous system’s fault

January 9, 2011

On the way to Vegas. Not doing the duckface. Doing the “I’m gonna smack you” face.

I know you. I see you.

You walk into rooms and glance around, dismayed. You flip off buzzing fluorescent lights, pull the table out from the wall three more inches, arrange the chairs so no one will have glare in their faces. You ask to have the music turned down or off. You shut the door and open the window just a bit.

You’re happier in a quiet corner than a happening spot. You hate to shout over the music. You sometimes leave in a hurry when you can’t take it. You ask “What’s that smell?” and everyone else says “What smell?”

People say you’re too sensitive. That you’re irritable. That you don’t know how to have fun. That you should learn to deal.

I write this post every couple of years because it was such a relief to me to find out that I wasn’t crazy – that I was a Highly Sensitive Person.

I first heard of Elaine Aron maybe 10 years ago, and read her book, recognizing myself on every page. From her website:

Highly Sensitive People have an uncommonly sensitive nervous system – a normal occurrence, according to Aron. “About 15 to 20 percent of the population have this trait. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are more easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sights and sounds until you are exhausted.” An HSP herself, Aron reassures other Highly Sensitives that they are quite normal. Their trait is not a flaw or a syndrome, nor is it a reason to brag. It is an asset they can learn to use and protect.

There’s a reason I’m always trying to find the cozy spot, the place where music isn’t blaring at me, the seat away from the lady wearing too much perfume. My nervous system can’t take it. Things that, to “normal” people aren’t even noticed are like sirens going off in my head.

It’s never more obvious than when I am out and about in Las Vegas. Vegas is an HSP’s nightmare. In most places where you stand, you can hear two or three different kinds of music playing at once, a fact that by itself makes me itchy. Combine that with crowds, cigarette smoke, flashing lights and it all adds up to Get Me Out of Here.

So I just wanted to let you know, if you are HSP, that you are not alone. And if you find me shuddering from overstimulation, just walk me over to the quiet corner. I’ll be happy to hang out with you there.

  1. talesofmy30s permalink
    January 9, 2011 20:22

    I’ve kind of wondered if my diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder is the same as HSP, or different.

    Needless to say, I appreciated the table in the corner making tutus.

    • January 9, 2011 20:23

      Ha. We WERE in the quiet corner, weren’t we? And it was good!

  2. January 9, 2011 20:31

    So that’s what’s wrong with me.

  3. January 9, 2011 20:57

    So, do you have a Dave and Buster’s where you are? My friend and I can’t go there, because of what we call “neural overload.” Lights, sounds, smells, and tastes. Plus hand-controlled video games.

    • January 9, 2011 21:10

      Sounds like its own form of hell. Thanks for warning me.

  4. January 9, 2011 21:06

    I am like this sometimes. I usually feel it in places like Wal-Mart. If there are more than 4 people including myself in the same aisle, I begin to feel the crazy inside of me. I always fear that I am going to smash someone’s face into one of the racks. Maybe it isn’t the same thing, and maybe it is just general anxiety, but I have been known to leave my shopping cart full of groceries stranded in the middle of the store because I couldn’t take being inside anymore.

    • January 9, 2011 21:09

      Yep. Have done the leaving the basket thing, too.

  5. January 9, 2011 21:10

    I quickly glanced at that self test and had a lot of yeses…I must go back and look at it again. I am often disturbed by noise and glaring light. I will get a migraine if I have to face a bright window to do work.

    My younger son was really sensitive when he was little. He could smell things that no one else could, plus he was bothered by loud noise and bright lights. At 14, he’s either changed or has stopped telling me about it.

  6. January 9, 2011 21:19

    This is me to a T. I actually think this is part of the reason I drank so much for so many years. Drinking dulled my senses and made socializing more palatable.

  7. January 9, 2011 21:43

    Ho. Lee. Crap.

    I scored 23 out of 27. Wow. This explains a LOT. Thank you for this (and thank you to karensugarpants for sharing it).

    • January 10, 2011 05:49

      That’s why I keep doing it every once in a while. There are always some readers who say ‘I thought it was just me!”

  8. January 10, 2011 05:17

    A few years ago I read Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka, and it was a revelation–not that my child was spirited, but that *I* was probably one back in the day. One of the main issues the book discusses is how to recognize and deal with a physically sensitive child and the challenges that presents. It made me wish that my mother had had the book 30 years ago. But yeah, I’ll join you in that quiet corner.

    • January 10, 2011 05:48

      It’s interesting, because non-HSP people cannot imagine what being an HSP is like. They don’t notice all the things that are poking at us – the lights, the noises, the sensations. So it is easy for them to say “Get over it!” because they don’t know what we are going through.

    • January 10, 2011 19:54

      My sister, who is 6 yrs older than me, read Raising Your Spirited Child (it was recommended to her for my niece) and said it described me as a child to a T.

      Took the test and lo-and-behold, I am a HSP. This explains so much about the things that bother me that no one else seems to notice. For example, I would chose to eat my lunch in my car during breaks in college instead of in the busy lunch area of the student union.

      • January 11, 2011 09:18

        When I worked at the newspaper, it seemed most of the writers were sensitive and/or introverted. They all took lunch alone if possible.

  9. Nancy permalink
    January 10, 2011 05:53

    I’ll be right there in the quiet corner with you, Suebob. 🙂

    • January 10, 2011 19:04

      Nobody I’d rather huddle quietly with than you!

  10. January 10, 2011 08:07

    I’m more sensitive than average in hearing and smell, but the more that’s going on around me, the easier it is for me to block things out. I don’t like loudness, but I can deal with it. On the other hand, it’s the barely audible noises that drive me insane.

    • January 10, 2011 19:04

      You’re the one who can hear and smell machines about to break, right? I can, sometimes, too – like the elevator at work. When it gets that burnt oil smell, I just take the stairs to avoid getting trapped.

  11. January 10, 2011 09:06

    Wow. I’ve known this about me (and my children) … but didn’t know someone had written books about it. You know me. I’ll have to read these. In a nice, quiet corner somewhere. Thanks, Sue.😉

    • January 10, 2011 19:03

      Interesting that all my favorite people are this way, too…We can pick each other out.

  12. Elvie permalink
    January 10, 2011 10:29

    Probably why you hid in the linen closet when you were little. Quieter in there.

  13. January 10, 2011 22:47

    Well, that sure does explain a lot, doesn’t it. I only scored 19, but it explained a lot about why I’m loving spending my days quietly at home, instead of in a busy office surrounded by IT Nerds, Whimps & Geeks yelling at each other in code. Thanks, I feel better now!

    • January 11, 2011 09:16

      When I go to the office, I’m always sighing noises and smells – yesterday it was burnt popcorn. Oy.

  14. January 16, 2011 22:56

    huh. i scored a 16. much is now clear. your quiet corner is getting crowded – room for one more?

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