I am a highly sensitive person! or “what I learned on my summer vacation”

I am a highly sensitive person! or “what I learned on my summer vacation”

One of Andrew’s former co-workers had a family at a similar stage to ours – kids the same age, dads working at Theatre Projects, moms former theatre-professionals staying at home with the kids.
They would often swap family-guy stories, and one of my favorites of this family’s was that when they’d get to an end of a paper towel roll, they would hold the empty tube up to their mouths and boom out sentences in a grandiose manner. “Today is Friday!!!!” “I love tacos!!!” and, my fav, one of the little ones declared “I am a very important person!!!!!!”

I’ve been thinking of how to present this next little bit of info without sounding like a little kid booming “I am a very important person!” through a paper towel tube…because what’s cute in a little person is kind of obnoxious in a big person, ya know?

But, here we go.

I am a….highly sensitive person!!!!!!
Or, an HSP.


Yes, it’s a thing.
Yes, I got there through an online self-test. (THIS ONE in fact).

Yes, I did then consult with my therapist, who actually is the person who originally nudged me towards thinking about HSP and the possibility that it may provide insight into a lot of my overwhelmed people-pleasing propensities.

Friends, the more I read about HSP, the more it was like reading about myself.  Someone wrote this about ME.

(I am a very important person!!!!  Sigh…)


  •  – I am overaware of subtleties in my environment.  I see every detail in the grocery store, in a room, on a screen.  (I can also find stuff in the fridge super-fast – it’s a super-power of sorts).  I process a lot of visual stimuli at once.
  •  – I am highly sensitive to physical touch.  It gets to be too much very quickly.  Tickling is awful – I’ve always hated being tickled.  When all my boys pile on me for hugs, I feel like I can’t quite breathe.  (Isaac being over 100 lbs now may have something to do with that as well).  I can’t sleep if anyone is touching me.
  •  – I find myself needing to withdraw during busy days, into bed or into a darkened room or any place where I can have some privacy and relief from stimulation.  Regularly.
  •  – I am particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine.  If I have caffeine after noon, I do not fall asleep that night easily.
  •  – I have trouble falling asleep in general.  Between my inner life being so complex and busy (see below) and my hyper-awareness to physical and visual sensation (see above), it’s just hard.
  •  – I have a rich, complex, inner life.  Alternate storylines to choices I make, that I suss out all the way.  Daydreaming of being a character in a movie or book series I’m particularly taken with.  Conversations in my head with writers or artists or musicians or, usually, with Terry Gross, while I’m driving or walking.  It’s busy up in that head.  Related: I often talk to myself, as these inner words slip out to the outer.
  •  – I startle easily.  It’s embarrassing.  Like full-on start to run away, have to put my hand on my heart to calm its racing, when someone walks up behind me and I don’t know they are there.  Or when there’s a loud unexpected noise.  Or, you know, the doorbell.
  •  – I get rattled when I have to do a lot in a short amount of time.  To the point of tears.
  •  – I am annoyed when people try to get me to do too much at once.  Just ask Andrew about how our weekends go sometimes.  (I’m not READY to do this yet!, I’ll wail.)
  •  – I try hard to avoid making mistakes.  Get it right the first time, or self-hate.
  •  – I make it a point to avoid violent movies or TV shows.  I almost threw up when watching Daredevil.  I couldn’t finish Slumdog Millionaire.  I self-censor a lot.
  •  – I become unpleasantly aroused when a lot is going on around me.  Kitchens during Thanksgiving are the worst thing ever.  Big parties with lots of murmuring.  Walking around fairs or festivals with lots of milling.  Zoos.  It makes me really agitated.
  •  – Being hungry creates a strong reaction in me, disrupting my concentration or mood.  Hangry.  I get really, really, really hangry.  I’m not nice to myself or others.  Related: I get anxious about when the next time I will eat will be, and what that food will be.
  •  – Changes in my life shake me up.  (Although isn’t this everyone?  Who really likes change?)
  •  – I find it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once.  Multi-tasking makes me exhausted.  I need to take breaks.
  •  – I read the emotions of others easily, and in some ways experience them as if they are my own.  When I disappoint someone, it’s devastating.  When I make someone happy, I get happier.  (This is why we people please!)
  •  – I make it a high priority to arrange my life to avoid making choices, and to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations.  All my systems and routines, and how I choose to shop and make financial decisions – do it once, don’t ruminate, take out having to think on it over and over.  Creates calm, but when those systems and routines are disrupted, creates lots of stress.
  •  – When I must compete or be observed while performing a task, I become so nervous or shaky that I do much worse than I would otherwise.  Took me four times to pass my driving test.  When I drive with another adult in the car, suddenly I bump curves or stall the car, when I never would while alone.  I can’t cook if someone’s observing me.  I don’t like working in open offices.

As with all these types of things, it’s a big picture of lots of characteristics together, not any one thing individually – but seeing myself in this way has been incredibly helpful.  Specifically, I’ve been giving myself lots of buffer room.  More time to commute to and from work (running late/fear of being late is a hard thing for HSPs).  Built in transition time from one type of thing to another (coming home from work and not jumping right into household chores).  Leaving a room and taking a moment when I feel it’s too much.  It’s been good.

I’m also working on culling the schedule, a bit.  What did I say yes to because I wanted to, and what did I say yes to because I feared the emotional reaction of the person I would be saying no to?

This is harder.  Saying no I can’t do this is really, really, emotionally hard for me.  I’m doing a lot by e-mail to avoid the person’s face/to add some distance.  And I’m trying very hard to take good care of myself as I say no, since I know I’ll be feeling raw.

Right now, I’m going through the wringer as I’m stepping down from chairing the Altar Guild at my church.  I’ve been talking about stepping down for 2 years now, and I haven’t been able to do it.  Now I am.  With support of my priest.  But, it’s a process, and won’t be over until November, I think.  Many months of saying “no, I just can’t.  No, really, really, no.  No.” and it makes me a little nauseated when I think about it too much.

But I’m going to do it.  I need more time to create those buffers, to decompress, to give myself space to function so I can do those things I love well.

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