I’ve always felt different from other people around me. That’s probably because I am different, everyone is different and that’s the amazing thing about the human race – no two people are exactly the same.
I’ve always felt different from other people around me. But not in the pre-teen John Green novel, Twilight protagonist, “I’m such a misunderstood and mysterious person” way. More like the “Why do other people seem to deal with life so much easier than me” way. More of a “I think I am existing wrong” Sort of way.
Whilst other people seem to saunter through life, cry at Marley & Me, laugh at Amy Poehler, get good or average grades in their exams and not beat themselves up at it, date people and dump people, exist without an intense emotion driving their actions – they’e different to me. If you can get through a week without a frequently questioning “what the fuck am I doing”, then you’re different from me.
I am formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety. However, the thing about me is that this is a very wavering diagnosis. When I am good, I am good – and nobody would for a second think that I had any of the above mental illnesses. Yet, when things are bad – they are very bad and I tick off all the boxes of depression and anxiety. The two usually come hand in hand, and usually flare up as a result of something happening.
I am a highly sensitive person. This isn’t a Millennial snowflake tag-line that I’m going to embroider onto my denim jacket and hashtag in my Instagram posts. This is simply a way to describe how my brain thinks, feels, and reacts.
Highly sensitive people experience emotions and feelings much more intensely than their non-sensitive counterparts. The only way I can describe it is like a pre-activated drug in the system. This means that the good feelings and experiences feel fantastic. In that moment, everything is amazing and there is nothing to worry about. Yet like with actual drugs, this comes at the expense of anything negative feeling ten times worse. A bad mood can be interpreted as a terrible life. Environments, situations and people all feel too close and overwhelming.
A key mis-understanding with highly sensitive people is the idea that problems and struggles are “made up” and people cannot empathize do not understand why someone would chose to make themselves feel sad. My only way to explain how a highly sensitive person experiences emotions is to use the analogy of a blender.
Think of a non-sensitive person as a blender with large, blunt blades. If you put a bar of chocolate into that blender for 5 seconds, it will come out fairly beaten up – but still intact and very much resembling a chocolate bar.
Now think of a highly sensitive person as a blender with lots of small, very sharp blades. If an identical chocolate bar goes into there for 5 seconds, it will come out destroyed and ripped into tiny shreds. It has been chopped up more intensely than the previous one.
An identical chocolate bar went into each blender for the exact same amount of time, yet the highly sensitive blender created much more damage than the less sensitive one.
Imagine the chocolate bar is a bad grade, or a nasty comment, or a bad hair day, or a loss of money. For a highly sensitive person, the outcome is going to feel much more disastrous than the other person – through no fault of their own. This is how and why some people feel more emotionally damaged or distraught by seemingly minor situations.
This also means that good situations are experienced more positively as well. Imagine trying to make a smoothie with the first blender? It would be pleasant but fairly average and a bit lumpy. Yet the smoothie made in the sensitive blender will be chopped to perfection and may taste like the best smoothie you’ve ever drank – purely because it has been processed more intensely.
Thankfully, our brains aren’t blenders – and there are tools and techniques that sensitive people can use to stop their thought processing damaging experiences and over stimulating the mind.
Mindfulness meditation really teaches the art of recognizing emotions, thoughts and feeling and training your mind to let them pass along – rather than reacting to everything you experience. This helps to slow down the destruction and allow for a more regulated emotional experience
Learning your own unique triggers and avoiding situations which you know are going to cause you distress is a very good way of preventing your own mental destruction. Recognizing your crowd of people and associating yourself with the friends who give you the good, calm, warm happiness – rather than intense swings from ecstatic happiness to blunt nothingness.
If you’re friends with, related to, or dating someone who is Highly Sensitive – please understand that they are not over-reacting. They are often simply just reacting, but more intensely than you. Stopping to help them break things down, and being there to listen without a judgmental or prescriptive response is important in order to not over-stimulate them more.
I have spent time wondering whether I am on the autistic spectrum (aren’t we all to some extent?), whether I have ADHD, whether I have more complex mental health conditions – or in fact whether everyone is just like me and doesn’t express it the same way as me. The key thing for me was understanding that I need to ration how much stimulation and stress I can throw into my nervous system, without burning out.
I’ve always considered myself to be an extrovert. I am outgoing, confident, enthusiastic and often enjoy being the center of attention. But as I’ve grown up more, I’ve realised that these extroverted traits are only applicable when I am in a very good mental head space. When the radio is tuned into Positive FM, I feel energized and excited about socializing with lots of people and making everyone laugh. However, this is only sustainable for a very small portion of the week. I can socially exhaust myself and this is usually the first trigger in me reverting onto Negative FM and experiences become dark, fuzzy and I’d rather be alone.
I am actually an introvert. Introverted people can still very much enjoy the company of other people, but this can be highly draining and whilst extroverts thrive off socialization – introverts lose energy from too much stimulation. So much happens within my own mind. I see and feel things intensely and this can obviously have positive and negative implications. I can have just as much of a mind stimulating experiencing going for a 2 hour walk in the woods compared to a busy house party. I can be just as anxious at a sleepover as I can be sitting in my own bed watching youtube videos. My mindset, emotions and reactions are very much dependent on the smallest trigger – and for this reason, I really have to spend a lot of time by myself to firstly work out how I deal with things alone, and then how to deal with the same things in a massive crowd.
Sensitivities and experiences are always unique for everyone, and ultimately, comparing yourself to other people is going to make you feel more conscious and anxious about yourself. Learn to understand your own mind, who you can confide in, and when your emotions are taking over.