My arms and hands ached for nearly two weeks after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. They were weak; merely holding my cell phone caused discomfort and texting was severely curtailed. I needed both hands just to open the door to my Jeep. I thought I was having some serious carpal tunnel problems and was about to go to the doctor, except the pain finally subsided and I seemed fine again.
The occurrence made sense to me about three months later when I was sitting in my therapist’ office and confessed that maybe, as she suggested, I was sensitive. It took me months to admit the possibility – the idea seemed a complete antithesis to the other characteristics I knew about myself: I was outgoing and an extrovert, I was strong and had endured some difficult challenges in my life such as working through the grief of experiencing the full-term stillbirth of my only daughter. In every job I’ve ever had, I am always driven enough to work my way up to some supervisory position. I didn’t perceive myself as weak, but considering the idea that I was sensitive certainly seemed like an admission of weakness, yet there I was in the therapist office, checking the ‘yes’ box in response to most of the questions on the HSP assessment. (The questions themselves seemed a self-description: Do you prefer to have music off when driving? Do you stay home after a day’s work rather than go out with the office? Do you stay away from violence and violent movies?) The term ‘off the charts’ was applicable to the final outcome of my responses to the questionnaire.
I immediately grabbed hold of anything I could read about the Highly Sensitive Person and was astounded at some of the things I learned: It’s an actual genetic trait. HSP’s make up about twenty percent of the population. The trait exists in other animals as well.
I was relieved once I had more information. It felt as if several questions I had about myself most of my life were answered: Why am I the only one noticing small details about situations and settings? (I admit I was really sort of judge-y towards others when they didn’t notice the same things I did, I have since adjusted my thinking.) Why did it seem like I think way more than others do? Why why why did it seem that sensory overload was always something I had to deal with – did I have adult ADD or something? How can I be outgoing and sociable and still be sensitive? (turns out there’s a small percentage of people that are both extrovert and HSP).
Many aspects of my life seemed to fall into place and the picture I have of myself is much more complete after acknowledging that I was Highly Sensitive. Now it’s a matter of learning to live with an entirely new perspective. I understand that the tendency to over-react to negative circumstances is something I can acknowledge as trait-related and not take things as personally or as seriously. Instead I try to observe it from a neutral point of view, “Oh yeah, that’s the Sensitive part of me, it’s okay.” I can utilize the hyper-observation of circumstances in order to notice that a certain student is behaving in a subtly different way and be able to offer help. I understood immediately that the ability to notice details and nuances is absolutely why I can write – only in the deep observation of a thing can we then describe it well. And a big light went off when I figured out that all that pain and ache in my arms after the election wasn’t mysterious at all, it was a physical reaction to the knowledge that I knew our nation would never be the same, and that there was a collective heartbreak at the reality of a Trump presidency.
It’s a process to figure out ways to work with this new information. I am especially challenged, and willing to bet that many of you are as well, with the day to day dealings of the current political climate – we sense and feel the stress of millions of others and it takes great discipline to keep such stress from taking up residence in our soul (here I am eternally grateful to Headspace for guidance in training the mind).
I find some solace in reading about other’s experiences as well, which is why I’ve decided to write about it myself and the way it impacts a person’s life. You may not be an HSP, but the information is valuable inasmuch as you most likely know someone who is. If you are an HSP, my hope is that these writings will encourage, enlighten, and offer strength.
Here’s to new information, and the ability to allow it to transform.