Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Coping with sensitivities

Call me a sensitive person.

It's okay. I have finally reached a point in my life where that word doesn't bother me--because I am. Sensitive. I have a remarkable sense of smell (which sharpened during pregnancy to a point where I could identify individual customers at work when they walked through the front door, a floor below my desk). I have perceptive taste buds that can taste the gag-inducing flavor of dish detergent on my hashbrowns no matter how well I rinsed the baking sheet after scrubbing it. I have good senses and love giving them new wonders to enjoy.

I must also have a weak filtering system so information from these great senses goes straight to my brain. Lots of noise drives me crazy. Ladies with perfume give me headaches and make it hard for me to concentrate. Too much color makes me agitated and stressed. There's no tuning it out. It's all or nothing, and sometimes it's exhausting.

I also got hit with all the other kinds of "sensitive," the kinds that nobody wants: a sensitive tummy, easily irritated by stress and booze and the kinds of foods it decides it doesn't like this week. A sensitive disposition, easily startled or made to cry. Sensitive skin that breaks out in hives when exposed to the kinds of chemicals it doesn't like. A sensitive immune system that is easily launched into hyper-mode when exposed to molds & dusts. And even, lamely enough, a sensitive respiratory attack that launches into coughing and wheezing fits at the least drop of mucous.

Those are the kinds of "sensitive" that gives the word a bad name.

There was a time in my life when I would have given anything to have thicker skin, especially in college, when my coping skills were at an all-time low. But now, 80% of the time, I love being sensitive. It's like having super-powers that help me better understand people and more fully enjoy the world in which I live. Yes, there's a disadvantage to being so moved by good writing that I sobbed my way through John Joseph Adams' The Living Dead anthology. But you better believe it helps me create better stories. And I love that.

Sometimes the real world irritates the hell out of me. As I've gotten older, I've gotten more skilled at controlling my environment and finding approaches that allow me to minimize negative or overwhelming stimuli. But it's impossible to get rid of it all. Bad days do happen when noise and upset and dark emotions swamp me like storm waves overpowering a little fishing boat (hey, where's the small craft advisory when I need one?!?). Even good stimuli can be too much for me, sending me into a full crash.

A complete crash is bad. It's a pure black depression, exhaustion, despair, emptiness. It's like a sensory deprivation tank built out of unhappiness. I wouldn't want to stay there long, and luckily, my system has developed an auto-eject function: inner misery will often switch over to a cold! In fact, right now, after an exhausting week, I can feel blackness dissipating with every sneeze.

It's a weird relationship, body and mind, senses and soul. Everybody has their own troubles balancing them, and everybody has to find their own solutions. But I think you can't go wrong with a hot bath and the love of a few good friends. They've gotten me this far!


Jaym said...

I hear you! I'm no where near as sensitive and it's hard to cope sometimes. That's what beer, pies and baths are *made* for.

Have you ever been to Lush? If not, we're going after I move, and I'll introduce you to the best bath-additives ever!

G said...

I'm sensitive too. hate it. wish I was a bit more thick skinned (in so many ways).

but I love what you make with your sensitivity! so... well, there you go.


Miriam S. Forster said...

"Sometimes the real world irritates the hell out of me."

A-freaking-men. :)