Figuring out some sensitivities

I have a tendency to get into “it-doesn’t-apply-to-me” mode. I’m not proud of this fact, but it is true. I have a tendency to think rules about the world don’t apply to me and by golly I just don’t have to follow them. Let’s suffice it to say that this attitude is really, really not helpful in the real world.

Similarly, I’m different is a sense I have had almost my entire life. Again, not proud of this sentiment, but I’m acknowledging it. I always felt this urge and tug to be the best and stand out and be special– while also wanting to disappear and avoid the spotlight at all costs (which is, I suspect, a common push-pull that many with a history of anorexia experience). Maybe it’s because our generation was raised being told we are just so darn special. My mom certainly said that enough, as did many other adults. And I sure felt different growing up, being one of the only Jews in town.

So on the one hand, I am learning that I’m not special and different– rather, every person in the universe is special and different and we are all, in our own right, special and different. And yes, rules to apply to me, even when I think the particular rule is stupid. Alas. See previous sentence about the real world not being so fun with this mentality. I’m trying to adjust my attitude and expectations a lot these days.

On the same hand, sometimes I try and connect with others about emotional peculiarities and sensitivities and thought patterns. Perhaps a friend shares something and I see a little bit of myself in it, and so in turn I share an experience. “Um, that’s bizarre,” one friend said last week; or, “Hmmm. I think our emotions actually are really different,” said another in November.

Which is fine, right? I tried, I shared, it didn’t resonate, okay. I can shrug it off. And I do.

And it frustrates me because on some level, I do recognize that I’m not in the majority of people when it comes to emotional regulation and sensitivities and all that stuff. I get it. I’ve been this way my whole life. I can cover it up pretty well and can put on a damn good I’m-totally-normal-have-not-a-care-in-the-world-I’m-so-flexible show. Inevitably, it falls apart and my perfectionism, rigidity, anxious, sensitive, shy, fearful self comes out. And I get embarrassed and ashamed of these parts and then it’s that whole cycle.

I need to learn myself and learn how I can work with myself, be my friend, be on my own team. This means embracing all of me, especially the sensitivities that I try to hide. Both emotional and physical sensitivities.

I was talking with my dad over the holiday about some of the physical sensitivities I had as a kid. For one, I hated being tickled. But, of course, the response when being tickled is laughter, so everyone in my family thought it was great fun to tickle me even when I said no, don’t; only when I would scream and “over”-react would they stop and not understand why I was so upset.

After a bath, combing out my hair was a nightmare. It hurt so much and I would get so angry that I would scream and run away in a huff; eventually my mom gave up on combing my hair because the “tantrums” weren’t worth it and I proceeded to not comb or brush my hair for years.

The squeaking noise of forks or knives on a plate–even just thinking about the noise gives me visible goosebumps. And then it’s also the fear of the noise. And it all builds up. And it bothers me, like it very much upsets my nerves. To the point where I have, on occasion, yelled at my family during dinner because they are making squeaking noises or they are moving their silverware in a way that is very likely to cause one of those godawful noises.

My dad was saying, as we reflected on this, that he was a very sensitive kid too, so he thought he had an understanding of how I was as a kid, but this understanding was also limited. He has since learned a bit about neural pathways and temperamental wiring and all that and he was wondering, can we retrain ourselves? Or are these sensitivities permanent? I don’t know.

Would I want to change? It’s a valid question.

The transformer box to my apartment is right outside my bedroom window and when I can hear the electricity hum through it, the vibrating noise is enough to wake me up and keep me awake. Loud air-dryers in bathrooms make me uncomfortable and I often plug my ears; the one in the library bathrooms at my college often brought me to tears because it was so loud and piercing.

But I also know tea kettles. I can tell by the change in sound about ten seconds before it will start whistling– and then I can turn the stove off before the awful noise starts. It’s a very faint change in hearing but I know it. There are many other ways I feel highly attuned to myself and the outside world. And it feels kind of like a super power sometimes.

So would I change it? It’s tempting. Especially when I feel like I spend so much of my energy focused on myself all the time and I hate my mood swings and ohmygoodness I hate silverware scraping on plates.

But no, I wouldn’t change it. It’s me. And here is where I am: I am not “special” or “different” and rules apply to me even when I think they are stupid. At the same time, part of being my friend and taking care of myself is understanding that I need to be true to myself and trust myself… which means acknowledging that I can’t necessarily count on people to Get It all the time. I have to Get It and that has to be enough.

I mean, some people do Get It. A lot of people Get the “Highly Sensitive” bit and the emotional dysregulation bit and the history of various mental illness/disorder bit. A lot of people Get It and this is why I love the internet.

On the day to day, though, I want to learn to be more okay with the fact that people may not understand me– and I may not understand me– but I need to respect myself. And take care of myself.

I don’t think I’m making a lot of sense… but I’m making connections and working through a lot of stuff lately, which has been a long time coming and very necessary. And now I’m just going to click “publish” without reading this over because I want these thoughts to exist. Who knows, maybe someone will read this and it makes sense to them.

I would love to hear from you, whoever you are, if it does.

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