By Cheri Byard
I was in kindergarten when I first became aware that I was not like other people. My peers were not "too sensitive." For them, a room full of people was just a room full of people to enjoy and to interact with. Spontaneity came easily for them. When they cried, it was for apparent, or at least acceptable, reasons. When this "shy" 6-year-old walked into a room full of people, forces that were not understood bombarded her at every turn.
She cried over something she could not name. She looked at others as if she were outside their bodily realms. She could not understand how the others were able to continue their lives while living in such horrid pain. Little did she know, they were not born like her and knew nothing of the unspoken trials she was facing.
This was my story until I discovered the character trait for high sensitivity. Thanks to the internet, I found a questionnaire which I "passed" with flying colors. I took every version of the test I could find; each one resulted in the same conclusion. I am a highly-sensitive person. There were only two or three questions which did not relate to me.
This discovery left me both disillusioned and joyful. I had always thought I was a bit of a "freak" because of the way I was, how I felt, the way my body reacted to outside stimuli, how I seemed to literally take on others' pain and how overly emotional I was.
Today I know that I actually have a character trait for this "condition." I can label it and have discovered approximately 15-20% of the population are Highly-Sensitive People, to varying degrees.
I read all I could about high sensitivity. I shared the information with family and friends and talked to other Highly-Sensitive People. I wanted to know how they explained themselves to others. It was an exhilarating yet exhausting journey and continues to be.
The website, highlysensitivepeople.com, and other sources, provide the following information about Highly-Sensitive People. If you are a Highly-Sensitive Person you may:
- have heightened awareness of subtleties in your environment, whether it Is
sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell.
- become stressed and upset when overwhelmed and may find it necessary to get away to seek solitude, relief, and comfort.
- be conscientious and hard working, but may become uncomfortable and less efficient or productive when being closely watched or scrutinized.
- have a deep respect and appreciation of nature, music, and art.
- try to organize things and thoughts, also enjoy simplicity and may become overwhelmed by chaos, clutter, or stress.
- become uncomfortable when feeling things are getting out of your control.
- get a sense of comfort and well being when around a lake, river, stream, the ocean, or even a fountain.
- be affected by other people's moods, emotions, and problems.
- have a deep, rich, inner life, are very spiritual and have vivid dreams.
- be intuitive and aware of others' emotional states.
- worry and have been told "you take things too personally."
- have been considered shy as a child.
When I read this list it was as if someone had dissected my inner workings and written their observations. I often feel as if my nerve endings are quickly rising through the surface of my skin. This occurs when I am stressed, overly tired, take in the problems of others, am exposed to violence, and see others in pain (not just real life, but on television and movies also.)
For others, reactions may be different and felt in various parts of the body. Just as with any character trait, Highly-Sensitive People run the gamut of somewhat sensitive to extremely sensitive.
I have learned, however, that Highly-Sensitive People are all quite similar in their perspectives of their world and their empathic natures. They are vibrant and valid contributors to society.
Many Highly-Sensitive People are drawn to the arts. They have a heightened ability to find beauty in the natural world. My creativity has primarily emerged through writing and painting. Both have been incredibly therapeutic and healing. They have been instrumental in helping me to understand high sensitivity.
Since the time of my awakening, I have written some thoughts that have aided me in describing and naming my feelings and ultimately freeing me of much of the pain that came with my high sensitivity:
I pray please assemble in me a volume control switch to mute
the bombs erupting out of their tumultuous mouths.
Someone has shoved my spine
into a vice full of vibrating needles,
tightening it with rigid consistency,
leaving exposed bones and nerves to fend for themselves.
Oh, to be a Barbie doll with detachable limbs and head,
easily removed to expunge the extreme pain darting through my nerves.
Oh, to have a trap door at the base of my skull to empty out the unnecessary and toxic.
The process of learning about the trait of high sensitivity has been, and will continue to be, a wondrous journey. Now I have learned to embrace my High-Sensitivity Personality. It is what has made me the spirit I am today. It has unleashed a soul that was in hiding.
One of my greatest discoveries is this: I can have some extreme pain, particularly when my empathy kicks into full gear, but I can also experience extreme joy and pleasure. I am a fortunate woman who, at the age of 49, has chosen to welcome my high sensitivity, inviting it into my home as a permanent resident. I will continue loving life and all of its accompanying gifts.
When I feel bliss, it is phenomenal. When I smile, my jaws hurt from the stretching. When I inhale my herbs, I am calmed beyond belief. When I share physical contact with another, my nerve cells recede as quickly as the tide. When I truly feel the love shared by others, I am at peace in body, mind, and soul. I am a woman full of passion in every aspect of my life. That is the finest blessing one can possess.
There are some who may discount the whole Highly-Sensitive People theory. I've heard it all. Others are well entitled to their opinions and I make no effort to change their minds. I know the truth. I've lived the truth all of my life. I've learned to love my high sensitivity and consider myself one of the most fortunate beings on this delicious earth. So let me end this snapshot of my story with these uplifting words from my soul to yours.
I fell asleep in a dream, lying in a field of lavender and chamomile, only
to discover that I was my garden and my herbs were waking in my bed.
My body was thrust upwards through a mind-numbing, murky, dark bog, surfacing within a soothing waterfall of orchids and blue water lilies.
When I am weightless I glide upon a cushion of plush grass softly breezing, feeling its supple embrace, blades tenderly kissing my skin.
When I depart from this life to the next
I do not want to rest in peace.
I long to play in peace.
Love in peace.
Pray in peace.
Rejoice in peace.
I want to be peace.
When I die I would like you not to say at least she is no longer in pain.
Instead, remark at the abundance of joy
I take with me on my next journey.
If you know of someone who is highly sensitive, I hope you will share this information with them. If these words strike a chord with you, my wish is that you have gained clearer understanding, a deeper awareness, and may be on the road toward healing for yourself.
Cheri Byard has been an elementary school special education teacher for over 20 years. A painter, writer and poet, her poetry has been published in the U.S. and Canada by Poets Against War. Cheri resides in Kansas with her 7-year-old daughter, Sarah Jane.