HSP or highly sensitive person is a personality trait which essentially means that your nervous system picks up on more input from your senses than the majority of people, and you process it cognitively in a deeper way.
Soo in few words: your brain processes more data plus it processes it more. All this processing can cause overload, which can be experienced in a number of ways, as a feeling of being overwhelmed, feeling dizzy or emotional or sudden exhaustion…. or, you know, fun times, as a full blown panic attack.
I tried explaining how my high sensitivity works to my partner-in-London-crime, to which he responded ”oh wow, I’m really, really, REALLY glad I’m not like that”.
It went something like: If I’m forced to be around people for two long, don’t get enough sleep, or the right food, or enough alone time and silence everything starts feeling uncomfortable, like I have no skin on. I get in a ”doom” sort of emotional state where I feel like the whole world is coming crashing down on me, I don’t like me, I don’t like anybody else, I’m anxious, and if the pressure isn’t relieved I get aggressive, explosively and with no warning.
Really its not a lot of fun. And living in London as an HSP is a big challenge. I have to other highly sensitive friends with London experiences (they are both exiled now) and while we experience our sensitivities in different ways, the red thread in all our three narratives is exhaustion.
Processing London for a highly sensitive person is mind numbing.
A simple thing like getting to and from work can be a monstrous task. The way home from work in rush hour may include getting overloaded, claustrophobic or anxious underground where the only way to the surface is through a massive crowd stuffed into tiny low lofted passage ways.
There is no mobile signal to call a friend, and the whole thing just starts to feel more and more like a grave. When this happens I know I cannot let this blow full out, or I will have a massive trauma and never manage to get back in the metro.
I tend to pick the far corner of the platform, pop in my head phones (and Goddess help me if they are not in my pocket) and turn on some calming music. Then look to my feet, so I cannot see anything else around me, breath deeply and tell myself over and over again ”there is no one here, I am all alone, there is no one here, I am all alone” and when I am able to, make my way towards the queue to exit, never taking my eyes of my feet until I can breathe fresh air around me (and then I will still have to go back underground to take my connecting train home). Also I always carry emergency chocolate in my bag (thanks Teresa).
That’s plenty of stress for me in a day, but it comes after 9 hours at the office, and sitting through the same crowded trip in the morning.
Then when I come home, at least some of my four flat mates will be in the kitchen, and some interaction is necessary if I want to eat.
My love is gonna wanna talk to me, like normal people do. Only instead of it being casual, regenerative conversation with my most confided person in the world, for me at this point any sound is like heavy metal blasting my skull open, brains splattering all over the wall, and all my cells imploding.
To the phrase ”the funniest thing happened today at work…” my emotional response is likely to be ”why are you doing this to me, can’t you see I’m just barely holding it together?!” which of course, in that moment I can’t any more. So I burst into tears like a dammed up river and barely manage to squeeze out between sobs that ”sorry, its not you, its just, everything was too much today” to the puzzled person next to me (by now he knows to not get worried but hold me down in a firm cuddle until everything stops spinning and we can have a normal conversation – as far as normal conversations go between us anyway).
Being alone and in relative peace is like drinking from a clear spring of happiness. Yes little butterflies and baby unicorns swarm around my head sometimes…
but also it is a deep, real, honest peace, an instant feeling of purpose, connection and happiness. In this space I have peace with the past and can see the future, the dead and the unborn. I communicate freely with trees and I deeply feel the beauty in everything. Then its not so shabby to be sensitive.
So why on Earth London?
Because of the high number of people who colour their hair blue, because of rock music and African immigrants, because the police crosses the red light and you’d never get fined for something silly like that, because there is always someone to bless you if you sneeze on the bus, because all my coworkers come from different countries, and because no one expects me to behave in any particular way, except say sorry and thanks and how are you doing.
And because I also have a very explicit personality trait called high sensation seeker or HSS (yes, going all in with acronyms and putting stuff in boxes today, bare with me). HSS is the nightmare of HSP, because HSS loves all these kind of experiences which are tough on an HSPersonality: novelty, unpredictability, and even a bit of danger.
A high sensation seeking personality suffers most in boredom. Boredom can be completely insufferable and appear whenever the person isn’t engaged in something new and unknown. For me this is true for anything which does not qualify as an adventure. London is an adventure, and it is saving me from the incredible boredom I feel when my work, location, circle of friends, routine etc. get too static.
Also, I was the weird kid everywhere, I was the weird kid in Waldorf school and in the world social forum. I never seem to live up to anyone’s expectations, but in London I’m not a lonely outsider, because we all are. Everybody are not from here, and few are truly fulfilled, but almost all go out of their way to be nice to each other. This makes me severely happy and relaxed, I found some kind of connected togetherness along with a blissful anonymity and freedom which is brand new, and oh so sweet.
So that’s the why…. but then how?
How on Earth London?
I got a job where I am not obliged to constantly face people – most of the time it is just me, my brain and my computer, and the call volume is limited to some max. 5 per day. I think most HSP’s will feel like me that written communication is a lot less exhaustive than oral. You have time to think, and you are able to stay more in your own bubble. A phone call can almost feel like giving a performance, especially if you need to push back at someone pressuring you.
Nr. 2 – energy work. Since I came to London I got serious about yoga, took two Reiki initiations, and also became a member of a spiritual organization called Shumei. Here I get healing once per week, and this recharge feels like a soothing bubble of light around my torn nerves.
3. I have no social life. I hardly see people outside work, and I have just accepted that my social life (outside the house, Shumei, work and yoga, which is already a substantial amount of interaction) takes place once per week, generally on Sunday when I had a good 24 hours rest through Saturday and start feeling human again.
4. I go to the park whenever I can, I walk barefoot in the grass and touch the ground with my hands (Also I hug trees while people stare at me, this is a new level of maturity for me), the physical contact with the Earth feels like an instant electric re-calibration – like all the energies in my system are put back into place, harmonized, recharged and discharged in the right proportion.
5. I don’t expect myself to complete any other projects than simply surviving, putting off setting up my own businesses, writing my book, or any other kind of creative baby-having for later. Basically keeping my expectations for self at a minimum and being very patient and compassionate towards Mie.
6. I spend as much time in places that recharge me as possible – the multicultural bustle in Brixton, the yoga sessions at international sunshine arts café, the unashamed hippie cafés in Camden.
7. I go for a deeper connection in my relations, and whenever I do spend my precious time away from the fresh-spring-of-solitude inside I make it count, and stay truly present with the person I am with inviting for a honest and nurturing exchange.
8. I kindly put my loverman on 24h on call hugging duty – cuddles bring me back down, soothe my nerves and make me feel whole, strong and happy.
9. I laugh as much as I can, life is wonderfully absurd, and joy can make the most unbearable things okay in a matter of seconds.
… and most importantly I am constantly checking in with what I really really feel like, and then doing it as much as possible in all my free minutes. Also if it means lying in bed watching cartoons and eating sprouts and chocolate for 48 hours (don’t judge, and don’t touch my sprouts, thanks)
Here are some links to tests for HSP and HSS personality trait from Dr. Elaine Aron who made some great research on HSP since the beginning of the description and the recognition of that concept. You know, in case you’re a freak like me, or know someone who is^^
HSP for your child, or the child you were, when you were a child: