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And this is my superpower? WTF!

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

What exactly is Hypersensitivity? It really depends on who you ask. I have heard people, including medical professionals, refer to this condition as 'being (overly) sensitive'; 'being (super) emotional'; 'being unable to calm the F*ck down'; 'being without peace'; 'always needing to have something to complain about'; 'being nit picky'; 'always wanting everything to be perfect'; 'being self-focused'; 'never being able to just be happy'; 'acting completely insane & unbalanced'; 'throwing tantrums'; 'that it's all in your head'; and the list goes on. And on. And on. And on. (Insert Exhausted Emoji). Maybe, like me, you suffer from Hypersensitivity... and you get it. Maybe you are someone who isn't Hypersensitive and use the words or phrases above to describe someone you know, or someone you work with, or someone you are related to... or worse yet, someone you are married to or involved with. No matter, Hypersensitivity is a very real condition much like Anxiety, Depression, Diabetes, Arthritis, Psoriasis, Lupus, and so many others. You can't and don't choose to be afflicted with any of these conditions, and Hypersensitivity- well, it is no different. You can do a simple Google fact-finding search to discover that 15 to 20% of the population are born with a high level of sensitivity. 'Born with'... not to be confused with developed, chosen, acquired, trained, taught, or traumatized into. Hypersensitivity can be part of your DNA no different than your eye color, blood type, or gender. There are many things you are born with that you are given the choice to change. If you don't like the color of your eyes, just wear colored contacts (insert winking Emoji). If you don't care for the natural color of your hair, change it! If you don't like the size of your breasts, or the shape of your butt, or the pucker of your lips, or even your not-so-flat stomach... just tell Siri 'find me cosmetic surgeons'. If you don't feel comfortable in the body you were born with, that can be changed to. But there are things you are born with that you are not given the choice to change, Hypersensitivity being one of those things. Oh, you can learn the tricks and the trades, or how to minimize the reactions or responses, but the reality is you still have Hypersensitivity in your make-up.

What is Hypersensitivity anyway? There are many 'defined' terms to describe Hypersensitivity. Websters gives us examples such as: excessively or abnormally sensitive; abnormally susceptible physiologically to a specific agent (such as drug or antigen); having feelings that are easily hurt; very strongly and easily affected or harmed by something. And for you WordNerds the Thesaurus offers the following: oversensitivity, hyperacuity. Hmmm... but if you search for the word 'sensitive' you get the following: acute, delicate, fine, keen, perceptive, quick, sharp. And words related to sensitive: clear, accurate, discerning, piercing, precise, receptive, hyper acute, oversensitive, super sensitive, and... ding.ding.ding, there it is- hypersensitive. So does that mean that 15 to 20% of the population walks around being more discerning, more precise, more receptive, or more oversensitive to the world around us? Sort of- but not really. I think it might be easier to invite you into what I will call a 'normal' day in the life of a person born with Hypersensitivity, that person being me.

I crack my eye open unwillingly and feel a bit grumpy at the beginnings of what appears to be daylight. I have no idea if it is 2:00 am, or 4:30 am, or if it is even ten minutes past the time I actually went to bed. I know if I poke the home button on my phone it will either assure me that I still have plenty of time to sleep- or it will piss me off depending on what I see on the screen. And this isn't the same every day, there is no consistency. At all. I try to close my eyes a little bit tighter but I cannot block out that dull glow through my curtains. Yes, I have considered black out curtains, many times actually- but I need daylight to calm my mind, my emotions, and my sense of being alive. A lot of times it is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Having curtains that are just dark enough but allow just enough light in is what I choose over and over again. Since I cannot block out the dull glow beckoning through my curtains, I make myself get out of bed.

Before my feet have found my slippers, I have already spoken calming, loving, encouraging words to myself about the day ahead of me. This is always a must because above all, I cannot -ever, control the world around me. Right about now you might be saying, 'Me either, I totally get it!'. No, you probably don't. And even if you do get it, you probably still don't. Hypersensitivity offers no constant, no ebb and flow, no pattern- whatsoever. Each day, each moment of each day, can either exalt you into a really feel-good day or plummet you without the decency of a simple warning into the depths of a freak-the-f*ck out. We all have good days, bad days, so-so days, even every where you look a**hole days- but that is not what I am talking about here. Being in a hypersensitive reality isn't just about balancing your mental perspective... it entails a whole hell of a lot more than that.

I slip my feet in my slippers and that little tag on the inside feels like the edge of a serrated knife against the inside of my foot. 'I have got to remember to cut that f*n tag out' I tell myself for the hundredth time somehow knowing I will forget the very second it ceases to bother me. As I use the limited light of my cell phone to make my way through my overly narrow bedroom door, I then have to decide if it is worth turning on the bathroom light- or remaining in the dark. I do not know yet how my actual eyeballs are going to respond to light, or how my head is going to react. There is a 50/50 chance I will have a headache today and that reality is always a joy. NOT! Today I decide I will turn the light on and try to usher in the 'Good Morning' feel goods. Within a matter of 2.2 seconds I realize I should have kept the lights off. My eyes are cursing me (if eyes could curse), my head is sending out pain jolts at a 2 to 3 level on a 1 to 10 scale, and I am already reluctant to face what this day may hold. For what I will call 'normal folk' (which, by the way, is a clique I sometimes wish I was part of) it can come down to a matter of 'Do I really feel like going in to work today? Am I in a good mood? Or... do I feel stressed over my lack of money or free time?'. For me, in this moment, the thoughts racing through my mind and plaguing my peace are 'Can I stand to take a shower today- stand being on my feet with the feel of water, soap, and a towel on my bare skin?; Will I be able to pick out what to wear without it being too tight, too itchy, too short, too long, too slouchy, too warm, too cold, too something that I know will make me want to scream, cuss, cry or have a complete meltdown- or will what I pick to wear make me feel perfectly comfortable, chipper and happy? Will the food I eat today smell right, taste good, make my gums sore from chewing, or not agree with my stomach- suddenly?. Will my nose become my enemy, like it does most days, hyper aware of every scent around me determining whether it will be a scent I can tolerate, or a scent that I am highly reactive to, that makes me have to wear a nose filter, a flu mask, take Ibuprofen in conjunction with an anti-anxiety pill and allergy tablets... all to avoid the inevitable daggers-to-my-skull kind of pain that may (or may not) send me home from work, or home from shopping, or back home a from friend's house, with or without notice?'. Even writing about this causes my sensitivity to rise to the surface, my emotions to go into overdrive, just by being reminded that I am living this nightmare of my hypersensitive reality. The harshest part of that reality being that most people don't even get it... even when they do get it. No matter how hard you try you cannot wrap your brain around Hypersensitivity. Now remember, I am still in the bathroom. I haven't even stopped to take the time I need to pee. I still have my entire day stretched out in front of me, uncertain and with no guarantee offered to me that today could possibly be a day that my hypersensitivity is my friend- and not my enemy intent to seek and destroy me.

You might think I am exaggerating what it feels like to be trapped in a hypersensitive state... but believe you me, it is no exaggeration at all! (insert Buzzing Emoji). Heck, the picture of me wearing the flu mask is waaaaay before COVID-19 and the world mask attack. Imagine having a job where I already have to wear computer glasses and a headset to take calls. Now add a nose filter, this little doohickey made of foam, filters and plastic that you have to shove up each nostril to prevent (or rather, attempt to prevent- attempt being the key word) environmental agents like perfumes, colognes, lotions, hand soaps, hand sanitizers, Lysol wipes, tea fragrances, laundry detergents, hair products, essential oils... about now you are one of two teams. You are either on the Pro-aroma team where you see this as my/our issue since it is your human right (damn it!) to wear scented products or to use your arsenal of essential oils in public... or you are on the No-aroma team where scented products and arsenals of essential oils are painful migraine makers. Some of you might even recognize this condition as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). And believe me when I say, this has nothing... absolutely nothing, to do with preference, of whether the perfume you are wearing or the lotion you just lathered on yourself (and offered to let four of your coworkers lather on themselves) is a scent I/we happen to 'prefer' or 'not prefer' the scent of. Most often, (at least speaking for myself), I love what something smells like... I just cannot mentally, physically, emotionally, or professionally function once your fragrance, scent, or oil has invaded my sinuses. And you can argue all you want about the 'natural' scent or oil you are choosing to put on. Just because it does not affect you... does not mean it does not affect me/us. To me/us your scent or oil equals a painful migraine, nausea, vomiting, limited to no driving, lost wages (ranging hours to days depending on the scent trigger), dark rooms, zero screen time (no playing on our phone, watching television, popping in a movie), zero paper and ink time (reading a book, writing a letter, leafing through a magazine)... the world around you literally becomes off limits. And in case you are wondering, this is no fun (at all!). It is in fact, quite miserable. And stressful. And depressing. And painful. And it all starts by being exposed to a 'natural' scent or oil. Believe you me, I have had my fair share of well-meaning people suggest that all I need to cure myself of my migraines is a couple of drops applied out of a cute tiny vial of Lavender. Hello! Are you insane?! Lavender is one of the worst scents I can expose myself to! (insert horrified Emoji with pounding migraine). So not only do I have to wear my computer glasses, a headset closed in around my ears, a nose filter shoved up each nostril... now I also need to place a flu mask around my face just to protect myself. If you are someone who has complied with wearing a 'face covering' during this pandemic, you already know all about the fun that comes with that. Your face sweats, your skin breaks out, your body overheats, your (or someone else's) voice becomes muffled, your nose itches, your throat becomes dry, your ears hurt from the tight bands, you have to make repeat trips back to your car because you forgot your mask (yet again) in order to enter a public space... not to mention it covers your face, it covers your smile, and it becomes a real pain in the a** to not have a choice as to whether you will wear a 'face covering' or not. That is just a small glimmer (small, small glimmer) of what it feels like if you are on the No-aroma team. Even with a nose filter and a face covering... the scent still finds it's way in (insert evil Emoji).

I always say that mornings are, by far, the hardest when you have hypersensitivity. And that does hold true most days. I am still not fully convinced that spending literal hours in my own skin helps me eventually achieve the 'Hypersensitive groove' and by reaching this state that I am somehow able to dull my senses & to trick my mind into believing that maybe once I survive these morning hours of hypersensitive misery I just kind of naturally balance out for the day. Even typing this I have to laugh. There is no 'normal' with hypersensitivity. So, there I am, standing by my decision that today is not a shower day. And don't go assuming that just because a shower is skipped that hygiene isn't important. The sensation of an unwashed face, or teeth that need a good once-over, or hair that lays too flat against my scalp is enough to cause all my senses to stand at alert. Just because a shower is delayed does not mean that other steps can be bypassed. And imagine, the entire time this internal struggle is going on, the clock is going tick, tick, tick (louder, louder, louder). Hell, I haven't even picked out what I am going to wear today. It is not that I haven't thought about it. I have, in fact, obsessively thought about it. My clothes account for 20% of how I think they look on me, 30% of how comfortable they feel, and 50% of how well I can tolerate them. Out of every 10 tops I have, I will predominately wear 2. I would say I easily have 12 pair of slacks and capris that are work dress appropriate, and I rotate between 3. I have roughly 18 pairs of jeans and casual capris and I favor maybe 4. Most days I really just want to wear sweats, yoga pants, leggings or a maxi skirt. And of these, I wear 1 out of every 3 that I own. My entire wardrobe is segregated into low-flare day, medium-flare day, high-flare day, maybe-someday no-flare day. I used to try to convince myself that it was the age-old fat pants/skinny pants dilemma, but that really only accounts for the tiniest fraction of truth. The majority of the clothes that I own fit my body just fine, it's the fact that they don't mesh well with my hypersensitivity.

So, I have taken time to pee, decided to skip taking a full shower, and have narrowed down my narrow choices of what to wear today. Now what? Well, I still have to put my face on, figure out what to eat- that is going to agree with my sensitivities, and get myself out the door on time without forgetting anything. Sounds easy enough, right? Some days it is. But on a hypersensitive day- not so much. On a hypersensitive day I may have to change clothes again, possibly twice, if I notice the slightest threat that the top I am wearing rubs against my armpits in just a certain way. This will cause my sensitivities to remain high (which is no fun) or it will cause my arm pit glands to sweat or to feel raw from the fabric touching them (which is the pits- pun intended). Neither is a pleasant sensation, especially when I am too far from home to do anything about it. And what happens if the pants or slacks or leggings I chose to wear are feeling a bit too snug, or the fabric feels just a little bit too not of what I want to feel against my skin? This heightens my sensitivity level and I have to change or...*t! You might be thinking, 'Just calm yourself down. It's just clothes'. I will tell you, a thousand times over, I wish it was that simple. It is not. Hypersensitivity hijacks your sense of calm and feeling rational. In your mind you know you are being over the top. You are completely and absolutely aware that it is just clothes, or just necessary tasks like taking a shower, but hypersensitivity does not play by logical rules. In no way do I want to confuse hypersensitivity with rage. Hypersensitivity can make you feel down right pissed off making you feel like (and possibly believe) you have no control, but it does not make you go out of control into a violent rage of uncontrollable anger. For you WordNerds some synonyms are: fury, tantrum, frenzy, rampage, hissy fit, temper, wrath (Credit Oxford Dictionaries). Hypersensitivity can cause you to have a tantrum of sorts but rage- well, rage is a whole different level of pissed off. Feeling hypersensitive, especially with one thing after another thing after another thing that keeps going wrong can really mess with your sense of peace and balance, it can be frustrating, aggravating, irritating, even rattle your pissed off a bit- but it does not cross the line into true rage. If you are a person who suffers with hypersensitivity and find that you go struggle with rage, I encourage you to reach out to your medical provider, a counselor or a support group. The rage you keep experiencing may be a sign that something much larger is brewing under the surface and you need to take care of you (insert heart Emoji).

So by now, I may have changed clothes twice, have settled for the fact that I need to deal with what I am now wearing since I am close to out of time. I gather my breakfast items and begin to chow through my bowl of cereal while I am putting my lunch together. The entire time my mind is on the tick.tick.tick of the clock since I cannot be late again. In my case, especially on hypersensitive mornings, I find that I end up running behind mostly because my mind is so wound up with what I should wear, what I should eat, what the weather will be like, if my system will calm the f*ck down. It is a very overwhelming experience that depletes my energy, time, and focus. Most hypersensitive mornings I find I end up running out the door hoping I didn't forget anything important even though I cannot seem to shake the feeling that I have. As I drive, my hypersensitivity sits right there in the seat next to me. My eyes are affected as headlights and street lamps are overly bright and almost appear extended outward, like they are begging for attention by being much more illuminated than they even need to be. Since the nerves in my body feel like they are in over-drive, I am hyper aware of how the steering wheel feels in my hands, how responsive the gas and brake pedal seems to be, how every little smear or bug stain on my windshield screams for me to notice it's existence. And don't even start with the other drivers on the road! When I am in a hypersensitive flare, other drivers come across as more challenging, more testy, more reckless in how close they make turns in front of me or how fast they will ride up behind me and follow without pulling back. Maybe this happens all the time and I don't notice as easily as when I am not in a hypersensitive flare, but when I am- all I can see is idiots who use cars like weapons instead of a means to get around.

Being a hypersensitive person, I am more aware, more in tune, more overcharged sometimes to the point that I feel like my system is literally buzzing. There are days I am surprised that my hypersensitivity doesn't allow me to fly, or to have bionic hearing, or special powers like Marvel characters. I know, some of you might be laughing, especially with that last statement, but being in your own body when hypersensitivity rises is an experience that seems a bit surreal at points. It can feel like a death sentence (like you will never be able to escape this misery of your own human body)... or it can feel much like a superpower (that you just might possess the superhero magic that you see on the big screen). Hypersensitivity causes you to live differently, to love differently, to have to function in more appropriate ways at different times. It is by no means an easy road to walk. Before, I was only able to share as far as making it to the car and onto the street. In writing about what hypersensitivity feels like it causes the mind and the body to go to that place, and to experience it as if walking through it again- and it is a very uncomfortable and difficult thing to do. I didn't even touch on the impact hypersensitivity has on your emotions, physical illness, medications, or the reactions and responses you often receive from employers and medical professionals. And I definitely didn't touch on the people you interact with on a daily basis, whether they be strangers, friends, family or anyone outside of that. When I am having a hypersensitive flare my adult son likes to remind me that it is important for me to find my power in it, to not allow it to have power over me. This is a very, very hard thing to do. In the midst of a flare, you literally feel like you have zero control. The truth is, hypersensitivity has also hijacked your emotions therefore the 'feeling' that you have zero control, is just a feeling... it is not a fact. As I have become more and more aware of the impact hypersensitivity has on me and my life, I have worked on finding ways to calm the storm (so to speak). I try to speak more gently to myself, reminding myself that this is just a flare, that my senses are heightened, that this is only temporary(deep breath). Sometimes this condition requires calming music to help me to refocus. Ambient music, Inspirational or Classical can be very good choices. I have to quit allowing myself to feel shame because shame cripples me from getting better. Sometimes this condition requires taking a shower or a bath when I really don't feel like I want to. Oddly enough, there are times I find that a shower or a bath is actually what I need just to regain balance. Sometimes it is just taking a nap and shutting off the world for a short time. The awareness is what makes all the difference. I used to just curse about it, yell about how much I hate being this way, and just let it poison my entire day. I will admit, it has been a one step forward, two steps back kind of dance for me. The more I have worked at accepting that hypersensitivity is just part of who I am, the easier the episodes have become. I even have taken my son's advise and at times have looked at this as a superpower, knowing that not everyone is given this gift or ability to see with more clarity, to think with more understanding, and to feel with more depth (the term Empath might resonate with you right about now). Above all, I am still learning and as long as I keep my mind open and my spirit teachable, I will be able to learn to live differently with hypersensitivity. Maybe someday I will even embrace it! And, my fellow Hypersensitive peeps, so will you! #hypersensitivity #overreactivesystem #facecovering #COVID-19 #sensitive #empath

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