About three years ago I had a panic attack, or what I thought was a panic attack. My daughter was in a dance troupe and it was picture time. All the dance troupes, it felt like 100 girls, came to a small venue to get their pictures taken at the same time, with one photographer. The girls were in their recital attire and their hair and make up had to be done for the group and individual photos. We were there for hours and I had expected to be out in less than an hour.
After about two hours, I was totally freaking out. I was stressed about her hair and ribbon that I couldn’t get quite right. We were hungry. The center was hot and the girls were loud. There was no order to things, it was very chaotic. The dance instructors were incompetent, rude and didn’t seem to notice the discomfort of all those around us. It was a mess. I was a mess, trying so hard to not let people see that I was about to loose all control and start telling everyone what to do, how to do it and get us all out of there before we all melted down.
I didn’t do any of that of course, I stepped out, got some air and pushed through what felt like another two hours. Afterwards it seemed like an out of body experience. I was embarrassed by my irritation and couldn’t understand why I was so overwhelmed. When I reflected back on it, I remembered how hot it was, how the bright the lights were, how loud the people were, how many perfumes were in the air, how hungry and thirsty I was.
So I went looking for information on panic attacks triggered by stimulation and stumbled upon a book called “Too Loud, Too Bright, To Fast, To Tight” by Sharon Heller. I was fascinated by what I learned in this book, it made me feel empowered. Instead of being bombarded by stimuli, I could recognize it, consciously remove myself, or distract myself before becoming overwhelmed. I learned how to always be prepared for thirst, bad smells, bright lights and loud people. Shortly after, I found the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron and learned even more about HSP’s and how to manage being sensitive in an overstimulating world.
For most of my life I compartmentalized my sensitivities. For example, I always recognized and valued my strong empathy for animals, I always made jokes about my olfactory superpowers and always appreciated the way I could read a room, but I never connected them together. And I never considered the extreme agitation I felt when a hair was pulled by my purse strap was because I was wired a little differently. In retrospect, I realize that I have always been this way, but now, my chronic pain has increased my sensitivity to a new level.
Recognizing the sensitivity in myself has opened my eyes to the sensitivity in my daughter and has changed my parenting. Before when she would get upset for no apparent reason, I would try to calm her, but didn’t have tons of patience about it. Now, I pay more attention, I take more time to understand and I actually know how to soothe her. I wish I had known for the first five years of her life! Her skin-to-skin need when she was a baby overwhelmed me, now it totally makes sense.
Over the years I have learned to really appreciate the value of being an HSP. While it is true that things can quickly become overwhelming in a negative way, we can also dive deep into sensory experiences in a beautiful way. Nature has never been more beautiful, science has never been so interesting and the interconnectedness of all living things has never been more apparent to me. To finally embrace your deep feelings after a lifetime of hushing them, or even apologizing for them, is liberating.
Shout out to all the highly sensitive people…its a gift, not a curse!