Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Oh. I have a category.

I love our church – St Johns.  The worship feels perfect, the music is sublime, the people are friendly, the preaching is excellent, the pastor is everything a pastor should be.  It is the most welcoming, friendly place, full of loving kindness.  A house of the peaceable kingdom.

That’s the context.

But if I go to worship on a typical Sunday morning, I’m okay for the first ten minutes.  After that my energy steadily drains away, until I have to grit my teeth just to be able to stay there.  I have to hold the Badger’s hand so I can use some of his energy.  I’d like to walk there, but morning worship leaves me feeling like a gibbering wreck, far too exhausted to walk home.

I’m the PCC secretary and am supposed to check my intray each week, but it took me ages to find the vestry because by the end of worship I would just be focused on how quick I could get out.  I'm all right if I go to the small, peaceful 8am service, because there are fewer stimuli and interactions.

Normal everyday things are difficult for me.  Some days, I can make a phone call – most days not.  Travelling by bus is difficult because the whole journey I am rehearsing and re-rehearsing getting off the bus: "Look that fat lady is overflowing into the aisle but if I have to say ‘Excuse me' and squeeze past it’ll make her feel dreadful about being fat . . . and that old lady has her shopping trolley blocking the door, but if I have to climb over it she might feel criticised . . . and now there are students getting on and oh my goodness they are going to stand in the aisle of the bus – how will I get off?  What will I do?  What if I ring the bell and the bus stops and someone else gets off and then the driver leaves because he doesn’t realise I’m trying to get by the fat lady and the trolley and the students?  What will I do then?  Everyone will see.  I might have to shout for the driver to stop.  No.  I couldn’t shout.  What will I do then?  Oh dear . . .”

All the way home.

I just about managed being a minister.  It felt quite safe inside the pulpit, a long way away from the people.  And I had a role to be in.  Though visiting was terrible.   I spent my entire life dreading visiting.  It was as bad as phone calls.  Most of the time I couldn’t do it.  And the expectations and the conflicts of any average church community felt beyond what I could cope with.  It was such a relief to give it up.

But I can’t do a regular job either.  On the occasions I have tried, I just fall very ill, of non-specific mystery diseases. I passed through school in a nightmare of terror and inadequacy, in the bottom class for everything.
When I went to college I missed my first tutorials because I couldn’t leave my room for three days.

I am okay in the supermarket if I have someone with me whose energy is sustaining.  Otherwise it drains me impossibly.

Some of the time I can drive.  Not always.  And never on big roads – motorways I cannot do.  My nervous system shuts down totally and I do extremely dangerous things.

Someone once asked me to pick up an acquaintance from the airport, and was bewildered by my point-blank refusal.  I couldn’t drive into an airport.
I could regale you all day with stories of the things I can’t do – and it isn’t just me, several members of the family are severely like this, others mildly so.  You wouldn’t know it if you met us, because we are (mostly) friendly and polite.  But every social occasion is almost impossible, because after twenty minutes, exhaustion sets in.  When we have guests at home (hardly ever) we do it in relays by agreement.

In my second marriage, I moved into my new husband’s cottage out in Beckley.  But I had to drive ten miles back to my flat in Hastings every day to use the bathroom, because in the company of unfamiliar people my body systems close down completely.  All of them.

At one time I used to go to an exercise class, that would begin with a relaxation.  I dreaded it because each week the lady would tell us that every day we must each have some me-time - time just to relax and be quiet - even if it was only ten minutes.  The very idea used to freak me out, I could hardly bear her to say it.  Ten minutes?  Ten minutes?  I need hours and hours and hours alone every day!  Just in silence.  No music, just quietness.

Variously diagnosed as difficult, aloof, anti-social, shy – or, if it gets to the doctor stage, depressive and anxious, the members of my family make it through by relying on each other and learning to hide how things are with us.
But recently someone said to me: “You’re an HSP. Do the test online.”
I did the test (scored 24).  I got the book.  What a relief.  There are other people like me.  I have a category.


seekingmyLord said...

I have this too, but not as least, most of the time. Still, that is why I prefer small churches and small towns.

When you mentioned using the energy of another person, it sounds like you could also be empathic. I was given this gift at the end of a fast when asking for guidance in helping people. I also feel pain/illness and the emotions from other people. Too many people around, I tire out or even become ill quickly from what other people around me have. On the other side, though, is my gift for multifaceted helping and healing a person when one-on-one.

Heidi said...

Thank you for writing this! I saw myself in pretty much everything you wrote and I scored 23 on the test. This explains a lot for me.

I just finished my degree in comparative religion and I'm looking for a job. I want to be able to contribute to society (and I need some more money soon), but I am dreading all the worries connected to being in a job (and having to leave the apartment every day).

Ember said...

Hiya :0)

Heidi, there is a really good book called 'Making Work Work For The Highly Sensitive Person". I haven't read all of it, just the Amazon "Search Inside", but it looks very helpful.

seekingmyLord - yes re the empathy. When my previous husband was in the hospital before he came home for the last month of his life, it was very difficult because if I spent more than an hour there I got so exhausted I was almost hysterical.
It can be very useful - for example when I was a hospice chaplain, and I often experience the emotions of others as if they were my own, and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between myself and other people. I tend to merge. It's all part of the same thing, apparently.

Julie B. said...

I scored a 21. I'm thinking of ordering the book but I'm feeling a little overwhelmed about ordering it. :)

Anonymous said...

I got 19 LOL!

I am the exact way, too much stimuli makes me crumble mentally and physically. Just can't take any pressure. I seem fly by night and withdrawn but I have to be for my own mental sake.

Wanted to say thanks for the Quaker links on your blog, they've been helpful! :)

Ember said...

Hi Julie, Hi Katrina!

Love to hear your comments on the book when you read it Julie F

Glad you like the Quaker links Katrina. Have you seen Micah Bales' blog, The Lamb's War?

Donna said...

Oh, what relief categories bring! "I'm not stuck-up and lazy, I have Sensory Processing Sensitivity". Well, it ought to shut them up, anyway.
Sometimes I wonder if it's a blessing in disguise, though - if I could handle stuff, I'd be out there doing it, and would possibly be retired with one or two stressed adult children before I found time to explore the Quiet Way. I've been somewhat forced into it now, but I wouldn't be anywhere else.
And, speaking of social inabilities - I would have said goodbye when you dropped me off if I'd known you weren't coming in! Sorry!

Michelle-ozark crafter said...

Seems we are so alike sister. I dread when I must use the phone or talk to even friends in person or worse yet visit. Too much noise just frays my nerves something awful. I can easily stay home all the time in my quiet little house just puttering. Being out even on a country ride which I love just drains me. I have stopped attending church right now. Between the draining energy and migranes brought on by the perfume and cologne, I feel I can focus more on the Lord at home in peace. I will pray for you and you pray for me okay?

Ember said...


I hadn't realised I wasn't coming in either!
Are you coming to the book launch on Oct 15th? And if yes, is Ali coming too?

Ember said...

Oh - that last comment was to Donna. Google stacks them and sometimes I miss things. Hi Michelle :0) Yes indeed. God bless you and your man today - peace to your home, peace to your souls xxx

Donna said...

Yes, I am coming to the book launch, but Ali is working so he can't. Also, I'm hoping to play my recorder with some of your family. :-)

Ember said...

Hooray! Cool! We have some medieval-type gear if you are stuck for things to wear - although maybe you could give your wedding dress another outing?

kat said...

categories are so useful for reassurance aren't they? You may be pretty exceptional amongst those around you, but there are others out there who feel the same.
BUT .... it's a Good Thing to be exceptional, even if it is difficult xxx

Bean said...

I scored a 16. I was always described as shy and sensitive as a child! I find large social gatherings to be stressful. I much prefer to be home alone, I keep myself busy, sometimes accompanied by the radio and sometimes not. I enjoy walking, again the solitude and time to myself is very much enjoyed. I think most people would think I lead a boring life, but most of the time I feel very content.

Blessings to you,


Ember said...

Hi kat, hi Bean! Waving! xxx

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog URL! :)

Ember said...

:0) You're welcome! x

VeraMvJ said...

Hooray, more people like me. As a single woman I have to work for rent, food and clothes. Thank God that he made me a good teacher so I can hide in front of the classroom. I can even play this very social, active person for 1, 2, 3 months. And then my system shuts down and I have to hide for 1 week or much, much longer in a quiet, safe and lonely place. Not easy when you live in a big city. Try to explain this 'odd' necessity to employers, your fellow christians, family and even friends..... soooo frustrating.
I accept who I am, even like myself but it is not very practical. O no...
And Ember (and all the others), thank you so much for sharing this!

Ember said...

Hi,, VeraMyJ! Waving! x

Ganeida said...

I scored a 20; should I be worried?

Ember said...

:0D Welcome to The Category! xx

Megan said...

Hi, Ember! I've been visiting your blog for over a year now but have never commented (I think my having HSP may have something to do with it!:)). I first discovered, The Highly Sensitive Person, when my son was an infant. The book, The Highly Sensitive Child, by the same author, has been such a blessing to our family. Both my son and daughter are HSP, though my daughter to a lesser degree. My son scores near the top on the test for children (22 out of 23 ) as I do for adults (26 out of 27). I knew from the beginning he was HSP, I didn't need a book to tell me that, but what I did need was the encouragement and practical advice the book offers. My favorite line from the book is "To have an exceptional child you must be willing to have an exceptional child".
Church is an interesting experience for me as well. I quickly sense the "mood" in a room and it is terribly distracting to try to concentrate on the sermon, all the while sitting almost helplessly like a sponge soaking in all the emotions around me, not to mention picking up on, for the lack of a better phrase, "negative(or positive)energy" in the relationships of the couples and or families sitting in the pews. I have to work hard to ignore the unspoken "dramas" unfolding around me. It is getting worse as I get older (I'm 43). Our world is so full of negativity and stress and the church is not immune to this. I'm from the other side of the pond, and people are genuinely struggling economically, physically and emotionally. In part, because they are unprepared for the new reality of their "reduced circumstances" and it has sent them reeling.
I have found that lots of quiet, "puttering around" my garden, daily vigorous exercise, spending time with my very funny husband and hugs and kisses from my sweet children help to shake off the negativity.
I'm so sorry for the long comment, I guess I'm sort of passionate about this subject!

Ember said...

:0) Hi Megan - how very interesting; thank you so much! There is never any need to apologise for commenting at length. I think all of us who hang out here enjoy reading the comments just as much as the blog posts, and enjoy the synthesis of ideas that begins to emerge.
For me one of the most challenging times is in the supermarket/mall when people are treating their children unskilfully. The extent to which it affects me feels to painful to bear.

Maggie said...

HSP - I am too. I scored 25 on the test (and probably would have checked all of them except I was resisting the ones that weren't 100% like me).

The thing is, a lot of people don't understand this at all. A few years ago, my stepson, his wife, his 3-year-old daughter, and a newborn baby lived with us for five long months (with blaring t.v. and cartoons and Sponge Bob). I thought I would go crazy. My daughter-in-law just thought I was being horrid. She still hasn't forgiven me.

Ember said...

Hi Maggie :0) I live in a household with several members of my family, which is fine and works brilliantly as we are all HSP - in some cases extremely so. But at times when I have shared accommodation with folk who are not HSP I've felt conscious of how spooky I am to live with - creeping about in silent stealth, making almost no sound at all, spending long hours alone in my room, insisting that everything be tidied away so the environment is calm and clear and peaceful. When my adult step-daughter shared a home with us for a while, as your daughter-in-law did with you, she thought I was really mean to her, though in fact I went out of my way to be kind - and I understand better now how that came to be. I found that once she had moved out again, keeping my distance but sending her nice presents and a friendly letter from time to time gradually restored positive regard.
Good to hear from you, and yes - 5 months can be a mighty long time!!

Linda said...

Thank you so much for explaining it in some detail. I recognise bits in myself and two of my children. I have an upset husband today, because while he is doing his homework for teaching, I am on facebook. My friend was upset and I spent a lot of time commenting etc. but after awhile I just can't keep up with the details of what they are saying. One explained it to me and others clicked like which by then I was tired and took it as they thought I was dumb, but on the other hand maybe they were happy it was explained to me. Either way the whole thing was upsetting. My friend took attention from me and she does this regularly about once a month. Disappears they needs lots of attention. If only they knew how much I was putting myself out, but no matter.

I find in some supermarkets and places it takes quite a long time if it is a new town to feel comfortable and in place there. I can be nearly off my tree for quite awhile. Years ago in a larger town often changing supermarkets worked as the people varied from one to another. After awhile the shouting thing improved with me. I find living here in a small town that is very casual helps. When I go to a more formal place I find I don't feel like I get into their thing about conforming to the hush hush thing. Well I am not loud, but I know I am not as focused on it as they are. My friend found that test once and she was very happy, I think for her children's sake.

Linda said...

One of the reasons facebooking gets difficult for me is that the time when everyone is chatting there is usually loud tv on here as well from my kids. I find the open plan way houses are set up really hard that way. Originally we had a house with the lounge up one end and the kitchen in the other where we could talk. I have also lost a bath my size, and trees and garden. My first house was a blessing to me, made things so much easier.

Linda said...

I got 24 but probably 22-24 would be more accurate.

Linda said...

I thought this was an interesting read. I know that it applies to me at least in some way.

Ember said...

Hi Linda! Waving! x

paula said...

May I join?? I got a 25. I've always been sensitive, and I've learned that it is a gift from God, for all the positive traits associated with it. I engage with the world pretty well, but the noise sends me away more quickly than any other stimulus.

What IS it with the loud TVs?? I'll never understand why people feel the need to fill their lives with noise. I live with blessed silence.

Ember said...

:0) All the HSPs are right here on this blog!!!