I Discovered I’m a Highly Sensitive Person at Age 32

Oren Cohen

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When I was eight or nine, we had a small aquarium at home with some goldfish in it. One day, I remember I looked at them when we were cleaning the house before Passover and thought to myself, “well, we should probably clean the fish, too. They’re dirty,” and then I put soap in the water.

They all died, and my family laughed at what I did. We still remind it sometimes to this day, almost 24 years later.

But the thing is, I didn’t think it was funny. I did what I did after I thought it through.

When I grew up, I found that I’m more vulnerable in situations other people shake off. There was this fan-made show on YouTube that I watched more than six years ago about Mortal Kombat, and I experienced a panic attack for the first time in my life while watching a scene that involved eyes and a stick — no more information needed.

The panic attack felt like falling into myself. I remember I literally fell off my chair, and my first instinct was to get to the window and breathe. I did that for a solid minute, and it passed, but I knew that something about me was different. I didn’t know what, and I was afraid to find out.

The anxiety I felt before talking to my bosses (as in regular talk, not an interview) before I got to know them better; the anxiety I felt before making phone calls, or perhaps even the anxiety of seeing someone I know from afar in a day when I’m not ready to interact with people; the exhaustion I would feel after prolonged social interactions; all of those alongside my previous examples made me think something was wrong with me.

I whole-heartedly believed that I was broken. A type-b kind of human being; the natural selection at work because how can I function in a world that sucks all of my emotional energies in a vicious neverending cycle?

Years passed by. I’m now 32 years old, fast approaching 33, and I’m not doing well. Most of the time, I’m sleep-deprived, overweight, feeling unfulfilled, perhaps more than anything — feeling filled with questions. As part of my daily visit to Medium, I saw an article about dating an HSP-woman.

I didn’t even read it; I just went to search what is an HSP. That ability to quickly research terms foreign to me is probably one of the reasons you would find that I know many esoteric things. Searching for that term is where our journey begins.

What is an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person?

Dr. Elaine Aron coined the term in her book, The Highly Sensitive Person, and defined the term as a person with a higher sensitivity to external sensory.

Her research suggests that it is a genetic trait, and around 15–20% of the population is born with it.

I took the test on her website, where she suggests that if you score higher than 14, you may be an HSP. But, even if you score lower than 14 but feel strongly about those points, you could still be an HSP. We’re talking about a spectrum — not a black and white decision. For my test, I got a score of 19.

Here are some of the signs associated with being an HSP from Psych2Go, a YouTube channel with a mission to make psychology accessible to everyone:

Video: psych2go's YouTube Channel

Coming to Terms With Being an HSP

Do you ever have that inner feeling that you’re trapped and need to run away? The feeling you can’t deal with people right now, and you need your quiet space. That happens to me all the time. Especially when I’m sleep-deprived, it’s something I’m working on, but I find myself lacking sleep a lot.

The feeling of being trapped is a common sign of HSPs, as explained in the video above. I also relate to the exhaustion associated with social conventions. I should stress that being an HSP doesn’t immediately mean I’m also either an Empath or an Introvert. I do go out with friends and go out on dates in social places. I burn out faster.

One thing I didn’t do most of my life is practice the self-care I needed to get in the right emotional state to approach things. I remember one time I went out on a date with this beautiful woman. Back then, I didn’t know why I didn’t function and stayed mostly quiet with an inner urge to run away from the occasion. Today I know it’s because I didn’t prepare accordingly.

Today I know that I have more sensitive wires, and if I’m not careful and prepare accordingly, I can fry them very easily.

It’s not wrong to be an HSP. In fact, it’s a superpower. My 1:1 interactions with people are usually great. People always tell me I’m a great listener and that my patience is out of this world.

Being an HSP also benefits my writing in general and my writing of interpersonal relationships in particular. Journaling has also been an incredible way of unwinding and recharging for me.

This is who I am. I felt wrong when I didn’t take care of myself the way an HSP should. Now that I know and accept that trait, my past is illuminated in a new light, and my future is all the brighter.

So, what does this self-care that I mentioned mean? Let me explain.

Self-Care Examples for HSPs

Self-care is anything that lets us unwind and recharge. Obviously, as different people, our methods will vary, so I will share what I started doing that worked for me.

  1. Journaling — Picking up journaling again has been a lifesaver in terms of processing my days. Even if I didn’t actively journal but used writing, that still helped. Processing my thoughts through my fingers helped a lot.
  2. Sleep — My entire day could shift if I had a good night’s sleep. Without it, I’m a total wreck, and I found that I’m more susceptible to try to run away from social conventions.
  3. “Me time” — whether that’s gaming or reading or simply doing stuff for myself, which aren’t considered work, gives me lots of energies that can transform the following days.
  4. Tidiness — keeping my stuff organized — even if for short periods of time because I’m messy — would lift a weight off my shoulders. The act of cleaning up would compound “small victories” that made my day.
  5. Listening to music — usually that music is without lyrics and is soothing, like concentration music or something like that. A couple of days ago, I sat on a bench in the street for five minutes before I had a date and just listened to some violin music with deep breaths. The date went smoothly, and I felt a lot more confident in my own skin after taking those few minutes to “prepare.”

It’s super important to understand yourself better and know what is best for you. Do some research if you feel you might be an HSP, too.

Life is Going to Change

For thirty-two years of my life, I felt like something was wrong with me. Now I finally know and accept that my wires are simply a little more sensitive, and that’s not a bad thing!

Now it’s time to practice better self-care and also realize how to use this trait as a superpower. It’s definitely not a weakness to be able to think deeper and have better insight.

I’m not one to stick to labels, but this feels so right. My past is littered with days I thought I was a coward for feeling the anxiety to do certain things while I managed to do them perfectly on other days. I didn’t know that I simply unconsciously prepared on the days it did work out better.

Now I can be more mindful of this change in my life and make the most of who I am.

Discovering new things about ourselves is an incredible occasion, and I, for one, am looking forward to tomorrow.

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I'm a geeky content creator. My content will usually be helpful articles for other content creators like me or some fun geeky articles about shows, video games, and literature. Recommend me a new fantasy book! Also, I'm working on my own fantasy story so stay tuned for that, too.

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