Highly Sensitive Person - This is NOT a Disorder

I still remember the day I set off to my college of choice to take the entrance exams. I was so excited and was praying I would do well enough to become a future student. The tests weren't all that difficult, but I still struggled. The fluorescent lights in the auditorium seemed so bright that I would have loved to put sunglasses on to finish the tests. Not to mention, the light directly above me was twinkling on and off and making the loudest buzzing sound the entire time I took the tests. The boy next to me was chomping so loudly on him gum that I could hear the saliva being trapped between his gum and his teeth. Yuk! If that wasn't enough, the girl in front of me smelled like she had just bathed in a tub of CK1. (I went to school in the '90s.) I actually loved that scent, but I remember it was so strong it was giving me a headache.

Long story short, I passed the exams! Yay! However, I often say that I could have done so much better had I been able to concentrate just a little bit better. I've been digging into my behavior patterns lately, and I realized this sensitivity issue was a pattern that was present in my life longer than I realized. I used to skip days in high school when we would have huge math tests. Math was my worst subject. It took every ounce of concentration I had. Skipping a day during a test meant that I got to make up the test the next day and I was able to take it during class ... ALONE ... and in a different room. Wow! How long had this gone on and I didn't even realize I was doing it or why?

Fast forward to being an adult working in the real world and I realize that I am repeating the same pattern. Luckily, being a graphic designer, we PREFER to work in the dark and I kind of lucked out there. Many of my previous jobs were in dark rooms with peaceful music. HSPs are known to gravitate towards the arts, so maybe that is no coincidence I had those experiences at each job. However, when one of the companies was bought out, I suddenly found myself in a new office where my cubicle was in the middle of a very wide-open community gathering area. I quickly asked if maintenance could take down the fluorescent lights above me. For some reason, my desk area was always super cold because it was by the door and apparently, right under a vent. I would sit at my desk with an electric blanket and I would shiver all day. By the time I would get home, I was so exhausted just by trying to stay warm. Add on top of that, it was a wide-open floorplan. I could hear every person coming and going. I heard every conversation. I heard every piece of gossip and every person who was ever having a good day or a bad day. So yes, I ended up FEELING all of that too. It was TOO MUCH. After a year, it was wearing me down and I started missing A LOT of days at work. Going into the office became such a huge feat for me. I dreaded it. Not because I hated my job or my co-workers, but because I was overwhelmed by the environment.

I decided to see a doctor about my hyper-sensitivity. I had been fighting with all of this since high school. I was promptly diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. More is being found now about fibromyalgia, but I still feel doctors are totally missing key factors in that diagnosis. What I have come to realize for myself is that my nervous system is a wreck because I am constantly in fight or flight - mostly because I am constantly triggered by outside stimuli. This fight or flight response causes inflammation in the body, which shows up as pain and a gazillion other health problems if left unattended. Where doctors are NOT looking is -- "Is this person a highly sensitive person?" I cannot believe I did not make this connection myself until recently. I knew I had an inflammation problem. I knew I was an HSP. I did NOT make the connection between the two.

According to, there are some basic questions you can answer that will determine if you are an HSP right off the bat. For example, do you have a rich and complex inner life? When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy? Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby? Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time? Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows because you want to avoid overwhelming emotions? Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation? Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations? Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art? Are you extra sensitive to even the slightest changes in heat or cold? I know for me personally, I can tell a huge difference in how I feel based off of barometric pressure, and even solar flares! I love a good thunderstorm! I feel amazing! So as you can imagine, some of these traits directly affect our lives as a student or working member of society.

What I have learned over the years is that HSPs have to learn to adapt to their environments. It is ideal if you can work from home because you can control your environment, as well as your break times. I feel we are coming into a new age where employers are more adaptable to the needs of their employees, so long as the employees are still performing to expectation. Perhaps talk to your employer about your experiences and see if they would be willing to negotiate. If that is not feasible, try to discuss creating a comfortable environment for you to thrive while in the office. Maybe you are the only one who wants that tiny little office in the back that is away from the hustle and bustle of the front office. Ask your maintenance workers if they can turn off the fluorescent lights JUST in your office. Bring in warm-colored light and lamps instead. White noise machines or light classical music may also help drown out office chatter. I have a rolle