On the Travails of Sensitivity

So, I logged into my Facebook account today for the express purpose of writing a long litany of my sorrows to my very good friend J. When I checked my inbox, I found a message from J. that contained, in eerily clairvoyant fashion, the response to the letter I hadn’t yet written.

The message contained a link to a blog by a friend of hers who has bi-polar disorder.

After reading two posts, I already felt better. Not really because of the perspective engendered by reading about someone whose troubles far exceed my own, but mostly because I felt…well…understood.

It’s not the first time that I’ve entertained the notion that I might be bi-polar. For as long as I can remember, I’ve suffered from intense bouts of melancholia that had no discernible cause. Family and friends dismissed these episodes as temperamental inclinations towards seriousness, introspection, morbidity, melodrama or just a plain incapacity for happiness. While not particularly pleasant, I nevertheless appreciated these episodes because I found them to be supremely helpful to the process of writing (ah, yes, the portrait of the artist as martyr).

On the other hand, I’ve never needed medication, and dark, Byronic moods aside, have managed to function quite well in society. Which got me thinking: if I’m not bi-polar, what am I?

The answer, quite possibly, lies in a direction pointed by J. herself years ago, when she told me that I was, “perhaps, a hyper-sensitive child.” I never bothered to investigate the statement then, but now, prompted by a sudden curiosity, I’ve looked up a few references online and discovered the following in an article written by Sharon Lind (http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/overexcitability-and-the-gifted):

(1) “Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience.” (Okay, I take it for granted I’m creative. I’ll happily take the gifted label as well.)

(2) “Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity—Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these. ‘One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner’ (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 7). Experiencing the world in this unique way carries with it great joys and sometimes great frustrations.” (No kidding on the part about great frustrations.)

(3) “Emotional [overexcitability] is often the first to be noticed by parents. It is reflected in heightened, intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, identification with others’ feelings, and strong affective expression (Piechowski, 1991) . . . Emotionally overexcitable people have a remarkable capacity for deep relationships; they show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977) . . . Those with strong Emotional [overexcitability] are acutely aware of their own feelings, of how they are growing and changing, and often carry on inner dialogs and practice self-judgment (Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Children high in Emotional [overexcitability]‚ are often accused of ‘overreacting.’ (Italics mine. And, yes, I have often been accused of being ‘OA’ as Filipinos like to put it.)  

(4) “It is often quite difficult and demanding to work and live with overexcitable individuals. Those who are not so, find the behaviors unexplainable, frequently incomprehensible, and often bizarre.” (Yes…I’ve been told I can be difficult to be with for long periods, because my moods are as mercurial as a cat’s.)

In another article written by Carol Bainbridge (http://giftedkids.about.com/od/gifted101/qt/emotional_oe.htm), this is what I’ve found:

(5) “As sympathetic as [the emotionally overexcitable] are to others, they seem unable to feel sympathy for themselves.  Instead, they tend to be highly self-critical.  They can also feel a deep sense of responsibility, which can lead to feelings of failure and guilt.” (Amen to being highly self-critical.)

(6) “The depression that those with emotional [overexcitability] often experience is  existential depression, which means that they become depressed over issues concerning the basic questions of life: death, poverty, war, and disease, for example.  Bouts of existential depression can be caused be some specific experience, but they are just as likely to arise spontaneously.” (Amen to the spontaneous generation of existential depression.)

(7) “Children with emotional [overexcitability] also have a hard time adjusting to change and can experience high levels of anxiety when they are put in new situations or unfamiliar surroundings.” (Yes…my life for the last several months, exactly.)

And, this is the killer:

(8) “Children do not grow out of this sensitivity.  A child with intense emotional feelings will experience the same depth of emotion as an adult.”


Oh well. At least I know what it is.



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