As a rule, I’m pretty accepting of the way I was designed—bipolar and all—but one of the things I don’t particularly appreciate is my tendency to become overstimulated. Large crowds have always sent me into orbit; certain TV commercials irritate me beyond reason (think of the Geico piglet going “Weeee, weeee, weeee!” and you’ll get the idea); and repetitious sounds of ANY kind make me want to rip somebody’s face off and scream in it till my vocal cords give out. (Yes, I was a very loving mother, but tolerant and patient……not so much. The fact that all four of my children are on speaking terms with me is truly a testament to filial love.)
The psychology books call folks like me “highly sensitive”. Well, now THERE’S a news flash for ya…..how many BPers do you know who aren’t? It’s not like it’s a new thing—we are well-known for our hypersensitivity to stimuli of all sorts, whether it be the scratch of a clothing tag against the back of our necks or the relentless thudding of car stereo speakers with the bass cranked up on Power Ranger.
It’s not like we actually enjoy overreacting to everyday sensory input. My mother used to get so angry with me when she’d buy me a pair of sandals and I complained about the straps irritating my feet; but it was also difficult for me to enjoy the normal experiences of childhood when I couldn’t stand being startled or hearing the sound of balloons popping. Of course, back then nobody called me “highly sensitive”……back then, they just called me a whiner.
Needless to say, this did nothing to make me feel better about myself or help me understand my internal wiring. All it did was make me feel like I was defective and ought to be returned to the manufacturer for replacement parts. It wasn’t until I first landed on my psychiatrist’s couch at age 53 that I even knew there was a term for the way I’d been all my life, let alone the fact that the world was full of other people who shared the same characteristics.
To my knowledge, there is no official DSM nomenclature for “highly sensitive” individuals; in my case, it’s simply a part of my bipolar diagnosis, along with anxiety and the ADD-like symptoms I experience from time to time.
Trouble is, there never seems to be a convenient time to display this trait. I’ve been rather irritable the past couple of days—quite possibly because I missed my morning meds yesterday and my equilibrium is off (again)—and while some of it is undoubtedly due to stress, I can’t blame it all on that. In traffic, I’ve been casting a lot of colorful aspersions on the ancestry of fellow drivers, while closer to home, I’ve been nagging my husband for the umpteenth time about the car’s iPod adapter/player (which does not work and hasn’t worked in over a year, rendering me dependent on FM radio for my commuting entertainment).
But today, my irritability reached its zenith during a visit to my relative in the nursing home where I work. The subsequent wrath was not directed at her, but specifically, her roommate, who I immediately found to be intensely annoying. My relative has had issues with her since the first night she came in and started writing down the names of all the staff, in order to report them when they inevitably failed to satisfy her every desire.
To my relative’s credit, she’s put up with this very alert and oriented woman for approximately three days, eleven hours, and forty-three minutes (but who’s counting, right?) while it took me all of about 20 minutes to start wondering where on my property I could hide the body.
I mean, this lady was jittery enough to make me feel like jumping out the window. She kept going in and out of the room in her wheelchair (which she needs about as much as I do), past my relative’s bed and the chair I was occupying, invading our ‘space’ repeatedly within only a few minutes. She bumped into me about five times, despite there being plenty of room to maneuver, and when she came back into the room she spun around and around in her half of the room, yapping to NO ONE, before wheeling herself back out again.
Three times she called the nurse in to discuss her bowel care regimen that she just KNEW wasn’t being given correctly. Three times he came in and patiently reiterated what had been said on the previous trip. And in between these adventures, she looked around the room nervously, eyes darting from side to side like a mouse in a cattery; she fussed endlessly with the pillow she held as she twirled around, and then made another of her many excursions out to the hall.
It was perhaps the seventh time that she bumped my chair (or maybe it was the sixth?) when I lost what little patience I had, leapt to my feet, and said “That’s it. I’m outta here”.
My relative hissed at me: “Don’t you DARE—don’t you let her win!”, to which I promptly (and surprisingly) agreed by plopping back down into my seat. Damn straight I wasn’t going to let this wacky broad win…….if she wanted war, I was more than happy to return fire.
Luckily, it occurred to me about this time that chewing out a patient wasn’t the most advisable course of action—after all, I DO work there—and I shut my mouth just before the hostility came tumbling out in a torrent of words. Well, to be honest, it wouldn’t have been a torrent; my diatribe was really only a couple of well-chosen sentences along the lines of, “WTF is wrong with you, you crazy &*@+#!? Are you always this big of a pain in the ass!??”
All I can say is, it’s a good thing to know when to speak, but even more importantly, when to shut up…..which means this “highly sensitive” person will have to continue overriding my basic instinct to choke the living daylights out of every twit who deserves it. Haha!