You feel so deeply about things and you cannot help it. Stimuli can be overwhelming. You absorb other people’s emotions. Time pressures make you anxious. You often need to take yourself away from your busy life, to restore your balance. You overthink often. You have a vivid imagination. Change can be hard to process. You get hangry very easily. You hate any kind of conflict. You do your best to avoid making mistakes. You appreciate the beauty in everyday life. You’re very perceptive and inquisitive.
These are all traits associated with being a Highly Sensitive Person. Look it up. It is a real personality type and about 20% of the population has it. You may be reading the above and think you relate to these, you may wonder what this has to do with chronic illness. Well I’ve recently had a massive revelation about the connection between the two.
I believe that a massive percentage of those with chronic illness also have the Highly Sensitive personality. I’m not sure what the reason is, but many of the traits of a Highly Sensitive Person are also symptoms of chronic illness. Coincidence? I think not.
Overstimulation is where an environment or situation causes a nominative response. For me, loud noises, crowded places and lack of fresh air cause me to be anxious and make my fatigue worse.
Now, living with chronic illness, I live with fatigue as it is. The slightest thing can make me feel overwhelmed and put me in a flare up. I am so easily overstimulated where others manage perfectly well.
Conscientious means doing your best to avoid making mistakes. Even in school reports I was always put down as conscientious. I never truly understood what it meant till years later.
With my fibromyalgia, the fatigue can make me forgetful and I often lose concentration. I have a massive fear of making a big mistake if I don’t go over things multiple times first.
The more mistakes I make, the more anxious and self conscious I become. I am constantly going over everything I do to avoid any mistakes and avoid that feeling of worthlessness.
3. Emotional Exhaustion
Interactions can cause extreme fatigue and I often have to plan my life carefully to ensure I have rest days in between being sociable so I have time to recover. It can put me in a flare up for days or weeks so it is vital I plan a recovery period.
If I’m around someone with a low mood, it rubs off on me and affects my mood too.
Even when I’m resting, I can get emotionally exhausted from the smallest thing, even texting someone or watching a programme.
4. Admiring Beauty
A Highly Sensitive Person sees the beauty in even the smallest things. A good song, an emotional film or even a delicious meal.
With chronic illness, I have learnt to appreciate the small things as sometimes I cannot get to the big things. Even on a bad day, I still see the positives. I listen to good music and watch great films, and appreciate in the moment. It is the only way I get a sense of happiness on my lowest days.
5. People Pleaser
A Highly Sensitive Person is usually a people pleaser. Due to the sensitivity to other’s emotions, I do everything in my power to help them feel better or to not get into a negative mood in the first place. I jump in to help even when I’m suffering myself. In essence, doing this actually makes my pain and fatigue worse, as I am putting the needs of others above my own.
I am prone to doing this and it can put me in the worst flare ups. I have always been a people pleaser and it is very hard to find a balance with this to do enough not to feel guilty or bad but to avoid making my health worse.
As you can tell from all of the above, there is a sense of anxiousness amongst most Highly Sensitive traits. Along with this, someone with chronic illness also suffers other forms of anxiety. Health anxiety and social anxiety are just a couple of the many mental health issues that can make it extremely hard to be a Highly Sensitive Person with a chronic illness.
So perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye.
Does being a Highly Sensitive Person cause chronic illness? Does it make us more susceptible to stress caused health conditions? Is chronic illness caused by our bodies reacting to our sensitive nature? I’d love to know your thoughts.