This is going to be a really random post. I’m just warning you up front. These are just my thoughts– thoughts that have been pretty loud lately and rattling around in my brain.
Yesterday I was in the bathroom doing some cleaning and came across my Baush & Lomb saline solution for rinsing my contacts. It said Sensitive Eyes® Plus brand. Just a short while later, I came across a coupon my dermatologist had given me for All® Free Clear- a detergent specially formulated for sensitive skin. I thought, there’s that word again… SENSITIVE. I got to wondering why it is that some people are physically more sensitive than others. Why some people can look at poison ivy and break out in itchy hives all over. Others (me) can take a bath in the stuff and never break out or itch that first time. Why are some people sensitive to smells while others aren’t? Why are some people sensitive to loud noises and easily overwhelmed by them while others hardly notice?
Then I got to thinking and wondering why some people are emotionally more sensitive than others. I’m a highly sensitive person. I’ve always been sensitive, and at 53, I probably always will be. I was told once by a psychologist that being a sensitive person is both a blessing and a curse. I think I know what she meant by that. I think being a sensitive person is good in that it makes you more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. Sensitive people notice the subtleties in life which is a good thing and an advantage in my eyes. On the downside, sensitive people get their feelings hurt way too easily and I suspect sensitive people are more prone to depression. I may be wrong about this and I’ve never read any research to see if my suspicions are true. It just makes sense to me. I’m not sure where sensitivity comes from. Is it something we’re born with? I don’t consider my mother to have been a sensitive person. Sometimes she came across as rather insensitive and harsh although I don’t think it was her intention. She was one of those people who said exactly what was on her mind. She didn’t hold back. My father, however, was a gentle and sensitive person. He seemed to always be sensitive and in tune to the feelings and needs of others.
My best friend in kindergarten and elementary school was and still is a very sensitive person. I remember a time when we were both 5 years old and playing in a neighbor’s front yard. We found a slug crawling on the porch and decided to poke the poor thing with a stick to see what would happen (remember we were 5). We had heard that they dissolved if one poured salt over them. When the slug began oozing from the poke from our stick, my friend doubled over in the grass and began vomiting. I remember that like it was yesterday.
I’ve always been one to cry easily. I cry over everything…. Hallmark commercials (don’t you?), dog food commercials (yes, REALLY), movies, and lately books. I cried over certain childhood books I remember reading– Charlotte’s Web, and Old Yeller, were two in particular that got to me. I’m involved in a book club at my church and this past year we read Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron. I can say with all honesty that NO book has ever made me sob out loud like Dewey did. That book and something about the way the author writes, just got to me. I couldn’t help it. Maybe it’s partly because I’m a cat lover and my own geriatric cat is showing his age which reminds me of his mortality daily, maybe it’s partly because I’m a veterinarian and I identified with so much of this book, maybe it’s because when I read it I was in the throes of menopause and was in desperate need of some estrogen. I don’t know. One thing I do know is that I was thankful my husband was at work when I decided to finish up the final few chapters of Dewey. I had to go grab the tissue box. I wasn’t only crying, I was sobbing hard and gasping for air. The other day I was at Goodwill, and I came across a like-new copy of Dewey’s Nine Lives. Yes, I bought it. Yay… more Dewey stories! I’m SUCH a glutton for punishment! But hey… I’m on estrogen now, so maybe I’ll be able to survive this one. In January, the book club I’m in read Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. The night I finished it, it was Dewey all over. I was sobbing so hard, the tears were stinging my eyes, running down my face, and making the pages blurry. I had to literally put the book down, get ahold of myself, and resume reading. I really
liked loved that book and it was worth every tear. I can’t think of too many books I’ve read in my life like this one, where I’ve bonded so deeply with the characters in the story and was left thinking of them for days after I finished the book.
In elementary school, I was very shy. I think every teacher commented on this to my mother at parent teacher conferences. They often wrote notes about my shyness on my report card and how it was “holding me back.” My two sisters were very shy and quiet also. I remember my mother actually worrying that our teachers and principal might actually think my sisters and I were being abused at home, just because we were so shy and quiet. My elementary school principal teased me about my shyness. He was always telling me I needed to quit being so noisy! I seemed to toughen up a little during my high school and college years.
Veterinary school was a different story. I remember when I was a neophyte veterinary student struggling in small animal anatomy. It was my very first semester of veterinary school. I was practically living with my cadaver dog in the anatomy lab and studying about as hard as I could. But it wasn’t paying off. I was making Cs and Ds. Bs were even eluding me and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. I remember one evening I was in the lab studying. My anatomy professor’s office was right across from the lab and he too was putting in a long night. I noticed the light being on in his office and his door was open. I decided I would go in and have a little chat with him… Find out what I was doing wrong. I remember being caught totally off-guard by my emotions while sitting in a chair next to his desk and breaking down and sobbing right there in his office. I lost it. I was embarrassed. It was one of those times I tried hard NOT to cry but the tears just wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t control my emotions. I felt like such an idiot that night. I feared he was thinking, “Oh no… another hysterical female.” Looking back, I don’t think he saw that at all. I think he saw that I was human– a conscientious student who was studying and trying as hard as she could, but who felt she was drowning. He asked me if I was used to making As in pre-vet. I told him I was. He said, “Well, then get over it because a C in veterinary school is equal to an A in pre-vet.” He informed me I probably wasn’t going to be making As in vet school and I just needed to accept that fact. I accepted it alright. It was a sobering talk he gave to me that night and he opened my eyes to what I was in for the next three years. And trust me, it wasn’t the last time I cried in a professor’s office.
Several months ago, I noticed I was doing a lot of crying. I didn’t feel depressed at all and most of the times I cried, I didn’t have a clear reason for doing so. This was a little unsettling to say the least. I didn’t like being so out of control and not knowing the reasons why I was doing this. I was crying at silly little things– commercials, TV sitcoms, incidents in the grocery story, church sermons, church hymns, you name it. I cried. I was also noticing more anxiety and I was worrying all the time. Worrying about silly, stupid little things that I had no control over. I happened to have a doctor’s appointment for a few minor physical problems I was having. For some reason, I didn’t mention the anxiety and worrying and the fact that I was crying over the drop of a hat. Although a few weeks previously, my doctor had walked in the exam room to find me crying over a book I was reading. I was embarrassed when he found me like this and I had been trying for the past 15 minutes to “get a hold of myself” because I knew he would be walking in any moment. I just COULD NOT stop the tears that day. He said, “Gail… are you okay?” Through tears and a forced half-smile, I explained to my very kind and compassionate physician that the book I had been reading had “really gotten to me.” And it had. I had the book in the chair beside me and he asked what I was reading. I was embarrassed again when he picked it up and saw that it was Rhinestone Cowboy— the autobiography of Glen Campbell! Yeah, not exactly a book you would think would make one cry. We talked a little that day about how when one is sensitive, the sadness and tragedies others experience in their lives can really get to you more.
My doctor told me he wanted to check my estrogen levels. He called a couple of weeks later to inform me that I had essentially no estrogen. I asked him if this was “normal” for a 53-year-old menopausal woman and his reply was “NO GAIL, YOU SHOULD HAVE A LOT MORE ESTROGEN!” He started me on an oral estrogen supplement. I have to admit that I’ve always been afraid of HRT. I tried to avoid it at all costs. But I put my trust in my doctor and I started it. The first thing I noticed is a calmness that seemed to come over my whole being. My anxiety and worrying disappeared and I quit crying over everything. I felt like a new person, both physically and emotionally. It left me wishing I had started estrogen years before I did.
This has been a long and rambling post and if you’ve stuck it out to the end, I thank you for letting me think “out loud.” I guess it was all to say that sometimes there are actually physical explanations for our out of control emotions. I am really intrigued though by what makes some people sensitive and others not. Do you ever wonder about these things?