It’s been suggested to me a couple of times that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person.  I’ve been resistant to this, partly because it seems unscientific (as far as I’m aware, it’s not in DSM5 or any other diagnostic manual), partly because I generally score less highly for autistic sensory sensitivity than for other autistic traits, and partly perhaps because I felt the term is open to abuse (it doesn’t help that the people who introduced me to the term eventually got angry with me in a way that I felt was a massive over-reaction on their part).

However, the term keeps coming up, so I looked today at some sites about Highly Sensitive People.  I do seem to have a lot of symptoms, even though those symptoms seem to vary from site to site, and often seem like possible symptoms of other underlying issues.  It does still seem like an untested idea.  Plus, I’m wary of adding another diagnosis to my list.  But maybe it’s true.

I just want to be “normal,” whatever that is.  Orthodox Judaism I suppose has a clearer definition of “normal” to the wider world, although I’m not sure that that was really an attraction to me.  The reverse, if anything; I was afraid of losing my individuality.  However, it turned out that I couldn’t cope with it anyway, at least not in the moderate Haredi world.  Either my depression, autism and social anxiety got in the way or I would have to give up too much stuff that was important to me, in terms of non-frum or non-Jewish friends, books and DVDs.  I still hope that one day I’ll find a Modern Orthodox shul that fits.

Talking of Jewish things, the festival of Shavuot (Pentecost, but nothing to do with the Christian Pentecost) starts tonight.  This has become a sort of favourite festival by default to me, as there are no special mitzvot (at least while the Temple remains un-re-built), so nothing triggers religious OCD, social anxiety or depression unlike almost all other Jewish festivals.

The custom is to stay up all night in shul (synagogue) studying Torah.  This can be fun, if interesting topics are chosen.  My shul seems to have a habit of alternating interesting and boring topics in different years (one year it was about the laws of separating mixtures on Shabbat (the Sabbath), which was about as interesting at 2.00 am as it sounds), and social anxiety can creep in at shul both in the study sessions, if I’m supposed to ask or answer questions, and especially in the refreshment breaks, where I don’t know who to talk to and generally stand around avoiding people.

Anyway, it’s irrelevant this year.  It’s just a custom, not a mitzvah (commandment) and a kabbalistic one at that (I’m not so into kabbalah) so I won’t be doing it at home alone, although plenty of people will.  I might stay up a bit after dinner studying, but not all night.  I feel a bit guilty about that, but I feel I don’t have the stamina to study all night by myself, without others to study with or to share interesting topics.  My shul did send an online booklet to be printed off before Yom Tov, but it was geared to children studying with parents and was also too Haredi for me (e.g. the potted biography of Medieval scholar Rabbeinu Asher said he was very opposed to secular study, especially philosophy, but the biography of Rambam (died a few decades before Rabbeinu Asher was born) didn’t say that he was very much in favour of secular study, including philosophy, which in his day included a lot of what we would call science).

My shul is doing a pre-Shavuot thing on Zoom before Yom Tov (the festival) starts, but I doubt I’ll go as it looks like it’s mainly for children and I don’t like group Zoom events.


Today I woke exhausted and depressed again, and also achy.  I think I didn’t do a good enough warm up for my workout yesterday, or maybe it’s a long time since I used those muscles.  I feel really fuzzy-headed too, as if I still haven’t recovered from Monday, even though it’s now Thursday.  I went for a half-hour walk and worked for about an hour on my novel, writing over 600 words.  I’d like to write more, but am not sure I have the time or the head for it.

I’m going to post now instead of right before Yom Tov, just in case I can get the dopamine hit of a comment or two before Shavuot starts.  I haven’t got much planned for later anyway, just my usual pre-Yom Tov chores (Shavuot requires little extra preparation) and plugging away at my novel for as long as I feel able or have time for, whichever is the shorter.

8 thoughts on “Whatever “Normal” Is

  1. The term HSP was coined by Elaine Aron, who’s a psychologist, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person. As tends to happen with these kinds of things, various people have run with it in various directions since then. She describes it as a personality trait rather than a disorder. Her site has an FAQ addressing HSP and ASD.


  2. I don’t know much about HSP and thus thought it was just a description an not an actual condition. I’ll have to do a bit of research on it. I like that your days are structured and that you set goals for what you want/need to do. I should do more of both of those. I feel like I’m treading water most days. Not drowning, but just getting by and passing time.


  3. Was recommended a book by a friend — a fellow introvert — and have been finding it rather good. “Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that cannot stop talking” — by Susan Cain. It struck me that many of the qualities of highly sensitive people apply to people who are also shy and introverted.


  4. I have heard of HSP, but I personally don’t find new definitions/labels like this helpful for me. I already know I’m highly sensitive and know the difficulties (and sometimes good) that it entails.

    Normal/abnormal–eh. We are normal because a LOT of people have mental illness, but I know what you mean. I wish we didn’t have it, too.


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