Sensitive skin, sensitive soul ~ Toughen up or die?

Sensitive skin, sensitive soul ~ Toughen up or die?

Did you know that the skin is actually the largest organ of the body? More than merely a cosmetic layer to hide our insides and hold them together, skin is extremely important to health. It helps regulate our body temperature, excrete unwanted waste products via sweat and it also is our point of contact with the world outside ourselves. Billions of pounds and dollars are spent on keeping it looking good (=looking young!) and keeping it looking healthy.

If you have sensitive skin, you probably react to all sorts of products, in a variety of ways from rashes to spots to full-blown allergic reactions. I loathe the way my skin can react. I’m a blusher too, going red with emotion quite easily and as I have very fair skin, it’s like having a big sign round me neck announcing how I feel. I’d be a disaster at poker. Not only is my skin sensitive to external aggressions like soaps and bath products but also to sensation. I am acutely aware of almost every inch of my skin, most of the time. I can feel my clothes everywhere, not just bits that chafe or dig in, but a constant awareness of the texture and the weight of the cloth. Normal touch often transmits a message of something closer to pain than to anything else. On the occasions where I have been on the receiving end of a blow, whether accidentally or otherwise, the sensation is almost enough to make me pass out.

What a wuss, some of you might think. I remember when I had my thumb broken playing hockey when I was 17, the school nurse barely touched the injured digit before I yelled with pain and she told me off, declaring she’d hardly touched me. She didn’t think it was broken either, but my doctor sent me for an X-ray the next day and the thumb was indeed broken, split right down the middle of the bone through the main joint. I have a low pain threshold, but actually a fairly high level of endurance.

Other senses are equally as sensitive. I can distinguish a vast number of different scent components, and artificial perfumes such as room fragrance can make me ill. I have low tolerance for noise, and dislike both loud and raucous music. In fact, I seldom listen to music because it seems to unsettle my nervous system. Being trapped on a bus where there is music playing can be torture when the music is loud and disagreeable. While my eyesight is not as good as it was, I do observe the world around me acutely and often see details others miss. If I observe a scene, I have at times almost total recall of details.

About two years ago the term Low Latent Inhibition came to my attention and it rang a lot of bells for me. Normally, people tune out the vast majority of incoming information from their senses, not ever becoming consciously aware of it. Those with low latent inhibition tend to find that they take in pretty much all of the information consciously. For those of low intelligence this can result in psychosis and madness; for those of higher intelligence it can result in an outflow of intensely creative work.

Whenever I mention about this hypersensitivity, I usually get people recommending books, therapies and methods of desensitizing the self. I have to take a big step back when this happens because I am never sure how to react. For certain, a lot of the time being this sensitive is quite tough. It’s certainly exhausting at times, debilitating even. And yet, I question whether desensitising is a good thing. The term is for me synonymous with hardening, becoming tough and non-reactive, like the transformation of skin into leather or of the callousing of skin. I’ve survived forty plus years being this way. I’ve been told repeatedly to stop being so thin-skinned emotionally, and while I’ve never managed that one, I am still here. I’m here in an arena where anyone can take a pop at me if they want to. Cyber bullying is endemic to the internet, and I get hurt by the things people say. I was told on Twitter than I had no right to call myself an author because I was self published; according to my interlocuteur, only those who have been vetted and approved by a publisher can refer to themselves as an author. I was made to feel like jumped-up trailer trash, and by golly, it hurt me. But I’m still here.

The thing is, THIS is how I am made. THIS is who I am. Being this sensitive is a gift. It’s a gift I can share too because I can write about what I see and feel and experience. Imagine if you had such brilliant eye sight, you could see even the finest details of a butterfly’s wings, and the shining wing-feathers of the soaring sea-gulls; you would also see the rotting carcass of a rat by the side of the road, and the cancerous lesions on an old man’s face. Would you put on blurring glasses permanently so that you didn’t see the ugly things? Would you damage those far-sighted eyes so that you couldn’t see the pain?

Instead of toughening up, I’d like to explore going deeper into this sensitivity. Become more sensitive, to more things. To learn how to not flinch from the pain but to melt with it. One thing I have discovered from the long term pain I suffer with, resisting it can make it worse. If I soften to hurts, the hurting diminishes. Pain is as much a teacher as joy is, and while I would not glorify it, nor will I run so frantically from it as to try and shut down my sensitive nature.

Swallows Wings and Sparrows Falling


Swallows wings and sparrows falling:

a little of what goes on in the psyche of an over-sensitive soul.


I was walking along the road, heading off to the post office with a small parcel to send to my father, when I noticed the swallows over head. To me there is something about the swallow that approaches aesthetic perfection and seeing them in the sky above me brought a sudden and entirely unexpected surge of tears. The angle of the wings, the clarity of the colour against the blue of the sky and the sheer purpose-driven perfection of their flight was all at once impossible to bear. Beauty is sometimes unbearable, because of its fragility, its brief perfection and my own impossible aims to emulate it. I’d have like to have been physically beautiful. In my dreams I sometimes am, but in those dreams, there is always a mirror that tells me the ugly truth.

I chase beauty in many forms: seeking to create it in my own head, either in terms of what I write or in what I feel. Perhaps that’s why I am, for lack of a better term, a bit religious. If I’d been a little less self conscious, I might have become a stalker of beautiful people, gazing at them like impossible works of art. Actor Johnny Depp has eyebrows like swallows wings; the curve and the line of them cut across his face like the wings of the bird cut across the sky. If I’d been a little shallower, I might have believed that this beauty made certain people somehow qualitatively better than others.

When it comes to the books I read, that quality of beauty draws me too. The intense experience of reading prose so smooth and delightful, even in describing both tragedy and horror, that it is not like reading at all but more like living the story, is a rare and wonderful one. There’s not many writers who can do that for me.

But when it comes to daily life, both the visual beauty and the beauty of the world beyond it combine to make it hard for me to leave the house some days. The swallows today made me shed a few tears of over-brimming emotion; a little uncomfortable but nothing drastic. A day or two earlier, something a little different but still avian nearly undid me completely. As I walked home with my dog, she pulled me to the side of the road to show me something. In the gutter, there lay a young hen sparrow. I picked her up and she lay floppy and unresponsive in my hand, her body warm and fluffy and her little feet remained unstiffened. There was no blood and no sign of injury. I breathed on her and stroked her head. Nothing. She was perfect but she was gone.

I took her to the little bed of shrubs near the shops and lay her there. I wasn’t sure if she were dead or just stunned. When I got home I told my husband about it and he told me that sparrows, especially young ones will faint if frightened. Literally, they faint, pass out and become unconscious with fear or alarm.

She might well have been alive,” he said.

There’s a passage in the Gospels (Matthew 10: 29)  where Jesus says about not a single sparrow may fall without the Father knowing and caring about it.

Perhaps it was meant to be that I picked her up from the dangerous place she had fainted in and put her somewhere safe to recover. But it’s my love of beauty that means I haven’t gone back to see if she’s still there. I want her to just have fainted and to have recovered and flown back to her family.