At the ripe old age of 73, I have finally discovered what’s wrong with me.
Or rather what’s right with me that I always thought was wrong. I’m an HSP, otherwise known as Highly Sensitive Person, or Sensitive/Empath. This means I’m part of around 20% of the population that is more sensitive than most people to, among other things, loud noises, bright or fluorescent lights, and strong smells. HSPs are also highly intuitive and sensitive to other people’s thoughts and feelings. These traits often make it harder for people to navigate their way through life, especially if they’re not even aware that they’re a HSP—like me.
HSP children can have all kinds of fears that other kids don’t seem to have, and are often shy. I was that kind of kid, and I certainly didn’t get any support or sympathy from my family, but there was one person—a childhood friend—who kept me from completely losing myself in fear and isolation: Darcy Halstead.
Darcy and I grew up in Newtown, CT, in the country, and we were driven to school by Mr. Violet in his station wagon—there weren’t enough kids in our neighborhood for a real school bus. Darcy was my age and in the same class, and because we rode to school together, we got to be friends, even though we had practically nothing in common.
Darcy was a scrawny blonde kid with buck teeth who, it seemed to me, was afraid of nothing. I was in wonder at the way she stood up to her mother, who was constantly slapping her around. When she got spanked, she would just laugh—to me this was incomprehensible! My mother’s spankings left me with scars that I endure to this day, so I guess I hoped some of Darcy’s bravery and nonchalance would rub off on me.
Well, I didn’t become as feisty as Darcy, but being around her did make me try new things and take chances that I otherwise never would have taken. I enjoyed her company so much that when I was only around nine years old I used to walk the two miles to her house just so we could play together. Once she took me to play in a cow pasture. I’d never been near a cow in my life, and I was terrified, but Darcy kept egging me on, and when I stepped in a “cow pie” and she roared with laughter, I couldn’t help laughing, too. I even gingerly touched one of the cows!
Darcy also brought out the “naughty” in me, which was a quality I rarely dared exhibit at home. There was a little cemetery right next door to her house, and one of our favorite pastimes was to knock over the headstones. Bad, I know, but it did me good.
Darcy lived with her mom Edna, her older sister Mickey, and her grandma and grandpa. Edna was always wired, and it seemed to me that she lived on coffee and cigarettes—maybe that’s why she was so jumpy and always smacking Darcy. I was afraid of her grandpa. He was in a wheelchair and couldn’t speak and his face looked funny. Darcy would say to me, “Don’t be scared! You can talk to him. He can hear you and he likes it!” But I was too petrified to open my mouth.
So I wasn’t able to overcome all my HSP tendencies by being Darcy’s friend, but she did help me come out of my shell, and I’m grateful for that. In any case, there’s no way for a HSP to turn into a not-HSP, and that’s all right. I’m gradually learning to live with and enjoy the positive qualities of my HSP-ism. The big breakthrough for me was finally discovering the truth about myself, instead of wondering what was wrong with me! That’s a biggie.