The Sensitive and the Trickster


I think I am a Highly Sensitive Person.

I don’t know for sure. I haven’t read the major book on the subject by Dr. Elaine Aron, although now I am going to as of this writing. Inspired by my own blog post! How about that!

I don’t know for sure, but I read an article about it a year or so ago and it was one of those lightning storm in the brain moments. I have a lot of the symptoms, both positive and negative.

I need the volume on the TV to be at a precise level. If it is too loud it overwhelms me and I can’t concentrate, and if it is too low I don’t find it engaging.

Direct sunlight really bothers me. When I was a teenager and we went on car trips I used to often say that I wish you couldn’t actually see the sun. I wished it was just soft, distributed light across the sky. My family made fun of me. It went into the general file of “that’s Jesse!” It was a big file.

I’m also empathetic and highly sensitive to the moods of other people. Especially pain and anxiety. It’s a problem much of the time. I get overwhelmed by my perception of suffering if I focus on it. Sometimes I can’t help it.

The weird thing is, I’m also completely not like that. I don’t care a whole lot about pain. I feel it acutely enough. It’s just that some types of pain don’t bug me that much. It’s even more true for temperature. I usually wear a sweatshirt even in cold weather.

One winter in Massachusetts the only shoes I had were canvas. They wouldn’t have been waterproof at the best of times, but in this case they wouldn’t have been waterproof even if they had been made of mink-oil coated rubber, because the soles were split wide open. We got 2 feet of snow that winter, and when I walked around the snow got right into my shoes. I might as well have been walking barefoot. I didn’t avoid the snow. I often walked through it, in fact, so I could yelp hilarious and put on a big show.

That’s the other thing. Highly sensitive people are supposed to be shy and reserved. They’re supposed to be careful and deliberate about what they say and do. To think before they speak. I know people like that. Or, I should say, I know of them. These are not my people.

Okay, that’s a lie. Some of them are good friends. But I am, to put it mildly, not like that. I value outrageousness as a righteous and desirable quality. I stand up on tables in public dining areas. I’m that guy.

Kind of. I’ve never been able to figure out if I actually am that guy or if I’m just putting it on. I think most of my friends understand that I’m not as much that guy as I act. Or, perhaps, that guy lives inside of me and sometimes he wakes up. Like a wacky version of the Hulk. The Motley Hulk.

I’ve known the real that guy. The fearless, totally self-confident types who don’t question the awesomeness of their own impulses. I envy them, and also I don’t.

The Tricksters. I’ve long wanted to be a Trickster. But empathy stops me up. In college I wanted to really become one, to play pranks and stir up gentile revolutionary chaos. I came up with ideas but I chickened out pulling them off. Not because of fear of consequences. At least, that wasn’t mostly it. It was fear of hurting people. I couldn’t help but think through what might happen and who might suffer. Once I locked the door to a bathroom stall and then crawled underneath to get out, so it would appear occupied but actually be empty. That old chestnut. I was perfectly willing to press my chest to the dirty floor for the sake of a good wheeze.

I laughed, and walked out of the room. Then I felt terrible. What if someone really had to go? I promptly turned around, crawled back under, and fixed my mistake.

I think a lot of people wouldn’t understand why I would want to lock that door. And I think the people who get it wouldn’t understand why I had to go back and fix it. My brother, for example. He’s a true trickster. He does things like send out dramatic letters about personal experiences and tragedies from a fictional persona to random strangers. I think that’s hilarious. But when I mentioned that I would have trouble doing that because it might cause actual harm, he shrugged and said, “Nah, I think it’s not a big deal.”

So I don’t know where I stand. Maybe there are two of me. Maybe I’m not a trickster, but a twin god. Two faced Janus. Gemini. All of those Hindu gods who do stuff like that who I can’t be bothered to look up right now. The Sensitive and the Trickster. One who can’t bear the sun and another who walks barefoot in the snow.

Who is the real me? Is there a real me? An impossible question.

But I’ve got that book now. So, you know, probably I’ll know soon.