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September 16, 2004

on being "sensitive"

i spent about the first half of my life-so-far being sensitive.* or "over-sensitive" according to others. i was made aware that other people often found my sensitivity frustrating. they wished i'd develop a "thicker skin", that i would let things bother me less.

i have responded to this pressure on the part of the people around me, who have included everyone from my grandmother, to my sixth grade teacher, to friends and other family members and, indeed, managers at work, by making myself seem less sensitive.

it does not actually seem possible to make oneself less sensitive. instead, i can only control my visible response to that which bothers me.

yesterday, i started making a list in my mind of the things that cause me stress at work. they include: the sound of a--'s voice (she's in the office next to me, and her voice is loud and often carries an edge of panic to it), the temperature of the building (it's usually too cold, and never within my control), the hideous starkness of the walls, the way the men have ego conflicts all the time, the way the water tastes in the breakroom, the way other people behave in the bathroom, the sound of people coughing (i always wonder if they're really throwing up), worrying about my pager (will i hear it? will i forget it? will i feel it vibrating in my pocket?), using my pager, the way my arms hurt sometimes, my back hurting, being interrupted when i'm concentrating, worrying if i will offend someone in an email, having to call people who are overseas and may not speak english well... etc.

that's an awful lot of overhead. i don't really know if these things bother other people or not. over the years, i've successfully adjusted my threshold of irritation-- i can endure more of this without showing many signs of being bothered. however, it still bothers me.

i had an anatomy teacher in high school-- actually, he was one of my all-time favorite teachers-- who said that the definition of being alive was that you are "irritable". not irritable in the sense of being crotchety and a pain in the butt, but irritable in that you are sensitive to stimulus, that the world around you can get a response from your nervous system. this was probably the first day of class.

i don't really have anywhere to go with this. i'm glad i've gotten other people off my case for the most part. i didn't set out to be sensitive or cultivate it. i have noticed that other people are more sensitive than i am and somehow get away with living that way. maybe i should have been more strong-minded and not tried to suppress my responses. i think working in an office environtment for years on end had a lot to do with it. my main point here is that i can't actually make myself less sensitive, i can only make myself appear less sensitive to others.

i might get into a whole discussion of how my first manager here wanted me to be more "receptive" all the time (this was back when i was a secretary), and the lasting influence that's had on my personality. i guess that's another topic altogether although i will say that i really hate that fucking word.

* some might argue that i'm still over-sensitive. to that i say, "bite me".

Posted by lisa at September 16, 2004 03:36 PM | TrackBack

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