There is a term in long distance running called ‘bonking’. When one bonks, their body seems to simply say ‘that’s enough!’ Runners have been known to lose speed, stumble, collapse, even lose control of bowel movements.
Now let me tell you about a time when I bonked in everyday life. I was traveling to Scotland a few years back. After a red-eye flight from Philadelphia to Glasgow, I got my luggage, and moved on to the next part of the trip; a bus ride to Edinburgh…about two hours if I remember correctly. As I was sitting on the bus heading to town, I realized I wasn’t feeling so good. My heart was racing, my body felt feverish, I was sweating uncontrollably, and I was nauseous. I tried to hold tight; I had to get to the last stop in the center of town, then find my way to an address of a flat I was going to spend the night at. Well, my body told me otherwise. I decided rather than vomit all over the inside of the bus, I would simply get off at the next stop. I got off at the next stop, not sure of where I was exactly, with every step a battle to hold my body together. The next hour was torment as my body wanted to simply shut down, but I had nowhere to go, running on very little sleep, alone in a strange country, with 50 pounds of luggage on my back.
Eventually I found the place I was hoping to find (I’m sure I was a sight to see). My host was most generous and compassionate, as he offered me some tea and allowed me to rest. I lied on the floor and basically passed out, with a bucket near me should my stomach decide to push the eject button. After a few hours of rest in a dark and quiet room, I slowly came back to life. I felt like I was recovering from the flu; my muscles aching, my head still swimming, my body slowly regaining control of bodily functions and temperature.
The mystery, however, was that I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t hung over. I wasn’t poisoned. After doing some research and talking with some respected doctors, I later realized that I had what some may call ‘burnout’.
This wouldn’t be the only time something like this would happen. Different experiences would trigger such bodily responses, or ‘bonking’. Long trips with a car full of people. Extremely loud restaurants. Even violent movies. I began to ask myself, ‘What in the world is going on with my body? Am I falling apart?’
So I continued to study and to research. I spoke with doctors and counselors. And then one day my counselor suggested a book for me to look at called ‘The Highly Sensitive Person’ by Elaine Aron. In this book Aron talks about how what I have been experiencing in this world is not entirely unique to all people. In fact, about 15-20% of the population can be considered ‘highly sensitive’. This was not the first time I heard about this, but this was the first time I read about this idea in an actual academic book. It turns out that people bonking in everyday life (or reaching ‘burnout’ according to Aron), is the result of a highly sensitive person (HSP) simply being over stimulated.
The first response to reading something like this in an actual book is relief. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t going crazy. I was relieved to know that I wasn’t falling apart by simply being on this planet. This was something that now had a name, and I wasn’t alone.
The second step is harder. How does a highly sensitive person live a happy life in a world and American culture that often celebrates ‘insensitive’ values and behaviors? I’m not here to say that I have found an answer to this larger question, but I will share that understanding being highly sensitive is not a defect, but a legitimate unique way that God has made me, is a good start.
Maybe you have been wrestling with such experiences in life. Maybe the world sometimes seems to be too much to handle at times. Perhaps you feel like the culture around you is simply not a friendly place; that there is simply something that is ‘off’ in life. Well, I’m here to say that you’re not alone. I definitely suggest the book and the others like it that tend to focus on particular parts of a highly sensitive person’s life, such as romance or work. I hope you also know that despite how hard the world may feel at times, you are not alone. I’m happy to share my own experiences, and how I have been able to manage, and even thrive in areas of life that seem so daunting to many of us HSPs. I hope such a book is a relief to you as well, and a starting point on how to continue to strive towards a happy and peaceful life.