Writers are armchair psychologists. Novels are, after all, examinations of the minutiae of the human experience. I've always had an interest in psychology: I studied it at JHU, and my second book dealt with PTSD and the psychological fallout of war.
But I'm far from an expert. As with all armchair psychologists, my favorite client is myself, my own psyche.
Lately, after my mom became critically unwell (details of which can be found here), I've been more interested in researching psychological methodologies for dealing with trauma such as grief. I stumbled upon something that changed my entire perspective.
A test for the highly sensitive person.
Have you heard of it? I hadn't. I wish I had. Most people who fall under the category of Highly Sensitive Person ruminate over why they are experiencing symptoms. They wonder what is wrong with them. They wonder if they are losing it. The authoring psychologist estimates that 20% of our population are highly sensitive. Highly sensitive people see, smell and experience the world more sharply, and these people are drawn to the arts as a result. Take her test. Trust me.
I scored very high on this test. Let's call this phenomena "having sharp senses," because I think "sensitive" is often misconstrued to just being touchy about criticism. There is so much more that goes into it. And there are some major downsides.
But on the flip side, as I noticed my senses sharpening over the past few years I noticed that everything to do with the arts became more relevant to me. I was always into music but now, give me almost any art form and I'm fascinated by how it came to be, what it represents, and what emotions it stirs up.
I think other artists/writers might find some familiarity here.
There are far too many artists in this world who seem to lose it. Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman are two recent horrible losses. What fun, what drama, what brilliance we would have experienced with these men had they lived on. Our world is a sadder place when we lose talented artists to depression and addiction. The saddest thing about Robin Williams' death is that he never heard all the amazing things people said about him after he died, and he must have felt very alone to do what he did. Many famous writers are there too. Steven King and his cocaine addiction and Sylvia Plath and her suicide are two that come to mind.
Is it possible to lead an artist's life without losing your grasp of reality? Even though much beautiful art seems to come from people who are suffering, I firmly believe the answer is yes. I firmly believe that by understanding ourselves better we can find ways to cope. When you know you're not the only one, it shows you there is nothing wrong with you, and that you can deal with your own intricacies, and make and enjoy art to express them.
I hope this blog post leads to at least one person understanding themselves better and knowing you are not alone. Feeling isolated is one of the quickest roads to depression. Do take the test, and leave a comment if you find you're a highly sensitive person. I bet at least 20% of you find that you are.