I have found very little published information on the effects of chronic illness to Highly Sensitive People and Introverts. Though I’m not fond of sharing my personal story and medical conditions, doing so may help others better cope and understand the negative effects because the effects can be life-altering.
Recent Medical History
I had a golf ball sized (non-cancerous) tumor on my brain stem. Due to its location, neurosurgery was not an option because the risks of partial paralysis and total hearing loss were too great. Radiosurgery was performed instead. While the radiosurgery was successful in killing the tumor, there were some life-time side effects….
- I lost all hearing in my left ear and I have very little hearing in my right ear.
- I am dizzy 24/7. Most of the time I am physically and mentally functional with medication. When I become overstimulated and become dizzy, I am unable to walk or mentally process anything.
- Even with the medication, I am unable to walk on uneven ground without a cane and my mental processing and talking is a beat or two slower than normal people.
I had an acute pancreatic episode. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for 8 days. Having chronic pancreatitis, there are less than 20 foods (not types of food) I can eat and I can have no more than 15 grams of fat daily. I have hospitalized 3 times for this condition since the initial episode. Three different doctors have told me that I will not survive another acute pancreatic attack.
I must take an artificial digestive enzyme 4-6 times daily to replace the natural enzymes my pancreas no longer produces. I will be on this medication for the rest of my life.
One of the chronic long-term ailments brought about from my body partially shutting down when I was in the Intensive Care Unit is that my body cannot naturally regulate the calcium and phosphate levels in my body. My body is producing about 4 times the amount of calcium than needed. As a result, kidney stones are a major problem. My left kidney is not functional and my right kidney always has 20-30 kidney stones in it at any given time. I am taking massive doses of medication and vitamin D to absorb the excess calcium my body cannot use or throw off. I take a synthetic phosphate to provide my body with the phosphate it needs.
Effects to my sensitivity and introversion
I consider myself to be a Highly Sensitive Introvert rather than an Introverted Highly Sensitive Person. My temperament of introversion is slightly greater than my highly sensitive traits. My high sensitivity augments my introversion.
All Highly Sensitive People and Introverts are fully aware of how sensitive our bodies are to sensory stimulation. Our central nervous systems are typically super-sensitive to noise, smells, tastes, sense of touch and chaos. This is because we process sensory stimulation more deeply than others.
My sensitivity is even greater now.
After my recent medical events, I am far more overstimulated by noise, chaos and smells. Constant and loud noises (even talking) cause me to become anxious to the point of becoming irritable. Any type of chaos completely overwhelms me to the point that I typically need to get away from the chaos … immediately. There are so many things now that I smell that leads to a severe headache and/or dizziness.
An event or task that didn’t cause me any problems last week will cause me to become overstimulated this week. There is no consistency in the triggers. This is maddening!
Though I was always an empath, it takes very little now for me to become emotional over the pain and the suffering of others whether caused by illness, grief, injustice or malice … even if it’s just a movie or a book.
Due to the lasting effects of my illnesses, the side effects of medication, my loss of hearing and having poor balance; I am very self-conscious because:
- My mental processing speed is a little slower than it was before. It may take an extra second or two for me to process your question of comment.
- My hearing is very poor. I didn’t realize or fully appreciate the intimate “slow dance” that takes place between our hearing and our mental processing. There are times when the two are not in sync. This equates to mental chaos and poor processing. This is why it is absolutely critical for me to be able to read your lips and not give my brain a chance to process information received from hearing alone. This situation causes me embarrassment several times daily.
- Most people will think that I am drunk if they see me walk … especially on an uneven surface.
As you can imagine, being out in public presents many challenges to me. My physical and mental conditions act as further encouragement to refrain from being around people unless they are family or close friends. Solitude is truly my safe haven.
I make sure that I schedule activities — especially grocery shopping and banking — on the days and at times when the businesses are not busy. Not many people do their grocery shopping at 6:00 in the morning.
In summary, my life has changed. My sensitivities are more intense. I spend more time in solitude. But … life goes on and I’ve adapted to the new realities. I still look forward to tomorrow. I still smile. I still laugh. I still love. That’s enough for me.
How has chronic illness effected your life as a Highly Sensitive Person or Introvert? I would really like to hear your story. Please use the comment section below.
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