The importance of trusting our own senses

Photo by Yevhenii Aihubov on Unsplash

Earlier this week, I woke up at 4am with the distinct smell of burning coming through my nose.

The last time I smelt something like this, I ignored it. I thought that my sense of smell was playing tricks on me. Turns out that there was actually something on the stove downstairs burning to a smoke.

So this time, I got up to investigate.

It turned out the smell was coming from outside. It was actually pretty nauseating just standing out on the street. My window had been open so I could smell it pretty distinctly from my room.

When I looked online for information, I read about a burning recycling plant on the other side of Brussels. The fire was seemingly large enough that the smoke had covered its way across to my neighbourhood.

One thing I’ve learnt about myself is my heightened sensitivity. My ability to pick up sounds, smells, movement and emotional shifts is higher than normal (sidenote: these are probably signs of Autism).

For a long time I had often ignored these heightened senses. Since my heightened sensitivity picked up things other people didn’t, I would be told that I was imagining things. Noises in the background didn’t exist, and my disgust at strong smelling foods was me being a fussy eater.

It’s hard to compare when the only reference point for perception is myself. Many things I just assumed was the case for everyone, so I never stopped to question it.

I now realise that my sensitivity is one of the reasons that I pick up on subtle things earlier than other people. For example, my attunement to the vibe of the room has helped me immensely in positioning myself during work meetings.

Yet such sensitivity comes at a cost. After smelling the burning smell, I did not get back to sleep for another hour, and I felt fatigued afterwards. If I had just slept through it all, there wouldn’t have been any negative repercussions either.

It means I have to be more careful with how I manage myself. I now wear an eye mask every night because of how perturbing I find the morning light which can wake me up at 6am.

It’s also pretty easy for me to get overstimulated. Too much noise or intensity can be so overwhelming that I can shut down pretty quickly. I find it particularly hard to listen to a conversation in a noisy space. When I’m overstimulated, my ability to sense things gets distorted. This can turn into worry and fear pretty quickly.

Yet despite all of this, my senses are my gifts. When I use them right, I can sense things that most people would not otherwise notice. And in a world lurking with uncertainty and danger, that’s as important as ever.

I personally believe that a lot of us are far more sensitive than we think. The idea of being ‘sensitive’ is seen as negative – it is often used as an insult. We don’t want to be seen as sensitive (particularly men) as this makes us sound weak, but we also don’t want to be seen as insensitive either. So we go with a balance of middling emotional expression. For some reason, we seem to think this is the gold standard.

It’s almost like we are taught to be hyper-rationalist, logic-based people, because that is what the world expects of us. I should know, I used to see myself as a calm, ‘rational’ person. This is in stark contrast to the hypersensitive person I now see myself as!

If we were not sensitive, we would not be able to react to anything. Our inability to sense would mean we were walking through life blind (quite literally).

Our senses are what gives us joy. They are a real gift, so it is worth treasuring our own sensitivities.

Feelings of happiness, familiarity, love, touch – these are the things that give our lives meaning.

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