Am I Sick or Sensitive? Examining the Differences Between Sensitivity As a Strength vs. a Pathology

Am I Sick or Sensitive? Examining the Differences Between Sensitivity As a Strength vs. a Pathology

As a highly sensitive person and a sick person, I often don't know which is which. I don't know what perceptions are part of the inherent and healthy skill set of a highly refined nervous system (like aversion to certain scents, or social situations), and what perceptions are inherently pathological symptoms that will fade away as I achieve greater and greater health. If all of my medical tests came back clean: no liver or kidney dysfunction, no macrocytic anemia, no pathogenic infections, great adrenal output, low heavy metals, etc., who would I be? How "sensitive" would I be?

I firmly believe that sensitivity is a double-edged sword. Having a highly refined nervous system can be a great asset and used as a sort of a 6th sense. However, it can have unfortunate repercussions in this toxic world if not carefully managed. Managing sensitivity can be a great burden, but over time one also gains practice at self-care and...I want to say “avoidance”, but that sounds gains practice at choosing/creating/attracting/affording harmonious and healthful circumstances, companions, etc. Eventually you can take pride in your prowess, just as a jewel thief takes pride in their ability to evade arrest, or a parkour enthusiast takes pride in their ability to move across a landscape of obstacles.

Some Things Might Be Best Avoided

Is getting the expensive, luxury box seats at the big game avoidance? Sure it is good to be resilient enough to be able to mix with the riffraff from time to time. Sometimes you're going to have to. But deep down do you really want to swill cheap beer and petroleum-derived “food” stuffs next to a pot-bellied man-child? Okay, I admit I do! I do want to do that, and to take my top off and whirl it over my head to show off my my breasts painted in the team colors, but only because like most traumatized people I've developed an unhealthy attachment to/identification with the darkness to the point where it feels like home.

Actually, it's more because I associate that behavior with freedom. I feel so stiff and flattened, and constricted by life. I just want to let loose. I want to be bad. I want to have fun. But there is no escape from my own psyche. Including, at this point, drinking, and junk foods, which wouldn't even actually feel good or taste good and would just make me immediately sick. So my vivid redneck dream is no more immediately attainable than the freedom of being a healthy and happy “cat burgler” effortlessly navigating dangerous terrain with the help of my hypersenses.

It might help to pretend that as sensitives we are a different species, with different habitat requirements than common breed of human. Homo sapiens extraordinarius.

Last week I wrote about my answer to Dave Asprey's question about how to kick ass at life. As a former suffer of Lyme disease, Asperger's, toxic mold, and chronic fatigue Dave knows something about being super sensitive and has pursued the super human end of things with gusto using the Bulletproof philosophy to help promote a healthier, longer life and better performance in all people. Personally, I wouldn't be caught dead using the word "performance" because it sounds business-douchey and makes me feel like my own circus trainer or something, but I know what he means. We all want to be successful, even if our idea of a “high-performance lifestyle” is living in a cabin and farming potatoes...really good potatoes.

Something Dave often says about mycotoxins, fluorescent light, EMFs, heavy metals, pesticides, and other topics he covers on his podcast is, “This stuff is bad for everyone. We're just the canaries.” The same point is made by many others. For example, an interesting little handbook I have states:

“Markowski, et. al., in 2001, demonstrated that even at extraordinarily low levels—parts per trillion—dioxin adversely affected the behavior and health of rats. The extremely low levels, at which these impacts were detected, are comparable to background levels in people around the world. These levels are even below standard toxicology testing levels! The person with MCS, or E.I., is just the person who will react first to low levels of toxins in the air—or substances in the food...”
-Steve Rochlitz, PhD, Porphyria: Rare Metabolic Disorder? Or Grand Unifier of Common, Chronic, and Environmental Allergic Diseases

No doubt these canary theories hold some truth. It seems like life is getting increasingly toxic, and that generations of humans are being born and raised less healthy than their parents and grandparents because of this toxicity, which is paired with nutritional degeneration and other poor living practices, resulting in epidemics of all of the diseases of western civilization: cancer, autism, autoimmune disorders, etc. We don't even recognize all of these epidemics because they are considered so normal: PMS, allergies, asthma, insomnia, constipation. Naturally some people are going to succumb before others. But with each person who falls ill and becomes disillusioned with the current system the interest in holistic health grows.


I'm convinced that some things, like mercury fillings, or transfats, or smart meters are just bad news, have viable alternatives, and we would all be better off without them in the world immediately. Other things are more questionable.

Along these lines Asprey repeatedly states that everybody has things in their environment that weaken them, and if they are able to systematically identify those things, they can take steps to remediate them and "improve their performance". The tricky part is because everyone is a bit different, and because the more broken the body gets to more crazy it goes, not everybody weakens to the same things. Sometimes one man's poison is another man's medicine. Sometimes one man's poison is, well, just poison. 

Dave, for example wears amber tinted Irlen glasses to help with visual processing problems, which may not be the right color to strengthen someone else. Personally, although I probably have visual processing problems too, I can't imagine any glasses strengthening me as I would be stressed by the sensation of them on my face, and the way they cut off my peripheral vision.

I have friends with much worse multiple chemical sensitivity than me who do not react to or even notice smells that I react to and vice versa. The reaction seems to depend on the level of certain solvents built up in the body, and things like that. 

I postulate that there comes a point at which the body becomes so deranged it reacts violently to things which typically strengthen others, or at least don't do them any damage they can't easily recover from. The process of living and eating inherently exposes us to some level of stress and toxins and some of these in turn actually strengthen us through hormesis. Many substances are dose dependent or have some negative and some positive effects. That's why certain foods or food chemicals like tannins are often simultaneously demonized by one group and lauded by another group. Plus although flying in an airplane or using a computer may weaken everybody temporarily it may provide enough leverage to benefit an individual's life as a whole a thousand times over, so we probably shouldn't just throw away the option when crafting our society. 

My point? There exists a spectrum. While I believe some of the reactions of us canaries are on the end of the scale where avoidance should be applied to everyone (like there may be no amount of good mercury exposure) others reactions are more on the purely pathological end of the scale. 

For example, my body has become reactive to hot peppers, even fresh black pepper, as well as fresh rosemary. Does this mean I'm just super tuned-in, a sort of advanced alien prototype for the direction the whole species is going and no one should ever eat spicy foods because they are just too overstimulating? I have a hard time believing that everyone should avoid hot peppers because hot peppers are anti-parasitic and antibacterial and promote circulation and probably help a lot of people stay healthy. I do imagine everyone has a threshold for how much spice they can handle before it comes detrimental, but that is true of all substances and activities.

Essential oils are another example. They can be dangerous, but when used judiciously they do seem to benefit and heal many people. They just give me a wicked ass headache. I'm also weakened by campfire smoke, something that while probably not amazing for health, humans have been able to tolerate for...I don't know what the latest findings are...200,000 years??? Music is another one. I don't listen to it. It's too much sensory overload. And orgasms. I believe my body can't process the cascade of hormones and movement of energy so they make me quite nauseated and depressed. Hot showers exhaust me. Other spoonies (chronically ill people) react to the sunlight. I consider all of these things to be pretty pathological.

In the end it isn't that relevant if the world is sick or we are sick because we have no immediate choice but to fit ourselves into it. I guess the difference lies in to what extent you believe you can heal versus simply make adaptations, like traveling with a personal air filter.


Even more confusing, there seems to be something that happens regarding sensitivity that as the vibration raises and slate clears the body sometimes becomes less numb and dumb and more acute at sensing things that bring it down, factors that were bringing it down all along but didn't stand out because of the background noise. I talked about this in my last piece, when I was writing about diet and the donut stew, but I think it probably applies to environments, people, and other things too.

My theory is that developing new sensitivities might, on occasion, not mean we are getting even sicker but might but be merely an illusion based on the inability of the brain to accurately compare low-level chronic inflammation to high-level acute inflammation. The point of elimination diets is to remove items and then reintroduce them suddenly hoping to provoke these more acute reactions, which were previously lost in the fray. Growing to find McDonald's food distasteful after avoiding it for some time is probably a positive sensitization, not a sign of weakness. 

I think resilience is a very good thing, but I also think some people confuse their numbness or complacency or adaptations that involve downshifting with resilience. The foot adapts to wearing a shoe. That doesn't mean the people who walk the best in high heels have the healthiest, most resilient feet.

A second kind of increase in sensitization is probably due to the pattern recognition effect. Once a person notices they don't do well under flickering lights, or that headaches correlate to certain foods it may be hard to un-notice it. Does that mean you're just fueling the fire with your attention and making yourself worse? Worrying yourself into a tizzy? Personally, I don't think so. It may sometimes feel like things have gotten worse because of that whole ignorance is bliss thing, but bringing a subconscious stress the consciousness is not harmful, it's helpful, because only then can you do something about it.

Along with sensitizing to things that bring it down the body should simultaneously sensitize to recognizing those opposite circumstances which bring it up. The opposite of avoidance behavior is seeking behavior. Although I naturally seek sunny well-lit spaces, and wild, natural areas, I typically don't notice the effects of any supplements, diets, or lifestyle hacks that people get great positive results from. I am very insensitive in that regard. Maybe this is because of still being too deep into the inflammatory shit stew, and in the future I will gain clarity in relation to such things.

Or. A third theory. New sensitivities might be real, and might be reflective of personal growth. It may be, not that we didn't notice how much certain things harmed us before, but that as we level up our body/soul continues to ask more of us, so that new heights require new challenges to keep us on our toes. As we raise our vibration by cutting out things that lower our vibration, we instigate a momentum and now things that never would have provoked symptoms in our old self suddenly are not good enough and provoke symptoms in our new self, and we are then having to cut out those things! Perhaps happiness requires continued growth. 

That sounds like a pretty annoying treadmill, but many report this with friendships and romantic relationships: outgrowing a person who was perfect for them at one time. Ironically, often the very person they are leaving behind, the one who has actually become toxic, helped instigate the very growth that is causing their partner to move on. Refinement doesn't always mean going without. It may just mean replacing something with a higher quality something else. 

Perhaps one can outgrow foods and interests in the same way as partners, leapfrogging to a higher and higher vibration, but with this element of challenge, and the driving force of renewed displeasure, if the challenge isn't taken. People always ask me why I do my diet and other things I do if it hasn't really decreased my own symptoms and actually I have some new sensitivities. I always say, "well, because now I get worse symptoms if I go back to the way I was living." That could be for any of the reasons I've listed here: 1) inability to appropriately quantify the negative effects of acute vs. chronic reactions on overall quality of life 2) enhanced awareness and pattern recognition, or 3) some version of this continuous cleansing and strengthening happening under the surface which reflects in general life stability, even though it doesn't feel very rewarding yet in terms of reducing physical pain or fatigue.

I am imaging a person making their way out of a labyrinth filled with obstacles. As they start their journey their main consolation for doing well is not getting shocked or bitten by rats. But eventually by following the clues they begin to find more and more rewards, a wheel of cheese here, a gold coin there. I feel like my life is mostly defined at this point by what drama is not happening, which is why its hard for me to recommend anything I do to anyone else, even though it is probably an improvement.

Or I could just be delusional and doing all the wrong things and ruining my metabolism with dieting. It is definitely possible. I also blame aging for some things getting worse despite fifteen years of hard labor searching for a cure. I have a theory that every year you aren't detoxing or digesting correctly is probably the equivalent of several years of aging in a healthy person. Efforts to get better may stem the tide from rising higher, even if they don't get it to reverse.

In case you didn't notice, I have a lot of theories.

Can I Achieve Spiritual Immunity?

Some people suggest that with enough spiritual development a person can become resilient and strong and aligned enough to be able to handle just about any food or environment (including no food at all), literally bulletproof. I hope that is the case because it sure sounds convenient, I sure do miss just slipping a frozen pizza in the oven, or grabbing some prepared food when I'm out and about, rather than toting around my sad cans of sardines. But I can only speculate. 

Of course I believe in spiritual healing above all, and it should make one more resilient, but I don't think such an advanced person would have great reason or need to indulge in frequent toxic activities, or even be able to sustain them. Resilience to stress seems to be predicated on a lack of continuous stress. The opposite results in PTSD and adrenal fatigue. Besides, most of us are not enlightened avatars and we're going to have to act like we have physical bodies if we ever hope to make it there. I enjoy my body, and I hope to take good care of it using standard scientific principles in alignment with my needs as a biological creature, a human animal, in concordance with spiritual principles. I believe this makes for the highest vibration being. You don't really want to look like Eckhart Tolle do you? 

Can Sensitivities Be Protective? OVER-RomaNTICIZED?

...we, didn't get "bad" bodies and our sensitivities don't make us weak. They show us we are ALIVE. -Lyme Less, Live More

I think based on my theory so far you could say that there are “healthy sensitivities”, like it is probably smart to hate the laundry detergent aisle in the grocery store because we have not evolved as a species to handle those weird chemicals. And you could say there are "unhealthy sensitivities" like a sensitivity to sunlight because we have evolved as a species to handle sunlight (which, ironically, many people we think of as "healthy" are maladapted to, and have to wear sunglasses and sunscreen in!)

The line between them is not always clear. Is the person who thinks the laundry detergent stinks weaker and more prone to getting cancer later down the line because their sense of smell correlates to their poor detox capacity, or is their sensitivity and subsequent avoidance of stinky laundry detergent whenever possible a strength, protecting them from getting cancer? Why do some people think that stuff smells good? Are they super healthy or just brainwashed dolts? Maybe they have a whole different kind of pathology that makes them numb to the toxins. Growing up with a parents who smoked could probably do that to a person.

I have no idea which unusual needs I have are the outgrowth of my core essence as an unusual person and which are just temporary manifestations of an illness. For example, I don't know if in the future I'll be able to eat dairy or wheat or sugars, or if those things will always weaken me too much, or if they will weaken me a little bit but not so much that I have to avoid those items if they are convenient to consume for a social event or when being hungry would weaken me even more. I don't know if I'll be able to share a bed or even a house with a mate, or if I'll always be more solitary, even though it goes against the grain of what a relationship “should” look like.

I hypothesize that sensitivities to the chemicals and things that really do harm pretty much everyone across the board interact with the genes of a susceptible individual and cause these subsequent pathological-level sensitivities to relatively harmless things. That doesn't necessarily mean we sensitives have “bad genes”, because the same genes could have other effects that are amazing, and genes can be activated and deactivated. Not to mention my regular readers know that I consider properly managed sensitivity to be a positive trait that can give you superhero-like powers.

Psychologically speaking, many sensitives are intelligent, creative, compassionate, and good with details. Metaphysically speaking many are highly intuitive, and capable of accessing extraordinary peak experiences. 99% of the time my nervous system still causes me grief, but I've touched a lover with just the tip of toe where it felt like I was on molly touching Jesus. That same lover used to tell his friends, “Emily doesn't need drugs. She's high all the time.” It was kind of true. I was pretty open. Too bad for years I was open to things I shouldn't have been quite so open to, like putting up with his bullshit! 

Here is a good replacement word for that depressing "avoidance" I've been harping on this entire article: “discernment”. Sensitives have to learn impeccable discernment. It doesn't matter whether what they are sensitive too is what I am calling a "healthy sensitivity" or "unhealthy sensitivity". They have no choice.

On a final note, though I promote taking pride in the healthier aspects of one's sensitivity. I DO NOT like to romanticize pathology which sometimes happens because patients are so misled and alienated by mainstream culture. Defensive, they wring what positivity they can out of their condition. You find this I-don't-need-to-be-"cured" stance often amongst bipolar and schizophrenic and high-functioning Autistic spectrum circles. I think being “neurotypical” is a good thing. Nobody would wish autism on anyone to the extent that it involves quite a lot of suffering (much higher risk of suicide) and clear medical issues (like gut problems). But the brain of the type of person who becomes autistic in the first place may harbor some real gems.

I also do not worship the tortured artist. I think I write well because of my neurological wiring. But I'm not able to make a living off of it because I am too distracted dealing with my illness. I think I will write even better and reach even more people without the suffering that is the result of that wiring interacting with aspects of my former and current environment and creating serious disability. (I'm ignoring  here the idea of post-traumatic growth and depth of character from being forged in the fire which is fodder for another article). I fully believe that all of the illnesses I have mentioned in this blog can be healed. 

The Future 

The Earth as it is, is not a very safe place for sensitive people, but we are also on the forefront of a holistic movement, able to develop technologies, healing modalities, and work as consultants to promote cultural and lifestyle changes that make it a better place for everyone. And, I argue, we are especially capable of doing so once we get over the hump.

Is it ridiculous to think we could create a world in which, instead of being constantly bombarded by things that were bad for us, our soaps and shampoos were laced with absorbable nutrients, and the ambient atmosphere of stores and restaurants was designed to leave us healthier and more balanced than before? What if the recirculated air on the airplane contained extra-healthy components, maybe like nebulized glutathione, instead of unhealthy components like jet fuel, and the snacks were meant specifically to combat jet lag and protect against radiation? What if all our electronic devices emitted pulsed magnetic frequencies that were harmonious and healing rather than universally disruptive? I used to think it was impossible, that manufacturing those things would cause more harm than good, and we should just go back to living in tribes in the forest, but now I'm not so sure. Humans are brilliant creators.

A final thing Dave Asprey says all the time is that he created the Bulletproof conference so that he could find peers. I think this is a very important point. It can feel like the world isn't meant for us sensitives, that we won't have any friends if we follow our weird protocols, and since friendship is healthy, we should just make concessions and be less weird, but that doesn't have to be true.

I meet people all the time that say, "I'd like to be healthier, but I can't find anyone with similar interests. So when my friends ask me to go out with them for a drink, I go". Logically speaking, if everyone who made that excuse said, "No thanks, I'm trying to be healthier," to going out for that drink, then they might actually be able to recognize each other. Otherwise it just looks like everyone loves drinking! In addition, metaphysically speaking I think by drawing a line in the sand regarding what they will and won't put up with these individuals would actually raise their vibration and draw in each other.

I'll leave you with these two quotes to ponder from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin:

"There is almost a sensual longing for communion with others that have a larger vision.The immense fulfillment of the friendships between those engaged in furthering the evolution of consciousness has a quality almost impossible to describe."
"Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”

-Emily, The Super Sensitive Human


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