sensitive used to be a good thing. A sensitive person was kind,
compassionate, insightful, sensitive to people's feelings. But the
other day, someone described me as sensitive and I'm not sure it
was a compliment.
I was in a chemist
in Notting Hill, inquiring about a pair of earplugs. The pharmacist
suggested I try the ones made from foam. When I told him I'd tried
them and they didn't work he said: "My, you're a sensitive
one, aren't you?"
I wasn't sure how to respond. When did "sensitive"
become "difficult"? In an attempt to explain myself
I told him I was living next door to a drummer, but I could tell
he didn't care. I could have said I was a Buddhist monk travelling
with Aerosmith and he would have had the same indifferent expression.
Growing up, I was sensitive in all the best
ways. I was considerate of other children and did well in English
and art. I was the friend who mediated fights between classmates.
I was an only child, quiet, who read alone in my room, did origami
and water-coloured. What could be more sensitive? Then, as I got
older, I became sensitive to things like criticism and rejection,
weather and germs. If someone said something nasty about me, my
sensitivity levels were off the charts.
And the health issues. Everything about
me is sensitive in that department. My eyes are sensitive to sunlight;
my allergies make me sensitive to breathing because of hay fever;
I have a sensitive stomach and a sensitive palate - if I eat anything
spicy, it triggers a rash on my sensitive skin. My feet are sensitive
- I get blisters from walking around the house in slippers. Essentially,
from my toes to my nose, I'm a ticking time bomb. I should live
in a bubble. Except I'm sensitive to confined spaces.
Then, two years ago, I had a hearing test
and was told that I hear decibels very few humans hear. I have
dog hearing. So now I'm super-sensitive. And my super-power is
to hear things nobody else is aware of. How does this help? It
doesn't. Maybe if I were a spy and had to eavesdrop through concrete
walls I'd be a huge success in life.
But I've always wanted to be an aficionado
of something and now I am: earplugs. I know more about them than
most audiologists. I've learnt that London is a great place for
earplug aficionados because everyone here has a complaint about
a loud neighbour.
My friend Sam suggested I try a French brand
of hypoallergenic wax plugs. She slipped me a box discreetly,
like they were contraband. "They're being discontinued,"
she said, "so use sparingly."
Now I'm afraid to use them at all. What
if they work? And I can never find them again? The guy upstairs
can breed wildebeest and I'll stuff my ears with cotton before
breaking into my stash. I'm waiting for London to be shelled before
I crack open the box.
Another friend, Oliver, swears by his earplugs.
They're industrial strength and he's offered to give me a box.
It seems to be a "Welcome to London" custom I didn't
know about: "Here's an A-to-Z and a box of earplugs."
The other day somebody mentioned that they
had someone they wanted me to meet. Only they described him as
"very sensitive". No thanks, I know what that means.