Do you think you’re more sensitive/observant than average?

I just read some lines in a post on Rachel Simon’s blog that hit me pretty hard:

If you, like me, are the brother or sister of a person with a disability, you have concerns, emotions, and maybe even responsibilities that the siblings of typical individuals don’t contend with. […] And from a very early age, you looked askance at a world that mistreated, ignored, stereotyped, mocked, and cut the funding for people like your siblings – and you couldn’t, for the life of you, understand how anyone could be so insensitive and even ignorant.

Some days are hard for me because my brain moves quickly and because I do have moments of feeling like I see more in other people than those around me. I notice when people around me are upset, or sick, or happy. I pick up on their emotions or unspoken thoughts based on which words they pick, how their inflection changes, what their body language says. Most of my close friends do the same, and my parents are generally even better and faster than I am about it – hell, Lily is a fantastic people-reader (which is why she’s such a good manipulator). The idea that it’s surprising to find that other people could be insensitive goes way, way beyond my perspective on or experiences with how people treat Lily – it’s part of my general worldview.

On the way to work this morning, I was pondering the possibility (…again) that a good many of us siblings absorbed at early ages that life was not just about us. Oh, sure, I know I can be incredibly selfish, both in good ways (i.e., the stuff I do for science) and bad ways, and I know that for most of my younger life I did stay happily in the bubble of my own existence. (Also, the fact that I consider myself “more observant” might be a little conceited of me; having never occupied someone else’s brain, it’s a bit hard to know the truth of that.) That said, if I ever have my own kids, I doubt that I’m going to have the sudden realization that “my life isn’t just about me anymore!” Because, well, it hasn’t been since I was old enough to deal with my sister’s differences, and I’ve lived a good chunk of my adult life knowing that I am living not just for myself, but also for my parents and Lily.

The point of that? Just that when you’re not the sole center of your world, you tend to notice things going on around you. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that you learn to notice things, from how space is occupied to how people communicate with more than words. Or learning how to be conscious of the myriad of observations, tactile or auditory or visual or whatever else, that you are constantly making.

I’m struggling right now with a problem in one part of my life. I feel like I’m saying things that aren’t heard, or that are misinterpreted in ways that confuse me, and that I am seeing actions and reactions in other people, which they’re not always aware they are revealing. Part of my problem is that I’m expecting from them the same level of interpersonal and physical awareness that I have. It’s not their fault that they haven’t developed (overdeveloped?) such observational skill, and I shouldn’t blame them, or harbor resentments towards them, about the stuff that’s going on with them, because I know that this is the case and it’s just not productive for anyone. But it really makes me wonder about how we develop our abilities to perceive, and it’s honestly a bit frustrating – and one of those things that I hadn’t thought about in the context of growing up with Lily for a good long time.


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