During my time in the navy I spent a session on the gun direction platform during a live firing exercise by the 4.5” guns. The GDP is where you get the full force of the noise, and the noise from old fashioned artillery is a lot louder than anything most people are ever likely to hear. As the exercise progressed I found myself getting ever closer to panic and physical collapse, even though there was no danger and nothing to fear except the loss of face if the collapse had happened. The condition was entirely due to the excessive assault on my perceptual faculty by hideously loud explosions in the shell cases. Fortunately I held on long enough to avoid a collapse, but it was a damn close run thing and taught a salutary lesson.
I had forewarning of this problem when I was around eight and was brought to a state of utter panic by a persistent and increasingly loud peal of thunder. I knew even at that age that there was no danger, but the panic happened anyway. Much later in life I fought a fire in warehouse full of butane gas. There was a clear and imminent danger of explosion and death, but I felt no such symptoms on that occasion. Danger doesn’t affect me that way because it isn’t a sensory experience. Noise does because it is.
So what of the HSP who is conscripted into the armed services during time of war and sent into battle? Imagine the nature and intensity of the sensory input which he or she will have to endure – the noise, the smoke, the dust, the destruction, the smells, the sense of confusion, the blood, the sight of broken bodies, the suffering of the wounded… Is it any wonder that the recipient of such an experience, given their extended awareness of all sensory input, will be likely to suffer trembling, physical immobility, wholesale collapse, or the uncontrollable urge to run away out of sheer panic?
And what will the system do to them in this eventuality? The system will presume that they are failing to control their fear, and will court martial them using the time honoured charge: ‘cowardice in the face of the enemy.’ But it isn’t fear as ordinarily perceived; it isn’t cowardice; it’s simply a matter of being crushed by the unbearable weight of sensory input.
There was a time when such people were executed for their ‘crime’, and probably still are in some people’s armies, but it seems to me that the real crime lies in assuming the right to punish people – even to the extent of depriving them of their lives – because the normal ones don’t understand that a few of us have brains that are wired differently from theirs. It further seems to me that the issue needs to be understood and addressed. How you do so I don’t know, but that in itself is no reason not to at least acknowledge it.