High Sensitivity: A Blessing and a Curse

When I was in my early twenties, my dear, gentle dad (an introvert) referred me to a book he’d just read called The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World by Marti Olsen Laney. After I read it, it was like the sky parted and the angels began to sing.

There was nothing wrong with me! I wasn’t antisocial or weird, and I wasn’t a loser for needing time to recharge my batteries after stimulating interaction–I was just an introvert!

Hear me roar (but only if I’m well-fed, well-rested, I’ve had a lot of downtime by myself, and I’m totally comfortable in my surroundings)!

All by myself ... it's a good thing!

All by myself … it’s a good thing!

Later on, probably in first-year Psych, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test, and more of my complex and often puzzling (even to me!) personality became clear–I’m an INFJ, the rarest of all 16 types (approximately 1-3% of the world’s population!)

Discovering these things about myself has brought a lot of healing to my life. Although the cultural awareness of introverts has been on the rise in recent years, we still live in a society that largely celebrates brashness and boldness (just watch any reality TV show, with the possible exception of The Amazing Race Canada), outspokenness, toughness, and bulldozing, cocksure attitudes.

Which is why realizing I’m an HSP has deepened my understanding of myself, and other sensitive souls.

"Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness" - Katherine Henson

“Having a soft heart in a cruel world is courage, not weakness” – Katherine Henson

An HSP is a Highly Sensitive Person. The term was coined by Elaine Aron who began researching high sensitivity in the early 90s. Apparently, HSPs make up 15-20% of the population, which, according to Aron, means it’s “too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority […]”

High sensitivity is a personality trait, not a disorder, and it means that we may process data more deeply and thoroughly than others due to a biological difference in our nervous system. HSPs can be introverts or extraverts, and any acronym on the MBTI.

To find out if you’re an HSP (you’re in good company!) you can take the test here.

According to Aron, it’s a good thing to be highly sensitive.

But it’s not without its pitfalls.

blessing and a curse

blessing and a curse

There are tons of illuminating articles out there on common HSP traits and it’s so refreshing to read traits you thought were unique to you aren’t quite so weird after all! It’s also been helpful to get tips on coping in an overwhelming world.

Here are some articles I’ve found to be particularly useful:

tea helps

tea helps

Being an HSP can definitely be both a blessing and a curse. For me, it means the following traits:

  • I notice everything, so a cluttered kitchen or workspace, specks of dirt, crumbs on the counter, dust on my work desk, etc. will get me really annoyed
  • Not being able to perform, or performing poorly, when scrutinized (which is why I didn’t drive so well with my parents or an instructor, but once left to my own devices, I drove fine)
  • Easily startled
  • Agitated by loud and/or persistent noises (sirens, car alarms, chewing, incessant coughing, loud talkers)
  • More sensitive to extreme cold or extreme heat than others
  • Intensely moved by the arts; often “getting lost” in music, movies, a book, etc.
  • Deep connection to animals and nature
  • Strong intuition
  • Picking up on the emotions of others and being affected by them
  • Able to pick up on non-verbals and the “emotional climate” of situations and places
  • Physical reactions to stress
  • Feeling all the feels intensely, from elation to depression–quick to laugh; quick to cry
  • Overwhelmed in cities or places with crowds
  • Feeling sorry for inanimate objects. In her matron-of-honour speech at my wedding, my sister told the story of how, as a kid, I wanted to take all of my stuffies and dolls with me on our trip to Myrtle Beach because I didn’t want to hurt any of their feelings!
  • Very vivid dreams
  • Conscientiousness and high self-awareness. For example, when grocery shopping, an HSP will make sure her cart is not blocking anyone and will wait patiently for you to go through a crowded aisle rather than pushing through with an insistent, “Excuse me!” They will also become very annoyed when other people lack that same level of conscientiousness
  • Deeply distressed by any form of conflict and will develop headaches/stomachaches when there’s tension or conflict
  • People pleasing to avoid criticism, which is taken very personally
  • Able to read people well and know what to do to make them comfortable (we do quite well in customer service!)
  • Unable to stomach violent movies, TV shows, the news, books, etc., and not able to quickly forget them if I do. I have to be extremely careful what I watch, see, listen to, read, etc. I walked out of the movie Looper in theatres and then felt disturbed and physically ill all day
  • Sensitivity to certain words or expressions
  • Vivid imagination
self-care

self-care

As an HSP, and an introvert, and a Blue, and an INFJ, it’s been extremely important for me to continually self-care, to treat myself gently so that I will then treat others gently, and to remind myself that God made me this way for a reason, and everything He made is good.

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Art

"A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us" - Franz Kafka

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us” – Franz Kafka

I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym that going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people ilk me, people who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.

And if, for whatever reason, you’ve stopped–stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time–start today.

–Shauna Niequist, Cold Tangerines 

 

Advice from a Dear Friend

I’ve discovered there’s a beauty in my spirit only released when I write. Even if I’m the only one to glimpse that glory, it’s something worth releasing. You have that same beauty. Set aside the doubt’s and embrace the truth – you are a writer and writers write — my friend Miss Eves

photo courtesy of google image search

photo courtesy of google image search

Living the Good “Chai”

Chai is the Hebrew word for life, so let’s celebrate it. Let’s raise our glasses to us, to ourselves, to each other, and drink deeply to the good chai and all its daily wonders.

life is a gift we can choose to unwrap

The only ones for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars …  — Jack Kerouac

Here’s to the dreamers, the seers, the believers and deep sleepers.

Here’s to secret keepers, weepers, sighers and wishers.

Here’s to the pioneers, the forerunners, the trailblazers and groundbreakers, the innovators, the strivers and succeeders.

Here’s to the thinkers and feelers, the followers, the resolvers, the carers and creators and supporters.

Here’s to careerists, to workers, to healers and helpers and everyday heroes.

Here’s to the inbetweeners, the 9-5ers, the punch-in / punch-outers, the stepping stoners, the mobile phoners, the just-get-byers and one-more-dayers.

“you and me and five bucks”

Here’s to the cafe lingerers, the hummers and singers, the coffee spoon clinkers and fresh air drinkers.

Here’s to the ones that wake up, back to sun, already undone as the alarm sounds their impending day.

Here’s to the ones that jump out of bed roaring, ready to attack the invaders of peace.

Here’s to wallflowers blossoming in corners.

Here’s to late-bloomers who make the sweetest flowers.

Here’s to the broken who are just on the mend, and here’s to the soothers with honey in their hush.

Here’s to dwellers of the Land of Someday, the citizens of Maybe and the clairvoyants of Tomorrow. Here’s to the keepers of the Past, and the ones that live on the high mountain of It’s Possible.

the best time to celebrate is whenever you can

And here’s to the moments that make this life rich and wonderful and, well, worth rising for.

Here’s to:

Evenings you could drink in a cup, the sun setting in resplendence, the trees lush and green and waving good-bye to a day fully lived.

Hundreds of hands raised and swaying like sea anemone in the strobe lights at a raucous concert and everyone nodding yes and music pumping in hearts and stomachs.

Hands fingering tall weeds and grass as you stroll.

A friend lovingly touching your hair.

Pink sky, blue lake.

Cities still sleeping at 4 am, lights across water twinkling.

Long stretches of road to be driven down, roads winding leading to stories yet untold, country roads with stories in the overgrown brush and untended fields.

Idling atop your car, looking out onto the world with quiet meditation and good music instrumenting what words cannot express.

Getting fresh air, getting fresh thoughts.

Hope spoken in ocean spray and whispering winds.

Teaching toddlers to speak Pirate and tickle the clouds with their feet on the swing set.

Soy lattes made with love by singing baristas.

The world made magical by sunshine, strength, and possibility.

All I was searching for was me

But if it just hurts too much, and you can’t see the sun for the clouds, and you feel like everything in your life is broken,

remember:

Keep your head up. Keep your heart strong.

Celebrate one thing and celebrate it anyway, and distract yourself with something beautiful, knowing that this too shall pass.

Wake Up Kids, We’ve Got the Dreamers Disease

"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool" -- Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs

So this is what we’re told: Dream BIG. Scratch that–dream bigger! Think BIG. Think bigger! Take it to the next level. Give it 110 %. Embrace the chaos. Be BIG. Be BOLD. Be LOUD. Make noise. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Be inexhaustible. Go big or go home. Be ON at all times. See every interaction as a chance to network. Get ahead. Move up the ladder. Maximize your potential. Imagine you’re a product and sell yourself. Shine the brightest.

It’s not all bad. I mean, we got little gold stars on our assignments in grade school; the purple dinosaur told us we were special; no two snowflakes and all that stuff. It’s all good, it’s all true, and we should love ourselves, and if we don’t have dreams we don’t have much … but …

Is it okay that the first paragraph of this blog post made me want to take a nap? Is it okay if I admit to you, dear readers, that I do have beautiful dreams for my life but not all of them are grandiose? Is it okay that I find it so unappealing to think of myself as a product, that I really can’t be on at all times, that I don’t necessarily want to waste my time and sell my soul just to gain someone’s approval?

Virginia Woolf said: “No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.”

I find a strange comfort in that, and encouragement to be myself, who is not someone desperate to be the biggest, boldest, and loudest. Aren’t there enough of those people anyway without me halfheartedly blowing my own horn?

I find comfort, also, in the fact that the upside of introversion has been making news lately–quietly, of course. There’s been much buzz about Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. 

Here’s her TED talk. It’s 19 minutes long, but worth watching:

This is wonderful.

It’s about time we learned to value the unsung attributes of modesty, introspection, reflection, and premeditation in a culture that has far too long rewarded loudness and aggression.

I wish you the best of all possible journeys, and the courage to speak softly. 

I may not be the brightest star, but I’m still shining.

A Poem a Day Keeps the Writer’s Block at Bay

wore your poems like a scar

For the first time since I graduated university, I’ve been writing poetry. For fun.

It was much easier when I was in university, taking several poetry classes and being surrounded by ideas and inspiration. Funny how, when you’re up to your eyeballs reading, analysing and dissecting poetry, it just flows out of you all the time. You carry a pen around with you in order to record the stray ribbons of language and art flitting in and out of your head. Your lecture notes start to turn into a blank verse poem, inspired by one of the professor’s tangents.

These post-grad days with the jobby job and the completely unstructured days, it can be like drawing water from a stone. A line of a poem will surface on a walk; whilst driving to work; in the middle of slinging a latte, and evaporates like mist when you try to remember it later. Frustration ensues.

This is why, as part of my “Write More” New Year’s Resolution, I’ve been writing a poem a day since the first of January. No matter what drivel results from the translation between head and paper, I write it down. Some of the poems are weak and others are okay, but the point of the exercise is to just do it and work at it, since writing is a craft like any other and a muscle that needs to be flexed.

Sometimes I have this romantic misconception about being a Writer; that it’s all elegantly crafted sentences and word choices that shine like jewels. That it’s sitting with your pen and paper scribbling bits of genius or your fingers flying like birds at the keyboard. True, it can be quite nice to have talent but it can be bloody hard work, which is what has been keeping me from writing for a long time. It’s tearing out your hair sometimes; doodling in the margins; checking Facebook for the umpeenth time; staring at that blinking cursor on your Word Processor as if it contains life’s answers; writing down whatever comes into your head even if you hate the crap out of it.

Musicians take time to tune their instruments before performing; they spend many a laborious hour shut up in their studios, repeating scales, working through the squeaks and flat notes before playing a beautiful piece of music. And so writers must also get over their egos and self-imposed blocks and continue tapping away or scratching drivel, just to keep that creative muscle strong.

I’m hoping that, at the end of my Poem-a-Day experiment, I’ll have some solid ideas and pieces to work with, and then I’ll start sending them out to poetry anthologies or writing programs. Or maybe I’ll start doing that sooner. In the meantime, I’m in a Writing Circle currently but would like to expand to other writing groups, open mic poetry readings, or writing support groups, either online or otherwise. Does anyone know of anything cool?

Done!!!

Actually, I wrote a 50,070-word, 90-page novel in 29 days.  But who’s counting?  All that matters is this: I did it!

Yesterday afternoon, fueled by a pot of green tea and a yummy vegetarian brunch at my favourite local coffee house, Tinto in Roncesvalles, I plugged in my trusty laptop and speed-wrote the final 5,000 words or so of Unlovely.  The coffee house began playing the Amelie soundtrack (one of my favourite soundtracks and one of my favourite movies) and I was so inspired that the last stretch of the novel just flowed so easily.  I heard an author once say that to help him tap into an uninterrupted, stream-of-conscious flow of writing, he listens to piano music, because the motion of hands flying across a piano’s keys mimics the motion of typing on a computer keyboard.  Genius; it worked.  Yann Tiersen’s musical score is nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful and will probably account for much of the last section of Unlovely’s fragmented musicality … or something.

When I finished typing the last sentence, I was breathless, proud, simultaneously exhausted and energized, and wiggling in my seat from way too much green tea.  Everyone keeps asking when they’ll get to read it and when I’m going to publish it.  To be honest, it’s probably terrible.  It’s rough and the “fragmented musicality” is more likely “garbled gibberish” and even though my characters are taking a cross-country road trip from B.C. to Nova Scotia, I’ve left out place names and recognizable landmarks, probably because my traveling has not been that extensive.  No one, no one is going to read that thing until I’ve edited the heck out of it, and I’m considering not looking at it for another month or so, just to create some distance.

If anything, the NaNoWriMo experiment has been exactly that — an experiment, to prove to myself that I can do it.  Since the writing of Angelica’s Wings in Gr.8, I’ve had tons of novel ideas swimming in my head, but fear and insecurity kept them there instead of on the page. Now I know that it can be done, and it’s a freeing, almost healing realization.  I have a few more novel/short story ideas insisting on being written, as well as an idea to rewrite Angelica’s Wings which came to me in the sleepy fog of the early morning before breakfast.  I’m itching to start writing again and I feel like NaNoWriMo has unleashed years of pent up, unwritten creativity.  Hooray!

And now the fun part: editing!