Sunday, February 22, 2015

3 things you should remember this week (and always)

What is it about those  articles consisting only of lists that is so damn enticing?  There are only about 100 of them a day, and they all say the same thing: "10 things every introvert wants you to know."  "12 things you should know if you love your dog."  "15 things you've always wanted to know but never asked."

Part of it is, clearly, the clickbait-y nature of the titles: "10 things to know to perfect every yoga pose you'll ever do."  "15 ways to achieve inner peace (in only one weekend!)"  "12 ways to make sure you're living your happiest life."  I skip over the "25 best ways of wearing eyeshadow" and the "15 sex tips to please your man" and the "12 tips to dress for your body type and look sexier than ever on a smaller budget while eating what you want and still losing weight" lists.  I stick with the ones that know...deep and meaningful. 

I ignore a lot of crap that comes my way on the internet...but I'm ashamed to admit that some of these lists just pull me in.  It's not that I actually try to do what they say, or that I believe a list from Cracked or Buzzfeed or MindBodyGreen is going to change my life and put me on the path to inner peace, but I read them because sometimes they make me feel validated.  That list of 10 things every introvert wants you to know?  It sometimes helps me to clarify, "that thing you do that makes you feel crazy?  It's an introvert thing.  Other people do that, too.  And being an introvert is cool because, you know, Buzzfeed made a list about it."  Then, for about 5 seconds, I feel better about my introversion.  The 12 things you should know if you love your dog?  I do 8 of those 12 things...and I feel pretty good about my dog ownership abilities.  It's pretty reinforcing to just peruse these lists as they come across my screen, actually.  Given the popularity of these articles...which are, honestly, unscientific junk...I would guess that I'm not alone in this. 

This morning, this list came across my Facebook feed: "10 things all highly sensitive people should remember."  I clicked it -- of course -- and it was nothing surprising...but it was validating. 

I'm not even kidding.  This is a thing.
I have mixed reactions about this whole "highly sensitive person" thing.  I came across the term when I was in college, and my reaction at the time was "FINALLY SOMEONE UNDERSTANDS ME!"  But as I tried to look more at Elaine Aron's work, it read like a bunch of popular pseudo-science.  I'm smart enough to know not to trust something that comes only out of one person's work, and is published primarily in the self-help genre.  Yes, she and her husband are doing some research with fMRIs...but I have yet to see any of it in a peer-reviewed journal (or with any other researchers), you know?  I couldn't actually get through her book, because it sounded to me like she was making "HSPs" the "victims" of living in a world that doesn't understand them, and like they are destined to a world of pain and suffering (through which they choose joy, like brave little soldiers!).  She writes in such a way that she makes people who are particularly empathic sound almost psychic: we know what you are feeling, and we feel it more intensely than you do.  Creepy, right?  It, honestly, all feels a little attention-seeking to me, and like it's one more way of saying "but I AM a unique and special little snowflake."  We get it.  You're special, and you feel persecuted by the world.  Next.....

I think I feel so strongly about this because I get it.  I am a person who is highly sensitive.  To everything.  Iv'e written about this before, and it's just how I've always been.  I have only ever, obviously, been me, so I can't say with absolute certainty that I feel "more" than other people, but I can offer concrete (if anecdotal), evidence that some things about me just work differently.  Getting out of the emotional realm, which is where things get a little blurry, I can tell you that my body reacts in more extreme ways to caffeine, to almost all medications, and to sensory stimuli.  I can tell you that violent or scary movies/TV shows have always had a physical impact on me.  It's not that I just don't enjoy them.  I will feel physically ill, and I will have nightmares, and I will have a hard time shaking it off.  Even just going to the movies can be hard...more often than not, I will come out with a migraine, and I will just feel like my sensory system is overwhelmed.  Lots of things make me feel overwhelmed.  When I do a good job of taking care of myself, I can largely avoid this feeling...but when I'm not doing a good job, overwhelm sneaks up on me, and threatens to overtake me.  And taking care of myself?  That's work.  It feels like I'm trying to constantly manage a body with ever changing needs and contingencies and expectations in an ever changing, ever more intense world.

It's hard to explain this feeling of "overwhelmed."  It's not like feeling overwhelmed in the sense of "I have so much to do, I don't know how I'll get it done."  It's not like feeling overwhelmed in the "I need to go here and there and have only 30 minutes...ack!!!" sense.  It's not even like feeling overwhelmed in the sense of "wow, it's loud in here and smells like a combination of beer, grease, and dirty feet."  It's feeling like my entire body is, for lack of a better word, freaking out.  Overwhelmed is when it feels like my body is full of electricity I can't contain.  I wrote a poem once in which I likened my spinal cord to keys on a janitor's key ring, "one key for every nerve,/ every clink and clack sends nerves running down my back,/ their feet pound my bones with steel-toed boots ."  There are times when the only thing I can do to calm my nervous system is to sit in the dark -- and even then, being alone with my own breathing can feel like too much.

I'll be honest: I hate writing this out.  I keep getting up and doing other things instead of finishing this, because it feels like you're going to think I'm making it up.  It feels like nobody else feels this way.  It feels like I'm being dramatic, or like I'm looking for special snowflake points.  This isn't glamorous.  This isn't me saying "I'm sensitive and better."  It just is. 

The end of the poem I wrote goes like this:
"...even doctors
cannot see these freaks of nature inside my skin--
these are not metaphors
but ways of turning what simply is
into something beautiful
my heart can understand."

I'm thinking about my word of the year again, and I'm thinking about this idea of being powerful.  The more I think about it, the more I realize that this internal sense of power must come from, first, accepting yourself and the powers you carry with you.  These days, I'm having a hard time liking myself.  (That's a hard one to admit, isn't it?)  I'm having a hard time being willing to do the things I know I need to do to take care of myself.  It's partially the fact that this time of year is hard.  It's partially other things.  And it's partially that I reached a point of extremely overwhelmed that I'm having a hard time settling, because I am having a hard time identifying what I need to make it settle.  Or, perhaps more accurately, I'm having a hard time allowing myself to do the things I know I need to do.  I am tired of being sensitive, and I'm tired of navigating the world when things seem to be too much.  Fair warning: if one more person says "self-care" to me, I'm probably going to punch them.  It's just not that easy.

Being this sensitive person brings incredible gifts.  Empathy is my superpower.  I feel all of my emotions intensely, even and especially the wonderful ones, and this is a gift.  Without being this sensitive person, I would not be able to write my heart in this way...and I love that I can write my heart in a way that connects me with others.  I am a better therapist because of this person I am. 

But this overwhelm from being in the is not a metaphor.  I can't read the news right now.  I can't look at that amazing article you posted, and I can't read the headlines of the articles in the trending news stories, and I am deleting every email from every social justice organization that sends me emails.  When I see these things, I can literally feel the nerves in my body start to jingle, and my spine feels funny, and the vice on my head tightens. 

But then I feel guilt, and shame, and embarrassment that I have the audacity to find it all too much when I am a privileged white girl.  Fact of the matter is, I have the privilege of shutting it out.  What right do I have to take advantage of that privilege, just because my nervous system feels "overwhelmed?"  It feels like such a cop-out to say "I'm highly sensitive" and expect that to mean something.  I'm not special, you know.  It just is. 

Maybe powerful means that I feel strong enough to do what I need in order to be my best self.  Maybe powerful doesn't mean soldiering on.  Maybe it doesn't mean ignoring, and pushing, and fighting with yourself to get to where you feel you need to be, regardless of what's happening internally.  I guess I'm back to what I said last time: maybe being powerful consists of choosing to like yourself without hating yourself first.  Maybe it's making the radical choice of allowing yourself to take care of you, even in all of your too muchness.  Or maybe...maybe...I could accept the broader definition of: "being powerful is being willing to take care of yourself."

Here then, is Autodidactpoet's list of 3 things you should remember this week (and always):

1). You are brave.
2). You are powerful.
3). You are worthy of love and belonging.


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