Recently I stumbled across a body of work and film that would alter my understanding of myself.
A couple of years ago, after the first of two car accidents, I was struggling to understand why I wasn’t understood by doctors.
It didn’t help that I was relatively new to the town, and still a local-to-nowhere-in-particular, semi-nomad.
My geographical non-specificity left me without a regular GP with whom I had a trusted relationship.
So, when my partner’s clinic wouldn’t see me as a new patient, he insisted we see someone together.
He didn’t have a long-term, trusted GP relationship there but was a patient of the clinic.
This didn’t fly too well with the practice or the doctor. I felt disregarded as a patient. After a consultation with a student doctor and supervisor (who left the room), I was told I could work.
On the morning of returning to work, I felt uneasy. My PTSD from the accident, a rear-end one that came out of nowhere, had left me feeling unsafe.
As I reversed out of the driveway, my senses were heightened and I reversed into the gate.
I calmed myself and continued. I got to work where I took up my position at the counter. There I use similar parts of the body to my other profession as a singer/guitarist.
After a few conversations explaining my limited capacity to customers, some of them understanding, one customer looked at me blankly. “What, today?” she asked, in a way that felt very blunt and void of compassion.
The other day, I explained.
My emotions, physical exhaustion, and pain from using my upper body were already building up. I began to feel incredibly frustrated with myself for my incapacity. Something I had no control over happening to me.
I also felt, by this stage, invalidated and not believed, feeling I had to over-explain the situation. Before long I reached a breaking point, with no choice left. I didn’t want to have the conversation.
I’ve always prided myself on being able to do things. Being able to ‘pull my weight’. Now, someone’s life had crashed into mine.
The only way of making that visible was to tell a story that I began to tire of telling. This was only the beginning of my long journey with medical self-advocacy.
Now, I can completely understand how frustrated and over it anyone with any form of limited capacity must feel.
Sometime during all of this, I stumbled across some online videos about the psychological trait of high sensitivity.
Discovering HSP is a thing
As I watched some excerpts from a film about High Sensitivity online, a sense of recognition overcame me. It was as though something I have been battling my whole life without ever being cognisant of was suddenly clear.
This sense of clarity only further crystalised as I watched the full movie: Sensitive, the Untold Story, nodding away with an interior monologue of ‘yes, that’s me!’ as every point lined up with my own experiences.
According to Arons and the research, around 20% of the population have this trait of High Sensitivity. Those people are referred to as Highly Sensitive People or HSP’s.
This started to explain so much about myself to me!
Here was a body of work that suggests that language such as ‘oversensitive‘ something I had been called in the past, and names such as ‘snowflake’ which are used commonly and sometimes offensively used are not helpful.
Are you a Highly Sensitive Person?
The next step in my HSP journey was to watch the film, and later, take the online test. After watching the film, which features Singer Alanis Morisette, it was clear to me that I was a Highly Sensitive Person.
You can take this online test to find out how HSP you are,
And this one to find out how HSS you are High Sensory Seeking
I found out that I am both of these, which explained even more. You may be HSP, HSS, or both.
And you may even like to go a step further and read the book by Dr Elaine Arons on the subject, which Alanis Morisette says this about:
“I wept through almost every page of this book out of sheer self-recognition. To say this book changed my life would be an understatement. I am forever grateful to Elaine Aron.”
Through discovering I am a HSP, I had a new lens. It made sense that things were affecting me that people around me didn’t seem to be bothered by at all.
Basically, everything that I am in contact with, physical or non-physical, can throw my world out completely.
Lighting. Smells. Procedures. Materials. Crowds. Energies. Temperature. Touch.
The cold harsh lighting in a supermarket or hospital.
The smell of meat (something I don’t eat or feel comfortable near) on the barbecue.
An acupuncture needle which most people can’t feel.
A scratchy lurex material or the edge of a fabric tag against the skin.
A person with strong energy.
A change in the weather causing me to become too hot or too cold.
An uninvited touch.
At the same time, my world can be overcome with bliss from the very same things.
Lighting. Smells. Procedures. Materials. Crowds. Energies. Temperature. Touch.
The right amount of lighting, not too bright or dim, in my preferred warmth or colour combination.
The smell of a flower evoking happy memories.
A gentle practitioner asking if something is okay for me.
Putting on the ideal soft, cooling clothing after feeling constricted or getting too hot in the wrong one.
Arriving back to my space after being in a group or a crowd after long enough.
The presence of an animal nearby, or a gentle familiar person.
A warm shower after being in the freezing cold rain.
A full body massage when feeling safe enough to relax.
Coming to understand and notice all of this about myself helped me give myself permission to be this way.
Finally, I had a toolkit to go about making decisions with. I allowed myself to nurture my needs a little more.
A HSP-Friendly Wardrobe
I wrote in my Earth-Friendly Fashion piece about being a HSP and when it comes to wardrobe.
Recently I started to take more notice of the aspects of clothing I was unaware of before. Now I examine these things before even considering a clothing item:
The fabric/material it’s made of
I need to have clothing that I can wear when I overheat, and when I get a chill.
Up against the body, I prefer to have natural fibers if possible. I have found bamboo, Tencel, lyocell, hemp, rayon, and some cotton to be best here. Some thick cotton I have found will make me overheat too quickly, for example, thick cotton tees. I find sleeveless tops are great to have handy for overheating weather.
If there is a label sewn onto a garment, this will be a major issue as well. I’ll often carefully remove it if possible without damaging the garment. (I have learned to do this carefully after lots of my clothes ended up looking like Dracula had bitten them!)
Recently I tried some underwear that prides itself on comfort and offers a comfort guarantee. Besides from being incorrectly sized, there was a harsh synthetic thread poking out where the label tag had been attached.
Also the pattern and colour. Do I feel like me in this? Is it the right pattern? If it’s too loud or stands out too much I might be inviting too much overstimulation. Or, if it’s not the right colours for me I don’t feel right in it. If it’s dyed synthetically, it doesn’t usually feel as good as naturally.
The cut, fit, and compression of the garment
Problems with cut and fit and compression are the other major thing to be aware of as a HSP.
I have now learned to avoid garments that are designed to offer compression. This will be a lot of sports, yoga, swimwear, and undergarments.
Another problem is the cut and size. If it’s too small, the tightness will give me similar issues to the compression garments. When some things are too big, pants for example, it drives me crazy.
What’s an option that is ‘safe’ for these issues?
Firstly, get the sizing right! Take the time to do the measurements. I never used to do this because I have been an incredibly impatient person in the past. But I’ve learned that taking the time to get your measurements right is crucial. If you’re buying from an independent seller, don’t be too shy to ask for measurements. It’s worth it. Otherwise, it might be a gamble on a sizing tag that could be wrong unless you know the brand well.
One choice of brand that’s a safe bet for all of the above is Hara the Label. From the reviews it’s evident that many who struggled to find comfortable undergarments have found comfort in this brand.
Though not cheap, for the HSP that wants a safe bet, it’s worth the extra dollars. And, if you’re good at financial management, there are lots of options at the check-out to make affording it manageable. Just make sure that you’re aware of the consequences of some of these options.
For me, making wardrobe changes was a great step to undertake. It left me feeling more empowered to try things and let go of what doesn’t work for my body. Having a good relationship with your body is a beautiful thing. Finding the right things for your body is a great way to nurture that relationship. Treating your body to wears that your body will love is a way to say thank you to your body.
I had already made this change in my life, about 5 years ago when I went Vegan, before discovering I was a HSP but it now makes even more sense.
Compassionate eating is apparently something that is quite natural to HSPs. So if you’re not already a compassionate eater, and you’re feeling out of balance, it could be something to examine?
The same applies to wears, and if you’re sensitive, maybe even a thrifted leather coat might give you weird vibes?
You know you best, so ask yourself what works for you and be honest with yourself.
Do your Research
Understanding the full story, whether it’s what you eat, what you wear, or what you do might sound overwhelming. But, if you’re highly sensitive, chances are things could be affecting you that you never realised.
Taking an active approach to the world around you is empowering. It helps us understand that we can shape our reality if we know enough about it.
A Final Word for HSPs
For me, discovering I am a HSP has been an empowering discovery on my own chosen journey of self-empowerment.
Now I know that, yes perhaps they don’t understand me. That’s okay, I understand me. I can advocate for myself knowing I’m not alone in this. There are many others like me who want what I have to offer the world.
Since discovering I am a HSP I’ve been able to name it. Then, I’ve seen others recognise it and name it too. If you’re feeling alone in this, maybe it’s a time to ‘find the others.’
If you’re self-identifying as a HSP, name it proudly, whether online or in conversation. You just might open someone’s world up to new information that could set them on an empowering path as well.
So let’s go forth, HSPs, Sensitives and Empaths, and help everyone co-create a more compassionate reality for all.
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