Living as a highly sensitive person (HSP)

Some time after I came across Susan Cain’s infamous TED Talk and realised I was an introvert, the notion of ‘high sensitivity’ came to my attention. Hmm, this sounds like me too, I thought. I think I came across some articles and blogs online which alluded to this ‘highly sensitive’ thing, before I stumbled across Dr. Elaine Aron, who is credited with beginning the study of the inate temperament trait of high sensitivity (in 1991).

 

HSP
credit: Zaimful

 

She also developed a test for high sensitivity, which seemed to confirm my hunch that I was, indeed, a highly sensitive person. You can find the test here.

I had always known that I was a pretty sensitive guy, to some extent. However, it seems that I’m learning more and more about this as time goes on. I’ve always been highly empathetic, can relate to anyone and know how to connect and put them at ease, and generally read people well. I get this hunch or intuitive feeling about people which I can’t logically explain.

During a family trip to rural Sweden, for about a week we were on the road visiting various places. This meant a lot of time spent together in close quarters in the car. Coupled with this, and the fact that the same couple of CDs were playing on loop the whole time (even when I mixed it up a little with my iPod), it just got too much for me. I think I yelled out or erupted or something, I can’t quite remember. My family lovingly refer to this incident as “the time Jas had a meltdown in Sweden”. Turns out I was just over-stimulated; it had been building and then couldn’t be held in any more.

I’ve also realised how my high sensitivity can come into play when I’m out and about in public. For example at the gym, where I go most days. Even after having gone for about 10 years, I still find myself constantly looking around me at the other guys and girls in my vicinity. Whether it’s comparing myself to other guys, or checking out other girls (hopefully with subtlety!), or just wanting to know who’s around. I’ve certainly gotten better at this, and just being present in my own space and focusing on my own workout. But it feels like I’m constantly alert. (I think my social anxiety and body-related issues also come into play here).

In some ways, perhaps this is quite a usual thing. To be on the treadmill or whatever machine, and just glance around. However, it can be exhausting and certainly isn’t always ideal to say the least.

(Also: look out for a ‘the people I avoid in the gym’ post which I should be uploading soon).

One of the things I’m aware of, and working on, is the judgement of others and the assumed judgement of others (i.e. the thoughts about myself that I project onto others, and therefore they think they have of me). Recently (at time of writing), for example, I’ve realised that I’ve been avoiding speaking to friends and family, for the fear that the ‘work question’ will come up in conversation, and that I will feel embarrassed and judged and sh*tty.

e.g. I spoke to one of my best friends on the phone last night, and I spent the whole call trying to be funny and entertaining, all the while trying to keep the conversation going and dictating it. I’ve felt bad at ignoring calls / not responding to his messages in the past (I’m actually supposed to be giving him a call as I write this!), and we had to cut the call short (which I was kinda pleased with),  I sent him a website link soon after and made a joke about it. It’s like I’m constantly trying to keep this facade up, and not direct any unwanted attention towards me.

I feel that all of this links in some way to my high sensitivity. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that there are benefits, too. The ability to feel deeply and connect so well/so much with others can be a wonderful gift, and I also feels it translates to my writing, too.

Also, I know that my body is also sensitive to things like gluten and alcohol. In a way I’m glad that I get/feel a response to these things, as it means I’m aware of my body trying to tell me something, rather than abusing my body slowly over time without my realising it.

Understand my sensitivity, and continuing to do so, has been key in learning how best to look after myself and be kinder towards myself. Thinking about it, I’m sure it also contributed to my actions/hyperactivity that I felt when I went a little crazy that weekend

What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Are you a highly sensitive person, or do you suspect you might be ‘on the scale’? I’d love to hear how HSP-living is for you… 💙

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Making time for family

I love my family. It feels like I’ve been thinking a lot about family lately – e.g. this post. My mother, father, brother and I have lived together for most of my life, with the exception of a couple of years when I was at university (-ies; I dropped out, twice).

We all know and understand each other pretty well by now. On the whole. Our personalities, traits and habits. Though we can drive each other mad on occasion (e.g. mum can be quick chatty at times – aka all the time – and inevitably at times when I wanna chill, bless her), I am fortunate (spoiled) in that our house has plenty of spaces to retreat to. Home is my safe space, and these 3 people are the ones I trust more than anyone in the world.

Though we live together, it’s all too easy to get complacent and not really spend quality time with each other (like we did the other night, when we did a cinema trip + meal). As I am getting older, whilst putting myself first and trying to get my own sh*t together, I am gradually beginning to appreciate my family more. After all, I won’t be living with them forever, and I just want to make the most of this time that we have together in our household.

My mother and her side of the family are very family-orientated folks. Whilst I’ve always been pleasant and friendly when we get-together, there are times of late when I feel I haven’t made enough of an effort. Especially whilst I’ve been working on myself and my mental health the last couple of years, it hasn’t always been easy juggling/prioritisation relationships. I mean I struggle with managing friendships/relationships at the best of times (most of the time!).

I have an uncle, my mum’s brother, who is only a couple of years older than I am, and he is very much a busy-body and extrovert-type (like mum); he is very family-orientated, and is always trying to organise activities, general get-togethers and trips away. I’ll be honest, he’s a good guy with his heart in the right place, but we are also very different people. He’s quite blunt and judgemental, as well as money-driven and materially-focused. This is just not me. (If it wasn’t for mum forcing me onto the property-ladders whilst I was earning, and the luxury of living at home, I would not have been able to afford/survive the last 3 years of no income). With the small age-gap between us, and considering that I’m the eldest of the cousins on my mum’s side (the next-oldest is 5 years younger), I reckon we may have had a closer relationship if we were more similar in personality.

That said, now and again, it’s nice to spend time with my uncle and cousins, especially as we are all getting older (seriously, time flies so fast) and are able to have more mature conversations, and connect more “on a level”.

It’s a balancing act between managing my energy and spending time with my family. I’ll be honest, the last couple of years haven’t been easy when it comes to family – especially whilst I’ve been managing my mental health and general life struggles, e.g. dealing with the perceived judgement from family (and the rest) about my work situation; whilst I’ve taken time off and experimented, it’s been tough being asked “what are you doing at the moment?” – and even going into situations/interactions having the fear that this question, or similar ones, will come up!

I feel so judged and unworthy, as if I have no identity. Also, I feel that there’s an undertone of inter-family competition, and I not only feel paranoid about my self-perceiving low-achievements compared to others in the family, but also that I’m letting my parents down, as well as worrying both them and my grandparents immensely. I think I know where my mum gets her anxious ways from, and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that her 3 sisters are all panic-pots to varying extents, too. People mean well but, bless them, are anxious to the point that it can be stifling – especially for someone who is very sensitive / soaks up the energy around him.

About an hour ago, my bro and uncle returned from a long weekend away for a stag-do. We’re having a ‘de-brief’ tonight at GBK which should be fun. As I write this, my uncle just sent this message to our little family (uncle/cousins) Whatsapp group – “Basically ___ (my bro) and I have decided – booking a MAD club Saturday in Cannes for ____’s (my cousin’s) 18th. Freshers for his upcoming freshers”.

LOL. Whilst I may have been excited by such fun around 1- years ago, I’m not really sure that’s my scene. Though we’re all going to be away as a family in September anyway (in nearby Nice), so I guess it’s the sort of opportunity we should jump at and won’t get when we’re all older, married and settled with families and such.

They say you only live once, right? (I’m sure someone said YOLO before Drake did…). And, staying close to my family is one of my priorities for the year ahead.

[Edit: shortly after writing this post, I recorded myself reciting one of my poems for the first time 🙈 Here’s the Soundcloud link]

✏ Written: Sunday, 4th March 2018 @ 12.30pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Are you satisfied with the relationship you have with your family – both immediate and extended? Is ‘family’ a priority for you? As always, I’d love to get your thoughts 💙

 

Getting out of my ‘social comfort zone’

I am a strange individual. Introverted, yet I can be outgoing in the right environment, and with the right people.

In fact, around other people, I tend to ‘warm up’ and become increasingly sociable – and sometimes a bit hyper/over-the-top even. That’s when the people-pleaser and entertain steps in.

“Mate, there’s no way you’re an introvert”, a colleague – and my eventual manager – in my previous sales job told me. Working in an open-plan office, in a job where I was interacting all day long, I was a pretty chatty guy. Certainly not quiet, or shy, or anxious. An anti-hermit, if you will.

And yet, it’s only when I’ve stepped away from an office environment and that role (three years ago) that I’ve realised how socially anxious I can be.

It’s almost like I’m two different people (hey, I am a gemini, after all). It’s taken me this long to realise that I experience social anxiety. There’s a few specific things I’ve noticed.

For example, scenario 1: spending the whole day indoors just in my own company = bad idea. Doing that for a couple of days straight, or more, in a row? Even worse. In fact, the longer I remain in my own space, the more low/depressed/generally sh*tty I begin to feel. I start to overthink things, catastrophize, worry, all that stuff. Also, it becomes much harder to re-integrate and feel comfortable in the world again e.g. at the gym, in the supermarket, even with friends.

For me, the trick is to exercise self-care by both respecting my introversion/need to be in my own space, but also make sure that I get out and about, even if it’s only for a walk or to the gym. This is especially crucial whilst I’m not currently working. Exercise and sleep are also really helpful to my mood. I’ve been to the gym 5 days in a row at time of writing, and I’ve noticed the effect on my mood, and the momentum that builds from this continuity.

In a recent post, I wrote how I went to sleep feeling in a social mood after spending an evening with my parents, only to then wake up feeling not so up for it. (Side note: there’s something about mornings; at the start of each morning in my 5 years of sales, I always experienced anxiety at the start of the day before that first phone call or meeting, and then it would ease up as they day progressed – again, social anxiety also having an impact here).

I’m pleased to say that I got to the gym in the earn afternoon, and Whatsapped Mate P to ask if he was there and wanted to train (he happens to work at the gym, and often finishes his shift in the early pm and does a workout). As it turns out, I’d just missed him. However, I took it upon myself – before he’d responded – to ask one of the other Personal Trainers when I’d got there if she knew if he was still around or not. She said she’d check the rota for me, and after I’d finished warming up on the treadmill I walked past her and let her know he’d got back to me, and to say thanks anyway for checking the rota. She commented, kinda surprised, that he wasn’t going to be in until Tuesday; I said that I knew he had kids, aka was just a part-timer! She laughed and I carried on with my workout.

Later, I was getting some boxing gloves on for the punch-bag, and she was by the equipment getting something for the client she was training; she commented on the snow outside, and we made some brief, light conversation.

She’d actually come across as quite shy when I’d spoken to her for the first time earlier (though I am kinda grumpy at the gym / avoid people) – I took this follow-up as a good sign. Maybe she was just being polite as I happened to be there. I actually ended up walking past her again, and would’ve said a quick bye/“have a good weekend’ had she not been in the middle of doing some ab-work. I’ve found out, the hard way, that the longer you leave it before chatting again, the harder it gets! (See the ‘Cute gym girl’ post; btw, she was working out with another dude this week, who was showing her the ropes! He seems like a nice guy though, and the vibe I got between them was totally platonic #allgood).

And then, another girl who works in Reception at the gym was looking for one of the Personal Trainers, and I stopped her and asked if she was looking for the PT I’d seen just a moment ago. She wasn’t, but I was on a roll here. I’m usually a grumpy lil f*cker in the gym (there’s also another reason for this – aka “the incident at the gym” – future post on this to come).

After my workout, in the car driving to the supermarket, I then took my own advice following my ‘Phone calls vs Whatsapp’ post – and gave Mate P a call! An actual phone call. I’d followed up our Whatsapp chat earlier and asked if he was watching the boxing the next day; we made tentative plans to watch it together (weather-dependent, due to the snow, and also his car’s been playing up with the cold weather). It’ll be cool whether this ends up happening or not (update: it didn’t, but I wasn’t feeling it on the day, anyway! #classicme). This was actually the first time we’d spoke since our night out, so it was good to catch up.

As a guy who barely says a word at the gym or makes phone calls, I’d ridden the way, kept building momentum, and just went went for it. I’ve been feeling pretty good this week (at time of writing) – partly due to the gym, but also as I’ve felt productive, doing small daily tasks to keep me on track with job applications (I applied to 3 this week – at time of writing), and with the blog.

I’m still learning, as always. But I know that, for me, it’s striking that balance between my solo-/down-time and interacting with others (the right people) – whilst not going into entertainer/pleaser-mode and feeling like I’m going over-the-top and not being myself.

I just need to be conscious of this. Onwards.

✏ Written: Friday, 2nd March 2018 @ 9.48pm

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What about you? 🤷🏽‍♂️
Where do you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum? Are you a hermit or a social-ite? Do you need to warm-up or dive straight in? Let me know in the comments below! 💙