Connected Yet Disconnected?

Last weekend I went to a conference on meeting the social emotional needs of the gifted (SENG).  I found it rather funny to observe that in a conference full of self identified outsiders, I still felt like an outsider.  This may surprise some because I am an extrovert and I enjoy social connection immensely, but in the vast majority of settings there is often a small part of me that feels a little on the fringe.

I believe there are two major factors to this.  One, as a highly excitable person I experience the world in a different way than many because my "filters" don't work the same as others.  Not only do I take things in differently, but I also have trouble filtering what comes out.  This makes me wary when in a new setting lest I say too much and turn people off.  I am also picking up cues from other people and I have a hard time shaking the feeling that if something feels "off" it must be about me, though I realize that there could be any number of factors at play that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

The other piece that makes it hard to connect in a group is that I am a multipotentialite, which means that I have multiple potential interests.  Because of this I have trouble relating to any group that focuses on any one aspect of identity.  Consciously I know that most people have varied interests and just because a group gathers around one in particular, doesn't mean that's the only thing they are into.  Still, I tend to find myself drawn to people who don't quite fit in to any one group, or the spouses of group members.

I came to realize about a year ago, that the only groups I felt 100% a part of were groups that I had a hand in developing.  This is not because I don't enjoy groups that already exist, but because I'm never quite sure what other people in a group might think of me.  If I initiate activities and invite people to join, then I can be fairly confident that those people enjoy my company, or at least get something out of it.  This has worked out fairly well for me so far and I have a pretty solid foundation of very supportive friends.

Spirited Connection

If you are highly excitable, it helps greatly to find connection with other excitable or spirited people.  Even if you find just one or two people with whom you feel truly at ease, your chances increase with activities that draw the highly excitable.  Some places where I've found such connections include:

Creative groups - Imaginationally excitable people are drawn to creative activities.  For myself, I've found connection in the theatre community as there are a lot of highly spirited and engaging people involved.

Spiritual groups - I grew up in the Unitarian Universalist church, and it is through that community that I've found my strongest bonds.  It tends to draw an unconventional and intellectual crowd.  There are lots of other groups that gather around a common spiritual theme that don't require organized religion as well.

Fantasy groups - This can be anything from Renaissance fairs to comic or cosplay conventions.  The imaginationally and intellectually excitable are drawn to fantasy activities of all kinds.

Online groups - Though social media does have its troubles, one of the great things I've found about it is that people with vastly specific interests can connect with other people with those same interests.  Recently I found the Puttytribe, which is a forum especially for multipotentialites.

These are just a few groups that come to mind for me.  Where do you find spirited connection?

Photos courtesy of Guy Holtzman Photography

If I Have Excess Energy, Why Do I Feel So Tired?

If you had told me I had excess energy a few years ago, I would have laughed. You see, I have had chronic fatigue issues pretty much my whole adult life. I'm constantly tired, and my body probably needs 9 hours of sleep (not that often give it that). It also takes me over a month to recover from 10 months of work in schools. I generally manage to pull through the year, but then my body just quits for a while and decides it will do nothing productive whatsoever, while throwing in some headaches and dizziness for good measure. It wasn't until two summers ago that I heard about Adrenal Fatigue. I took a few tests and sure enough, my Cortisol (stress hormone) levels were way too high at night, which was keeping me up at night. This didn't really surprise me since I believe I've lived in some state of adrenal fatigue since I hit puberty. The part that was most interesting to me though was that I was extremely high in what they said was a highly stimulating neurotransmitter (Glutamate), and extremely low in the calming one of Taurine. So, essentially my system is constantly overstimulated.

Psychomotor excitability and adrenal fatigue

Psychomotor excitability is essentially an excess of energy. It manifests most visibly in hyperactivity and need for movement. It would seem that people with this excitability would be natural athletes.  Many are but there are others, like myself, where this excess energy manifests in more subtle ways. For me, the most obvious sign is fidgeting. I can't sit still for long without fidgeting. I always thought of this as related to the fact that it was painful for me to sit for long periods.  That is part of it, but I also have an internal feeling of restlessness.

My restlessness shows up not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. My mind is constantly going - until it burns out then I turn to media to numb out. My environment is rather chaotic because there are so many things I'd rather be doing other than organizing and cleaning. A friend recently put it aptly that she wanted to break the cycle of sprint then hibernate. This is something I've been working on doing since I'm not at optimal performance in either setting.

All of the excitabilities can contribute to chronic fatigue and pain. With sensual excitability, your nervous system is so sensitive that what feels normal to most can be uncomfortable for you and what is uncomfortable to most is painful to you. Emotional excitability can make you much more susceptible to a stress reaction. Intellectual and imaginational excitability can give you lots of unproductive brain chatter, rumination and imagining worst case scenarios.

I always used to marvel at how my brain had the ability to make my body hurt from a young age. When I was a child and I didn't want to go to school for some reason, I would worry about it the night before and wake up with a sore throat that was visibly red. Over the years it struck me that while I could use my mind to cause myself pain, I had a very difficult time using my mind for good.

Knowing more about excitabilities, I'm learning ways to use these powers for good rather than for evil. The key is not to suppress them (which leaves you out of touch with your emotions) or let them go uncontrolled (which can feel "too much" for both you and others, but to harness them. Some examples of using your powers for good might include:

  • Using psychomotor excitability to get into a regular exercise routine.
  • Using sensual excitability to appreciate the beauty around you and get in touch with nature.
  • Using your emotional excitability to connect with people who help nourish you.
  • Using your intellectual excitability to change your unproductive thoughts to positive, life affirming ones.
  • Using your imaginational excitability to visualize where you want to go.

Things that have helped me harness my own power:

Diet - I started on a Paleo diet, and experimented to find what works for me. After an intolerance test finally convinced me dairy was really an issue, I've mostly stayed off of that and minimized my grains (except rice), beans and processed sugar. It's not perfect, but I strive not to make my diet a stress on myself because stress can cause as much damage to your digestion as the wrong foods. Overall, I lean toward an intuitive approach to eating, with the occasional conscious indulgence.

Excitability vs. Sensitivity

Social - I always valued my ability to get along with most people, but the last few years I have been more careful to keep in my life positive people who help nourish my soul. I am a highly sensitive extrovert, so it's a constant balance for me between being energized by other people and drained by overstimulation. Limiting my time with draining people has had a positive effect on both my emotional and physical state.

Energy work - Most of what I've done for myself in the last year has been on my own, but the one service that has made a positive difference recently was energy work with Samantha Brown at Enlightened Brilliance. Specifically Body Talk. I've also had positive results from acupuncture, but I was starting to realize that all of the treatments I'd been using that were strictly physical won't help until I clear up blocked energy. I believe that this has helped me to start listening to my intuition better and get on the right track. I believe there are many ways to do this, but this was one thing that worked for me.

Listening to my gut - After years of tuning out my body's messages because it was always uncomfortable or in pain, I am finally starting to listen to my body again. Once I started hearing my body better, I was better able to hear my gut, or intuition. This has helped me to find an amazingly supportive partner and take jumps in my business I would not otherwise have had the confidence to do.

Pursuing my passion - Finally, moving toward a path that pursues my passions and supports my need to contribute to the wellbeing of others has had a very positive impact on my overall wellbeing.

Just Steps in the Journey...

I certainly have a much further to go in terms of optimizing my own well being, but I feel pretty good about where I've come so far.  This summer I have a chance for a reset. I've taken better care of myself during the year, so it's been easier for me to recover. I'm ready to set some structures in place to start my next year off right as I go part-time to start my business helping the highly excitable balance their energy and harness their own power.

Calendar - My goal for this week is to start scheduling out my time better to include not only work time, but personal time as well.

Mindfulness - I keep meaning to take a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class, which I still intend to do, but the end of my school year was so chaotic I just could not even think of starting something new before the end of the year. The silly thing is though, I know I don't need to wait until I take a class to meditate. I've done it before and I can do it again. As I put my calendar together I will put it in my calendar as a part if my daily routine.

Excercise - I'm great at getting walks in when I have the structure of work and the weather is nice. When summer comes, my structure goes right out the window (bring in calendar). Fortunately the weather is nice, so it shouldn't be too hard to get in some nice walks at the lake.

Caffeine - I did so well at the beginning of the year not drinking coffee, but as the year progressed I started drinking more to the point where it is back to an almost daily occurence. I have to say that this is by far the stupidest thing for me to fall back on since, as I said above, I'm constantly overstimulated already!

It's easy for me to focus on what I still need to do, but it's reasurring to see how far I've come.  I hope to encourage others to take even small steps to use their own powers for good!

Photos courtesy of Guy Holtzman Photograpy

But You Don't Look Highly Sensitive

For many years I tried to figure out why I was so easily overstimulated and slow to recover from things. As a child, a grain of sand in the bathtub would irritate me no end. When I was tired, loud noises would disturb me significantly. I connected emotionally with other people and wanted to go into counseling from a very young age. I eventually came to the conclusion though that working daily with the emotionally distressed would wear me down too quickly. I also was highly distractable and in attentive in school. In a college psychology class, I concluded I had "over active dendrites." My nervous system was obviously more sensitive than average. When I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia in my early 20s, I was certain that there was a connection between my chronic pain and ADHD tendencies, but at the time I could find no information relating the two. Now if you Google the two conditions, you can find that I'm not the only one to see a connection.

The Highly Sensitive Person

When I was given a book on the highly sensitive child, I found myself seeing my own experiences in quite detail. When taking the test on Elaine Aron's website, there is no denying that I meet the vast majority of the characteristics described. However, when I read things aimed at highly sensitive people, I don't always connect. This is because I am not only highly sensitive, but also highly excitable.

While highly sensitive people have a finely tuned perception system and pick up things that an average person may not, a highly excitable person has a heightened ability to both perceive and respond to stimuli. The response part can make us prone to reactivity. A highly reactive person can look like the complete opposite of a highly sensitive person, even if they posses many of the traits of being highly sensitive.The concept of high excitability (or overexcitability) was introduced by Kazimierz Dabrowski, who said there are 5 types of excitabilities: intellectual, imaginational, emotional, sensual (of the senses), and psychomotor (physical movement).  The excitabilities most often associated with the highly sensitive are emotional and sensual.  Those with psychomotor excitability probably look the least typical of HSPs.

Misconceptions About HSPs

I believe part of the challenge I have with much of the literature out there on Highly Sensitive People, is that they often associate characteristics that many HSPs develop to protect their highly sensitive traits as traits of being an HSP in and of themselves. Here are some commonly believed misconceptions about HSPs:

All HSPs are introverted.

This is the most commonly discussed assumption. Since HSPs are easily overstimulated and highly empathetic, it is understandable that most would need a lot of alone time to recover. It is estimated that 70-75% of HSPs are introverted, so it is true to say that the majority are. However, for the other 25-30% of us, there is often a challenge between getting adequate down time and also getting enough socialization. I myself fit the definition of an extrovert to a T. I am actually drained by too much alone time and energized by positive social interactions. So for me, it's more a matter of avoiding draining social interactions with negative people than avoiding interactions all together.

HSPs avoid high stimulation.

Again, it would make sense that if your easily overstimulated you would avoid excess stimulation. There is a small subset of the HSP population who are also high sensation seekers (HSS).  If you are an HSS, you thrive on novel situations. This might involve some degree of risk taking, but mostly it means you enjoy variety. My intellectual excitability helps me to enjoy novelty and challenge.  I have learned that some routines are necessary to function well in day to day living, but routine is not something that comes naturally to me. I am often restless and fear missing out on things. This makes it difficult to take the time I need for more solitary things I know I need to recoup.

All HSPs are never impulsive.

One of the things often noted about HSPs is that they have a strong "pause to check" characteristic.  In one article I remember reading about sensation seeking HSPs, they noted that the opposite of highly sensitive was not high sensation seeking, but impulsivity instead. I highly disagree with this notion.  I believe that the opposite of highly sensitive is a low level of perception, or high level of screening out sensory information.  Having many ADHD type traits myself including psychomotor excitability, I can often speak impulsively or do things without thinking.  Though I do believe my sensitivity makes me more cautious than I would be otherwise.

If you are highly sensitive, you must be fragile.

This is also true of what many think of people with Fibromyalgia.  I am here to tell you that it is BS.  Having been through natural childbirth, I can tell you with all certainty that, while I have a very low pain threshold, I have an extremely high pain tolerance.  This means that little things make me uncomfortable, and feel painful quickly, but I can deal with a very large level of pain.  As a child, I learned to tune things out, or things would bother me way too much.  As I lost touch with my body, it screamed back at me through chronic pain.  I've been working for 15 years or so to connect with my body signals, and only in the last few years have I really had much success with it.

We are all unique

These are just examples from my own life of how I see sensitivity and excitabiity at play.  Everyone is different and there is no one size fits all approach. We each have our own unique powers that make us who we are.  If you think you might be highly sensitive or excitable, you can take my free Find Your Superpower mini lesson and use your strengths to do great things!