People in Boxes – Myself, Labeled Again

In the past, I’ve caused some serious grief by applying labels to myself or others when I’ve been afraid or too lazy to go deep and really experience the moment. So now, when an especially challenging moment presents itself, I am consciously taking myself off autopilot… instead of acting or reacting or avoiding, I’m simply trying to BE. I’m resisting the urge to put a nice neat label on myself, others or even something as simple as an apple… or as complicated as love. But you know how it is, People put People in Boxes – Myself, Labeled Again!

I read an interesting idea that labeling only serves us as far as understanding the labeled person or thing in the simplest context. Once the label becomes ingrained, our mind closes and we lose our connection with whatever it is we’re labeling. And for me it’s the connection with myself, others and even objects that make life exciting, rewarding, worth the while…

But at the beginning of something, labels can come in really handy. For instance, I had this neighbor who was mad-scientist smart and as wired as the day is long. It was painfully obvious to everyone in the neighborhood that he had extreme ADHD. The strange part about it was, this never occurred to HIM. I was talking with him at a party once and he told he had been diagnosed ADHD – he was so excited because this discovery solved a mystery and gave him a deeper understanding and acceptance of who he is.

About a month ago, I was drawn to this strange and fascinating book about energy tools that’s been lying around the house for at least five years. I can’t even begin to describe what the book is about, but I found the whole thing very interesting and useful – until I got to one small section of about three paragraphs – and then I made a discovery that was no less exciting than that of my mad scientist neighbor. It described me so accurately that a curtain instantly lifted, revealing something about me that is so obvious, yet something that I never pieced together.

It turns out I’m an HSP. Which is very exciting because I love acronyms. And even more exciting because it’s not a disorder or an ailment. Thank God, because I’m tired of my disorders and ailments and people telling me I can’t. There is no such thing as “I can’t”.

So what is an HSP? A Highly Sensitive Person. I’m not kidding. It’s real. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 20% of the population of humans (and primates, and dogs and houseflies…) is highly sensitive.

HSP’s are just that: HIGHLY SENSITIVE. Sensitive not only to loud sounds, strong smells, bright lights, and crowds… but sensitive to subtleties such as others’ feelings, pressure, and energy. They have a hard time filtering incoming stimulus and creating boundaries, and often become over-stimulated and overwhelmed. It’s like their nerves don’t have as much protective coating as the other 80% of the population; they’re just exposed in their role-playing game. That’s what it is.

This explains what I thought it were merely my idiosyncrasies: nearly jumping out of my skin every time I hear a balloon pop, gagging over the smell of something like fabric softener; being physically affected by others’ moods; becoming overwhelmed in chaotic or highly charged situations; being overcome with emotion when hearing a favorite song or eating an amazing meal. I’ve never dropped acid, but I think I might know what it feels like on a minor level:  Sometimes life feels overwhelmingly brighter, darker, deeper, louder, faster, bigger, more exciting, more painful, more dramatic, funnier, sadder, more bizarre, scarier, more beautiful…

HSPs often suffer from anxiety and depression because their adrenaline is constantly triggered, which erodes serotonin levels in the brain (coincidentally or not, so does alcohol). Interestingly enough, after I emerged from a highly charged period of about 8 months, I had my hormones tested and my adrenaline level was off the chart and my serotonin level barely made it onto the chart. This was before I discovered my ‘sensitive nature’ had a name, and that I need to proactively manage incoming stimulus if I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in a mental institution. After this particular episode of scientific discovery (that I affectionately refer to as my nervous breakdown) it took me a full year to regain my mental and physical health.

It is a relief to have this new understanding of myself. Over the years I’ve been really hard on myself to be – or at least act — less sensitive, believing that my sensitivity was a choice. Now, rather than trying to force myself to ‘toughen up’, I am avoiding getting over-stimulated — and allowing myself to recover when I can’t or don’t want to avoid it. I’m using my new found energy tools to create boundaries and filters, I’m doing yoga as one of the things on my big to-do-list to help me ground and relax, and I’m letting myself off the hook for being a “big baby.”

The best part about this discovery is that it is a GIFT as much as it is a challenge.  It gives my life contrast and depth. It gives me awareness and intuition. Instead of fluctuating between numbing out and getting over-stimulated, I now use my sensitivity to FEEL it all. Like every other growth experience, it is awkward and scary and painful at first, but the more I practice, the better I get at being ME… no vodka (or acid) required.

So, to label or not to label…