New Moon, New Mindset

I’m still not sure if I’m one of those people who believes in astrology or the spirituality of lunar cycles, but I decided to use today’s new moon as an opportunity for change.

I need to reset. A depressive episode a couple of weeks ago left me in some bad habits, and shame has lingered enough to wreak some havoc on my thoughts and behaviors. I want to set some new intentions. I thought it was pretty exciting that I had these thoughts on the same day of a new moon…for those who don’t know, new moons symbolize new beginnings.

I figured I could use the blog as a means of accountability, to hopefully manifest new intentions and habits. So, here we go…

Intentions
~Self-love
~Communication
~Mindfulness
~Inner strength
~Gratitude

Affirmations
~I love you
~I am not my feelings
~My breath is my anchor, my anchor is my breath
~I am capable

Goals/Habits
~Regular sleep schedule; get up/go to bed earlier
~Daily walks
~Regular yoga practice; same time every other day
~Daily meditation practice

I’m ready for this change, I’m welcoming it. We’ve got a President-elect who gives me hope, and I have professional and personal opportunities on the horizon. Let’s go, New Moon. I’m ready.

A Highly Sensitive Activist

Our cultural and political climate has been weighing heavily on me lately. This happens more intensely for me because I am a Highly Sensitive Person, which means my nervous system is on high alert, I pick up on subtleties in my environment, and I feel things on a massive scale.

Sometimes I feel like there are so many injustices happening that I can’t pursue the one that stirs me the most because I feel like it’s the incorrect choice. That I’m prioritizing the wrong crisis. That I can’t be vocal about one issue because there are so many others to be vocal about, too.

The trouble I run into in wanting to be vocal about all of the issues that move me is that I am highly sensitive. As a Highly Sensitive Person, my availability to absorb the crises in our world is limited. When I see or hear these things, my empathy is triggered and the pain that others’ are facing amidst these issues penetrates deep within me. I am still learning the best way to move through that empathic pain in order to break through to the other side. And as much as I want to prioritize all of the injustices I see in the news every day, I also know that I need to prioritize and protect my sensitive brain and nervous system, so that I will have the capacity to tackle more issues in the future. I don’t want my sensitivity to get in the way of my activism, but rather I want my sensitivity to be a catalyst of activism.

An excerpt I just finished in Untamed said this:

“The magic of heartbreak is that each person’s doorbell rings in response to something specific. What rings your bell? Is it racial injustice? Bullying? Animal cruelty? Hunger? War? The environment? Kids with cancer? What is it that affects you so deeply that whenever you encounter it, you feel the need to look away? Look there…The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

Glennon struck a chord with me here. Because there is an issue in particular that rings my doorbell every single day. There is an issue that keeps me up at night and interrupts my daily thoughts. There are images that hurt me so much I almost can’t bear to look at them. There is a crisis that has me brainstorming ways I can draw attention to it so that maybe, somehow, change will happen.

That issue is climate change. Every single day I think about the animals who can’t do anything to prevent themselves and their planet from dying, and grow more and more furious at the human race for causing such destruction. I think about how we can do something to prevent these things, with such simple solutions*, and I feel like I must do something to bring about this change. I must keep these poor animals alive somehow. I must make people feel what it is that I feel—an absolute betrayal of humankind and utter devastation that these animals can do nothing to stop their species from dying out or their environment from getting too hot or their water sources from drying out or their homes from becoming uninhabitable—because if people can put themselves in these creatures’ shoes (or paws/fins/hooves, if you will), surely they will start taking this climate change thing seriously. Right?

I will say that just because I feel the fire burning inside me, calling me to do something about our home that’s dying because of us, doesn’t mean that I don’t care about other extremely important issues. This isn’t an all-or-nothing situation, which I think is why I struggled writing this post (and tackling this issue within me) for so long…I was worried that I was wrong somehow for choosing to act on one injustice while ignoring other crucial issues our country, citizens, and neighbors are facing. But the thing is, I’m not ignoring them. It’s not so black and white.

I am choosing to listen to the call I hear within me (my Knowing, as Glennon Doyle calls it) to try and make a difference for the sake of our planet and its creatures. And while I do that, I will continue to speak out about the other issues that make me feel big things, and do more self-reflection and education on issues I don’t fully understand or may even be contributing to. I will do these things in ways that are healthy and protective of my body and its sensitivity so that I don’t damage my ability to answer the door when someone/something rings the bell.

I’m still figuring out what this looks like. I’m not comfortable not having all of the answers yet. It’s difficult being a Highly Sensitive Person and a perfectionist. I want to be the perfect activist and I can’t. I also recognize that it’s much easier for me to do nothing than to grapple with these things, but I’ve sat in silence for far too long. And, as I’m learning from my brilliant new role model, Glennon Doyle, I can do hard things.


*If you’re interested in learning about the simple changes we can make to save our planet, David Attenborough lists them in his film, A Life on Our Planet, available on Netflix.

Shame, That Cunning Bastard

Earlier today, after frustration over a search for socks snowballed into anger and I sent clothes flying all over our bedroom, my partner came to check on me. I was balled up on the floor, sandwiched between the bed and the wall, and my head was tucked below my knees. Anger, not being something I’m particularly used to yet, had left me feeling humiliated. As my kind and compassionate partner sat next to me rubbing my back, I didn’t want to admit to allowing socks (or lack thereof) to cause such a tidal wave of ferocity in me.

In the past, I wouldn’t have said anything. I would have remained silent and let my emotions consume me, driving away the person I desperately wanted to stay by my side. But see, I had made a promise. A promise to my partner not to shut him out. Not to make him think that my anger or moodiness is directed at him, or the result of anything he did or didn’t do. A promise to communicate.

I’m learning that I default to shutting people out, or shutting down entirely, when I feel intense emotions because of the unawareness my family and I had around my high sensitivity and my emotional needs as a highly sensitive person growing up. So, now that I know that my nervous system feels things much more deeply than the average person, I have to work hard at communicating when I’m feeling big things.

I’m not saying that I’m great at communicating now that I’ve learned all of this and have made this promise to my partner. In fact, I’m generally pretty bad at it. Sometimes, it’s so hard to say what it is I’m thinking or experiencing that it feels like I’m prying my mouth open with a crowbar and reaching down my throat to physically pull the words out. Often I’m speaking so softly that my partner has to ask me to repeat myself.

Today, though, I recognized that I have made some progress. This past week was particularly stressful, and I recalled the moments where I managed to use my words. At first, I wanted to celebrate this. I remembered how often I had kept my mouth shut in my relationships with my parents, friends, and partners in the past, and knew that any step in communicating was a step in the right direction. But quickly, shame piped in (that relentless bastard) and reminded me how far I still have to go. Shame said “How dare you celebrate this skill that you’re only less than mediocre at? You have way too far to go before you can pat yourself on the back.”

At first, I believed it. Shame is cunning, and uses small truths to create big lies. While it’s true that I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what healthy communication looks like in my relationship, it is false that I have to wait until I’ve mastered the skill to acknowledge and celebrate my progress.

And, just because I’m not negating or discounting my success thus far, that doesn’t mean I can let up on the gas pedal. The fact is, I do have a long way to go before my communication is easy and open in those moments of moodiness or anger. But the more I practice it, the easier it will get, and I can celebrate the wins along the way.

Embodied Intimacy

In a homework assignment for a class I took recently, I had to practice abhyanga, or self-message, as a form of embodied intimacy.

You’ve probably heard of intimacy in the context of sex or romance, but intimacy isn’t just another word for sex. If we’re using the latin roots to provide our definition—intimus: innermost; intimare: to make known/familiar—we can understand intimacy to mean “making the innermost aspect of oneself known or familiar.” This can happen in a romantic relationship, yes, but also in friendships or familial relationships as you connect and share with one another.

But rarely do we show ourselves this same level of intimacy. One of the core principles of this course’s curriculum (designed to help those struggling with mental health challenges and eating disorder recovery) is Embodied Intimacy, which is the capacity to appreciate and use the body as a gateway to intimacy.

When I first heard this I was very confused. I could grasp the idea of emotional intimacy, since being an HSP makes me naturally predisposed to self-reflection and personal growth, but my understanding stopped there. As someone with an eating disorder and plenty of body image issues, my mind is historically disconnected from my body. The notion that I could use my body as a vehicle for connecting with myself seemed absurd.

When I was assigned this abhyanga exercise, I was honestly a little embarrassed. I mean, c’mon, I was supposed to undress in a room alone and use oil to massage myself for a significant amount of time?! The instructors of the class mentioned that when they assign this exercise they’re lucky if even a few people actually do it. There’s no denying that being intimate with ourselves is hard! I was proof of that.

I waited until the last possible moment to do the abhyanga, approaching it as something to check off my to-do list. At first, I even turned the TV on in the background. Bob’s Burgers was the perfect way to continue my trend of distracting and avoiding discomfort. I was instructed to use oil and pay special attention to my feet, so, after thoroughly washing my stinky feet, and feeling thoroughly ridiculous, I began.

I started on my left foot, keeping my ears on Bob’s Burgers and my eyes on my massage. When I moved up to my left leg, I noticed that I was using deep pressure, more than I thought I could handle, and my leg felt a lot stronger than I thought it was. I was so used to criticizing my muscles for being weaker than most, I hadn’t even noticed how strong they actually were. Suddenly, I realized there might be something to this exercise, and I turned off the TV.

By the time I reached my right foot, I was having an epiphany. The sole of my foot was calloused and tough, and I couldn’t remember ever intentionally giving my feet any love before doing this exercise. I found myself steeped in gratitude…my feet and legs are so much more capable than I ever give them credit for. They carry me, and have carried me, to so many places without faltering, and usually without my noticing. They have been through so much—from strolling on the beach, to dancing at concerts, to walking into dream jobs—and I never thank them for any of it.

I finally understood: this massage was a gift, my gift to my body.

My love language has always been giving gifts, so why don’t I ever give my body the gifts it so deserves? Despite all of the pain and illness I have faced, my body has continued to keep me alive and protect me. My sensitive nervous system provides my mind with this amazing intuition and empathy…my own superpowers. My hands have allowed me to do the things I am passionate about, like hold a camera or learn a language. My stretch marks are proof of the challenges I have overcome. My eyes help me to read and create and observe the beauty around me. My body is so incredible, always has been and always will be, and it deserves more gifts than I can ever give it. My body is my home.

My two biggest takeaways from my abhyanga practice that I want to make sure I never forget are 1) my body is far more strong and capable than I ever realized, and 2) my body deserves so much more gratitude than it currently receives. I am dedicating, right now, to the internet and to myself that I will spend more time thanking and loving my body. I will spend more time embracing embodied intimacy.

Gratitude is a powerful thing. Love is a powerful thing. It’s time I accept and respect that I am powerful, too.

Conscious Kindness

This time right now that you are writing (or reading) this is for self-compassion. To the readers: perhaps some of these words will resonate with you, perhaps they won’t. Either way, give yourself some grace.

It is okay to take time away from the noise of the world to be with yourself. Allow yourself time to slow down, to recharge, to do whatever it is you need to do. You are just as important as your family, roommates, friends, partner.

It is okay that you accidentally emailed graduate programs from the wrong email address. It’s not the end of the world that you won’t be able to be 100% organized this time around.

It is okay to listen to your body, and even more okay to give it what’s it’s asking for. Ignore your anxiety, it’s just your fear. Fear cannot be trusted. Your body can be trusted.

It is okay to be imperfect. In fact, everyone is (despite some that try their hardest not to be).

It is okay to be unproductive, just as it is okay to be productive. Your work does not define you. It is only one piece, and you don’t have to focus on it all of the time.

It is okay that the Earth is not quiet right now. She is loud because she is teeming with life. Cicadas are buzzing, thunder is booming, cars are whizzing by. You can find the quiet you seek inside of yourself. Breathe. You can find it, I promise.

It is okay that your weight was not as high as you expected when you stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office today. Your mind has been tricking you, showing you that your body has all this extra weight that it doesn’t really have. You are finally at a healthier weight, and so close to your ideal range. You have been working so hard, and I recognize your progress. I am so proud of you. You are beautiful.

It is okay that you are angry. You have stifled anger for so long, and you are allowed to be angry. Find healthy ways to let it out, don’t keep it inside any longer.

It is okay that your dreams have changed since leaving college. Dreams can be fluid and can change over time, and it doesn’t make them less valid. Your dreams matter.

It is okay to be anxious. Do not apologize for the things that make you you. Anxiety is how you cope with an ever-changing world. Breathe.

It is okay that you make mistakes. Mistakes are what make you human. I am deeply sorry for the relationships that have been severed because of these mistakes. I am sorry for the pain your mistakes have caused you. Your mistakes do not define you. You are not a bad person. You are meant to live, to balance and fall down. You are loved. You are love.

It is okay to transform into the person you’ve always wanted to be. It is okay to go against your past, because that part of your story is over, it’s done with. It is okay to choose to be different, even if it’s not what the people who know you expect. If they love you, if they are true friends, they will be okay with it because you’re being YOU.

It is okay to take up space in the world. You are in the universe, just as the universe is in you. To make yourself smaller is to be inauthentic.

You are beautiful. You are powerful. You are worthy.

“The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

On the Mat: Establishing an Imperfect Yoga Practice

Yoga for Perfectionism

My new yoga practice is both consciously and unconsciously challenging my perfectionism. Especially as a beginner in quarantine, without an instructor to show or help me with proper poses, pretty much everything I do is imperfect. And despite knowing this, I still choose to show up on my mat every day and try…I think that’s what yoga is all about…showing up, even when it’s messy or imperfect.

I’ve been struggling with meditation recently because I found I’m not great at the concept of “noticing your thoughts as clouds passing by, without holding onto or judging them.” In the last week I told a friend that rather than observing my thoughts as clouds, I cause a storm of clouds that hover above me and drench me in rain. I’ve been encouraged to treat meditation like a skill that requires practice, just like photography or writing.

On the mat the other day, I was in the middle of a particularly challenging yoga practice that woke up a lot of muscles I don’t normally use. After I transitioned out of a difficult pose back into downward dog, it took me a few breaths to realize I wasn’t holding proper form of this resting pose and was sort of collapsing in on myself because of my tired muscles. When I became aware of my improper form, I simply readjusted, pushing away from the earth and dropping my shoulders. Upon reflection later that day, I realized I had unconsciously done what I always tell myself I’m so bad at in meditation: I noticed my form was wrong, and, without judging myself for getting it wrong, I just readjusted and moved on with the practice. There wasn’t time to linger on my “mistake,” because I breathed into the next pose and was so grounded that I stayed in the present.

Yoga for Body Positivity

Yoga is helping me see my body differently, more than I’ve ever been able to before, and in an entirely new way. We discussed body positivity in my ED treatment program, but it wasn’t until I continued to show up on my mat that I fully grasped the concept.

When my lungs expand and contract, I am grateful that my body is able to keep me alive, most of the time without me even being conscious of it. When I stand in tadasana, or mountain pose, I am grateful that my bones support me as I stand, sit, walk, and go about my life. When I move through different poses, I am grateful to my muscles for allowing me to do the things I love and even the things I don’t, usually with ease and obliviousness. When I lay in savasana, or corpse pose, I am grateful to my body as a whole, for performing so many simultaneous complex functions that allow me to breathe, walk, talk, and think, let alone feel, emote, create, and do the million other things that make me me.

Yoga has given me the beautiful chance to stop criticizing my body for what I perceive as “faults,” and be grateful for just how many things it can do, that I normally never acknowledge.

Yoga for Willfulness

Listen…I am stubborn. My willpower is sub par. When I have a bad day, it is easy for me to pass on the difficult tasks. Lately, I’ve found that the days when I really don’t want to show up on my mat are the days that I notice the most improvement in my mood from the beginning to the end of my practice. And knowing that helps me push past my stubbornness. To show up, even when I desperately do not want to. Because the feeling at the end always trumps the feeling at the beginning. Feeling proud. Accomplished. Inspired.

Yoga for High Sensitivity

One of the benefits of yoga, I’ve found, is its ability to safely and gently connect the body and the mind. One of the skills I am currently developing is interoception, or the ability to sense what is happening inside the body at any given time, and acting on that awareness.

Lately, my HSP trait has felt like a foghorn, glaringly obvious and isolating me from everyone around me. On a regular basis people point out my self-awareness or my natural ability to self-reflect, and I’m left thinking Does nobody else think about themselves this way? When I asked this question to my therapist this week she smiled and shook her head, “Nope.” It’s funny how much I continue to learn about this trait and how it separates me from everyone else, as I’ve always felt like an outcast, and now I’m finally understanding why.

However, my natural tendency to be self-reflective has helped me in my yoga practice. Yoga is all about inner-awareness and this interoception, so as I allow my breathe to lead my movement on my mat, I feel more attuned to my body and its needs than I’ve ever been before. This practice helped me be honest with myself about my meal plan; being more aware of what my body was telling me helped me recognize hunger cues I may not have otherwise been aware of. With a slight adjustment, I now feel back on track and my body thanks me!

Yoga for Radical Acceptance

I am a highly sensitive person with multiple chronic and mental illnesses. I am in recovery from a painful, consuming eating disorder. I experience PTSD from my chronic illness and subsequent anxiety. All of these facets are a part of what makes me me. Denying them or being angry with them won’t make them any less true. I am in a period of transition and acceptance of the shitty things that have happened to me. I’ve realized that holding onto anger or resentment about these things only cripples me further and keeps me in a place of stuckness. If I can’t embrace my body for all of its intricacies, talents, and flaws, how can I embrace a true yoga practice? Radical Acceptance is a skill I learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and it’s never made more sense to me than it does when I’m sitting on my yoga mat, grateful for what my body can do for me.

Resources that Helped Me:

  • “I Am Maris” — a documentary on Netflix about a teenager who uses yoga as a part of recovery from an eating disorder
  • Eat Breathe Thrive — a nonprofit founded to prevent and help individuals overcome eating disorders through community, mindfulness, and yoga
    • Eat Breathe Thrive’s “Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery” course
  • Yoga with Adriene — a YouTube Yogi whose channel offers yoga videos for everyone and everything
  • Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice — a book by Baron Baptiste that offers up excellent tools to help yogis show up, both on and off the mat

What Frozen II Taught Me About Being Highly Sensitive

Who wants to talk about Frozen?! I know I do. I’m sincerely hoping you all have seen both the original and the sequel of this beloved Disney film because I will be discussing SPOILERS! If you haven’t seen it, go watch it right now, I’ll sit right here and wait…

….wasn’t it awesome?! Okay, moving forward:

In my last therapy session, I learned something new about myself (which I’m always a fan of). I learned that I am what you would call an “HSP,” or, a Highly Sensitive Person. This means that I have a highly sensitive nervous system— a nervous system designed to notice subtleties in the environment— and as a result am more sensitive, empathic, and impressionable than most people. According to Elaine Aron, the psychotherapist and author who pioneered our understanding of high sensitivity, being an HSP is a genetic personality trait (rather than a disorder that can be diagnosed and treated or cured) that affects 20% of the population. HSPs process information differently than most, and we are more easily overwhelmed by intense levels of stimulation.

When I first heard that I am highly sensitive, I was disheartened. Wasn’t being labeled as “sensitive” a bad thing? I was familiar with criticisms like “Stop being so sensitive,” or “You’re too emotional,” or “What are you so afraid of?” In situations with heavy sensory stimulation (such as the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, watching a TV show with loud music and strobing lights, or smelling really strong scents) I had experienced anxiety or panic attacks. Watching horror movies (which didn’t happen often) made me physically ill. And if a friend of mine (even if they lived clear across the country) told me they weren’t feeling well, suddenly I started experiencing similar symptoms. All of these things told me that being highly sensitive was nothing to celebrate.

Do you remember in the beginning of Frozen, Elsa is taught to stifle her magic so that she wouldn’t hurt anyone? That “conceal don’t feel” mentality is exactly how I viewed my high sensitivity. It either seemed to make people uncomfortable or it was implied that I was wrong somehow for feeling things more largely than everyone else. So, I put my metaphorical gloves on and only expressed myself in my art or to the people I felt safe with.

Tapestry GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

As I meandered through life, my anxiety continued to grow and fester inside of me, much like Elsa’s magic. When my high sensitivity inevitably made itself known, usually through my anxiety, I was reminded of the reaction Elsa gets when her magic scares the residents of her kingdom, forcing her to flee into the wilderness. There, she is free to use her gift freely, and we see that she has exceptional, and beautiful power; building an ice castle for herself and transforming her physical appearance into the gorgeous Ice Queen that we have come to love.

My “Let it Go” moment came in my last therapy session, when I learned that stifling my high sensitivity is only doing more harm than good. Any time I felt my body giving my a cue that I was being too overstimulated, I shoved it down. I told myself that I would be seen as weak or a failure if I paused that loud, strobing movie, or put down that triggering book, or chose something else to eat that didn’t taste or smell so strong. My therapist assured me that by embracing my sensitivity, and listening to the cues my body is giving me, my anxiety will decrease and my quality of life will improve tremendously. When I mentioned that acting on these cues makes me feel like a failure, she asked “Do people who are failures work to decrease their anxiety and take care of themselves?” What do you think my answer was? She then gave me resources to explore so that I may continue learning about what it means to be an HSP, and how I can repurpose the word “sensitive” so that it does not have a negative connotation.

Since then, I have learned that being an HSP is not a choice or an illness, but rather a genetic trait, just like having blue eyes or being tall. Sound familiar? No matter how much Elsa tries, she can’t will away her magic; it is a part of her, and trying to contain it is useless. When I look at my sensitivity that way, I realize that being an HSP may seem negative to outsiders, but it is, in fact, a gift that, when understood, helps me approach the world in a beautiful way.

Now that I have these resources, I’ve started digging into what it means to be an HSP, and how I can find purpose and beauty in it. Each book or website I visited seem to call out to me, like the voice that calls to Elsa in Frozen II. I learned that high sensitivity is not the same as shyness or introversion; in fact, 30% of HSPs are extroverted! (I am a part of that 30%!) I learned that HSPs who try to live by the same operating system of non-HSPs, are more likely to develop chronic illnesses. If you’ve read the blog before, you know that I have dealt with chronic illnesses since I was young. Also, an important fact: highly sensitive nervous systems affect both men and women equally, but because of our heavily dominant culture, men are discouraged from expressing their sensitivity. (These facts I’ve listed came from Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person’s Workbook.”) Every fact or anecdote brought me closer and closer to my own Ahtohallan; the river of truth that Elsa searches for throughout most of the sequel.

Along the way, I met some other HSPs— friends and strangers alike, that shared in my feelings and experiences— much like how Elsa meets the other four spirits (Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth) on her journey of self-discovery.

My journey is far from over, but in learning all of this, Elsa’s final song “Show Yourself” started to resonate deeply with me. This is the moment in the movie where Elsa learns that she had the ability to be an unstoppable force of nature inside her all along. It took learning about herself and the past to unlock the full extent of her magic inside her. She always knew she was special, but didn’t know she could use the special part of herself for good, because in the past, it’s always exposed itself negatively.

To any reader out there who has seen themselves in this post, I hope what you take away, if nothing else, is the idea that being highly sensitive may seem negative to outsiders, but it is actually a beautiful gift. I am still learning about the facets of this gift, but I know that— just like the spirit, Elsa— there is purpose to being highly sensitive. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a trait that continues to be passed down (that affects 20% of our current population).

Show yourself. It’s time.

elsaedit | Tumblr

Did this article resonate with you? Do you think you might be an HSP? Check out this Facebook group for Highly Sensitive People, founded by the website “Highly Sensitive Refuge,” found here. I’d also love to hear from you, if you feel like sharing your own story! Drop me a line on my Contact page…perhaps this site can provide a sense of community to the HSPs I’m sure I already know.