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.

through her eyes

This morning I woke up at 4am to get the chance to have my favorite portrait photographer— Julia Trotti— edit one of my photos on her YouTube live stream. She ended up editing my submission around 6am, and while I was utterly exhausted, it was so exciting to see her process. I realized what I loved most about it was how her edit was drastically different than mine.

This is the photo I submitted to be edited by Julia Trotti, with my original edits.

One of my favorite things about photography is that there will never be the same two photographers. Everyone has a different perspective to offer; even among people you are closest to or have the most in common with, everyone sees the world differently. I remember in the first week of my freshman Cultural Anthropology course (one of the “dreaded” general education classes I was required to take in college) we learned the definition of “worldview.” I have never forgotten this word or this concept. Everyone sees the world through their own specific lens, because everyone has different backgrounds/personalities/home lives/home locations/opinions/beliefs/culture/values/etc. Some people are color blind and only see the world in monochrome. Some grew up with only one parent in their home. Some grew up in a generic, middle class, suburban subdivision. Some got their GED. Some speak multiple languages. Some were adopted. All of these things, whether based on their external environment or their biology, impact someone’s worldview.

This nature vs nurture concept plays a huge role in someone’s worldview. Not one person is the same. It’s intriguing if you think about it. Even my partner, who shares similar reactions to my own when watching a favorite TV show or movie, is still having a different experience while watching it than I am. I love that idea. Maybe it’s why I love photography so much. I can capture a moment and share it with the world, editing the image to try and help you see it how I do, and you will still see a different photo than me. You will have your own reaction or experience looking at my photo than your mom will. Or your spouse. Or your neighbor.

Screen grab of Julia Trotti’s live stream and her final edit on the same photo I shared above. Notice the differences?

Art is so subjective. As I told my partner earlier today: If you give 10 photographers the same photo to edit, you will end up with 10 very different photos. That is the beauty of art. What’s more, you can carry this concept over to the state of our world right now, and maybe it will show you how “essential” means something different to everyone, or why some people are feeling particularly tense right now while others are experiencing relief or joy in this time of isolation. Perspective matters.

Keep creating, friends. This is a scary time; allow your emotions to bleed into your art. I want to see how you see the world. Let’s allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be raw and unapologetic. Creativity breeds authenticity and vice versa. No time like quarantine to explore yourself, your perspective, and perhaps seek to understand the perspective of others.

Continue reading

2020 Vision

I’m stepping into this new year- into this new decade- feeling a sense of calm and clarity. I’ve realized that I finally have some semblance of a grasp on my health, both physical and mental. I was planning on diving into what led me to this eye-opening moment in my life, but decided to save it for a future post. Got to keep you wanting more, I suppose. Instead, I will say this:

I have never shied away from discussing my mental illnesses on this blog. And I’m not about to start now. 2020 will be the year I embrace the role of advocate, and start being more proactive about trying to help others who struggle with their mental health like I do. I have many goals for the new year. I aim to reclaim my identity as an artist, and embrace my creativity, however messy or even lackluster it may be at times. I aim to allow my individuality to continue to exist while I grow alongside another human, my partner, and recognize that I can do both at the same time. I aim to push myself to be the best version of me that I can be. I aim to pursue my passions, especially the new ones that terrify me. And I aim to work harder, and share more of my journey here with all of you.

When I created this blog during treatment for my eating disorder, I awakened part of myself I never knew I needed. Writing on this website helped me in ways I never imagined, and taught me a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be. So, here we are in a new year and a new decade, and I’ve decided not to hold myself back. To acknowledge that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, and that sometimes pursuing my dreams and pushing myself through depression and anxiety will be hard as hell. But I will continue to move forward. I will continue to pursue my dreams, be ambitious, write freely, and try not to judge myself too harshly along the way. I hope you will join me for the adventures.

Happy New Year, all. Congratulations on making it this far. Let’s keep going.

Just Your Friendly Neighborhood Reminder that Gender is a Construct

Do you feel like binding your breasts today? Cuz I do.

What about painting your toenails? Me, too!

This is just a friendly PSA that gender is fluid, and just because society tells you that men have to dress like men and women have to dress like women, you don’t have to abide by that.

Wear heels, or boxers, or chest binders (please be safe), or makeup, no matter your gender identity! Wear what makes you feel comfortable and confident.

I need to hear this every so often, and I believe you should, too.

Love always,

K

Introducing #DBTDay

Hello everyone!

I’ve fallen off the wagon of my #MentalHealthMonday posts, so I decided to revamp that, and add something new!

Once a week, I will explore a DBT skill on the blog! For those who don’t know, DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and is used by many treatment centers and therapists across the country. It is a cognitive behavior therapy developed by the extraordinary Marsha Linehan, Ph.D.. As its name suggests, DBT is focused on dialectics; balancing opposites, and using “both-and” ways of thinking rather than “either-or.”

There are four sections of DBT: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Each section offers unique skills to help you stay in the present moment, tolerate stressful situations (without making things any worse), manage intense emotions, and communicate effectively in relationships.

In an effort to raise awareness about DBT, and increase my own personal use of the skills, I will strive to post about one skill per week. If anyone has heard of DBT and would like to request a particular skill, or if you are interested in any of the four models mentioned above, just send me an email from my Contact page.

I can’t wait to refresh my memory of DBT; these are skills that saved my life. I hope they will have some effect on you, too.

Intuition: My Sixth Sense

I recently started a new job that I expected to love. I ended up quitting after two days of orientation.

I originally wasn’t going to blog about this; I felt incredible shame and embarrassment and I didn’t want anyone to know that I had failed.

But now that I have done some reflecting, I don’t believe I failed at all. In fact, what I really did was trust my gut and made the right decision. And there’s hope on the job front! Keep reading to learn more…

 

I have had multiple therapists tell me that I have a great sense of self, and a great intuition. This week, I was able to use that intuition in a sticky situation. I started off being very excited about this job; I had an idea of what it would be like, and I was thrilled to start. However, when I did, I learned things about the hospital that sounded like they would push me to an unhealthy place. On my second day, I worried if I had made the right decision. The hospital seemed intense, and I was slowly feeling myself breakdown under the stress of it all. On my lunch break I had a full-fledged meltdown.

I managed to stick around for the rest of the day, all the while convinced I would not be returning once I left through the automatic doors that evening. I was a wreck that night and the following morning. After turning it over and over in my head, talking to my parents and one of my best friends about it, I decided not to return to work.

I was in agony, convinced I had failed and that no one was going to take me seriously in the mental health field anymore. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to go back to that place, but devastated that I lost out on an opportunity to grow in this field.

A day after I quit, I started thinking about opportunities elsewhere. And then I felt guilty for thinking those things. Who was I to start looking for another job, when I had just quit a perfectly good job? I started worrying about what other people would think, especially after my very public announcement of my new job. I knew I had a shot of interviewing at another hospital for a similar position, but I didn’t want people to think I was just going to quit that job, too, or not be able to hack it in a similar environment.

What I explored in therapy, today, however, is that doubt is the main thing that gets in my way. My fear of what people think stops me from doing great things. I think this other position will be a much better fit for me, and so I was able to set up an interview. After session today I am feeling so much more positive and confident in my ability to nail this interview and rock this new job. Much more comfortable than I was at the old job.

I’m trusting my gut.

My intuition has never led me astray before. I feel as though this is a “when one door closes, somewhere a window opens” thing. The job I left was not a good match for me, and I had an uneasy feeling going in. But this new potential opportunity feels totally different to me. So I’m running at it, with open arms.

My interview is next week…wish me luck!

ANNOUNCEMENTS & EXPOSURES!

Hello beautiful people!

Today was a very big day for me! A lot of people saw I made multiple Instagram Live videos to share some exciting announcements that I’ve got for y’all! I figured folks who don’t have Instagram would want to hear the news, too, so here you go!

First of all, drumroll…

I’m starting a podcast!

Yes, you read that correctly! I’m putting myself out there and am starting a podcast that will also be titled Putting Down the Rope. I plan on branching off of this blog and diving more into mental health and its relationship to art. I will be interviewing guests, accepting stories from folks who would prefer to remain anonymous (and I will read the stories on the podcast), and featuring music/poetry/writing/art in any auditory medium (and will even link to visual art in the description of the podcast).

If you would like to be involved, PLEASE send me an email at PuttingDownTheRope@gmail.com. I will always be available to chat, bounce ideas around, and hear your story. This podcast is about you as much as it is about me.

Now, second of all…

I am raising money to fund my new project that merges mental health awareness with art! You can see the inspiration for my project here.

Basically, I want to show others that art can be used as a coping skill for things like self harm, poor body image, recovery from eating disorders or addictions, and beyond. The concept is that my subjects paint their bodies on parts of themselves they find the most vulnerable, or parts of themselves they struggle with. For me, it was self-harm. I knew using paint would be a more effective skill than actually self harming, and it actually had a better result in the long run.

My overall goal is to show others that they are seen, they are beautiful– because I think folks with mental illnesses often get overlooked or don’t think they’re special or beautiful– and above all, they are not alone. 

The problem is, I currently don’t have the key ingredient to this project: a camera!

So, I started a GoFundMe! My anxiety was very much telling me not to publish that, but here it is. I need help to make this dream a reality. I plan on buying a super cheap DSLR and the lens my friend recommended for portraits. I believe wholeheartedly in this project, and I think it will take off.

I would so appreciate any donation you can give. You can find the link at https://www.gofundme.com/cameraphoto-series.

Thirdly…

I made today’s Instagram live videos an added exposure and I played a song I recorded on live video. Un-flippin’-real.

Those who know me are very aware that I hate singing in public, or in front of anyone, really. Yet, today, I did the thing I have been most terrified of for a many, many years now. And it feels awesome. Just had to share that with the blog. 🙂 #WarriorPrincess

Lastly…

I’ve had some major mental health setbacks lately. And here I am, coming back swinging. I am so excited about life and what life has to offer, and I want to inspire others to find that spark, that zest for life, too!

I’m telling you, when you put down that rope, the world opens up. I can’t wait to share all that will follow.

Endless love to all!

K

Allowing Failure

“You become a writer by writing, there is no other way. So, do it. Do it more. Do it better. Fail. Fail better.” -Margaret Atwood

I haven’t been blogging for a while because I’m working on a larger project in my free time. It’s time I put myself out there and allow myself to fail.

This is the largest project I’ve ever worked on and it’s pretty daunting and hugely exhilarating. I hope to share it with you eventually.

As always, thanks for reading.

-K

judgment police

I’ve been having judgments lately about myself, and my poetry, in particular. Nothing seems to measure up to the standards I have set for myself. The content– what I have to say– doesn’t seem worthy of publication. In fact, I believe it only encourages judgments from others.

The last poem I wrote, unnamed 1.49, was one that I have many judgments about. Specifically, the topic: someone’s hands. I don’t know what it is about hands that I love so much, but I wanted to try and write about it. After all, the blog is all about me challenging my perfectionism. So, I posted it. And as soon as I did, I started beating myself up.

But the thing is, that’s not what art is about. It’s not out there for the sole purpose of being judged by others. It’s for you, the creator, the artist.

I don’t know if that poem was any good. I do know two things, however: that it came from me, which makes it the right thing to post here, and that it is imperfect. Nothing is perfect.

I’m going to challenge myself more and not call the judgment police each time I have an idea that I want to explore in my writing. This blog is for me, not you. I’m just privileged you would want to come on this crazy ride with me.

So, thanks for reading and please be sure to challenge perfectionism in your own life!