Inhale Love, Exhale Love

During Savasana, the final resting pose of my yoga practice last night, I found myself in a difficult meditation.

Typically, I spend the start of this pose expressing my gratitude for my body and for the earth for holding and supporting. I inhale love from the universe, and exhale love for the universe. Hippie stuff for some, sure, but this time in Savasana has allowed me to be grateful to my body and this planet for all that they have give me. It’s when I feel most connected to Earth and everything on it.

Last night, however, I inhaled gratitude for the earth, and exhaled an apology. Again and again, with every breath: inhale, Thank you for what you have given me, exhale, I am so sorry that we’re killing you.

I spent yesterday afternoon watching a documentary about coral bleaching. It was devastating. I learned that the temperature of the ocean is rising—much like how we get a fever—except the ocean’s fever won’t go down. An entire ecosystem is being destroyed, and it’s solely because of the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere. The corals (and the tiny plants inside them) don’t know how to handle this temperature change, so the plants stop photosynthesizing and the corals starve. Then the fish that feed on these corals starve.

So, here I am on my yoga mat, feeling such a profound connection to the world I am in, and I feel indescribably sad for being part of the population that’s killing the planet I call home. All I can do is apologize and radiate all the love I can from this small mat in a small neighborhood in a city in Tennessee.

And you know what? That’s all I could do in that moment. When I’m on my mat, I can’t try to solve the crisis of climate change lying in Savasana. I can commit to getting off my mat later and doing all I can to educate and advocate for the amazing world I’ve become more in touch with thanks to my yoga practice. But lying there in that final resting pose, I can simply breathe in love (because, amazingly, there is still love shining on despite the devastation) and breathe out love.

One of my main meditations I use during yoga is this: “The Universe is in me, just as I am in the Universe.” This meditation has kept me from falling out of Tree pose, or giving up when my muscles quiver during Warrior I. I am grateful to my practice for enlightening me, and for grounding me in the universe and this beautiful connector called Earth.

Responding to Fear with Curiosity

As difficult as this time in quarantine has been—with the isolation, civil unrest, and anxiety sprouted from seeds of uncertainty—it has also been a beautiful period of growth.

I’m not the only one of my friends who have expressed gratitude for this time, which isn’t to discredit the terror and panic others are feeling and that I have also experienced. But for many who were blessed with unemployment benefits, usually (and sadly) greater than their typical paycheck, unemployment has been a blessing in disguise. It has allowed us to take a break from the “Rise and Grind” hustle culture that dominates this country. A culture that measures success by overwork and exhaustion, where giving 100% is not good enough or expected.

This unexpected break has also given me the opportunity to remove myself from the day-to-day comparisons of others, and I’m finally learning to love myself for who I am. I’ve been able to reflect on my perception of myself, and I’ve noticed that being away from most people for all these months has shrunk the frequency of my own criticisms of my perceived shortcomings. Rather than spending my days focused on what I lack, I’m focused on what I have, and how I can continue to utilize my gifts, skills, and talent on things that make me happy.

A match has been lit within me in the past six months, and has developed into a roaring fire of curiosity and excitement to learn what else I am capable of. I’ve already grown more than I ever expected to, and fear tells me I have more power to gain, more skills to learn, more creativity to expand. Fear means it’s time to once again step out of my comfort zone to create something bigger and better.

Off the Grid

In May, I made a decision I never thought I would: I left social media.

I was a prime example of a social media addict. I began and ended each day on either Instagram or Facebook, couldn’t go through a day without displaying certain tasks or activities, and (usually subconsciously) compared my life and feed with my friends and followers.

At the beginning of quarantine, I offered my services as a photographer to a small business I believed in and wanted to be a part of. I had seen a friend of mine doing the exact same thing for this company, and wanted to be a part of it. I had never attempted product photography before, and my life in quarantine was begging for change and a challenge. Soon, I was testing the limits of my photography, and at first I had a lot of fun. It gave variety to my typically monotonous days stuck at home, and I felt pride when my photos showed up on the company’s socials.

Soon, however, I began the evil game of comparing my work to my friend’s, whose photos were also being featured on the company’s feed. Suddenly, what had once been fun and new, became frustrating and consuming. I spent hours a day focused on what I was doing wrong, how many likes my posts were getting compared to my friend’s and other photographers, and my work was no longer gratifying, but instead became soul-crushing. Nothing I did was good enough. I realized my worth had become tied up in the number of views my Instagram story had, or the number of likes my posts would get.

When my work with the company came to an end, I made what I had previously thought of as an impossible decision, and left Instagram and Facebook, cold turkey. At first, I thought I could simply make strict boundaries for myself around social media, but when I noticed how habitual opening these apps on my phone had become—I would close out of Instagram, lock my phone, and 30 seconds later unlocked it, scrolled over to Instagram, and tapped the icon—I knew boundaries weren’t going to work for me. I didn’t even realize I had done this until I noticed I was scrolling past the same photos or stories I had just seen a minute before. I had a problem.

So, despite the fear that my life wouldn’t be as interesting or that I would lose all my friends (let’s just use Urban Dictionary’s word for this feeling: FOMO), I deleted both the Facebook and Instagram apps off of my phone and iPad entirely. The first day was a challenge, and in the first week of removing the apps, I found my thumb flitting over to the apps that had replaced them, completely by rote.

Before long, though, I stopped thinking about my lack of internet presence. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché for a reason. Without the consumption of social media, my days were suddenly free, and I used this time to my advantage. Suddenly, journals that usually took me months to fill, were being filled within the span of three or four weeks. In therapy, I learned more about myself and spent the week after each session reflecting, dissecting, and growing. I signed up for a class on Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery, determined to spent whatever time I had left in quarantine focused on my recovery. I rekindled my love of reading and writing, giving myself new opportunities to expand my recovery repertoire. I noticed that there was significant overlap in what I was discovering in therapy, learning in my yoga class, and reading in new books. My mind was finally reconnecting with my body, my anxiety and post-traumatic stress began tapering down significantly for the first time in my life, and my personality and passions were finally able to flourish.

This time away from social media has clarified my values; these core beliefs I’ve always held closely to my heart feel out of balance when held next to social media. Particularly, my value of authenticity feels almost discredited when I look back at my presence on Instagram. I spent so much of my life performing, seeking out opportune moments to showcase daily activities. No matter how mundane, with the right filter, anything looked good online. I had succumbed to a performative lifestyle, completely oblivious. But upon reflection very recently, I was shocked to discover how quick I had been to abandon my number one core value. After all, you can’t live completely authentically if you’re picking and choosing what parts of your life are best broadcasted, especially if those parts are falsified even to a fraction of a degree.

In my newfound yoga practice—something I’ve worked at making completely mine, without comparing each day’s practice to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, or to my teachers’ or fellow students’—I’ve cultivated authenticity once again. In classes and books, I’ve gained an understanding of what yoga truly is, separated from the diet culture and unfair beauty standards that dominate the internet. I’ve let go of the expectation to be strong, flexible, or full of stamina, and step on my mat each day as a new person, ready to hone my connection between mind and body, and cultivate more self-awareness. If I were still on social media, I’m confident I would’ve given up my practice already, frustrated by what my body or practice lacks compared to other Insta-Yogis. I would’ve ignored the entire purpose of yoga, focused more on obtaining views or likes on pictures of my feet on my mat (probably pictures taken without committing to spending any real time practicing the yoga itself). I would’ve continued to trick myself into believing that sharing my “life” was, in fact, authentic, and the anxiety following inevitable comparisons would’ve continued eating me alive.

Last week, I turned down a job that did not serve my values. While the uncertainty of the future can be scary, I feel empowered after making the decision to live in accordance with my values. It’s been a long time since I’ve consciously made such a choice, and when I experience doubt, I am able to remind myself that I don’t have to opt for choices that force me to be someone I’m not, or to tolerate behavior that I personally would never, in good conscious, inact.

Yet, above all, I believe what my time away from social media has given me is the profound beauty of presence. I spend less and less time each day worrying about the future, or dwelling on past choices. Now, I focus on the current day, and my depression and anxiety have very nearly disappeared. I don’t even remember the last time I had a panic attack or a depressive episode.

In a shocking twist in the narrative of my life, I’ve concluded that I may never go back to social media. If I do, it definitely won’t be in the same way it was before. The real shocker? I’m perfectly fine with this. I would rather choose a life that is entirely mine, without hoping or worrying that I’m not presenting the “perfect” side of myself (hint: it doesn’t exist) to people hidden behind a screen name on the internet.

From here on out, I am committed to authenticity. To do only what serves me. To defy expectations. To live my life, because it does not belong to anyone else.

The Only Relationship That Will Save You

I was watching an interview today with Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat Pray Love” and “Big Magic,” among other things. In this interview she handed me a big, shiny, gold key that unlocked a door I’ve pounded on, gimmied, and tried to pry open for many many years. Beyond the door is someone to be with me, to hold me, to listen to me throughout all of my struggles, 100% of the time, without backing down or running away in fear.

This is a hefty task; I battle with my mind every single day, in a war that began before I retained fully formed memories. Growing up a self-proclaimed misfit, I’ve craved a companion to see me through my lowest, and highest moments. From middle school to college, I sought out friendships and relationships to make me feel less alone. In adulthood, as much as I wished I wasn’t, I constantly hoped for a partner who would really see me, and who wouldn’t scare easily when my depression, anxiety, and eating disorder inevitably made themselves known. Eventually, in each city I moved to, I made friends who didn’t shy away from my authentic self, but alas, the door remained closed.

When I suddenly found myself in a partnership with someone who understood me like no one ever had, I thought I had finally unlocked the door easily, as if in my sleep or when I wasn’t paying attention or multitasking. To this day, this wonderful man has never run away or made me feel less than for all the commotion my brain has caused. He has seen me through hospitalizations, relapses of self-harm, constant body-stealing panic attacks, chronic pain, mistakes, lapses in judgment, and so much more. He has also seen me through my joys, my successes, my creations, my revelations. Even as a boy-crazy teenager, I never thought I would get lucky enough to be wanted and loved by someone like him.

Even so, I realized with shock and disappointment that I was still on the other side of this stubborn, obstinate door. After all, no one can truly be there for you 24/7…eventually people have to take a pee break, go to work, make dinner, walk the dog, do the laundry. And in those moments, there you are again, alone with your mind. Or so I thought.

Liz Gilbert, this tremendous woman, among many other nuggets of wisdom, creativity, and familiarity, gave me the key to see (FINALLY!) who was on the other side of the damn door. Now, I will hand you the key, as well. Let’s open it together.

Love.

Love is on the other side of the door. Love is the one who will be your companion, forever. And I really do mean forever. Love will sit with you, will listen to you gripe, sob, laugh, scream, whimper. Love will hear you say “I’m not good enough,” “I am a failure,” “I can’t do this.” Love will also be there when you shout “I am enough!” “I am beautiful!” “I am powerful!”

No human being will ever be able to show up for you every single time you need a hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on. Not your partner, not your best friend, not your spouse, not even your therapist. Love will. I promise you.

Love will never be able to solve all of your problems, or tell you what decisions to make. But Love will always be there with you, if you let her.

Open the door to Love. Learn to embrace Love, to allow Love to fill you up, to hear everything you have to say, no matter how dark or twisted you may think your thoughts are. Because Love will never run away.

I am learning, slowly, to give Love a chance. To allow her to be there for me when am low. To give my partner a break (though he never asks for one). Love has shown me aspects of myself I’ve never seen. Love has offered forgiveness and rest in places I’ve never considered or thought possible. Love has wrapped me in her arms, and again and again reminded me that she will never leave my side.

Even if you can’t believe it, Love will be there for you, too. If you look for her, Love will always be there. Maybe you haven’t even found the door yet. But when you do, she’ll be there, waiting for you to open it.

Willfulness into Willingness

I was reluctant to sit down at my computer to write today. I made a goal to commit more to challenging my perfectionism here, like I used to, but I felt stubborn and that I didn’t have anything worth sharing tonight.

Today was a hard day, that started with an incredibly difficult time-sensitive decision I had to make. Once I did what I thought was best, I allowed doubt to seep in, haunting my thoughts, making me uneasy for most of the day.

When I had some quiet time a few minutes ago, I rolled out my yoga mat, convinced that my ruminating thoughts would give way and interrupt my practice. But I decided that I would allow myself the freedom to focus on my breath, and concentrate on how my body moved through the poses. When I finished my practice in Extended Child’s Pose, I felt overwhelming relief flood through me. I got lost in the waves of my breathing, picturing a beach near and dear to my heart, bathed in moonlight. Next thing I knew, a half an hour had passed. I no longer felt stressed or burdened by my day. And I heard myself whisper “I Am Capable.”

I knew that if I was capable of grounding myself in a yoga practice— a task I had previously considered impossible— I could post on this blog tonight.

I want you, reader, to know that you are capable, too. Everything you need and everything you are searching for can be found within you. You simply have to be willing to see it.

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

Confessions from a Perfectionist

It is time for brutal honesty.

I am a perfectionist.

Since this blog was created as a way to challenge my perfectionism, you may be a bit confused. I’ve admitted to striving for perfection in previous posts, and even in my “About” section on this site, so how come I’m coming clean as a perfectionist again? To answer this question, let me back up and provide some context:

A couple of weeks ago I was struggling hard with my various mental illnesses. The pandemic has caused a surge in my anxiety, quarantine has created a flourish in my depression, and a combination of anxiety, depression, and a hiccup in my GI recovery has brought thoughts of disordered eating back to the forefront of my mind. All of these things led me to reach out to the Crisis Text Line a couple of weeks ago, a texting service providing free mental health crisis management to those feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. The counselor I was connected with was incredibly helpful, providing me with links and information relating to depression and anxiety that I could use to get unstuck from the place of willfulness I found myself in. My chief complaint was a lack in motivation– I was stir crazy and bored from being stuck in the same house with the same people for so many months now. In response to this, the counselor gave me a resource that has since changed my life and my depression: an app called “Habitica.”

Habitica is a free role-playing/task management app that allows you to treat your life like a game to stay motivated. You can input habits that you want to strengthen (or that you want to be rid of!), daily tasks you want to accomplish (in therapy we call these “activities of daily life” or “ADLs”), and your To-Do list. You create a customer avatar, and the more habits and tasks you check off, the more your avatar benefits! It’s been a really fun way to combat my depression, because who doesn’t want to collect pets to feed and ride simply by doing things like brushing your teeth or going for a walk?! (I am not endorsed by Habitica, I’m just an avid fan who has found that this app really works for me!)

Now I can circle back to why I am admitting to my perfectionism. Lately, I’ve been in denial, lying to myself about my progress and recovery. It’s been very subtle, but I didn’t want to face the consequences of not checking off my daily tasks and habits within Habitica (when you don’t check off your tasks by the end of the day, your avatar loses health and gold coins). Rather than accept my punishment for not finishing a task here or there, I would fib to myself, or even half-ass the tasks that I struggled to complete. I couldn’t even admit to a game that I am imperfect.

Yesterday, I came across a podcast episode about perfectionism. In the episode, the host says “Perfectionism is a shield that isn’t actually protecting us, but preventing us from taking flight.” As soon as she said this, I flashed back to one of my first sessions with my therapist in ED treatment (the very therapist who encouraged me to start this blog). If you’ve read the post that explains the title of this blog, you may have had a similar light bulb go off in your head. My then-therapist explained that if I’m so busy playing tug-of-war with my depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and/or perfectionism, I have no other hands to hold my hobbies, creativity, or relationships. She encouraged me to put down that rope, and see what my life would look like without it.

It was this session that I decided to commit to creating this blog and posting something every single day, as a way to fight off my perfectionism. If I post every day, I won’t have time to mull over every word, wondering if it’s good enough to publish. The host of that podcast said something very similar. She mentioned that perfectionism is an adaptive skill based on fear and worthiness, and a way to gain control when things feel out of control. The episode ended with this call to action: “Take an imperfect step.”

So I did. I came clean to myself and my therapist in session yesterday: “I hate to admit it, but I’ve been half-assing some of my daily tasks so that I can appear perfect, even in this virtual world I’ve created.” I admitted to not completing every Habitica task in its entirety, to the countless drafts I’ve started but never finished or published on this very blog, to shying away from activities I know I’d enjoy for fear of strangers seeing me. These were all very difficult things to say, and admitting to it all lifted a weight off of my shoulders the moment I said it out loud.

Perfectionism is all about perception. Perfectionists want others to see only what we want you to, and never the flaws that make us, let’s face it, human. I realized that even in Habitica, a virtual world where only I can see my specific successes and failures, I was trying to be perfect. The thing is, nobody is perfect. Not you, not your mom or spouse or neighbor or pastor. Everyone has flaws and faults, which is what makes the human race so beautifully connected. If we all embrace these imperfections (harder in practice than in theory, I know), we may see ourselves reflected in so many others, which breeds connection and authenticity.

Authenticity is my number one value, I’ve never been shy about sharing that. If I want to live true to this value, I must come clean as a perfectionist, and strive to keep taking these imperfect steps.

What is one imperfect step you can take today? Let me know in the comments below!

If you are struggling or in crisis, I encourage you to reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741-741 for confidential and anonymous support. You are not alone.

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.

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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.

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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.

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the sky is stuffed with clouds
and moisture fills the cracks in my lips
wide as canyons as I tear through flesh
searching for some control or maybe
another way to live that isn’t quite so
disappointing
How does one exist without
splattering thoughts against concrete
reaching for hands you thought
were extended but no
it’s only the limbs of trees planted
long before your body
was used as leverage in
this war with humanity
How does the wind not have
a backache from all that it carries
Can it teach me what to do with
all of these secrets because
I don’t recognize my own scent
and I’ve got pheromones like
a child forcing a jigsaw
into its proper shape
and what will my limbs look like
once the chaos finds its footing