Monday, December 05, 2016

"... When the World Overwhelms You."

I realized, this morning, that it has been almost 20 years since I first came across Elaine Aron's book "The Highly Sensitive Person."

As I pulled out my ancient dog-eared copy, I also remembered that it was less the actual title than the byline "How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" that I related deeply to.

"... When the World Overwhelms You."

Part of me wants to say that I have felt overwhelmed by the world since birth... but I don't know that, for sure. But I do remember that the sense of overwhelm was in full flow when I started first grade and every day felt... exhausting.

As of late, I have not been writing much, not contributing much to the HSP "dialogue" for the very simple reason that the world has been overwhelming me.

In fact, I'd submit that the world has been "overwhelming me" on a full-time basis for about 4-5 years, now. Before that, the overwhelm was more "sporadic and periodic."

Don't misunderstand me, here. I am not trying to start a "wah-wah pity party" here, I am merely observing reality as I am experiencing it, in a non-attached Buddhist sort of way.

Nonetheless, my current state of mind leaves me pondering the question "Have I changed... or has the world changed?"

They (whoever "they" may be...) say that our sensitivities heighten as we age. I am not sure I agree entirely with that. It seems more likely to me that as we age we become more self aware, and thus more capable of recognizing that we are experiencing an extension of our innate sensitivity, rather than attributing our turmoil (or whatever we're feeling) to something else.

So that leaves "the world."

Thanks in large part to technology, I have no doubt the world is eternally "speeding up." Stated a little differently, the volume of stimuli-- information, news, activities, entertainment, obligations and so on-- increases every year. Meanwhile, a great many people-- at least here in the USA-- are experiencing that they need to spend ever more time and effort to merely "swim in place," financially, socially, functionally, psychologically and so on.

When I sit with that and contemplate it, it feels like I have less and less time to process more and more stuff. I am simply like an hourglass-- I process a fairly constant volume of stimuli well, but if more and more sand gets poured in the top half, the narrow opening can never "clear" the inflow. As an HSP, that leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, it also seems like there is a lot of pervasive "time thievery" going on, these days... and I have to admit that this time thievery contributes significantly to my current feeling of overwhelm. I'll try to explain, and maybe you can relate.

For example, it's one thing that there was a controversial election that seems to have polarized this country. It's also a thing that there's a standoff over a pipeline in North Dakota and there's naturally a flood of attendant news. I can deal with that.

But now the new "time thief" is this whole concept of "fake news." Not only are there endless news stories, but now I have to spend additional time trying to determine whether any given story really IS a news story, or just some sensationalist clickbait created by a couple of profiteering vagrants who find it amusing to watch other people fall into a chaotic frenzy. IF (and that's an important question, here in our modern world) I want to remain a truly informed citizen, a five minute news story has now become a 15-minute research project.

But my day didn't become 24 hours and 10 minutes long to accommodate the new paradigm.

And so, the world overwhelms me... which is also a somewhat long-winded explanation for the repeated question I often get as to why I don't write anymore.

Of course, well meaning folks tell me I should turn it off and simplify my life... but isn't the whole ignoring it and sticking our heads in the sand with the excuse that "we can't deal with it" precisely part the the problem that created this whole mess? And how can you hope to make the world a better place if you're tuning it out?

Aside from which, how do you simplify a life that has already-- out of functional necessity-- been trimmed to the bare bones? I'm sorry, but living in a tent in the woods is not going to reduce my overstimulation... I like indoor plumbing and a bed! Of COURse there are lots of people who are "far worse off" than I am, but comparing our situation to the lowest common denominator doesn't fix the problem, it merely creates a greater pool of discontent... a sort of "misery loves company" circle jerk. I'm sorry, but that's not the world I'm looking to live in.

So how do we "thrive" when the world overwhelms us?

As of this moment, I am not entirely clear on that, but it somehow will involve a reiteration of a process I last went through in my mid-30's, when I abandoned working in the mainstream and became self-employed... which wasn't just about changing how I worked, but about changing how I lived, removing the expectations and trappings of "corporate life."

With 20 years of "creative independence" under my belt another revision now seems due, as I sit with the reality that I am not exactly thriving... I am surviving and getting by. I may have more "psychic income and wealth" than ever before, but the supermarket and electric company does not accept that currency in consideration of groceries and power. Which ends up creating a sort of inner dissonance which is another contributing factor to the overwhelm... if I am spending 70 hours a week in the business of simply maintaining, there's little left over to pursue other interests.

What is clear to me is that Being A Highly Sensitive Person is merely a piece of information about who I am. Whereas it influences and affects how I experience and interact with the world around me, it's not "a thing," in and of itself. It doesn't "do" anything. It doesn't "entitle" me to anything, nor does it make me "special" in some cosmic way most people give a rat's ass about. I am still a Human Being who needs to negotiate life, just like everyone else. Go to work, make dinner, pet the cat, take out the garbage, pay the bills. I am primarily a Human Being... who happens to be a Highly Sensitive Person.

In closing, I am considering that this is perhaps the natural "end point" in the journey of understanding ourselves, as HSPs. We start as "confused humans" who then learn we are HSPs; there's relief. Nothing "wrong" with us. We learn. We take on the "label" and adjust. We become wise in the ways of our sensitivity. And then we go back to simply being human, with an additional body of helpful knowledge.

Stay tuned for more ramblings; as I wrote a while back, I have let a number of my web sites and blogs quietly pass on... as a result of which, this will now double as both an "HSP" and a "personal" blog space. But not to worry, I'll still post the more inflammatory political and social commentary elsewhere!

Feel free to leave a comment!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Endings: Point of Contemplation

Last week, I found myself saying goodbye to an assortment of web sites I own-- and have owned-- for a long time. A couple of them for close to twenty years, which is practically "the history of the world," in terms of the Internet.

In a purely practical sense, my reasoning was simple enough-- faced with a hosting and domain service bill for $329, I realized I simply couldn't afford-- nor justify-- to keep these things running anymore. My inner dialogue was centered around the core reality that "they cost money to keep and take my time, but don't help me pay my bills, so they have to go."

The whole process of dumping these sites that had been part of my life for many years-- as well as part of my efforts to familiarize the world with the concept "HSP"-- made me pause to consider this world we live in. And it made me pause to think about the numerous HS people I know who are eternally "living on the edge" of barely making it.

We want to make a difference, and we want to have fun, and we want to make the world a better place but find ourselves living a world that demands 110% of our energy, focus and bandwidth merely to stay alive.

I suppose I am a bit of an idealist and I am trying to swallow the (somewhat bitter?) pill that my inner sense of how an ideal world could be seems to be perpetually at odds with the reality around me.

Although I have never really been someone who's "motivated by money," I am-- to some degree-- motivated by the idea of reciprocity. Not in the "giving to get" sense, but in the sense that it's nice to see one's efforts rewarded to the extent that continuing them seems worthwhile; at least to the extent that "doing right" is minimally self-sustaining... not just an expense.

I realize it's not just about me. It's about the world. The lady who has the shop next to our art gallery gets organic farm fresh eggs from her auntie. They cost $5 a dozen. I know as well as the next person that supporting local organic farmers is the "right thing" to do. I also have a coupon from the local supermarket for eggs at 79 cents per dozen. $5.00 vs. 79 cents. In so many cases, our choices are made for us, because we only (metaphorically speaking) have two dollars to spend.

As I pondered-- with a bit of sadness-- the demise of my long-time projects, my mind drifted back to earlier times when I was writing and trying to get articles published. And how often I was met with statements like "We'd love to include your article, but we're not able to pay contributors at this time... but it'll look great on your resumé!"

I used to believe that something good would come from persevering, anyway... so I did. These days I am more cynical, knowing that the supermarket doesn't accept "great looking resumés," they accept money. And I like to eat... at least occasionally.

Back when Sarah still had her radio program (another attempt at "doing right" that cost money, rather than made money), one of the things said by one of her guests on the program was "It's hard to change the world when you're always broke." As I thought about that, I realize that most people wanting to change the world are broke... because when you're doing well, odds are you're interested in keeping the system that led to your success.

In a strange turn of events, I was looking for a (re-) starting point for HSP Notes... and it became this story about endings. Funny, how that sometimes works out.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Random Musings on HSPs, Marketing, Social Media and Overstimulation

Sometimes it's the "little things" that bother us and can lead to HSP overstimulation. But what exactly ARE "little" things?

This morning, as I was wading through the daily deluge of email, there was an update from an HSP group I belong to on Google+ (It's a nice group, if you want to look at it). I expect many of us get these "so-and-so posted a new message to such-and-such a group" updates.

Anyway, because I am actually interested in HSP-related stuff, I clicked on the link... and got a "the content you are looking for is not available" message, and realized that the original post had been removed.

OK. Had it been spam? That didn't entirely make sense to me as the "so-and-so" person who'd shared the original post was somewhat known to me and is definitely not a spammer.

So I decided to poke around a bit to see if I could figure out what was going on.

Then I understood (I think). The original post had been an announcement of this person's new web site. Nothing wrong with that-- it was definitely "on topic" and relevant to HSPs and might be both useful and informative to those learning about our trait.

The real problem? The post had been an announcement of a web site that wasn't actually built or running yet, just "in the works." The splash page at the end of the link did nothing more than announce that "exciting content coming soon!" and then offered a popup form to ask for email addresses to "be notified of exciting new features."

Whether it's an "HSP cautiousness" thing or not, I now understood why the group owner had deleted the post. I, too, find it annoying to be be asked to support something that "isn't there." And if I am going to give someone my email address... I want to SEE what I am actually agreeing to, not just be offered some promise of future benefits.

As always, I had a lot of items in my email this morning. Whereas I had just experienced a "tiny incident," it made me consider how much time, energy and bandwidth we often waste on "empty information," especially in these days of every more complex social media.

Of course, it's easy to just take an all-or-nothing approach and shut ourselves off by saying "I'm just going block EVERYthing in order to keep my sanity!"

But is locking out all the noise of life really the best solution?

When I look at all the email I wade through, it is frequently overwhelming, and I sometimes wish we were back in simpler times with less information. On the other hand, I have to confess that there's lots of marvelous stuff I would never have learned about or experienced if I'd just applied a wholesale "nothing for me" approach.

For the Highly Sensitive Person, what really matters is finding balance, not shutting yourself off to all forms of external noise. And that means we do have to take the time to decide what is really meaningful and allowing those things in.

I still meet HSPs who fiercely state that they "don't do Facebook" with fiery determination... but ALL of Facebook isn't evil, per se. Like most things, there are good bits and bad bits. "Not doing social media" may eliminate that aspect of stimulation from your life, but is that necessarily ideal?

To that end, I am reminded of one of my Teachers of many moons ago-- I was attending a workshop, and the discussion somehow ended up on our social lives and connecting with people. A number of people commented that they felt like recluses and that "nothing ever happened" in their lives. The teacher then asked what they were doing to create a better social life. There was generally silence. In the end, he made the point that in life-- be it 3D social, or with managing social media, or with general experiences and adventures-- we can't expect much of anything if we are not willing to put ourselves "in harm's way," metaphorically speaking.

And so, in the end, I may complain a lot about information overload but ultimately I feel more informed, educated and balanced as a result of allowing my own version of "filtered noise" to reach me... because some of it really does turn out to be "gold nuggets."

How do YOU handle social media? And the endless stream of information we're subjected to? Have you found a good balance? Have you created "filters" that allows the useful, and lets the useless go? 

Monday, March 21, 2016

HSP Notes "Renovation," Updates and... a Change of Voice

A Day of Sidetracks

Sometimes, we just get sidetracked... today was such a day, for me.

If you haven't been by "HSP Notes" recently, you might notice that things look a little different around here. Even though it wasn't planned, I found myself spending most of today undertaking a much needed "modernization" of this web site.

These days, technology changes so fast I can barely keep up, and HSP Notes-- now in its 15th year-- was starting to look a little bit "dated." That... and I'd received a few messages that the site didn't present itself well on mobile devices.

So now we have a new look, and there's even a mobile friendly version of the site.

What's New?

Aside from a more modern appearance, quite a bit of site content has been updated-- and there's a lot more to come, in the upcoming weeks.

Meanwhile, I also want to draw your attention to the HSP Notes Bookstore which has been greatly expanded.

The bookstore attached to this site is a lot more than just "your average collection of amazon links from a web site." Instead, it is a large collection of handpicked books that are either in my personal library, or I have read, or have been recommended to me by people I know and trust... no "fillers," no "fluff."

There are hundreds of titles either directly about high sensitivity... or about topics that are near and dear to many HSPs. I hope you'll check it out!

Yes, I do earn "a few cents" from having it... but trust me, it's a few cents; If I'm lucky, enough to pay my annual web hosting fees. I mention this because some HSPs are put off by any and all forms of sales/marketing. I also mention this because-- absent those few cents-- I probably wouldn't be able to justify spending as much time as I do, doing this. So this site wouldn't even exist.

A Change of Voice

Last, but not least, what I publish here is going to change a bit. Well... the type of content won't change, but the way I write will. Here's the deal:

I started HSP Notes in 2002 as a mostly personal journal and place to share some ideas and experiences resulting from learning about this thing called "Being A Highly Sensitive Person." Back then, there wasn't a whole lot of information about our trait out there.

To be honest, I didn't really expect to get "a readership," but was certainly thrilled (and felt very validated) when others started reading these pages and shared that they could relate to my experiences.

HSP Notes was a very "personal thing" back then.

Somewhere along the way (perhaps inspired by "wisdom" from the greater blogosphere that blogs should fit niches and have a tight focus?), it seems that my posts became more and more academic and "third person."

As I was updating the site and looked over old posts, I became aware that I have increasingly "written myself out of the picture."

I won't comment on whether that is "good" or "bad," but I realize now that the increasing time interval between new posts could be attributed to the fact that the blog was no longer serving me-- as a cathartic journal-- and so I was less interested in writing.

Who do we do things for?

This made me consider the age-old question many creatives and artists have asked themselves: "WHO am I doing this for?"

Sure, I write in a public space because I hold an idealistic belief that maybe my words will resonate with and help someone, but ultimately I write because clarifying my thoughts in writing helps me solve problems and answer my own questions.

So not only will HSP Notes return to its more personal roots, I am planning to "free" some of the more "personal insight" posts I have written but kept private in the course of the past couple of years.

Of course, I still want HSP Notes to remain useful-- to which end I will be adding more book reviews and more web resources, as time goes by.

In the meantime, thanks for being part of this journey!

The HSP Notes Bookstore is now open! 100's of books (and HSP friendly products) individually chosen for their “HSP Relevance,” all recommended by HSPs, for HSPs. Click on the "HSP Bookstore" tab (above) to see what's on offer!