Being a Highly Sensitive Person

This post might be long and rambly, but I want to share in case there are other people going through the same thing.

I’ve always been a sensitive person. I was a happy kid, but I also worried about a lot of things. I was afraid of storms. I had night terrors. I went through a stage where I was convinced I had cancer. I was easily influenced by the moods of those around me and found it very easy to sympathize with other people. People constantly told me I was too sensitive. I got teased when I was 8 years old because I thought a piece of classical music was so beautiful I cried. I didn’t like wearing layers or shoes that made me aware of my toes.

About 9 months ago my mom sent me an article and said, “This sounds like you.” The article includes a link to a questionnaire for parents who think their child may be highly sensitive. My mother said most of them fit me as a child. Here’s a link to the article. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/wellbeing/health-advice/highly-sensitive-people/

The more I thought about it the more I noticed and remembered things that fit into this list. I’ve always hate a lot of textures (styrofoam, some upholstery, paper towels, just to name a few). I’m very sensitive to smell. I get motion sickness easily–like I can only swing for a few minutes before my stomach hurts. Lights are often uncomfortably bright to me, especially in places like grocery stores. I don’t handle change well; it causes me a lot of stress. I am a people pleaser; I prefer to be at home and don’t enjoy crowds.

I also realized that it seems to be getting worse as I get older. I need a lot of time to prepare myself to be around people and a lot of time to relax after. More sounds, smells, and textures are bothering me. Some days it’s really difficult to not let another person’s mood dictate mine. I startle more at loud noises and I drop things more often. I get extremely irritated if there are too many sounds going on at once–for instance if a TV is on and someone is playing music. Most changes are difficult. It takes me a long time to get comfortable when I lie down to go to sleep, and I have trouble falling/staying asleep. I get agitated if someone talks to me when I’m doing anything that requires concentration. If I get distracted from simple things like getting out of my car to walk into a store, it’s pretty likely I’ll lock my keys in the car or forget my wallet. A lot of the time the world feels like too much–too much noise, too many smells, too much movement, too much to think about at once.

I am aware of Sensory Processing Disorder. I work with kids with autism so I made a point to learn as much about it as possible. For some reason I didn’t think about myself when I was reading about/learning about SPD even though a lot of it fits. I kind of just assumed I was being a baby about stuff or that I was just an irritable person.

The past month or so my sensitivities have been getting  worse, particularly the sensory ones. Going over the speed bumps in my neighborhood aggravates me, even when I go slowly. My body is uncomfortable no matter how I lay in bed at night. I crave the sensation of being squeezed. Someone in my life uses a vaporizer and the sound of it makes me want to scream. I can’t stand to wear anything but skirts or pants with elastic waists and if I get a wrinkle in my sock I have to take my shoe off to fix it immediately. It feels disgusting to touch anything that isn’t cold and smooth if my hands are wet. I could go on and on.

Most information about Sensory Processing Disorder (which is not yet a recognized medical diagnosis) is geared towards kids. I guess that might be because people haven’t been paying attention to it for very long. I don’t know who I would see to be diagnosed. And I haven’t really read anything about it getting worse as a person gets older. I know Occupational Therapy is one option for treatment, but I don’t know if my insurance will cover it. And actually, I have some other things I need to take care of health-wise and money-wise that are more important right now.

So anyway, I got 2 books used on Amazon: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron and Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight by Sharon Heller. I am going to learn what I can from those. I’m also going to work on getting my house clean and less cluttered. It seems like I’m more sensitive when I feel crowded, and the messiness makes me feel crowded.

Anyway, maybe there will be someone out there who can relate to this. I’ll post updates as I learn more.

Distress Tolerance: Coping Thoughts

A while ago I wrote a post or two about distress tolerance. I mainly talked about distraction, which is the easiest distress tolerance skill for me. I’ve been trying to expand and strengthen my distress tolerance skills. This post will be about coping thoughts.

It’s a well-known fact thoughts influence how we feel (and sometimes how we act). Coping thoughts are basically encouraging or positive thoughts to help you get through a rough situation or make you feel better. A few examples are: “These feelings are temporary,” “There is no immediate threat to my safety,” and “I have survived feelings/situations like this before; I will survive this.”

It can be helpful to write down your favorite coping thoughts and keep them somewhere you will see them a lot. I like to write them down and take a picture of it to keep on my phone. Some people use index cards or post-it notes or a piece of paper tucked into their wallet.

One very important thing about coping thoughts is that they are easier and more effective if used before things escalate. It took some time for me to realize this. I would wait until my mood or feelings were very intense before trying to use them and then get frustrated that they weren’t doing any good. I decided it was a stupid idea and that it wouldn’t work for me.

Then after I had a really rough time in May and I was exhausted from dealing with constant meltdowns, I reached a point where I refused to tolerate painful emotions. As soon as I noticed my thoughts or feelings were headed in a negative direction I’d distract myself with anything–junk food, cutting, video games, covering my ears and rocking and humming to myself, whatever it took to not feel bad. This is pretty typical borderline behavior, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me. But avoiding anything painful became my absolute top priority.

That wasn’t the healthiest way to deal with stuff, but there was a benefit: I started to notice my feelings more quickly and respond to them before they got out of control. Then when I decided to try using other skills in addition to distraction, it was already a habit to use the skills before things really exploded.

Sometimes my coping thoughts are pretty basic, like “Just because something feels pointless doesn’t mean it is.” That’s been a big one for me lately. Sometimes they are specific to a situation and more than a sentence or two long. For example, I get upset occasionally because I’m not a perfect ABA therapist. I think of my co-workers strengths and hate myself because I don’t have every strength every co-worker has. So I might tell myself something like, “Just because I have things I can get better at doesn’t mean I’m a horrible, worthless therapist. It’s not all or nothing. No one expects perfection from me. One person can’t perform at top level in all areas all the time. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have to be everything to be worth something or to be good at what I do.”

I hope this post has been helpful. If you do a search for “dbt coping thoughts” on Google images you will find lists of coping thoughts and some worksheets to help with coping thoughts. Feel free to comment below with coping thoughts that have worked for you (or anything else you want to say)!

Low Carb Blast Off!

I’ve known for a while that I needed to change my eating habits. I’m an emotional eater and I eat really badly. I’m also very lazy when it comes to food; I’d rather eat something crappy that I can just grab than prepare/cook anything. I don’t have a lot of energy and get a fair amount of stomach aches and I’m pretty sure that’s because of my food choices. I’m also out of shape and overweight which I know doesn’t help with energy, feeling good, mental health, and self-esteem.

Before now I either haven’t had the motivation and discipline to change or I’ve felt like I couldn’t handle taking on the extra stress and work of weight loss. I feel like the past 5 years or so just keeping a job and staying basically functional has been enough of a challenge for me. But I think now I’m ready to try fixing my diet.

If you find it obnoxious, annoying, or in any way upsetting when people talk about weight loss, dieting, etc then skip these posts. I’ll tag them accordingly and try to make it apparent in the post titles that they are on this topic.

I’ve tried counting calories before and I hated it. It always resulted in severely restricting my intake for several days then losing control and eating a shit ton. I also had a tendency to eat bad stuff with a lot of calories but make it the only thing I ate, which meant I spent most of the day hungry.

Of course I’ve heard a ton about the Atkins diet and keto diet because I don’t live in the wilderness away from society, but last week one of my friends posted a couple of photos on Facebook showing the difference in her face after 2 months on the keto diet. That inspired me. Then a coworker mentioned how awesome she felt after cutting way back on sugar so I started considering that as well.

So Wednesday night I decided I’d start on Thursday. My boyfriend and I had one last bad meal (hot wings, French fries, and ice cream) and it was swell. That night I did some reading and decided I wasn’t going to go full keto (around 20-30 g of carbs a day) because that would be a drastic change for me and I want to set a realistic, attainable goal. Also, it’s recommended that a doctor approve it before a person starts the keto diet. My goal is 50 g of carbs a day for now. I’m not sure how many I was consuming before, but considering that there are 67 grams of carbs in an order of large fries at McDonalds alone, I think going down to 50 g will be good for now.

Thursday after work my bf and I went to Walmart and bought a lot of healthy food. I was surprised by the carb count in a lot of things. I knew the basics, like that bread and pasta would have a lot and green vegetables wouldn’t have much. I didn’t think about cheese having so little and stuff like Gatorade having a ton until I looked at the nutrition facts. I was happy with the things we got, though–salmon, chicken, tuna, vegetables, nuts, peanut butter, cheese, and beans. That night we ate salmon with peas from our garden and salad with kale and tomatoes (from our garden) and carrots.

I was concerned about what I would do for breakfast for a few reasons. For one thing, I hate waking up and have never eating anything that required more effort than taking off a wrapper (Pop-tarts, granola bars, etc). I know I’m not going to magically start getting up and making myself something healthy to eat before work. For another thing, my stomach is pretty finicky in the morning. A lot of times I stuck to crackers or plain bread. The idea of eating meat or vegetables in the morning is gross to me. Fruit is kind of high in carbs and most of it is kind of acidic, which gives me heartburn in the morning. Also, I can handle nuts in small doses but not on an empty stomach. And in the past 8 months eggs have started giving me really bad stomach aches. Hardboiled, scrambled, deviled, sunnyside up, whatever. I get nauseated, bloated, and crampy.

Then my mom suggested I look in the pharmacy section of the grocery store for weight-loss shakes or something of that nature. I’d totally forgotten about all the Atkins diet products. I checked those out Friday and tried one of the shakes and some power bar-type things.They didn’t bother my stomach at all! So the breakfast issue is solved!! I just have to control myself and not waste the shakes and bars during the day.

All right, I’ve rambled long enough about this. I’m hoping my motivation and self-control sticks. I am so excited about the possibility of feeling more energetic, having less stomach aches, and losing some weight.

I’m Still Here

I haven’t written in a couple weeks. I keep telling myself I need to. Sometimes when I’m driving to or from work or lying in bed at night waiting to fall asleep I have an idea for a post. But when I actually have time, I don’t feel like it.

I don’t feel like doing much lately besides reading, playing The Simpsons Tapped Out, and watching TV. Sometimes I like going outside to water our garden or take a couple of pictures. Other than that, everything seems too tiring and boring.

I’m not sure why. My mood has been decent. I don’t feel extremely low or suicidal or as if life is pointless. I’m not constantly angry or sad. I just have no drive and I’m only interested in things that require very little effort and are pleasurable activities (no chores or errands or things of that nature).

I’ve thought about reading some self-help books/blogs to get inspired. I used to find those encouraging. But I’ve been spending so much of my adult life thinking about all the things I need to get done, and I don’t want to be that way anymore. I think it makes me feel bad in the long run and it doesn’t actually help me be productive. And I actually find the whole live-life-to-the-fullest, maximize-every-moment mindset kind of obnoxious. Yesterday I was on Pinterest and I saw a pin for people who have trouble getting started in the morning. I took a look at it and it was all about how to maximize your productivity and not waste time. It recommended stuff like getting up at 6 no matter what time you have to be somewhere because that’s what the CEO of Disney does.

I was hoping for something that might help me do a little better than hitting snooze until 10 minutes before I need to leave the house, putting on the first clean thing I find, then stopping at a carry-out for a Diet Dr Pepper and a candy bar on the way to my first tutoring session while I’m still in a sleep-induced stupor. I don’t want to model my mornings after the CEO of Disney. Why would I? I don’t want that life. I’m not trying to get a bunch of shit done before I leave the house in the morning. I just want to get past the place where NOTHING seems better than 5 more minutes of sleep/avoiding reality.

I think stuff like that–telling people to do something because it’s what the CEO of Disney does–is rather harmful anyway. That’s probably part of why people feel inadequate all the time. Nothing we do is ever enough. 99% of people aren’t going to be CEOs. Why do people who have a hard time functioning in the morning need to try to operate like one right after they wake up?

Anyway, this post is kind of rambly. My main point is that I’m still here. I just don’t feel like doing anything. I decided today that I need to stop waiting for motivation and act. I’m not going to pressure myself to write blog posts regularly and organize my entire house and get back to knitting every other day, but I need to get caught up on laundry and eat decent food and not be a slug every minute I’m not at work. Tiny goals, right?