Michael Ndubuaku nails it here for me! Not only do I completely understand what he’s referring to, it’s been – for better or worse – my own experience for as long as I can think and reflect. This may come across like self-flattering, but if you’re anywhere a bit like Mr. Ndubuaku (or me), you’ll know that the price tag on being so different is a hefty one. And that being smarter than the bulk more often is an obstacle to achieving all the good things, like a general sense of well being, the “happy camper” mentality, happiness and all that. In fact, the more you know, the more reasons you have to be unhappy – or so it feels and presents itsself to me.
Sigh… he really nailed the experience… (and “we” hardly have anyone to vent with or employ as a “sounding board” regarding our struggles, which makes this entire experience even harder on so many counts). I’m sharing it anyway for those among my visitors/readers who can relate.
Ok. Let’s call the “elephant in the room” by its proper name: Hyperarousal. It’s the result of experiences in your life that should have never happened. To you. And me. Or anyone. It kicked (y)our nervous system into a state of constant watchfulness that never stops. Not even when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. Or even something as apparently “easy” as an in between “snooze”. Like I tried this afternoon after some workout in freezing temperatures and when my body yelled “LET ME HAVE SOME REST NOW!” So I laid it to rest – or tried. Upon the slightest of vibrations from e.g. someone walking about two (!) floors above me – I was immediately shocked into said hyperarousal – as in: WIDE AWAKE! And the latter is from a history of getting conditioned into this state as an infant. I know this for a fact now, I’ve done the research, I’ve interviewed perpetraitors and peers. Every time I had found some gentle sleep, I’d notoriously and routinely got awoken from it by the nurse violently entering the room, violently “unlocking” my baby bed and then hand me over to the doc for further painful, intrusive explorations and treatment. So my body stored this piece of information: Any vibration – next thing that’ll happen is pain. It takes a number of reiterations and then it’s emblazoned on your brain. Seemingly forever. That’s how (fear-) conditioning works. By stimulus and response and repetition. Ok, so’we established this much – I think. Let’s move on to what this blog entry is about: Pattern recognition.
In the best of situations, pattern recognition saves a biological organism from doom, like e.g. getting eaten by a preditor, contracting (potentially) lethal infections or otherwise getting into situations the outcome of which might have bad, if not fatal consequences. In other words: Once our biological “machine” learned the inner workings of a given situation, it is “programmed” to produce an “automated” response. Like the fight-, flight- or freeze-reflex for example. Actually, those are “hardwired” into our systems and …. secured humankind’s survival for so many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of years. In plain language: Where there is a potentially lethal threat, you a. run, b. fight or c. play dead. So far, so good.
The downside of all these good things is this: Once you’ve experienced a situation that could haven gotten you killed or almost got you killed, you will remember it for good. And by that, we don’t mean “biographical content” and memory processing along those lines like e.g. “I did a. at time b., then I did c. and then d. that followed almost got me killed.” No. We’re talking smells, sounds, tastes, any kind of physical sensation associated with a situation that could have gone “left”. We’re talking about: Pattern recognition. Anyone of any given number of stimuli that created a certain situation also created a patternized memory in your brain.
But here come the good news: New modalities incorporate latest neuroscientific findings about the various connections with our (autonomous!) nervous system and how to ‘rescue’ it from this permanently overaroused state it’s been in for so long. Watch Mendel Kaelen, a neuroscientist from Imperial College London present early findings from combining psychedelic therapy with conducive therapy settings and incorporating specifically selected music playlists and not only alleviating and potentially overriding the well ‘practiced’ fear response in the brain, but more importantly, allowing the entirety of your sentient apparatus to feel and incorporate new sensations to known situations and triggers, thus enabling lasting healing effects in the respective patient/client/individual! And let’s bear in mind, what Dr. Stephen Porges had already uncovered and presented about the Vagus nerve and the latter connecting most of our vital organs to the brain and vice versa. So there is more than hope: New modalities offer a valid perspective on lasting healing, even for individuals who were forced to live with often barely manageable and potentially devastating conditions having their lives rather appear like torture than pleasure. You’ve come this far, now is not the time to give up!
The above said, allow me to come to the subject at hand – trauma – and add a comment or two on Brooke’s blog entry and work in general: I found Brooke and her page on Facebook a while ago (I don’t remember in which context, probably while doing some research on the matter at hand, although I’ve pretty much stopped to look for any more information as I believe I have thoroughly done my homework on the matter as it is, in part documented here.) Because of a short series of sessions with a practitioner-in-training, who specializes on HSPs and highly gifted people (HGP), has highly gifted children of her own and a health practitioner husband working with HGP adults and more importantly after taking an elaborate (and expensive…) test, the terms HSP/HGP were on the table again for me. (I had heard of Elaine Aron’s work some time in 2008 or 2009, but dismissed her work entirely as non-conclusive regarding my own challenges; however, following that test, I had no way of disregarding it again and of backing out. I still think that the foundation of her work is fraught with inaccuracy and that rushing to call out an altogether and even genetic trait in as many as 15-20% of people – and species in the animal kingdom! – is – with all due respect – a little hasty to put it mildly. But apparently she managed to establish the ‘trait‘ as a new technical term. I don’t fully buy into it, but will proceed as if it was a ‘thing’.)
I’ve been ‘hanging out’ on her Facebook page and subscribed to her blog for some time as her copy resonated with me (there are more sources of that ilk with regard to HSP and giftedness, which you can easily find by entering ‘highly gifted’ and/or ‘highly sensitive’ into a search engine of your choice). In above linked article she maintains that highly sensitive people are more susceptible to trauma, particularly to the spectrum of abuse that she coined ‘little T trauma’. (in her blog she explains how that isn’t meant as a diminuation or diminishing of injuries incurred at all; please find her own explanation on how to read this term.)
While I don’t buy into Mrs. Elaine Aron’s ideas on HSP as a specific trait very much, I often found Brooke’s writing to cut to the chase, I felt ‘seen’ often and in many ways.
So, I guess my linking her article is basically a hint to her work – she is licensed in the state of Colorado in the US.
But as usual: See, whether this resonates with you. If not, just drop it. Again – Happy New Year!
Tonight I took a stroll across the fields right outside the place where I live and heading towards one of my little sanctuaries nearby. Temperatures have fallen to near freezing and below freezing tonight, so I had to walk fast in order not to get cold. I still afforded myself a moment of reflection and little meditation once I reached this small spot nearby (the picture wasn’t taken today and I sat a little further from where the camera points in the image).
As I sat there I sang along with Joshua Kadison’s album Painted Desert Serenade and it so happened the song Beautiful in My Eyes was on. I hadn’t listened to the album in many, many years, but somehow the words in the lyrics came to mind from memory with ease as it was the song I had serenaded my (ex-) wife at the wedding celebration on August 23rd 1997. I think all the ladies in the room cried when I took the stage and performed it along with the band that night, consisting mostly of good friends of ours. As I remembered our wedding, my ex-wife, the life I had had with her and the emotions felt when being with her, I lost it a little myself today after having been divorced for 16+ years. (our divorce was finalized on September, 16th, 2003).
And then out of the blue, I also remembered how the time leading up to me actually committing to our relationship had been anxiety-ridden for a number of reasons, one being that I intuitively sensed that being with her would be different from any other relationship I had had so far. And it was. And I also knew right away that should we fail the fallout for me would be devastating. And it was. And is. I don’t think, I’ve ever gotten over losing her, losing us. That very hunch I had back then that she could “make or break” me, well let’s just say that somehow intuition had always been strong in me, whether I had recognized it or not.
So I sat there, giving myself permission to let a few tears roll down my face while singing along, thinking of the words I had sung to her with utter conviction and dedication, meaning them as I sang them and as I believe Joshua Kadison will have meant them when he wrote the lyrics. On a less personal note, it’s a beautiful dedication to love and (romantic) relationships per se, highlighting the fact that we become more of ourselves when we get to love someone else. And that thought made me grateful and put me at ease with myself for having decided in favor of her, of us back in those days leading up to our marriage. I thanked myself for not chickening out and giving myself permission to feel this deeply for someone, to care as much as I did, to dedicate myself to her every minute of every day, not one day going by that I didn’t have her on my mind when we were apart for reasons of working in different places. And of course I thank her from the bottom of my heart for loving me back and for actually giving me the feeling for the first time in my life that I was appreciated by her just for being whom I was at the time that we were together. And for no other reason than that. It was a phenomenal experience!
I do not have a single regret. I think, it’s the closest I have ever come to true love that I am capable of. I have opened up as completely as possible for me, made myself as vulnerable as can be and enjoying and appreciating the depth of emotions running through my system when spending time with her. Even the most mundane things, I’d almost say especially the most mundane things had meaning so long as we got to do them together. I’ve never felt this at home and complete and right where I belong in life than with her. When we ultimately parted after a series of break ups and get-back-togethers, I truly and sincerely wished her nothing but finding the happiness she apparently did not find in or with me. I am unaware as to whether or not she did. But I do know that she lives the life she had envisioned for herself (or at least thought she had).
I am very unlikely to ever engage in a relationship again, the cards have turned pretty firmly against me in most every regard except health. (knock on wood). But I’m grateful I should have had this experience with her. It happened at least once. There is a good chance, that is even more than happens for many of us.
Here’s the thing: Humans are “we”-beings. We’re not meant to be solitary hermits and it served early humans well to form bands, be it when hunting, farming or moving camp. When it came to dealing with the harsh conditions of life in the prairies, collaboration and working together proved to be an evolutionary advantage that secured the species’ survival even amidst predators that surpassed our species’ specimen by far in physical strength, speed, endurance and other aspects. But collaborating… eventually allowed us to outsmart even the fastest, strongest, most aggressive of animals.
Sailing in the wake of having found this evolutionary edge might be the reason why most of today’s culture is also based on group activities: Work, private life, basically anything worthwhile exploring happens in the company of at least two, often more people. Even reproducing… requires two people (if you do it naturally).
Sure, there is the occasional hermit that seems to defy this assessment. However, if I took the time and made the effort of finding out, I’m pretty confident that there’d be a way of providing hard data as to why this planet has never seen civilizations or settlements that did not sport at least a modicum of collaboration and group activity. (That said, I’m well aware that modern societies seem to show a tendency of fragmenting the former by providing all conveniences, opportunities and essential necessities to anyone with enough money to get them.)
In light of the above it seems consequential that most of us seek a way of blending in as best as they can. In fact, the way our educational system is designed, conformity to a larger or lesser degree is pretty much a given from the get-go. And most people don’t seem to have too hard a time of doing just that: Blend in without sacrificing all of their individuality, assuming they have unlimited access to all of their personal resources. And shall we say that health will enjoy a top spot in that list of personal resources? I would think so, because you simply can’t be your best version of self when you’re ill. Much less so when you suffer from a debilitating condition. I earned myself the questionable privilege of getting gifted with such a condition. (If you needed to know: It’s complex post-traumatic stress disorder and I’ve been living with it for 50 plus years; but that’s an aside, I’m about to make a different point). And limiting/debilitating/incapacitating condition or not, I too always wanted nothing harder than blend in with what you might consider the mainstream. (Actually, I hadn’t even been aware of that until… I found out that I simply don’t).
But how do you go about that, if it doesn’t come naturally from sharing a number of common interests, likes or dislikes with your peers? Well, you do what we all do once we land on the planet: You mimick and emulate that which you seen happen around you. No? You don’t have to take my words for it. See this or this or that, written by people much more knowledgable on the matter than I. So, if so inclined, can we establish that we learn most, if not any behavior by copying other people? Even when you want to go against the grain, you can’t do so by at least watching other people, so you may act to the contrary of what they do, right? And I’d rate observing as a precursor to copying behavior.
But enough with the long-winded prologue. I think we can agree that blending in requires an effort on one’s part. And when your make happens to be different from said mainstream — be it for whatever reason, illness possibly being a rather harsh one — , I think it isn’t hard to see how blending in becomes an uphill battle. And yet — at least a little bit of it is required when you’re looking to have healthy relationships. Still with me?
Ok. I have chosen to stick with that proven concept of copying people where I thought I needed to. And one particular situation where you absolutely need to either copy someone else’s or a group’s behavior is when you’re depressed — or stay away, often leading to isolation over the course of an episode. And this is where things become tricky: If you do your task of hiding a depressive episode well, a lot of positive outcomes might occur. People might enjoy your company, they feel they want to hang with you more often, you get calls, invitations, the whole “bonding” thing literally flies in your face, right? (Let’s just skip other requirements like a socially acceptable appearance, including personal maintenance, hygiene etc.). Well, at least this is what happened for me most times I’d socialize despite “feeling it”. You might even find that you get the hang of it and tell yourself to just ignore your depressive episode, so you might replicate the outcomes of that other time you forced yourself out.
But back at home and living single, sooner or later the “major D” as I nickname depression hits you again. And you might get this call from a (new) friend that feels they can confide in you. And then they do and share their burdens, expecting you to help carry the load. Group activities, remember, collaboration! It sounds, looks and should feel like the most natural thing to do in a healthy friendship. But it becomes just another hill to climb among the many you already do on any given day. At some point, you won’t find the wind in you to mask that constant downward drag in you. That’s when you — maybe reluctantly — employ that whole “boundaries” scenario, ultimately requiring to disappoint someone here and there. Or you may have to sever those ties again for reasons of not being able to live up to everyone’s and their dog’s expectations. Boom! There goes the blending in. All of a sudden you go from best friend to socially awkward, to hermit, to self-absorbed narcissist exuding that air of “social acidity”. And yet… you simply can’t handle all that they expect you to be.
I’ve chose to call this the Posing Paradox as those exact qualities and adopted behaviors that allow you to get “out there” and mingle at first are likely to backfire badly sooner or later. In other words: When you make an effort to be(come) this socially acceptable self, you’ll quickly have people assume that you’re always like that.
And here’s where my “wisdom” ends and where I can’t think of a clever middle way, let alone a solution. If you had thoughts on the latter, feel free to share them. Thanks.
I must issue another trigger warning here, but found this article extremely enlightening and educating in terms of the vicious cycle loops that traumatized people might find themselves in. Read at your own discretion.
I found out about MAPS.org in 2014 and their – then phase 2 – trials addressing the many challenges that patients suffering from (complex) post-traumatic stress disorder are confronted with day in, day out on account of the condition. As … Continue reading →
Wow. This is deep, way deep! I chose to repost it here, because in my own journey through life I’ve often found music to be a realm that softens some of the harsh conditions and experiences we are presented with while in the flesh. (whether or not there is something beyond our physical existence would be subject to a different discussion, one I currently don’t have too much interest in having to be brutally blunt).
I am grateful to have always had a close, deep, most meaningful relationship with music from my earliest days on the planet. I was also given the opportunity to learn playing the guitar and piano, I’ve dabbled with other small instruments as a toddler and young boy, found my way into the local music scene later and throughout High School. Given the demise of my former career in 2007 and erosion of material existence to the very brink of homelessness a few times, I’ve since sought to rekindle the passion I once felt for (live) music and reestablish that relationship and bring it more to the center of my waking awareness again. (to small avail, though, but again… that’d be a different story).
The words in above article resonated strongly with me. (I found it on brainpickings.org and the latter through one of the several blogs on Highly Sensitive Persons, as I seem to fall into the category of such individuals living with an innately different, much more responsive and finetuned nervous systems, which can be both a gift as well as plain torture depending on the circumstances you live in. But – this will also be something that would digress us too far). As I’ve pulled out my instruments from the closet and started playing them on a more regular, near daily basis again, as I’ve started to listen to and dabble in small snippets of film score and other genres I previously hadn’t paid much attention to, I couldn’t help but wonder whether music wasn’t the most noble, most sublime of all art forms (no offense towards other artists or art forms….). And this article along with the ones quoted and linked to therein seems to corroborate what I seem to have intuitively found out. What I find interesting is the fact that music touches and moves musicians/composers and mere listeners alike at an intensity that seems to be unique to music. In particular the healing potential, most noteably in patients and elderly people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s or another neurodegenerative condition, seems to find its way into the medical and health/care mainstream at a progressed rate.
At any rate, I don’t mean to tell you what to make of it. Read and see for yourself if so inclined. I just found it interesting to find some thoughts and musings on music being well established in literature and philosophy from early on. Don’t miss out listening to the beautiful Bach piece, which I’ll take the liberty of resharing directly below. Enjoy!
When checking the stats after tonight’s posting, I got… this.
I am genuinely surprised that I should have written this many posts on here already… so…. drum roll (on low volume, though, being HSP and with all the neighbors being sound asleep by now… 😉 – and bed time for yours truly as well….)