Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World by Ilse Sand

Finally holding the real thing in my hands.
What an amazing journey it has been so far; from meeting Ilse Sand in 2008 because she was one of the only therapists working with highly sensitive people in Denmark at the time, to reading her book the first time in 2010, then moving to England and realising how much I wanted to be able to share Ilse’s writing with people I met over here and while teaching and travelling.
Translating the book was exciting and hard work but the toughest bit turned out to be trying to find a publisher. In December 2015 things suddenly picked up and a contract was signed with Jessica Kingsley Publishers by the end of the year – and now it’s here! All those months and months of work made tangible.
It’s been a great privilege to work with Ilse Sand on getting her book published in English. I’ve learned a lot about how the publishing world works and feel a bit more confident about one day writing my own stuff and getting it out there.

Get the book here

Please note that JKP books are available in UK, US, AUS and Canada – choose your area in top right corner of the website.

More about Ilse Sand and her work: www.highlysensitive-hsp.com

On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/highlysensitivepeopleIlseSand/

wp-1466499550857.jpegwp-1466499561784.jpeg

Feeling the ground beneath my feet

I used to live in a state of constant overwhelm and anxiety.

Only I didn’t realise it at the time, because it was all I knew. I suspected something was wrong; the suicidal yearnings and impulses to self-harm were good tell tell signs, but I didn’t understand them as such. I thought I was being selfish and attention seeking and I did what I could to try and control these shameful things that lived inside me.

I thought that what was wrong was me, that I was a terrible, rotten and disgusting human being. Everything I felt, all the pain, powerlessness and confusion, I truly believed it was all my own fault.
I found ways of coping. Self-discipline and self-control were good ones – they made me feel like I was doing something to correct the wrongness. Escapism was good too. And lots and lots of it. Escaping from my body, my mind and my un-understandable emotions. Escaping into books, films, dreams, other worlds and relationships – anything that would distract me from me.

When I began to ask for help from others, I thought that what I needed was some sort of psychotherapy or drama therapy; something that would help me analyse and express my emotions. Something to help me create some order in my chaotic inner world. I didn’t have the money to get a private therapist so I asked for help from mental health services. This turned out to be a much more complicated journey than I could have ever imagined.

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 22.

With the diagnosis of schizophrenia came the obligatory psycho-education and CBT based group sessions. I was not impressed to say the least. I began to realise, that trying to get the help I believed I needed in the mental health system, was going to be quite a battle.

I did however find it helpful to start thinking of stress and stressors. This wasn’t something I had really considered before – I had been so focused on being strong, surviving and controlling myself. And I really struggled to see how my life should be stressful or bad. Others clearly had it much worse than me. But I came around to the idea that I was stressed and amongst other things showing physical signs of this. Fatigue, tenseness and eternal headaches helped me get referred to the Physiotherapy Clinic at the Psychiatric Hospital.

Now I have to say, that if I could choose only one big turning point in my journey towards a more fulfilling life, this was it.

In “Living with Voices” by Romme and Escher I write about my relationship with my physiotherapist: “During a 3 year period of on/off physiotherapy I experienced  building a relationship with a man, based on trust and mutual respect for the first time in my life (…) He helped me experience my body as a safe place and I realised how tormented I was by anxiety – like a deer always ready to take flight.
For the first time in a long, long time I felt able to be in my body, feel my emotions, think my thoughts, hear my voices and feel that whatever I was experiencing was all right, and that things were going to be okay. (…) Discovering that I could live through a whole hour without having a single self-destructive thought or impulse and once in a while even enjoy being me –  was very unfamiliar and quite scary. That maybe I deserved to live after all – and live without constant fear and pain. That perhaps there was a way of healing years and years of dissociation, of separating myself from myself and others.” (p. 149)

It was a long and slow process to get to the point I describe above.
The work my physiotherapist did with me was based on Body Awareness Therapy. It was a mix of simple massages techniques and physical exercises and it was all about grounding and centering. Everything we did was designed to help me stay in my body – become aware of my body from within.
I used to think I had loads of body awareness because I had been dancing for many years. But I slowly realised that there is a big difference between being aware of your body from the inside and being aware of your body from the outside. The body awareness I had learned through dance was all about observing myself and controlling my body. Being aware of my body, of my movements, of sensations and feelings from the inside was a whole different ball game.
At first it was frightening. I think I expected to be overwhelmed because that was how I had experienced myself for as long as I could remember. That, as soon I would come back to myself from my various escapisms, I would be completely overwhelmed with my sensations, emotions and thoughts.
I had to learn that I was safe in my body, that my adult selves could handle the things that used to overwhelm me as a kid. By doing gentle stretches and movements I could calm myself down, calm my senses and find peace.
In various trauma and anxiety work, there are strategies and visualisations we can use to create inner (or outer) safe spaces. This is what my physiotherapist did with me. Today if I get anxious and nothing else works – no calming self-talk, soothing exercises, no music or walking or distracting works – what I do is I revisit those sessions. I will draw the safeness I experienced back then into the here and now. The memory of this deep sense of safety is ingrained in my body, available to me when I need it.

I think it is vitally important that we continue to create body-memories as adults that can support us and maybe help balance out painful body-memories from the past.

Today when I stand in the woods on the hill, looking out over the valley where I live, I can actually feel the ground beneath my feet. I can feel how solid it is – or how muddy it is when it’s been raining, as it tends to do in these parts.
I am not just watching my feet on the ground, registering it as if observing someone else. I really feel it. I feel my feet in my socks, in my boots and the soles of the boots connecting with the soil or the stones. I feel the cold damp seeping through the leather and I feel the warmth of my blood trying to dispel the cold.
Experiencing the world and connecting with my surrounding from inside out is only possible because I have found a way to be in me – literally be in me, in my body.
It still takes a lot of work and I still get easily overwhelmed emotionally, mentally and physically. But knowing how to  ground myself and get back to my centre is the foundation of everything else for me. It’s my roots, my base, my starting point, my anchor.
When I get lost in fears, thoughts, fantasies, insecurities, expectations, excitement and busynes, my body is always there to bring me back to the reality of here and now. My breath is always here, my heart beat is always here and if I contract the muscles around my core I can feel I am here.
The simplest way to ground myself is just to gently tense and release my muscles – in my leg, hand, stomach or feet – to the rythm of my breath. Breathing out as I tense and breathing in I let go and relax.
This works for me.
The amazing thing about body work is that you can find your own way of grounding yourself, the possibilities are endless. But it might take some dedication and patience to find what works for you.

 

groundingandcentering

Articles about Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy

I like this. Wonder how long they will be available for.
Bodywork, body awareness therapy, dance and massages has been some of the most important parts of my journey towards living more harmoniously with my unusual sensory experiences, shifting mind-states and physical pain and exhaustion.

“To honour the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, the Editor-in-Chief, Helen Payne, Editors, Vicky Karkou, Gill Westland and Tom Warnecke have chosen ten articles from the past ten years for you to enjoy for free.”

http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/beh/tbmd-10th-anniversary

The Yellow Book

Today I went to London to spend some time celebrating the project RethinkYourMind and all the people who had contributed to the creation of The Yellow Book and 4 singles.
I went without really knowing what to expect; what kind of people would be there, what kind of atmosphere and attitudes there might be. I was pleasantly surprised by the speeches and I walked away feeling quite encouraged. There was no romanticising of mental health struggles yet there was very little talk of illness and much talk of hope, the individual journey and individual needs, of support, of possibilities, of de-stigmatising, of creativity and expression and of working together.

I left thinking of two things; the power of celebrations and the potential of arts.

Even though I didn’t know anyone there and I felt nervous and uncertain I was quickly engulfed in a sense of community. I thought about how nourishing it can be to get together to celebrate something we care about – not just to give credit to individuals but really feeling what we are able to do together. Not only to reassure and give recognition which can be nice but too often evaporates quickly; no, I am thinking more of a sense of collectively creating a pool of energy from which we can draw strength.

I think we have lost some depth in how we celebrate in our modern busy lives. The traditional celebrations like birthdays, Christmas and similar special holidays have become commercial adventures or just time off work. There is something to be said for ceremony and rituals – structures that reminds us that what we are doing is special and sacred. And telling stories and sharing visions and dreams can help us connect more deeply with each other.

It was a brief event and it would have been lovely to head to a pub to continue conversations that had begun and connect more with people who were there.
I would also have loved for there to be more time to hear the music that has been created by this project, maybe an exhibition to create more shared experiences with the amazing artwork that is in the book.

But even in its briefness this event seemed more meaningful to me than many other events I have participated in. It seemed full of beautiful possibilities. I was inspired by the bringing together of so many different people from very different walks of life.

It seemed to me that we were a very diverse group of people and I am a big fan of diversity. It creates uncomfortable tensions but also possibilities for learning new things and finding new understandings. But most of all I think diversity is essential for creativity. Creativity doesn’t discriminate – we can all be creative. And it is often in the tensions between known and unknown, between joy and pain, that I feel inspired. I create when I am trying to grasp something that is still incomprehensible to me, when I try and express things that are on the edge.

So the second thing I was thinking of was how art and creativity has the potential to build bridges and can offer shared understandings where words of the rational mind fall short.

I think that much stigma and fear around mental distress could be transfigured with and through arts – because arts has always managed to go to the spaces where madness lives. Like madness, art is connected to the irrational, the emotional, the other-worldly, the spiritual, the natural, the collective subconsciousness, the innovative, the unusual and the extraordinary. In the arts madness is celebrated and explored – and some even see it as necessary for the process of creating. Art can offer meaning where madness has caused havoc. Art can offer safe ways of expressing the seemingly inexpressible. Art can cross the gaps created by our differences because it helps us find what we have in common and connect us in our shared humanness.

I just want to finish these reflections by giving thanks to the people who put work and effort into this project. I think The Yellow Book is lovely, inspiring and useful.

image

image

Thoughts on Change #3

creating change -continued…

Knowing when to wait…

I am presently reading “Runes of the Earth” by Stephen Donaldson (7th book of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever). In this book the reader is told the story about an old man, Anele, who feels he is solely responsible for the grim state of affairs in “The Land”. Different forces are causing havoc and Lord Foul, The Despiser, is once again trying to find a way to break the Arch of Time to destroy the earth. Thousands of years ago, Anele’s parents had been given The Staff of Law and they spent their lives healing damage that had been done to The Land after Lord Fouls previous attacks. They taught Anele everything they knew and when they died, they left The Staff of Law in his care so that he could continue their work. Anele however had always felt too astonished with the Earthpower and the wonders of The Land and therefore unworthy of wielding the powers of the Staff of Law. He decided to go live in a cave and spend his time learning to listen deeply to all parts of The Land in the hope that he would then better understand how to meet its needs. Consequently he did nothing and carried out no healing for many many years. He just listened; “Trying to determine the form of service that was right for him” (p.460)

One day he feels a great unease in The Land and ventures out to have a look at it but leaves The Staff of Law behind him intending to come back for it when he has seen and understood what is causing the unease. He is then caught in a Fall – a great moving aura inside which time breaks – and he is transported thousands of years into the future and thereby separated from The Staff of Law. He is so distraught with his own failure to act and to heal as he was destined to do that now where he has lost The Staff, he goes mad. His mind becomes fragmented, trying to protect him from his unbearable guilt and shame. Initially he thought himself unworthy to take on the task of healing. He has tried to find a way to approach his birthright, his responsibilities and powers but is torn away from his life and thrown into a world in distress. He judges himself harshly and believes he is witnessing the future consequences of his own inadequacy – his hesitance, which he sees as cowardice, is the cause of the approaching ruin of The Land.

I can relate to Anele’s story in several ways; for a good half of my life I have judged myself too afraid of responsibilities, too weak, too lazy, too unworthy and to unskilled to be able to have an impact on the world. I told myself I was fleeing, pacified and petrified by my fears of failure. But in moments I would experience thoughts such as:

“I am learning to live with pain”

“I am trying to listen and understand what is needed here”

“I need to see a fuller picture, have more pieces of the jigsaw-puzzle in place”

In seemingly clearer phases I would see myself as waiting rather than fleeing. And I was waiting because I had to; to gain more experience, to receive more information and to get to know myself better and learn to play myself like an instrument. Rather than willing myself forwards, waiting seemed to be a way of honouring something deeper in me, something I could not and still cannot articulate or understand. I had to start trusting that in all my insignificance, ignorance and powerlessness I was also part of something bigger, much wiser than me. A moving energy or consciousness that had intention and direction that lay beyond my limited mind. I had to try and accept the slowliness of my living and trust that I had to keep living – however painful and pointless it seemed at times.

– and when to act…

Urgency and emergency, the sense of crisis and the unbearable pains and injustices we have to face over and over again, make us want to rush. Understandably; we want to change things as quickly as possible, relieve hurts, mend what has been broken, set wrongs right and make sure that injustices are not repeated over and over. We want the solutions to be clear and simple, we want to find the causes, point out the offenders and ensure ourselves that we have made the world a better place – whatever that means to us as individuals. It is only natural when we feel deeply and care deeply that we look for ways to change things within our own lifetime.

But if we do not believe we can make a difference we might chose numbness and distractions and live to meet our own basic needs and leave the fate of the earth in the hands of others. Again an understandable response to the overwhelming amount of pain.

When I rush or when I close my self off, I do it to protect myself from various things and I forget to trust.

It is probably unlikely that there is ever a perfect time to take action, but I believe it is good to keep an eye on timing. Try to get a sense of the bigger picture, listen to what is going on around you, get a sense of the atmosphere in a room or a conversation before deciding what to say or do. Tuning in on the space and the people we want to have a meaningful conversations with can at times be worth much more than the actual words we use.

Our collective intelligence.

In my front yard there is a lovely little apple-tree in a large container. It is only a few years old and has started to bear fruit. But the young branches need training in order for them to carry the weight of the growing apples without breaking off from the trunk. So I need to find a way to help them grow more horizontally which will make them stronger and able to fulfill their function as fruit carriers.

I wonder if the collective consciousness or intelligence of humanity needs some kind of gentle training so that it can bear its fruits without breaking off from the trunk; the core, the earth, the life source… A sustainable training that will enable branches to grow stronger, a deeper fundamental change in how we grow and expand, moving towards a way of living that honours the earth that sustains us. I don’t know what this gentle training would look like but in my own life I have found that I benefit greatly from slowing down, listening deeply and allowing things to unfold in their own time. When I am caught in the sense of crisis I feel like I have to do as much as humanly possible and not stop till all is done – or I break… But if I am able to step back, I might find that less is more. That my full intervention is not needed but maybe just my witnessing is enough to change the course of events. It is hard work to balance the sense of power and powerlessness. To be aware that I am powerless and powerful at the same time and that my actions can have unforeseen consequences, that something done with best intentions may cause harm and something done out of frustration might be helpful for someone…

Inspirations and aspirations.

I began to listen to popular music quite late – when I was around 13 years old in 1995 – and the first pop-artist I got excited about was Michael Jackson. Not knowing anything about him or the media attention he had had for more than 15 years I dived into his music without any preconceptions. Not only did his lyrics speak to my struggles at the time, they also seemed to weave themselves into my deeper values and already forming beliefs about myself and the world. “Man in the mirror” is a good example of this. Whenever I hear or read outcries about all that is wrong with the world, this song starts playing in my mind. In the words of Gandhi the song basically tells us to be the change we want to see. If we think the world needs more kindness, more consideration, more listening, more dialogue, more shared decision-making and more awareness we need to nurture these things ourselves; in ourselves and in our own lives.

I have found a lot of inspiration in the practices and ideas called “The Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that matter”. The name itself strikes a cord in me and I like the values beneath the different practices. I have chosen to believe that if we can slow down, put aside our ideas of right and wrong and remember our sameness as well as our uniqueness, we might be able to connect in a way that enables deep, fundamental training of our collective consciousness and intelligence. We may be able to have conversations that raise our awareness and help us make sustainable changes within and around us.

Another concept that speaks to me is “facilitating” – making possible. My partner asked me recently: “What do you think are the circumstances under which love can grow?” I talked for a bit, sharing fragmented ideas. Then I was quiet for a bit, trying to listen deeper into myself and go beyond the words of love, growing and circumstances… I tried to remember times of love and then a thought formed in me that I then shared: “I don’t think it is love that grows. To me love is an eternal force; to me it love is not much to do with our emotions and attachments, love is life itself and divine energy. Love is everywhere all the time. Love doesn’t grow but our awareness of it can grow – or be diminished. Love is there to sustain us, very willingly.”

It is a very cliché idea that love is all we need but I can’t help thinking that love is exactly what we need to create change. We need to connect with that energy, life-force, sensation or whatever you want to call it – we need to allow ourselves to be aware of the love that is available to us, around us and within us. To me love is the fabric of our souls and it is in every cell of my body and in the living material world around me. Being aware of love is not a complacent state, there is still discernment and urgency but there is no moral higher ground and no rush to dampen fears.

I would love to spend my life facilitating spaces and conversations where our personal and collective awareness of love can grow. I am not sure what it looks like, whether there is a right way or a good manual.

But I want to try – one little, slow and trusting step at a time.

The Possibility of Healing

I wrote this a while back and it was first posted on www.journeyingwithsensitivity.wordpress.com

Sometimes I am not sure what is meant when people talk about healing. So when I decided to try and write this piece I looked it up on wikipedia where it says: Healing – literally meaning to make whole – is the process of the restoration of health to an unbalanced, diseased or damaged organism. And here is what it says in my Webster’s comprehensive dictionary: Heal – 1) to restore to health or soundness; make healthy again; cure. 2) To bring about the remedy or cure of, as a wound or disease. 3) To remedy, repair, or counteract, as a quarrel, breach etc. 4) To free from sin, grief, worry etc.; purify: to heal the spirit – v.i. 5) To become well or sound.

Now it looks to me as if I need to understand and accept the duality of being healthy and being unhealthy which I am not sure I truly can… But for the sake of this piece of writing let us say, that there are processes that facilitate our minds and bodies to move from states of pain to states of less pain, from damage to undamaged, from unease to pleasure or peace, from ill-being to well-being. And that those processes are called healing. I guess we can also think of them as transforming, recovering, curing, restoring, regenerating, mending, changing or fixing.

That out of the way I will get started on what I actually wanted to say.

It is believed in different circles and faiths that spontaneous healing is possible – healing that does not happen from human medical interference but by divine forces or God’s grace. Amongst many others there is a group that I find quite interesting. It is an international gathering of people called Bruno Gröening’s Circle of Friends who do work on volunteer and donation basis to inform people about healing as well as collect documentation of healing that occurs. Below is a short description of their work but more information can be found on their website.

The Bruno Groening Circle of Friends is an informal gathering of people who have recognised the value of Bruno Groening’s teachings. These are passed on in hundreds of groups which meet around the world. Instruction is given for the proper physical and mental attitude necessary for the absorption of Divine power. The ”healing stream”, which is clearly perceptible in the body, gives help and healing, even in cases of chronic, degenerative and serious organic illnesses.”

From http://www.bruno-groening.org/english/default.htm

Stories of spontaneous healings have been told for thousands of years – maybe even longer. I do believe that healing can happen in ways that science and medicine cannot explain with their views on life and the world.

A question that intrigues me is, that if healing from pain, illness and distress is possible, then why does it not happen more?

I know that within myself there are intense contradicting forces. Parts of me long for peace of mind, a pain-free, energised body and strong health without inflictions like asthma, allergies, stomach problems, muscle tension, flues, inflammations and injuries. But there are also parts of me that hold pain and illness in great reverence. These parts fully believe that pain is a natural human condition and also something we need in order to learn. Caught between these contradicting parts I do not expect myself to have all my maladies spontaneously healed and then live a long and healthy life…

At the moment I am finding myself very inspired and excited about Stephen Donaldson’s three triologies about Thomas Covenant – again, as I went through this excitement some years ago as well. In the 7th book “Runes of the Earth” there are some interesting reflections on healing and I will just share some short excerpts to give a general sense of what I want to reflect on:

Anele’s hands trembled as he studied the Staff, and his blind gaze seemed to ache with yearning (…) How much recrimination and self-loathing had he suffered before he had fallen into madness?

The touch of the Staff might heal him as well.

(…)

In a small voice he murmured unsteadily: ‘I am unworthy of such astonishment. The day has not come yet when I may be whole’ His throat closed on a sob. When he has swallowed it he whispered: ‘Until that time, I must remain as I am.’

(…)

For a while, Linden could not stop her tears. The day had not yet come – she believed him; there was no falsehood in him. But the thought that he needed to remain as he was hurt her more than she could express. With the Staff she possessed the power to impose any healing that he might require. Yet he refused her. He was not ready – or his circumstances were not”

(p.467 – 468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

Here it seems as if there is much more to healing than just the act of itself; closing a wound, expelling illnesses from the body or mending a fragmented mind. That healing does not only affect the person healed but also the surroundings; we are presented with the idea that circumstances can be ready for healing as well, or not. That healing is not only about one person’s willingness and readiness but also about the bigger picture and deeper consequences for everyone involved.

In a cure-oriented society it may be hard to understand and accept that some people do not want healing. It may be even harder to grasp that there could be a deeper -even unconscious – personal or collective need for somebody not to heal and remain in pain or disabled. Most people within care and treatment professions are oriented towards helping, easing or stopping suffering; personally I think we need to talk more about the problems with involuntary treatment and artificial elongations of lives. The main character in the book mentioned above is a physician dedicated to helping others and following her journey of trying to see beyond the old man’s madness and refusal to be healed is fascinating:

She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. ‘Look at him,’ she told Liand. ‘He’s choosing to be this way.’ His madness, like his blindness, was necessary to him still. ‘If I try to heal him, he’ll fight me. And maybe he is right. He certainly has the right.’ “

(p.468, Runes of the Earth by Stephen Donaldson)

The idea that we might need pain and illness for reasons we cannot yet comprehend can ease some of my personal frustrations a bit. Both as someone who regularly experiences physical pain and emotional distress as well as someone who cares about others and feel the urgency for relief from pain around me. I have times where I am completely overwhelmed by a sense of meaninglessness and of disillusionment with the state of the world. I rage against the forces – divine or human – that does not allow healing to happen where it seems so needed. But it helps me to read things like the book mentioned above, following a character’s journey towards greater understanding of the complexity of life. It can help me to connect with a part of me that humbly says: “What do I really know? And who am I to judge? How can I with my limited perceptions understand what is truly needed in the world?”

This does not mean that I stop caring or yearning to see change – or that I do not think I need to take action where I feel able. But I try to remember that all I can really do is focus on the here and now, do my best to honour my own values and trust that if I try my best, healing will happen when and where the people and circumstances are ripe and ready for the deep change that healing might be.