Some time has passed since my last post, but truthfully, I’ve been going through a few things, and I’ve also discovered something big about myself in the healing process.
I’ll start by briefly mentioning that I’m in the process of healing for postnatal OCD, obsessively checking on my baby daughter, having terrible intrusive thoughts, and horrendous night terrors that have woken me almost as much as the baby. To say I’ve been exhausted is an understatement.
My mind and body have been completely totalled. I was still going out for long daily walks but that itself wasn’t fixing anything. I couldn’t understand why I felt so completely overwhelmed even when things were calm.
When I say I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, the only way I can describe it is like a constant deafening ‘noise’ in my head. Not literal noise. Just a feeling of so much going on that whenever there was a moment of silence and my baby napped, my head felt as if I had just been to a nightclub, then got home and sat in the silence with my head promising a hangover.
This feeling isn’t new to me. I’ve often struggled with it and sometimes it’s even lead to the odd meltdown. Now, I do have an autism diagnosis, but to me that’s never felt like the whole picture.
At night, I couldn’t wait to reach for the wine or the beer to ‘tone down’ the constant sensory overload I was feeling. Obviously, not a good thing.
Well, a few weeks ago, I made a radical decision. I was going to dramatically tone down as much sensory stimulation coming at me as possible. This has meant leaving Facebook, leaving Whatsapp, not checking the news, not filling in silences, not playing intense videogames for a long period of time or before bed, and not checking my phone in the morning.
The news has been constant source of worry and stress over things I can’t control, as well as yet another thing to keep me clicking and bombarding me with information. Why was I doing it to myself?
I was fed up with the urge to check all the time, losing hours to apps and then feeling as if I’d had no time to myself, fed up with feeling as if i had to respond on Whatsapp all the time (the app shows when a message has been read) and I simply don’t want that pressure to respond instantly.
Nobody should have to feel that kind of pressure unless it is an emergency.
For those reasons, I likely won’t be returning to Facebook at all or checking the news unless I absolutely have to.
I’ve taken breaks in the past thinking I would reset my habit and all would be fine. But because social media services are designed to exploit our minds and our need to be accepted, I know that isn’t going to happen which is why I’ve found myself time and again down the endless, noisy rabbit hole.
I understand that in the current climate, the expectations to communicate digitally are heightened, but for me, it’s not been doing my mental health any good.
With a 4 month old and a 6 year old autistic son, total peace is just not going to happen, so I’ve taken control of what I can so I can show up for my family as a better, calmer person, and hopefully continue to heal.
I’ve been making a habit of colouring again as part of the healing process. Honestly, I had forgotten the joy and the peace of simply worrying about what colour to use next. I’ve also been just sitting in silence for long periods of time with my favourite beverage of choice (a calming herbal tea or some hot milk).
I’ve slowed down my walking speed instead of walking like I’m on some imaginary timer, and that had paid off because I captured some great photos I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. It seems that rushing around doing anything automatically makes my brain think I’m in a survival situation, so I’ve been intentionally slower with household chores as well, and in moving around the house.
I make sure to feel the floor beneath my feet, whether that’s the warm cosy carpet of the bedroom between my toes, or the cool hard flooring of the living room.
Mornings are now much slower. No longer do I rush to get myself and my son out the door to school. The stress was doing neither of us any good so I’ve started making time for cuddles and showing him the amazing sunrises from his bedroom window instead (to which he runs off to get his camera).
I also make a point to braindump in my notebook every morning which is akin to emptying the household trash and is seriously refreshing.
I’ve got rid of even more stuff. In fact, I now consider myself an extreme minimalist (which i want to talk about in another post).
I’ve cut out chemicals and sprays which I was incredibly sensitive to and switched to all natural products instead. Even that has gone some way to reduce the overload on my senses.
As I’ve slowed down and started noticing the signals my body is giving me, I’ve realised that caffeine is yet another thing I am sensitive to, which has been putting me into fight or flight mode without even realising. Without slowing down, I never would have noticed that as I chugged every cup of tea like I was on a timer.
In just over a week, my husband tells me I’ve not been waking up screaming as much, sometimes not at all, and I feel generally calmer in myself. More grounded.
Now for the revelation I discovered about myself. And it was the brain-dumping and reducing the huge amounts of sensory input which lead to the realisation.
I’m actually an extroverted HSP (Highly sensitive Person).
Why is that such a revelation, you ask? Because for pretty much my whole life I’ve ignored that and lived a loud, obnoxious lifestyle.
Growing up I always had trouble making friends and being bullied, and a few other traumatic things happened in my life, so I acted out constantly. Later on, when I finally did make life-long friends, I acted silly and loud and hyper all the time (which quickly became a part of my identity with friends). I acted that way for so many years I forgot it had once been a mask. In fact, it was still a mask.
I wore this mask because deep down I feared being lonely and friendless and a little voice in my head told me I couldn’t be calm because I’d be seen as boring, that I’d lose the people close to me if I calmed down because there was nothing else about me. I continued to tell myself that story for the longest time.
Sometimes people would comment and go ‘that’s very Emma’, or ‘that’s not very Emma-like’ which further cemented these fears I had to live up to this identity I had forged.
Even after receiving a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia (which has calmed down somewhat after cutting out gluten and using more natural products) I carried on like I was, continually burning myself out. I wasn’t even aware I had been wearing a mask because it had become such an ingrained part of myself.
The relief upon realising this was as if I had just dropped a heavy sack of potatoes I’d been carrying for years. I just stared and stared at the page where this had all come out of me, hardly able to believe it.
That’s not the only thing that helped me come to the realisation I’m an (extroverted) HSP. I’ve been minimalist a few years now and have become more and more on the extreme side, wanting less and less visual distraction, craving peace and nature more than ever before.
I found myself watching Youheum’s Heal your Living on Youtube (an extreme minimalist) just so I could feel the calm and because I love her incredibly serene, slow voice. But, strikingly, what made me watch these videos over and over, was that she talks about being a HSP, which is something I hadn’t heard of before.
When Youheum spoke about being a HSP and how extreme minimalism was helping that, something clicked for me. I felt like she was talking about my deepest self, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept it, so I watched it a good few times.
Upon reading about HSP’s, and finding it is a very real thing, I was struck by how much like me it all was, the only difference being I’m in the 20-30% of extroverted HSP’s – most are introverts.
So now, I’m kind of dealing with the mask having fallen away, and am having to nurture and nourish the ruined, daylight-deprived skin beneath. And I’m doing this mainly by myself because everyone else has always known me as ‘that crazy loud girl’. It’s embarrassing, to be honest, and despite being public, this blog felt like the safest place to explain it. the safest place to be myself.
I have to wonder if it wasn’t for the postpartum illness, and if it wasn’t for minimising even further, how much longer would that mask have stayed welded to me? Until I had another meltdown? Until I got yet another chronic illness?
This is the first time I’ve spoken about this.
In a way, it’s helping me to process the fact I’ve been pretending for so long and subjecting myself to unnecessary levels of stimulation and noise. All under the belief I was boring and undesirable. All because I was petrified of being lonely.
I’ve since come to realise after all these years what quality friends and family I have, and that anyone worth having in my life, will continue to love me for who I really am.
And I’m also thankful to discovering minimalism because without that, I’d never be where I am now and this blog wouldn’t even exist.
If you’re also a HSP or have recently discovered you are, feel free to comment and I will get back to you within 48 hours.