A SENSITIVE ORCHID IN A DANDELION WORLD - HSP, TBI & PTSD
Updated: Oct 18
Some people might say that orchids are sooooo much prettier than dandelions. I am not one of them.
I adore dandelions. As a kid, it used to break my heart to watch my dad trek back and forth across our lawn, spraying chemical toxics to kill all my sunny-headed little friends.
I don't know where the fashion of perfectly green lawns became the be-all-end-all of landscaping, but I find it boring. In places where you have to water it, I find it wasteful, and I could never understand going through the effort and expense of getting rid of one of my favorite parts of our yard in Minnesota.
Dandelions always made me happy. I loved smelling them. They're great for tea (provided they're not covered in chemicals). When their lifespans run out and they re-pollenate, they're oodles of wondrous fun to blow on them and make wishes--oh, the horror! "Don't scatter that shit! You'll never get rid of 'em!"
I seem to enjoy "weeds" more than a lot of people. Maybe because, in some ways, I am one. That's long been an aspirational metaphor for me: to be as tenacious as a weed.
I have to be if I want to accomplish anything in my life. That kinda goes for most of us. But I consciously, diligently work at emulating dandelion hardiness and resilience, because I was born as sensitive as an orchid.
In some ways, I was given an abundance of nurturing and ideal circumstances in which to bloom. In other ways, that inner orchid was starved, battered, and deprived of sunlight. So while I became capable of extraordinary things and have had multiple periods in my life where I was a blazing star, the foundation has always been cracked and undermined by tunnels of trauma. I've had PTSD since I was four. I've also had four TBIs. (Oddly--interestingly?--in Numerology, I have a Life Path Number 4 and it has been my favorite number since I was kid.) (1)
So what do dandelions, orchids and trauma have to do with each other?
If you don't have the time or inclination to completely geek out on this wonderful TED talk, here's a 2.5 minute summary with an additional note on inner ear warmth--apparently we Orchids have a warmer right inner ear because of higher activity in the prefrontal cortex.
Which happens to be one of my greatest places of TBI damage...
With that in mind, let us now return to our HSP types as outlined in the video from the last post, and the way they operate in my life:
I breathe and drink emotion. It's how I make the art that I do. It's one of the primary ways I connect with people, either onstage or off, and emotional expression is one of the most common things people ask me to teach in dance. It's also one of the most common things people ooh and ahh over when I perform, and why they say that there is no substitute for seeing me dance live. "When you dance, I can just...FEEL you."
I know. I can feel you, too.
I've been told the same thing regarding the way I touch. My hugs, the way customarily reclusive animals will curl up with me or let me pet them, the way I make love. "Being touched by you...it's like you touch me so much more deeply than my skin."
That's because I do.
My touch, and therefore what I'm feeling into when I touch, comes from the core of my emotion. That same place, when stirred by music, is what puppets my body when I dance. I would imagine it's why, on the days when I am most In the Flow, small, furry creatures and winged things flock around me like I'm some Disney princess skipping through the forest. Birds hop into my empty hands. Deer approach me in the woods. People spill secrets they never talk about.
All this is a blessing. It's also something I have to navigate carefully.
Sure, being hypersensitive is tons of fun amidst explosive imagination or exhilarating physicality or complex puzzle solving. It's amazing in the realms of sensuality and mind-blowing in sex. But the emotional realm is the one I’ve shut down most, unless I'm behind that onstage barrier of safety, alone in the privacy of my own home, or with my most trusted near and dear.
Because, as the video said, the mood swings can be quite dramatic when I run out of spoons. By the time I entered kindergarten, I was already an HSP with PTSD, trying to learn how to be a socially acceptable, neurotypical human. Hahahaha... When I was 28, heaping on frontal lobe damage with its inability to control the hijacking of flashbacks and the expression of every bloody mood in every bloody second I felt them was catastrophic to the facade I had built in order to pretend I was fit for mainstream consumption. (2)
Ultimately, I think this is a good thing. (Can't change it, so I'd rather decide that than the alternative.)
Cancer and strokes run in my family. I’m not interested in being a breeding ground for either of those conditions of Dis-Ease because, as the video talked about, it's been well proven that my body reacts just as powerfully to my unpleasant emotional undercurrents as it does when I am moved by music or joy.
I used to have debilitating nausea and stomach cramps amidst the most stressful of my environments. After I overdrew my boss's bank account by over $1000 in the wake of my first car wreck, I was struck with panic attacks before having to drive and go to work at a job my brain could no longer do. This is why they at last medically removed me. Too much overstimulation brings on migraines, blackouts, seizures and the most uncontrollable of my mood swings.
Humans naturally have a mechanism whereby, when they run down the battery of the prefrontal cortex throughout the day's stressors or in some major neuron-taxing requirement, the amygdala takes over--and nobody wants an amygdala-with-legs running around on the loose. (3) Particularly not when that sucker has become bloated and way too brawny from traumatic overuse. When I lose access to the regulatory mechanisms of my frontal lobe, it can be Chernobyl and it’s horrifying.
It's the thing that drives how I set up my life--to prevent this at all costs. The prices I pay are monetary as well as social. Both my divorces are part of this price, as are countless relationships in every sphere of my life. It's why I won't live with anyone again, why I sporadically socialize, why I don't tour or perform live much anymore, and it's why Vocational Rehab has had such a hard time helping me find a new way of earning a living. Apparently I'm in a very small, very special category of problem children, hence why I'm trying to get a home-based business going.
With TBI, losing the ability to upkeep a mask of "acceptability" forced me to stop hiding who I am. That's caused mass evacuations in my social life and in people who wish to work with me. *Shrug*
I’d rather be alone and comfortably myself than surrounded by clueless people who like--heaven forbid, love--someone that isn’t me, or toxic people who keep trying to make me be who they want me to be, rather than just letting the connection die.
And yes, in spite of the fact that now I'm a martial artist and I write gory novels about gladiators, there is still a large piece of my original aversion to anything violent. I'm a spider-catch-and-releaser, except for the dangerous ones, and even those I feel awful about zwooping up with the vacuum. We'll get to the tales of how hard it was for my martial instructors to get me over the visceral abhorrence I once had to striking anything with physical mass.
Eventually, they made a little monster. But my revulsion to violence is a large part of why I started out as a doormat and everybody's punching bag.
I'm going to separate out the empathetic response they mentioned in the video--what many people call "being an Empath"--and put it into a category they didn’t discuss, but that runs in my family: sensitivity to things beyond the five senses.
Prescient dreams, visions, connections to the deceased and places where death has occurred. Astounding connections with wild creatures and the things I sense in nature. I have had many instances of just…knowing things I should have no idea about. I just do. Later I find out I was correct. Or I’ve written scenes in my novels that have later happened in real life.
Some of the way I dance comes from…I don’t know where it comes from. My body sometimes moves in ways I don’t consciously choose. It’s the same with my writing. I have sat down at the computer for four hours straight and “woken up” as if from a trance, having no clue what I just wrote. I go back and read it like it was written by someone else.
Both of these things are completely different from being “in the zone.” That happens a lot, too, but it's a different mechanism.
I don’t talk about this stuff much except with my friends and family who have similar experiences. I also haven't developed it much under skilled mentors, and it’s not an always-thing. It can be hard to access at will--one of the many casualties from all the ways I’ve been invalidated and told I’m “seeing things” or being “melodramatic” or even "scary" or "psycho" or "evil" or "a witch". (6) People say that I should "have that looked at" because I don't have the scientific language to back up what happens when I open up to this type of sensitivity.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane
by those who could not hear the music.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche
My Empath nature is something else I shut down to a trickle a long time ago. It gets taken advantage of when I'm not careful. I work occasionally at nurturing it, but it takes close bonds with other humans to truly and fully heal the damage caused hand-in-hand with other humans.
It can also be overwhelming in public spaces. Early on, I learned that people were liars and that adults didn't want to hear about evidence they couldn't see with their eyeballs. "You're letting your imagination carry you away. Don't borrow trouble. Don't you think you're being paranoid?"
No. I don't.
Because people smiled and said sweet things--with energetic daggers flying out from their guts into mine. I could literally see them, and I certainly could feel them, but that's just not something you talk about. Not if you don't want to be labeled "insane" and get put on drugs you don't need.
Too bad I learned to ignore those energetic warning signs, because those very same people are the ones I've been writing about for many chapters of childhood bullying and trauma. Others are coming down the pipe. They're the ones I forgave and gave the benefit of the doubt and forgave again until, for a time, I lost the capacity to forgive anybody.
Most of all myself.
I also could sense that people who said they were “fine” obviously weren’t, and then society started demanding that I do the same. When I didn’t, rejection happened. (It still does.) When I still didn't stuff it, sometimes rejection turned into abuse.
"That happened so long ago. You need to get over it and stop crying, because you're ruining our pleasant evening. You're not worthy of my love when you're like this."
Direct quote by someone who said he wanted to marry me. Of course, he also threw me out a window so...you tell me.
In elementary school, I developed an armoring system that allows me to walk through a crowd and not be bombarded by all the emotions emanating from others. It's kind of like horse-blinders and a full-body blanket with chainmail over it. I developed it because public spaces were not only too loud, too bright, too chaotic...just Too Fucking Much. But because for someone like me, they were also energetic war zones and I got tired of bleeding emotion from every weapon hurled as I passed.
Now I use it to also drown out all the overstimulation my TBI can't handle.
Later in life, I learned a different mode of protection, but I have to be In the Flow to use it. It's much like the blonde twins from the Matrix. I look down, expecting to be energetically hemorrhaging, but things have just...passed through me as though I've suddenly become incorporeal. POOF.
On those days I don't even have to be Neo, putting my hand up and saying, "NO."
The farther I settle into just being this c-PTSD-riddled HSP with TBI, the happier I become, the more at ease, and the more productive in ways I can sustain.
I also have those middle finger foamies. They become larger with every year, brandished before everyone who sees people like me in terms of the denigrating labels slapped onto us.
I'd much rather seek out those who value us for the gifts of our sensitivities.
ADDITIONAL LINKS & RESOURCES
1) Good thing I have all that Sagittarian curiosity and fire to balance out my straight-shooting, line-following, i-dotting Numerology 4.
3) A more in-depth explanation by a neuroscientist about oversized amygdalae on the loose, along with some techniques for hacking them and calming them down. Ooooh--and even reducing their size when they've gotten bloated from traumatic overuse.
4) EMDR - another successful technique that was of great help after my first car wreck, and that has finally been made financially accessible to me for the first time since 2002. Thank you, microscopic badass. One of the silver linings gifts from this pandemic.
5) A comparative article about various PTSD techniques, including EMDR. I have done some of these as well, and had levels of success with them all. I've found that success depends on a lot of factors within the person experiencing the trauma(s), who they have administering it, and even what's going on in the person's life at the time(s) they try it. So I don't recommend any one technique over the other as a generalization.
6) Although I read tarot and have dabbled with various Pagan practices, making some of them my own, I'm not an official practitioner of any religions that utilize witchcraft. I identify as broadly spiritual, not religious. It's that multipotentialite thing again.
7) Actual footage of the cat-n-mouse games between my prefrontal cortex and my amygdala. OK it's more like cat-n-bird games. But seriously! I don't know how they captured this footage.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: Remember how I said there were two things you needed to understand about that day I "went to a funeral and came home with a date"? The first one was that I felt like Mulan wearing the makeup and constricting dress. The second one is that I had just lost the beloved person who most deeply and instinctually GOT ME in all the world.
--OR if you'd like to dive more deeply into how Orchidness works in my world, you can find plenty of it here: