Highly Sensitive Men

Steve on bridge5lex2

You know who we are. You’ve seen us around your whole life, those of us who just don’t fit the mold. Men who don’t seem to be as tough or “manly” as the rest of our peers. Some estimates claim that 1 in 5 men, and women, are highly sensitive. That’s 20%. I believe it because I’m one of them and I’ve met so many others in my life.

Men who are highly sensitive are generally not valued by our society, not openly at least, tho without us society would be a poorer and sadder place to live. We tend to value a tougher aspect in our men and want them to just shut down their feelings and go along with the program. But for some of us that’s impossible.

Some of us have our hearts on our sleeves and are always willing to let our feelings out and be open about who we are, but not all HSM are able to do this. It’s a difficult thing to do and you don’t get a lot of support from anyone else in this except others who understand our dilemma, or our blessings, depending on how you see it. It’s OK for women to be this way, but not for men.

I’ve always fit the profile of being a sensitive male. Been called names like sissy, wimp, faggot and others all my life. I’ve always been told I’m just too sensitive for my own good and I need to toughen up and get over it. Well, I’m here to tell you that I haven’t done that. I’ve stayed sensitive even tho it’s hard work. Here’s what I’ve done.

First I’ve reclaimed the concept of toughness. I Am tough, tough as nails, and I have to be to withstand all the slings and arrows from a society that doesn’t value me for who I am. I’ve had to hide my feelings too many times when it was too dangerous and I’ve had to learn which battles to choose to fight. In so many ways it’s about the choices we make in how we live our lives.

I’ve chosen to embrace my sensitivity. It takes a lot of courage to do this but it’s what is required if you want to live a good life as a sensitive person. I’m an empath and I feel the things that others don’t too often. Sometimes it gives me an edge in knowing a situation or gauging others’ feelings and thoughts. It’s a blessing to me then. But sometimes it just plain hurts.

Sometimes I wake up and I just cry. It hits me so hard. All the pain and suffering I see around me in the world, and in myself too. It’s overwhelming to me, a common thing for HSM to feel. Life is just too much to bear sometimes and when you feel it all so deeply you can get hurt by just about anything. I have to be compassionate with myself.

But I am compassionate by nature, and so are most sensitive people. We tend to be aware of how someone else is feeling and base our actions on that awareness instead of our own beliefs about them. We Feel them in our guts. This is what I meant by calling my blog Naked Nerves. I feel so much I’m stripped of protection, naked to the world.

Highly Sensitive Men tend to feel too much most of the time. We feel the pain of the world too deeply and the suffering of others causes us personal pain and distress. We have to learn how to deal with that and still be able to function in society. We have to learn to engage with our sensitivity and honor it and make it an upfront aspect of who we are.

I talk about reclaiming ourselves a lot it seems. Maybe it’s because I’ve learned that it’s so important to be who you are in life, and not pretend to be someone you’re not. I’ve done both and life is much richer if you’re real about who you are. If you’re a HSM then you have to reclaim that part of who you are and let it shine in your actions. You Have to be Real.

This can mean some people will still trash you and chastise you for your way of being. Being sensitive for men is seriously stigmatized in our society. It’s like any stigma – rooted in fear and ignorance about who we really are. That’s why it’s so important for us to come out about who we are and show ourselves and Be who we are in the face of the onslaught of incivility that is sweeping our country these days.

The world needs us! It needs men who are willing to take the risk to stand out and say what’s right and what is wrong. Men who have been great leaders in our world have often been sensitive men who used their skills to enlighten society. They shower us with compassion and empathy for those that are without the basic needs of life. They show us a different way to be.

HSM are kind people as a rule, tho some who haven’t accepted themselves can be truly whacked. If you continually stuff your feelings they may tend to come out as anger and rage in most inopportune ways. Anytime you try to withhold yourself from who you are you face this risk, but it’s a serious one for HSM. We risk losing who we are if we stuff it. That’s not OK.

We can be wonderful partners and spouses to our mates because we care so much for them and often put their needs ahead of our own. We shouldn’t really do this but it’s so easy to do. But we risk losing ourselves in others too easily anyway by feeling what they feel to allow it in a deep interpersonal relationship. We can care, a lot, but we have to keep it in balance.

Balance is all part of this dance. How do you balance your own sensitivities with the needs of keeping up a bold face to the world? If you try too hard to meet society’s expectations of you as a Man, you can obscure your true nature of being a HSM and betray yourself. There’s a way to be who you are and still be strong and face the world on your terms.

It just requires you to allow those parts of yourself that Feel to come out to play whenever you can.  By being who you truly are people around you will gradually realize your gifts and accept you for what you can offer to them and the world and you can be yourself and just let it be. Sound real? Not really easily…. But it can be done.

It’s up to you to be real and accept who you are and to know that you are a Gift to the world just as you are. Don’t ever forget that. It’s a big deal to remember this. The world needs us and we owe it to both ourselves and our communities to be who we are. Our particular gifts are so needed these days and it’s just getting worse.

It’s time for us to stand up and take our places as Sensitive Men who are still able to withstand the difficulties of our heritage and yet change the world while we’re at it. Why not think big? It’s your life and you have to choose how you will live it. I sincerely hope you choose to let yourself be as sensitive as you need to be and let others see it and let it affect them. It will change the world if we do this.

Sensitively yours,

Steve

Physical Pain and Mental Health

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There is a strong link between physical pain and ones state of mind. I suffer from Chronic Intractable Pain, as well as Bipolar Disorder and the two are so often conjoined it’s difficult to tease them apart. In fact I usually can’t do it very well. When I hurt I feel depressed more often. And vice versa. It’s an ongoing cycle of misery.

I know this is obvious to anyone who deals with both of these things but maybe it’s not to other people, so I’m writing to educate as well as to empathize. Pain can shift your mood as quickly as a mood disorder can and when you have both going on it’s challenging.

I take medications for both these conditions every day to be alright. It doesn’t always work as I’d hoped tho and I’ve been trying to adjust things a bit lately to see if I can make a difference in how I feel. It’s being a mixed bag. I’m having to take a lot of extra drugs and I don’t like it. But I have to do something…

I’ve been trying to cut back on my morphine lately and it’s not going as well as I’d hoped. I take a large dose of extended release tablets so I can’t cut them in half and I have to go down a lot each dose. I went down a dose and I did OK, but I hurt a bit more. Then I went down another dose and did pretty well but I hurt even more. And my mood was getting bad.

When I went down the third dose I hurt too much and my mood started to go to hell. I was so depressed I was suicidal as I wrote in my last post. I couldn’t maintain well at all and was having a hard time holding onto my good feelings. So I decided that maybe it’s time to go back up on them again. I started out with one dose a few days ago and it’s already changed my moods. I hurt less.

Many of you may know that they used to give opiates for mood control back in the day. They did it because it works, tho the side effects are too dangerous to use it as a mood stabilizer and it kinda freaks me out that I’ve had this reaction to cutting back on my doses. I don’t want to be dependent on opiates for my moods as well as my pain control.

I haven’t spoken to my doctor about all this yet but I will next month when I see him. And if I can cut it back more slowly maybe I can do it and be OK. But it scares me to do it and have so much more pain and instability in my mood when I cut back. I take a large dose of opiates every day just to be alright and I see why I need that much when I stop them a bit now and then.

It’s good to check it out occasionally just to be sure I still need such a high dose. This experiment is telling me that maybe I can take a little bit less but not much. I need help to figure it out I think. I want to take less opiates for several reasons but it may not be possible for me. I may just have to live with it. Sigh….

But getting back to my story about the link between pain and mental health… In order to be OK with this kind of double whammy you really have to take good care of yourself. It’s so difficult to do when you know you need exercise, for instance, but you’re too tired to do it and you’re too depressed anyway, so why bother?

What a terrible attitude that can be. It’s not intentional it’s just the way it is. I have to work extra hard to do things that keep me limber and stretched out so I can feel looser when it gets so that I start to hurt. That requires a lot of exercise on my part and I don’t always do what I need to do. It’s not good.

So I try to stretch most every day and go for walks with my partner who also needs the exercise and it’s good we can do it together. We do the stretches that way too and work out on our weight machine in the garage when the weather allows us to. It’s been chilly here lately so it’s been hard to do that part of it.

Having both pain and a mental health condition requires you to always be on your best behavior. Even when you don’t feel like it you have to try. I know that sounds like a simple answer but it’s all we have. If we don’t take care of ourselves no one else will, and we live in pain and suffering and never gain our full potential. Pain holds us back as do our moods. When they conjoin it’s doubly hard.

Depression hurts all by itself they say, and I don’t know how much my pain is caused by that and how much is the back and body injuries that I have. Like I say it’s hard to tease them apart. Either one can precipitate a flare up – of depression or of pain. Either one can lead to the other in a loop effect that is always there. It feels like there’s no escape, and I guess there’s not. Triggers are everywhere.

But they say Living Well is the Best Revenge, and it’s true for suffering too. Living a good life and taking good care of yourself can go a long way towards alleviating both the pain and the depression when they take a hold of your life and turn it inside out.

It’s not the life I thought I’d be leading at this age but it’s what I’ve got and I’m so grateful for it. Now if I can just stay OK for a little while. I’d like to make it into the new year in one piece… 😉

Be as well as you can be,

Steve

Hoist On My Own Petard

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It figures. Last time I wrote on here I did a post on re-framing my past and how I tried to look at my life differently so I could unhook the bad stuff and be OK with it all. So what happens? I run into an old friend I haven’t seen in 10 or 15 years and all of a sudden I’m thrown back into the times I knew her and what all happened then. She was around for much of the dysfunction I went thru when I had my breakdown in ’95 and before and after that. So she knows my story, or thought she did….

I thought I could just relate some of what happened to me back then, but I found myself slipping into the emotions of the past as all the pain and hurt I experienced when I fell apart back then came flooding back. I couldn’t shut it out and I wrote her things I wish I hadn’t just to vent some and get it out of my system. I couldn’t stop myself and I made a fool of myself, tho she kindly didn’t think so, so maybe I’m being too hard on myself. She thought so.

I was caught right in the middle of the situation I’d just written about where I had to look at things differently. Over the course of a few emails we worked out the issues thru discussion and I came to a feeling of acceptance, which was my goal, but it sure was hard to do. I talked in my last post like it was something that I’m good at doing, and I guess I am, but man it’s hard. I had to re-frame in progress and that’s not easy.

I found myself defending my actions instead of just trashing myself tho I did plenty of that too. You see I feel responsible for losing it and letting the Non-Profit Educational Learning Center I created in ’91 fall apart when I fell apart in ’95. It was a great community resource and I lost it and couldn’t keep it going. I thought I’d be doing it for the rest of my life but life intrudes in strange ways and changes things.

My emotions got pretty whacked by the experience back then and it’s clear I’ve still got some residual anger and bitterness about it all, even tho I can say I did a great job of it and helped a lot of people. But that flies out the window when I go down the low road to depression, which I did in the time it took me to write a single email. Wow.

That resonates with my earlier post on Cycling. What I did was do an Ultra Rapid Cycle in a couple of minutes. It really did happen that fast. I’ve had this happen hundreds of times but I still can’t get used to it very well. It’s so powerful. I feel overwhelmed by it and I hate feeling disempowered. I’m used to being in control, tho that’s a joke when you have Bipolar Disorder with rapid cycling and mixed states so often, even tho I’m a model of recovery in many ways.

I see my lesson here as once again being myself and accepting my foibles and crashes and not beating myself up for them. I do the best I can and it’s pretty good. I’m in a bit of a shaky state right now in that I’m both trying to figure out which of my supplements is making me sick, so I’m doing a trial of quitting them all and then adding one back at a time to see if I can see which ones hurt me. And I’m also cutting back on my morphine and that’s causing some withdrawal I think.

I take a huge dose of the stuff for my pain and it comes as 30 mg extended release tablets so I can’t cut them in half. So when I decided to go down on them I had to do it 30 mgs at a time which is a big dose. I went off the first 30 and I did OK for 2 weeks so I went on down another 30 and it’s been a week and 1/2 and I’ve been feeling it some. My pain is coming back and I feel lousy. So I have those extra bits of emotional triggers to add to my distress in the emails I did.

It’s all part of my life and I have to just go with the flow and do the best I can. It’d be so nice to cut my opiates and not be so dependent on them for my survival. But that may not be possible. I may have to take a large dose of them for years, as I have already. And of course I still take my Bipolar meds too – an Anti-psychotic called Abilify and some Klonopin and Buspar for anxiety. I can’t take antidepressants like most people with BP, as they can make us manic. Not good…

So what is this rambling post all about anyway? I guess I’m just reflecting on my own attempts to live my life without so many regrets for my actions and behaviors of the past, and acknowledging that sometimes I’m a bit too facile in thinking that I can fix things easily. I can’t. I made a lot of mistakes but I did a lot of good work too, and I have to remember that part and not put so much emphasis on the bad stuff.

It’s that simple but it’s so difficult to do. I keep saying that and I don’t mean it to sound like I’m a victim. I don’t feel like one. But I do feel  out of control often and that’s a challenge for anyone, especially when your mind is playing games with you and you hurt all the time.

But life is grand anyway. I have so many good things to be grateful for and I give thanks for them every day. I’m grateful for the people who read my blogs here and on other sites I belong to. I don’t get out as much as I’d like to and I intend to change that soon, but the web has been a salvation for me in terms of airing my opinions and feelings about my life.

This blog in particular is about my feeling Invisible in my Illnesses. That’s still my main theme here, and as you can see, all that I’ve just been thru was invisible to anyone else I didn’t let on to about it. I told my partner of course but he gets it pretty well and cuts me slack. I have to cut myself the slack tho. And I am. And here I feel like maybe I’m Visible for a change.

Do you see me?

Steve

Re-Framing the Past

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I seem to spend a lot of my time reliving my past. I try hard not to do this. I do exercises of non-engagement with my thoughts. I do cognitive therapy and change my thinking to something else.  I read and listen to music or watch movies or tv to distract myself. But it’s always there, underneath it  all. All the things I haven’t let go of yet that haunt me to this day.

It comes bubbling up when I least expect it. All the things in my past I wish I could forget. But of course forgetting isn’t really what’s called for. It’s remembering the lessons and then re-framing it to something bearable and acceptable, something that you can live with and feel OK about your life still.

I write a lot in my journals. It’s a mixed bag. I do good work there, in terms of working thru my issues and trying to see where I’ve blown it and where I could make changes. But so often I find that I ruminate, running around and around in my head. Instead of writing I get caught in many of the things  in my past that I’ve messed up on. Ways in which I’ve let my Bipolar disorder run rampant and done things that I feel ashamed of and need to desperately stop thinking about. So I’m working on re-framing them in my mind as to what actually happened.

You see I think that memory is a tricky thing and that no two people ever remember the same event the same way. Just as we can’t step in the exact same river twice. We know that we change and grow as we age. so it’s absolutely true that the person who did those things in my past is Not the same person that is siting here writing this piece. I can look back at what that person did and divorce myself from the attachment to the feelings I have about the event. It’s like unhooking yourself from a tether in a real way. It’s the first step.

Sounds simple doesn’t it? There are plenty of people out there who will do trainings with you to help you do this, and charge you a lot of money for it. That’s fine, but I think we can do this for ourselves, tho it’s hard to do and I can’t say I’m always successful at it. But I keep on trying to get it right and I’m getting better at it the more I do it, as is usual when you practice something. You just have to see yourself as a separate person from the one in your past. You are, if my theory of memory and not stepping in the same river twice is true anyway.

Letting go is hard for me and I seem to have a tendency to hold onto the bad things easier than the good ones. I wrote a bit ago that it’s wonderful how when you’re happy you tend to forget the bad times and when you’re depressed you can’t remember the good times. But it’s not always like that. Sometimes the bad times gain ascendency and take over the mind, and when that happens – look out. Things can become irrational very fast and it takes a lot to hold on and stay in the present and not back in those bad times in the past that just popped up into your mind.

I dunno why memories do it that way to me. I guess it’s just the nature of them. I can be fine and having a wonderful time and all of a sudden out of nowhere a memory will come into my mind of a time in the past when I messed up bad and my world shifts and I’m in Depression, bad. All it takes is a second but it takes me away from this reality. I have to stop it immediately or I lose it and go back to where I was and I hate that, ya know?

So I have to re-frame it when I get over being upset. I can’t do it when I’m in a bad place too well tho I need to learn how to someday. If I can re-frame something to a better scenario when I’m OK then it’s better the next time it gets me when I’m not OK. It’s not like I forget the past or it didn’t happen. It surely did and I need to remember the lessons I learned from that time. But I don’t need to beat myself up for them and feel like I was a monster like I do sometimes. It can be hard to remember that you’re really a nice guy…

I guess I’ve talked around this enough and I should say what it is I actually to do when I re-frame things. I go back to the time and I look at the context of where I was at and what was happening at the time and at who I was and the person I was pretending to be then and see how hard on me it was to try to pretend I was OK all the time. Usually that’s when I mess up. I saw that I often did/do things that were not nice in ways that I saw as simple self defense at the time but in reality may have been cruel and unkind to others. It’s way different to see yourself as a scared person trying to survive than it is to see a mean one that was bad to others.

I cut myself some slack is what I do then. I see myself differently, as a person in need of compassion, not judgement. I relieve myself of having to have been a perfect person then, whenever it was – 40 years ago or last week – it’s all the same. I absolve myself of wrongdoing and I empathize with myself for being tough enough to make it this far in life and not kill myself before I got here. It’s been close more than a few times….

I Don’t Forget the Lessons tho. That’s pretty key for me. If I don’t learn something in this difficult process then what good is it really? It’s necessary to remember what you’ve done in life, it’s just not necessary to look at yourself in a poor light because of it. I guess some people call this forgiveness. I just call it Acceptance of my whole Self.

Whatever you call it it’s required for re-framing your past. You have to let go and get over it and go on with things. Oh, it sounds so simple, doesn’t it? But we know it’s not. Those of us with a mental illness that causes us to berate ourselves all the time for things we’ve done and not done and never giving up on it. We know that our minds can be our allies or our enemies. The trick, I think, is to try your best to befriend your mind. Maybe I’ll write about that sometime…

Remember to allow yourself to Let go….

Steve

Tranquility Through Music

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I’ve always loved music. My folks turned me on to it when I was a little kid with their albums from Reader’s Digest of the Great Classical Pieces and other such delights. Kinda corny stuff in a way but it got me listening to classical music at a very young age, and then piano lessons for several years in the same vein taught me to appreciate the sounds I was listening to. In fact I was so into classical that when rock and roll came to me I found it too simplistic for my tastes at first. Obviously that changed.

Now my tastes are very eclectic and I love all sorts of music, except that stuff they play on elevators or when you’re waiting for a phone call to pick up. I don’t really consider that stuff music myself. but then a lot of what I listen to would be considered off the wall by many people I’m sure. I like what might be termed space music, “new age”, electronica, or world music a lot, as well as folk, jazz, blues, alternative, eclectic, classical and definitely rock and roll. But I tend to gravitate towards music that feels healing to me.

My partner and I have been involved in a fun project for the last few weeks. He’s been taking all our CD’s and cassettes and putting them on a computer storage unit we have so that I can access them all from iTunes on my MAC and I’m now able to play most of my favorite albums online with only the click of a mouse button. I’m listening to all sorts of things I haven’t heard in years. Wow.

It’s amazing what it’s doing for me. I listen to old stuff I used to hear in high school or college, and it takes me back there, as does the music that takes me to other times and places. It’s a nostalgic journey as well as being in current time. Because of the set up of iTunes I can go thru all my albums, of which I have over 400 now, and just find things arbitrarily or in some sense of order depending on what I want. I browse. This way I hear things I might not generally listen to.

Right now I’m listening to Kitaro, a Japanese New Age/World Music performer whose music sets a tone of quiet energy in my mind. It helps me feel like I’m in a different reality while still being in my own world. I can listen and travel with the music as I write this piece and it gives me pleasure and peace of mind. Both of them are things I need in my daily life and since I’ve been putting all these albums on iTunes I’ve been listening to more and more music every day.

I’m particularly fond of music that takes me to other worlds and countries so I have an extensive collection of what I call World Music only mine’s not just the fusion of cultures you hear from white folks all the time, which I’m not knocking – I love it in fact. But I have a lot of actual music from around the world that I listen to. I call it folk music at its core since it’s often the folk music of the culture I’m listening to. It gives me insight into the rhythms of that culture and how they move and dance.

I used to dance a lot with my music but I don’t tend to do that so much as I’ve gotten older. I need to get back to it I guess. It’s good exercise and makes me feel good to do it. And anything that makes me feel good is a good thing I figure. But I don’t have much room to dance where my computer is set up tho I have some space I can gyrate around in and enjoy it. We recently figured out how to jack the computer into the stereo system so I can have the music playing all thru the house. Now I can dance!

I tend to spend a lot of time in my mind and music really helps me to tone that down and let my demons rest some of the time when I’m engaged in listening to it. It keeps the bad thoughts away so well in fact that I find I’m listening to music most of the time these days whenever I’m around the computer, which is a lot of the time. Keeping the thoughts in line is an important part of my ongoing health routine. I need to stop ruminating so much and focus on what’s good in my life , which I do mostly, and music helps me do that.

I suffer from a myriad array of symptoms that keep my mind occupied with thoughts of doom and gloom too much of the time. Having so many illnesses, from chronic pain,to Bipolar Disorder, to arthritis and fibromyalgia and more, I’ve found that I need to take a multi-pronged approach to my healing. As such music plays a vital and indispensable part of that. I’d let go of it for too long and finding it again has made a huge difference to my life. It’s a great gift.

I hope you have a place where you can go to listen to the music that you find to be the most helpful to you in keeping yourself in a good state of mind. It’s a gift to have it available to us at all sorts of times when we need to calm down or relax and let go of our worries and difficulties. It’s such an easy thing to do for so much enjoyment and benefit. I’m an inveterate music fan and I hope you are too.

Musically yours,

Steve