We've been tucked up against a remote sand covered rock of a mountain for over six weeks now. Extreme isolation in the desert has left me exposed. Emotional layers of scars and callouses have been gently worn away by the same eternal wind that blows the sand into dunes. Defenses built up over a lifetime are unnecessary. I find myself exquisitely aware and sensitive to my environment. It's safe here with my partner, away from the overstimulation of humanity and civilization, easy to be vulnerable.
My body has become re-sensitized to certain stimuli, uncovering past trauma that’s been buried in layers of indifference and numbness for decades. One example is that an awareness has emerged that I don’t like my sides to be touched. For 45 years I’ve ignored and buried that discomfort. I know exactly where it came from. Tickling is a uniquely socially acceptable act of torture. Most children enjoy a little bit of tickling. But to be pinned down by those you trust, crying and screaming and begging for it to stop, not being able to breathe, and then being scolded for not being a good sport. Reading peoples’ moods and hiding when danger is sensed. The words, “We’re playing. You’re too sensitive.” If there was one phrase that could sum up my childhood experiences, it was “Stop being so sensitive.” I tried, certain that there was something wrong with me because I was ‘so sensitive’. I was convinced that if I could suppress or even extinguish my sensitivities, I would be accepted and able to function in an overwhelming world.
We've all learned coping mechanisms to survive. How many beautiful spirits have sacrificed authenticity for acceptance? The pain of hiding one’s true nature deep down in order to be able to function is familiar to many of us for our own personal reasons. Numbed years went by when I grew up, with a vague sense of unhappiness and not knowing why or where it came from. Resignation to the ‘supposed-to’s’. My life-altering epiphany came when I was searching for help and support for my own young daughter who was struggling socially and emotionally. I wanted desperately to be able to help her to become an authentic person who didn’t have to hide from anyone. So instead of ignoring and glossing over her signs of distress, I did research. I contacted professionals. I got her help. And in doing so, I discovered deep truths about myself. One of these was the concept of “overexcitabilities”. The pieces began to come together about why I was the way I was and most importantly, that there was nothing wrong with me.
“According to pioneering psychologist K. Dabrowski, there are five forms of overexcitability. These five forms are psychomotor, sensual, emotional, imaginational and intellectual.
Psychomotor: Overexcitability is a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system. This manifests itself in a capacity for being active and energetic, a love of movement, a surplus of energy and an actual need for physical action.
Sensual: Overexcitability is an intensified experience of any type of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from one of the five senses, i.e. sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. It manifests as an increased appreciation of aesthetic pleasure such as music, language, and art, and delight from tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and sights. Conversely, extreme pain and disgust are experienced upon exposure to sensations perceived as unpleasant.
Intellectual: Overexcitability manifests itself as an extreme desire to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and categorize information. Those high in Intellectual overexcitability are commonly seen as intellectually gifted and have incredibly active minds. They are intensely curious, avid readers and keen observers. They frequently love thinking purely for the sake of thinking.
Imaginational: Overexcitability manifests as an intensified play of the imagination, causing a rich association of images, invention, fantasy, use of imagery and metaphor and elaborate dreams and visions. Often children high in Imaginational overexcitability do not differentiate between truth and fiction, or are absorbed in their own private world with imaginary companions and dramatizations.
Emotional: Overexcitability is characterized by heightened, intense feelings, extreme experience of complex emotions, identification with others' feelings to the point of actual experience and strong sentimental expression. Other indications include physical response to emotional stimuli such as stomachaches when nervous and obsessive concern with death and depression. Emotionally overexcitable people have a strong capacity for deep relationships; they show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things. They are empathetic, compassionate and extremely sensitive.”
I can emphatically check all of those boxes. When I began to see my “overexcitablilites” as a unique blessing rather than a curse, I was able to begin my journey toward self-actualization. And I joined in my daughters’ journeys of cultivating and celebrating their sensitivities and differences.
Do any of the overexcitabilites resonate with you? If you want to explore in more depth, this is a good article to start with.
Home of the Brave
I came across this 10 minute video about an intrepid person who left her own familiar world to start an artist residency in a deserted town in a remote corner of Utah. The video itself is well done, and the story is both inspiring and a little unsettling.
Think you might be interested in a pilgrimage of your own to this isolated artist enclave? Apply here.
I’ve shifted my paintings away from the desert critters toward a very different motif. I’m taking vintage photos of daring women doing trick riding and performances and painting them on my old maps. They are fun, beautiful, and powerful all at the same time. Now that I feel like I have control of the gouache, I’m playing with it and having fun.
Artist, homesteader, teacher and adventurer. Turning over every literal and figurative rock that I can find, living curiously and creatively outside of the conventions of the common world.
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