Hurled by the heavy
Worn by the wind
Bruised by the bonds of my unfree kin
Bent by a burdenous mediocrity
Battered by a voice –
Fearful thoughts –
It is my will
Unbound yet, Unbroken still
Standing on the sturdy
Roots in bone
Lifting as we climb
Grab that hand that reach
Unbound yet, Unbroken still
Growing up, almost every meal in our house was homemade. In the evening we would gather at the table, my father at the head, or it would seem, at least closest to the door and the woodburning stove. Mom sat next to him, within arms’ reach of the kitchen counter, my sister, then me, all in a circle around the creaky old walnut table that had been passed on from my grandparents. Mom would say that Dad was greasy and should have washed up better. Dad would eat fast, smother his bread with butter, sopping his plate until it was clean. “That was good, dear. Thank you”.
On the best nights, my sister would avoid my father’s cross-eyed scowl, the result of her inescapable clumsiness, either falling out of her chair or spilling her milk, and I would successfully convince my mother that I was full of vegetables and couldn’t possibly eat a bite of the meat on the plate before me.
Our meals were fresh, balanced, healthy, and often from our garden. When I was really young, Mom would make fresh yogurt and butter, courtesy of the neighbor’s dairy cow, and honey came from a local beekeeper, full of comb, sometimes by the gallon. The pantry doors never hid flashy candy wrappers or soda cans, only the occasional homemade treats sweetened with honey or molasses. My Mother was the master of her kitchen (and the chocolate stash I knew nothing about until I was no longer a threat to its existence).
My sister and I were expected to help in the kitchen just as we were expected to help in the garage. I learned that the tools to fix a meal and the tools to fix a car weren’t so dissimilar, and that with intense care and thoughtfulness, just about any ailment could be remedied with the right ingredients – testy cough, bruised ego, tender heart, or clunky exhaust.
All this to say I was raised with a healthy food view. My parents never demonised sugar or processed food. They just never gave it to us. It wasn’t considered food. And aside from that whole salmon patty making incident when I almost gagged to death, they respected the fact that I didn’t care to eat or touch meat of any kind. My mother even recognized that when I got sick as a twelve-year-old and the doctors couldn’t seem to find a cause, that altering my diet was a worthy endeavor. Right or wrong, in her care, without the western medicinal shot in the dark, I got better.
Not long ago I peeled myself off the couch, despite a lingering bout of fatigue, to go see The Suffers. Because when my friend Chris says “You’ve gotta see this band”, I’ve gotta go see the band.
As I moved to the beat, slightly mesmerized by the lead singers gentle ass shaking and sultry, sweet voice, her words reached in, pinched my heart, and I started to cry. “When people care about you, they cook for you” she said, then belted out the soul massaging sounds of their single “Make Some Room”. My insides melted as her words vibrated every last cell from my head to my toes.
Food has played a powerful role in my life – outside of being essential for living – a source of healing and sharing. I thought about all of my memorable life experiences, adventures with special people, a great meal, some tacos, or at least a handful of trail mix. And about all the chefs, cooks, and foodies that I learned from and the love of the incredible people that endlessly surround them. But I had never before so clearly realized the importance of feeding one another for healing, literally, the act of filling each other up with care and love.
Science and western medicine have been slow to reconcile the effects that the things we consume have on every aspect of our life, including our emotional state and wellbeing. Within the last couple of years, I have eliminated sinus infections and anxiety from my world by ditching dairy and other inflammatory foods. Recently I’ve gone so far as to adopt the Paleo AIP guideline for eating in an effort to battle my longtime nemesis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. With no known cause or cure, getting a handle on my symptoms by carefully selecting the food that I eat has been no less than my own personal hero’s journey.
I have become aware of each ingredient that I consume and it’s effect on how I feel each hour of each day. I have become much more connected to the process of preparing a meal, how I eat, what I eat, and when I eat it. I have personally witnessed the transformative power of food. I’d like to advocate, not for one particular diet, but for every one of us to make a commitment to awareness – of each bite we take, each ingredient, where it comes from, and the impact it has on the whole self and our environment.
Through this journey, above all, my desire to share food with others has increased tenfold. Any ambition to feed the world is not remotely possible but starting with those I care about, and asking them to do the same, is a worthy cause.
So come on over. Grab a bowl. Let me cook for you. Fair warning though, I absolutely intend to use food as medicine to bring a smile to your face and soften your bumps and bruises. Because I can’t imagine a more important time to heal one another, from the inside out, by sharing the power of uplifting, soul filling, mind clearing, heart pumping spoonfuls of a caringly prepared meal.
“When people care about you, they feed you” – Kam Franklin, The Suffers.
Strides of straight
The monotone gait
Every day the old way
Root to bone
To yearn for and side by
To sorrow for and die by
Gaze to the narrow
That deviant arrow
Everyday a chosen way
Flight to flown
To yearn for and side by
To live for and love by
– Sarai Snyder – October 20, 2016
Most days, the Sumo and I share space in a relatively cooperative coexistence. We wake in the same room, nod to one another in acknowledgment, and go about our day. While I wouldn’t call us friends, there is a familiarity about him that I am comfortable with. He is my life companion, for better or worse.
Sometimes I notice his heavy, round shape, lingering in the shadows, ready to take a rest on my chest. I have become accustom to the sound of his steps, the heat from his thick, deep breath on my neck, and the unmistakable odor of his labored movements. But I am never prepared when he comes to rest. The weight of his crushing sit is most impressive.
As you read this, you may think I’m referring to our old friend depression. But I am not. Depression is defined as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection”. My Sumo may cause depression if he lingered, but generally would have nothing of it. He is much kinder than depression, though no less intense. Instead, I am referring to the occasionally crushing, often physically painful, confusing, and confining feelings that can come with having high Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS).
This is HSP
A person that rates high on the scale of Sensory Processing Sensitivity (SPS) is often called HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). Like most HSPs, I have always known there was something different about me. A couple of years ago, when I learned of this innate trait, it was immediately apparent that I was a part of the 15-20% of humans who have it. If you are curious, take the self test here. I answered yes to 25 of the 27 questions. I’m affected by all the things in varying degrees.
I quickly ordered Dr. Elaine Aron’s book “The Highly Sensitive Person” and read it twice. I felt un-empowered by what I read. It was as if HSPs should expect to have great difficulty operating well in society. I felt doomed to failure. The Sumo came to sit. I felt crushed, confused, and confined as would anyone who found themselves under a Sumo.
This was not depression. It was hard and painful, but not desperate or hopeless. I evaluated every aspect of my life through my new lens (as one does as an HSP). While I have had challenges that are hard to explain or justify to others and within the context of society’s expectations, I am not maladjusted. High SPS is only a part of who I am. It refers to the biological nature of my nervous system.
Sensory processing is the way in which information is transmitted to and processed by the brain. For an HSP, this process is very, very efficient. There are other defining qualities of my personality. I am an ENFP – Extroverted (most HSPs are introverted), Intuitive, Feeling, Perceiving – as well as very creative.
Also important to the development of an HSP are positive and negative experiences. The impact is more extreme due to how deeply we process. According to Dr. Elaine Aron “We do better than others in good environments and worse than others in bad environments.” Having a healthy childhood, which I had, is a very important plus. At the same time, having had several negative experiences in intimate relationships, that area of my life poses a much greater challenge. Given a nurturing environment, the trait lends itself to incredible potential and has even been described as highly evolved. We are not only more perceptive and aware, we also process this information much more deeply.
Unfortunately, in our culture, sensitivity is often confused with weakness (which makes the name disconcerting). It comes with a negative connotation, especially for men (the trait is equally apparent across genders and in some animals). There are other social misconceptions about HSPs. Because we take time to consider everything, our delayed reactions can make us seem shy, socially awkward, or distracted, as can those times when we are completely overstimulated, causing us to shut down all together.
For me, the greatest challenge is communicating this almost invisible difference to others. It takes time to reach a basic level of understanding. It usually comes with well developed, functional, respectful, communicative relationships, unless the other person is also HSP, in which case they are more likely to understand early on. I value my close relationships greatly because I rely on them to help me navigate the confusing parts without judgement. You know who you are. Thank you. The four main areas in which HSPs differ from non-HSPs are summed up in the acronym DOES.
• D for Depth of processing – process information more deeply
• O for Overstimulating – easily overwhelmed or stimulated due to depth of processing
• E for Emotional responsiveness and Empathy – deeply affected by positive and negative experiences, great deal of empathy for others
• S for aware of Subtle Stimuli
Each in itself can be a lot, combining all four? Yeah. Ouch. Each of the DOES consists of a constant state of activity, consuming mass energy. They all move. All the time. Resources are easily depleted. On occasion, I was called ‘lazy’ in my teenage years. I remember being tired and confused. I was using all available energy, although often in internal, unnoticeable ways. Growing up in the country, I was just beginning to experience the world. I had not yet learned how to set myself up to conserve energy. It has been said that high SPS affects individuals as much as their gender, since it comes into play in every aspect of life.
My Life as an HSP
Even if you know me well, you may not know my Sumo. So, let me tell you a little about the things that cause his visits. First – I am greatly affected by my environment because I am highly perceptive and sensitive to stimuli. This includes weather, light, color, patterns, sounds – everything. Disorganization, bad lighting, loud or constant noises, and large crowds can be distracting. I prefer a simple home and am most comfortable in nature. I organize my environment to make it easier to process – straightening photos, closing doors to messy closets, painting walls white, getting rid of excess things. I have even been known to move my body to align my visual perspective.
Second – physical sensation is heightened. I’m highly in tune with human touch, the feel of fabric against my skin, temperature and movement. Blowing air on my skin can be uncomfortable and cold water has always been painful. The Princess and the Pea and I go way back.
Third – my physical well being is delicate. Balance must be maintained with hydration, nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Imbalances send me into a very vulnerable emotional or physical state. When the Sumo comes to sit, these are my very first checks. Alcohol, drugs, herbs, and caffeine can affect me intensely and for days.
Forth – I cry easily. My emotions are often reactive and close to the surface. Crying does not mean I’m sad or upset, it usually just means I have intense feelings. I might just be overwhelmed. The Sumo is very empathetic to my tears and almost always offers some relief.
Fifth – I am highly empathetic and understanding. I am affected by others’ moods and emotions. I usually know when someone is uncomfortable, and often know why or how to fix it. I almost always know when something is wrong. I’m slow to judge. I listen well, and can sense dishonesty. I can be understanding to a fault, sometimes letting unacceptable behavior persist because I allow too much room for the why. I’m more empathetic to another person’s feelings than I have need to be right. I forgive and forget easily. I avoid violent, graphic, and horrific entertainment.
Sixth – I am always thinking. All the time. I have a vivid imagination which enhances my creativity. I can see connections in people, places, things, and ideas, making for an innovative approach to problem solving. I can spend hours quietly creating in my mind. All this time spent in my head, despite my emotional reactivity, actually makes me incredibly rational given enough time to process. I have been doing this all of my life. I have a great deal of experience to draw from.
Seventh – I am very self-critical. I know myself well because of all that time I spend in my own head. I know what I am capable of and become very disappointed when I under-perform. I consider high SPS to be a gift and generally live my life in the positive. I conserve energy by simplifying, avoiding things that suck energy (like driving my car), lessening unimportant decision making (I rarely care where we eat), and balancing my physical and emotional health. By this, I am able to lead an incredibly free, rich life, full of great experiences, creativity, and high quality interactions with others. Even if you are not an HSP, I recommend evaluating your daily input/output and cutting off the energy leaks. You’ll find greater freedom to choose your experiences, for thought, deeper connections, and more rewarding relationships.
Despite my best efforts, there are times when I become overwhelmed and the Sumo comes to rest on my chest. Most often it is because of miscommunication with another human or disappointment in myself. It is easy to control my environment but people are way less predictable. Some are uncomfortable being seen with an empathetic eye or being open to deep connection. It requires a great deal of trust at the outset and can feel too intense and unfamiliar. While I get it – I’ve seen it many times – in the moment I can become confused and feel rightfully misunderstood and mistrusted, causing a retreat or emotional overreaction. Right. Yeah. That.
Ascribing human characteristics to this feeling, calling it my Sumo, makes it easier for me to work my way through, explain to others, and offer a little empathy to my own self. When he comes to sit, I know it is time for a break. I may experience anxiety, discomfort, confinement, and even physical pain, but I can usually see the light on the other side. I actually feel protected and even find comfort in this depth of feeling. This is where I learn to trust myself.
The Sumo doesn’t move until I relax. Taking this time out gives me space to reflect, rest, regroup, evaluate new directions and perceived dangers that I might have intuitively picked up on, but not yet come to understand. When the Sumo gets up, shifts his weight from my chest, I feel a rush of resilience as the breath returns to my lungs. With a few strong beats, my heart plumps and fills with joy, and all these fresh resources incite my brain and body to action.
So, the next time I yell “SUMO!”, you know what to do! DODGE, DIP, DIVE, DUCK, and DODGE! Just kidding! Be responsive and kind, give me a hug, try to be understanding, and send me to my room for some down time. Never tell me I’m overreacting, because I’m not. This is exactly how my nervous system is telling me to act. Trust that I will recover. I’m very strong and resilient, just affected. Later, take a moment to gently point out differences in how a non-HSP might see the situation.
– Sarai Snyder – Boulder, Colorado
Thank you for your attention and patience as I attempt to share my experience as an HSP. I have found little relatable information for myself and those who share my life. This is an attempt to bring a smidge of clarity to the day-to-day. I would greatly appreciate your feedback and questions, especially you, my dear friends who know me well and have watched my progression in learning to understand how I fit into the world a little better.
Person of consequence
loving soul of confidence
I want for you
Moments of yearning
open room for learning
I fill for you
Motives of unreason
strike blows of treason
I fight for you
Desirous of attention
with meaningful intention
I love for you
Stars of alignment
reveal an assignment
I believe for you
Echos of indifference
leave holes of significance
I need for you
World of serving
see this one deserving
because I want for you
– Sarai Snyder, Make More day whatever, January 19, 2016
“I just want for you. I want you to have all you deserve.”
Inspired by gratitude for this kind sentiment offered to me. I’m reminded of the power we have for one another and that the most important giving is not of things but of compassion, love, and belief. Thank you friend, your words give me flight.
I use to look at you from afar
from soft blades of blue
atop eastern hills, gentle and few
I did not know you, Mountain
I use to look at you from afar
assuming your intention unfairly
hard and forbidding, I thought – narrowly
I did not know you, Mountain
Now I look at you on par
unapologetic taunter of soft ambition
fresh stream soul-filler, without condition
and I ask you, Mountain
Muse my fiery mind
you magnifier of the moon and stars
So I see, Mountain
Challenge my fallacious fears
you wind-whispering hard truth-teller
So I trust, Mountain
Enable my boundless spirit
you sharp feathered arrow to the infinite above
So I move, Mountain
Enflame my incisive heart
you secret cave protector of the tender underbody
So I love, Mountain
Now I look at you on par
and I ask you, Mountain
Believe me, Mountain
Trust me, Mountain
Because I know you, Mountain
–Sarai Snyder, Make More – Day 1, January 2, 2016
I generally find grayness to be solemn and depressing
but as this Colorado high desert girl drank up the moisture,
my mind plumped, my eyes widened,
and the beauty of the delicate contrast
between light and dark became vividly apparent.
My skin felt alive, bathing in the thick, wet fog.
Birds swooped and swayed while the Fisherman taunted sea lyons.
Wise to the balance of the sea, he gently suggested they find another spot to fish.
His sideways grin said he knew I was watching.
Me: Do you catch many fish from this pier?
Fisherman: Use to. Now we have more fishermen than the fish.
There is no greater joy than finding the perfect day,
with wonderful humans, in an amazing landscape.
We were treated to warm sun and a gentle breeze.
The sand, a pleasant barefootable temperature.
Running, jumping, tumbling in a sifted environment,
naturally selected grains without sticks,
stones, or things to break our bones.
Taking time to wander barefoot,
naked feet touching the ground below,
recalibrating our spirits with our Earth,
so vital for survival in the unnatural world.