Therapist Vol. 2: Validation & The Economic Factor

Time to go off by myself. This video from youtube.

By the time I go in for a second session to see the therapist it’s been two weeks. She was out for surgery. We have rescheduled once already. We start almost ten minutes late and the session ends almost ten minutes early. I am angry at first, but the whole process is one that has overall helped in some ways.

She has a lot going on in her life.

By the standards of therapists I’ve seen, she is knowledgeable, gentle, kind, and systematic.

She asks about employment. I tell her I’m writing for now and she says that’s wonderful. She shows me a chart I’ve seen many times before: a mood tracker. She says we are going to work together to identify my triggers. She has not asked if I already know my triggers. I do.

We spend twenty minutes of slow back and forth questions that sap the time. This is a painfully slow process I’ve been through so many times with other people who generally send me away with the same kind of information. Each time she asks, “What else triggers you?” and I tell her the death of a loved one, switching jobs, moving states, sudden schedule changes, financial stress, all the normal things…after each one she tells me why I react the way I do and what I should keep an eye out for in the future from a clinical perspective.

“You just need to take care of yourself like everyone else,” she says for the millionth time. “The consequences for you are much worse if you don’t.”

I don’t want to be a know it all…but much of what she tells me are things I already know. I’m not exactly keeping an eye out for loved ones to die any time soon heaven forbid, and moving would be a last ditch plan seeing as I’m in my lease until August. My job has already changed three times since Semptember and that is nothing new. I’m here to ask about how to prevent the instability, not to assess whether or not its there.

I know self care is more important in times of change. Here’s what happens: Change occurs, hypomania ensues, less sleep, workaholism, alcohol to keep the edge off but not too much because hypomania doesn’t mix well with further lack of inhibition. A few weeks of that, then a crash, a depression which is essentially a state of not caring…of having forgotten how to care, that is. Alcohol because pain. Pain becomes self-generated. Self care is most essential during this period but getting out of the depression is a lot harder than preventing it.

So I have to identify the triggers. Check.

And the self-care routines. Check.

More on this process and how it works in an upcoming post.

Engage in the self-care routines. Half-check. I’m implementing some and kind of waiting on others. Taking time. Establishing the routine takes time.

The idea is to establish self-care routines to prevent the instability, the episodes, because stopping them while they are happening is like trying to stop an avalanche by standing in front of it with my arms wide open. Prevention is key.

At first, I’m resentful. The therapist is trying to help but she’s simply reiterating the work I already know I have to do. Mostly, the resentment comes from feeling the need to pay to ask others to tell me how to do life. It seems counter-intuitive.

Then she tells me something I didn’t know anything about.

“I suspect, in fact I’m quite sure, that you are a highly sensitive person,” she says. I hear this and am offended. “Highly sensitive,” in typical western thought equals “weak and maladapted.” Highly sensitive is the opposite of every adventurer I wanted to become like Indiana Jones or Laura Croft. Highly sensitive.

She explains that highly sensitive people actually think differently than others. Their brains work differently and their central nervous systems are more receptive to stimuli than the other 80% of the population. They account for 15-20 % of the population, enough that it is not a disorder but is still uncommon and so is not well-understood, but essentially the nervous system is just more sensitive. It turns out, I’m just built a little differently.

Here is a list of some of the characteristics of Highly Sensitive People from

“Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?

Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?

Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?

Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?

Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?

Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?

Do you have a rich and complex inner life?

When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?”

(The Highly Sensitive Person, 2017)

Your trait is normal. It is found in 15 to 20% of the population–too many to be a disorder, but not enough to be well understood by the majority of those around you.

It is innate. In fact, biologists have found it in over 100 species (and probably there are many more) from fruit flies, birds, and fish to dogs, cats, horses, and primates. This trait reflects a certain type of survival strategy, being observant before acting. The brains of highly sensitive persons (HSPs) actually work a little differently than others’. To learn more about this, see Research.

You are more aware than others of subtleties. This is mainly because your brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. So even if you wear glasses, for example, you see more than others by noticing more.

You are also more easily overwhelmed. If you notice everything, you are naturally going to be overstimulated when things are too intense, complex, chaotic, or novel for a long time.

This trait is not a new discovery, but it has been misunderstood. Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called “shy.” But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extroverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.

Sensitivity is valued differently in different cultures. In cultures where it is not valued, HSPs tend to have low self-esteem. They are told “don’t be so sensitive” so that they feel abnormal.”

(The Highly Sensitive Person, 2017)

What strikes me as interesting about the occurrence of highly sensitive people in the population is that the number is about 15 to 20% of people, while the estimated number of occurrences of cyclothymia in the population are estimated at 1% based on reports, but is thought to be closer to 10 to 15% based on the fact that many people will go through life without being diagnosed at all.

I wonder if they are concurring, not comorbid since HSP is not considered a disorder, it’s an innate personality type based on a different kind of brain functioning.

The therapist tells me that the fact I adjusted to a chaotic environment by reading demonstrates excellent adaptability skills, that most HSP’s in my situation might have had a lot more difficulty…my sister for instance.

She tells me I’m very very low on the bipolar spectrum, cyclothymia indeed, and that probably my symptoms are due to this HSP stuff.

The list makes perfect sense.

I’ve said here many times that I was so shy as a kid adults thought I was stupid, and yet at the same time I was the one in group assignments who would do the math worksheets or answer the discussion questions. The popular kids picked me for their groups so they could talk about guys and magazines while I worked, because I was happy to do so without complaint. I didn’t like to talk to people in groups. Group work was hell. Let me do the work and leave me alone.

My grandma used to dress us up for pictures in the summer and she had me wear this dress with bloomers underneath. The elastic scratched the back of my knees and, although I tried not to complain, scratchy or uncomfortable clothing was my biggest pet peeve. Those bloomers stayed on as long as it took to have the picture and then I never wore them again. I like linens, light fabrics, breathable, or heavy cotton, sturdy and well-made. Thin shirts from outlet stores that are thirty bucks but require another shirt beneath are the kinds of things that make me sad. I can feel the touch of machines.

My favorite description of what it looks like in this brain is this from

“They may take a little longer to make decisions, such as which item to buy at the grocery store, because they are taking in not just the mountain of choices, but also nutrition information, price, and how they feel about chicken noodle. Suddenly, their mind flashes to chickens being cooped up in tiny cages then slaughtered… and they must take a few beats to ponder if they can live with this reality on their dinner plate or not. All of this takes time.”

The thoughts demonstrated above are exactly the thoughts that plagued me before, during, and after my eating disorder. I do not just think about food in this way. As mentioned above, clothing is something I think about in this way. Books. Art. Products. I do not like to buy shit.

The therapist’s specific example was Christmas. She said, “Usually HSP’s don’t like the holidays because the department store shopping and the frenetic pace and lights and music are too much for them.”

To be honest, I hate Christmas for all of these reasons. I love Christmas at home, with family, exchange some simple gifts, but the whole holiday season makes me feel claustrophobic.

Bright lights, especially fluorescent, are a big one. Places like malls and Walmarts and even grocery stores with their fluorescent lights and all the people and all the choices and the mad dash of buy this shit just because I work hard to spend my money on shit make me physically ill. The lights and the crowded hallways are actually why I left high school early–that was what caused the episode anyways. It felt like a prison.

The symptoms are much worse if my inner world is chaos, as is the case with anyone I would think. Escaping into books kind of stopped working when I was a teenager. The cyclothymia set in and the added element of teenage hormones on my already “highly sensitive” brain was beyond my ability to comprehend, and beyond the ability of those adults in my life to identify.

It explains a lot.

She says cubicle jobs, jobs that require a lot of interaction with people, high stimulus jobs, and anything under fluorescent lights is going to be overstimulating. This explains why my attitude has slowly soured over the last year and half in the kitchen. My adrenals are shot from constant loud noise, fast paced movement, shouting as a means of interaction with coworkers during mad rushes, and the blind focus on the pans, the food, the dish building steps amongst all this: when I am stressed, I hyper focus. It explains why when people walked behind me on the line without saying anything I didn’t notice and when I turned around to find someone two inches behind I’d freak out. Immediate claustrophobia.

My blinders go up and the rest of the world disappears. It’s a lot like reading. People have had full on conversations with me while I’ve been absorbed in a book and are surprised when they realize I didn’t hear a word they said. This state starts to bleed into my regular every day social life so that basic conversation requires an intentional focus on the person. Hyper focus acts like noise cancelling head phones. Like a German Shepherd, set me to a task and I’ll get it done. Leave me with no task and I’ll snap.

It explains a lot about the jobs I’ve had and left or the ones I drank myself through. It explains why I’ve always been sensitive to drugs and alcohol and why I’ve used them to numb out. It explains why I don’t like perfumes, cheap jewelry, and shallow conversations. It explains why I’m the kind of person who would rather do things myself.

This is the information I was looking for though. The therapist was a last ditch effort to understand why things had gotten so bad, but it turns out there were just a lot of big changes last year and I minimized their impact on my emotional health. I overestimated my ability to deal and ignored the importance of self-care and the consequences have been demonstrated.

It also turns out that those things I thought were signs of a maladaptive, mentally ill person who was losing their mind are actually traits I can learn to embrace as part of my personality. My shyness, the hyper focus, the sensitivity to loud noises and such, are things I can work with. The mental illness was as much a product of the circumstances of change over the last year as it was a result of how I dealt with those changes. I just need to turn to better coping mechanisms (more on that in another post also).

Recovery takes time and if I do not take that time, my body and mind will force me to, perhaps when it’s least manageable. This is normal for anyone. I guess the extent to which my lows get low are a little less normal and I just need to notice them when they’re coming, take the rest, do the self-care.

That being said, it’s clear that working from home is something I’m going to have to figure out. I’ve done it before, albeit the shifts were graveyard and the lack of sleep from that was not conducive to mental health. There are plenty of other ways to work from home though. Writing is working for now.

Probably it’s worth it to note that because of the cost of therapy, when a therapist who specializes in bipolar tells me I’m very, very low on the spectrum, I’m a highly sensitive person, and this is something she’s just now reading about, I figure I can take it from here. I’m not going to say therapy isn’t helpful. It really can be immensely helpful and has made a big difference in my life, offered me a lot of knowledge and coping skills, but it’s so expensive that it isn’t sustainable for me. If it is for you, awesome. If it’s not, you’re certainly not the only one.

Suffice it to say, she offers me validation. It’s not getting worse. The coping mechanisms she gives me are the same ones I’ve seen. Like all the other therapists, she says I’m smart, a little different, and surprisingly well-adjusted. Things just sucked for a while.

Part of the purpose of this website was to try and understand a mental illness that is hardly understood, cyclothymia, but a secondary purpose of this exploration is to examine the role of a diagnosis that accounts for such a small percentage of the American people when one in five American people will eventually experience the symptoms of one mental illness or another. If something can be termed “mental illness light” is it really important to identify it as a mental illness?

In fact, calling it an illness is what led me to go to therapy this time around because, from that perspective, I knew it could get worse and was worried it had.

But shit, apparently it’s gotten better and I just notice things most people don’t notice so I feel crazy.

I put the above video here because one thing is certain: I have severely underestimated the importance of alone time for my mental health.

If one in five people in a population experiences and illness of the mind, is that not epidemiological?

Here is a link to an article written in 2017 that discusses mental illness worldwide as epidemiological, although it refers to statistics drawn from the early 2000’s.

Here is one from The Guardian in 2019 that draws on the Global Burden of Disease study run by the Global Health Data Exchange from 2009-2017 and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The former says mental illness is epidemiological while the latter claims that the mental illness in terms of it’s development has essentially flatlined. Concurrence of mental illness increases at a slightly higher rate than that of the population. It’s almost even. It is treatment for mental illnesses which have increased, or the number of people seeking treatment has increased worldwide. Actual treatment fulfillment is a different story.

In looking for the primary sources from The Guardian article, to which there are no links (some data charts are available for publication permission from GBD studies in professional publications which I do not have access to as a blogger with little income) I came across this from the GBD study, an article covering data from 2010 published in 2013:

[note: YLLs stands for years of life lost to premature mortality.]


Despite the apparently small contribution of YLLs—with deaths in people with mental disorders coded to the physical cause of death and suicide coded to the category of injuries under self-harm—our findings show the striking and growing challenge that these disorders pose for health systems in developed and developing regions. In view of the magnitude of their contribution, improvement in population health is only possible if countries make the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders a public health priority.”

In other words, while the occurrences of mental illnesses are not increasing, people are understanding they are ill, seeking treatment, and the treatment costs are now so high globally that mental illness and substance use disorders severely impact the global economy, more so even than cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

The cost of treatment for mental health related illness in the U.S., including treatment sought for issues related to mental health in Emergency Departments, was estimated at $201 billion dollars in 2013 making it the most expensive illness in America at the time. “Depression is the second leading cause of death in peoples aged 10-34 in the US,” NAMI reported in 2018.

The costs for treatment are one thing. The costs on a macroeconomic scale are another. A report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information called, “The economic costs of mental disorders: Do our societies react appropriately to the burden of mental disorders?” from The European Molecular Biology Organization, by Sebastian Trautmann, Jürgen Rehm, and Hans‐Ulrich Wittchen states:

“The human capital approach, which is most commonly used to quantify the economic costs of mental disorders and disease in general, distinguishes between direct and indirect costs. Direct costs most often refer to the “visible costs” associated with diagnosis and treatment in the healthcare system: medication, physician visits, psychotherapy sessions, hospitalization, and so on. Indirect costs refer to the “invisible costs” associated with income losses due to mortality, disability, and care seeking, including lost production due to work absence or early retirement 67.”

(Trautmann et al., 2016)

“Based on data from 2010, the global direct and indirect economic costs of mental disorders were estimated at US$2.5 trillion. Importantly, the indirect costs (US$1.7 trillion) are much higher than the direct costs (US$0.8 trillion), which contrasts with other key disease groups, such as cardiovascular diseases and cancer. For the EU, a region with highly developed healthcare systems, the direct and indirect costs were estimated at €798 billion 7. Both direct and indirect costs of mental disorders are expected to double by 2030 (Fig 2A). It should be noted that these calculations did not include costs associated with mental disorders from outside the healthcare system, such as legal costs caused by illicit drug abuse.

(Trautmann et al., 2016)

“Lost economic growth”

“From a macroeconomic perspective, the cost of mental disorders in a defined population can be quantified as lost economic output by estimating the projected impact of mental disorders on the gross domestic product (GDP) (see Sidebar A). The major idea behind this approach is that economic growth depends on labor and capital, both of which can be negatively influenced by disease. Capital is depleted by healthcare expenditures, and labor is depleted by disability and mortality 6. Capital depletion is calculated from information on saving rates, costs of treatment, and the proportion of treatment costs that are funded from savings. Impact on labor is estimated by comparing the GDP to a counterfactual scenario that assumes no deaths from a disease against the projected deaths caused by the respective disease. Such estimates of lost economic output are mostly calculated for somatic diseases, and rarely for mental disorders. However, the impact of mental disorders on economic growth can be estimated only indirectly 6: The lost economic output is first calculated with somatic diseases related to their associated number of disability‐adjusted life years (DALYs). In a second step, the lost economic output for mental disorders is projected using the relative size of the corresponding DALYs for other diseases 6.”

(Trautmann et al., 2016)

“Between 2011 and 2030, the cumulative economic output loss associated with mental disorders is thereby projected to US$ 16.3 trillion worldwide, making the economic output loss related to mental disorders comparable to that of cardiovascular diseases, and higher than that of cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes (Fig 2B).”

(Trautmann et al., 2016)

This means that even if we view people simply as cogs in the global capitalist machine, it makes as much sense, if not more, economically to address the causes and treatment of mental illness as it does to address the cures for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. The health of our people directly contributes to the health of the economy and the nation. The nation is made up of it’s people.

This also means that if someone is suffering from a mental illness, the costs reflected in the macroeconomic picture are also reflected in that person’s microeconomic world through those negative impacts on labor and capital due to seeking treatment and healthcare expenditures demonstrated in the macroeconomic model. That is, someone who is suffering from a mental illness usually discovers such when their lives fall apart. The very definition of a mental illness suggests an inability to properly function in some social sphere. How then are the only treatment options available so outrageously expensive? How does that even make any economic sense?

One might argue that to improve a nation’s mental health might mean a hit economically right now, but that to do so would actually improve our economy and productivity in the future.

One might argue that regular exercise, a healthy diet, time outdoors, time to self-reflect, time to rest, just more personal time, might actually lead to better mental health and more productivity. One might argue that America can be on its way to adopting values that incorporate the health of its people as paramount to the health of the nation.

Actually, people do argue this.

There have been studies done to demonstrate that, while many Americans typically work eight hours, we are only productive for about three hours out of the work day. The rest of the time is spent with distractions, hot beverages, news, social media, meetings, interruptions, etc. Here’s an article from the American Society of Employees describing this. In a study in which people were given the option to work six or eight hours in a day while still maintaining eight hour pay, those who worked less hours were reported as not only being happier and more energetic, they also called out to work less, took less sick time, and were more efficient at work over all.

The report also says that, “History has shown that reducing hours and allowing employees more down time increases productivity.  Back in 1914, The Ford Motor Company cut hours from 16 to 8 and doubled workers’ salaries.  The result was increased productivity.  We’ve held onto the 8-hour work day since then.”

The study from Ohio State, which the above report references, advocates for a six hour work week because studies have demonstrated higher productivity and overall happiness in it’s workers. If depression and mental illness offer such a big hit to the overall ability of our nation to produce because people need time off to heal or to spend with their families in order to feel recharged and happier, why not implement the six hour work week?

This subject merits more attention and will probably come back around in another post. Suffice it to say, time for self-care seems essential for health from a societal and individual perspective.

Here’s what seeing the therapist did teach me:

I have been reaching for the wrong coping mechanisms. While that is obvious, the extent to which reaching for the wrong coping mechanisms can influence the degree of illness is greater than I gave it credit for. It is more important to turn to self-care when things suck. Doing the opposite makes things easily twice as difficult as they have to be and prolongs the suffering.

I’m also highly sensitive, a quality that is generally frowned upon and derided as weakness. If you know me, you also know I’m surprisingly stronger than I look…like so much so it alarms people. I have skinny little arms but I can chug beer as quickly and lift as much as many fully grown men. Men I’ve dated have felt emasculated by my strength, and I have often caught myself playing weak to make a man feel better. My physical strength was something I was made fun of for relentlessly in high school even by football players. So I’m not physically weak.

Mentally I fared well in the academia department and in self-motivation and discipline for a long time. All that went out the window after I graduated college, I think. Motivating myself for my own good was something I never learned to do. I motivated myself to do things I didn’t want to for my mom, for my siblings, for my friends, for accolades, or to be left alone. If you do what you’re supposed to do, people don’t bother you. Suck it up. Work hard. That’s the mentality I came from.

I’ve been fighting against pieces of my personality that are inherited and intrinsic–my sensitivities, my weirdness. I was trying to change my personality to fit the idea of a life only to find the idea of the life didn’t fit my personality. That was always something I didn’t want to accept, I think–that personality can determine behaviors. I wanted to prove my damned sensitivity wrong, tackle that beast to the ground, and tell it to stop telling me what to do.

But embracing it has me writing for a living, has my mind calming down, my neuroticism tempered. The therapist helped me to understand that embracing this hyper sensitivity and learning to work with it is going to be a lot more effective than trying to push down all those feelings only to find them resurfacing in fucked up, self-destructive ways later. She offered a professional and reassuring opinion which validated my feelings that something was wrong, but the thing that was wrong was the idea of myself and how I functioned in the world. I’m strong, but not strong enough to overcome some of the traits of my own personality I did not find desirable. Strength doesn’t overcome these. They aren’t things to be overcome. They are just traits to be used instead of ignored.

She tells me I am a tangential thinker, but not in the clinical sense. In the clinical sense, Tangential Thinking is, “A type of thought disorder in which each of a series of thoughts seems less closely related to the original thought than the one before it”(tangential thinking | Behavenet, 2020). A person with Tangential Thought Disorder will understand a question but answer using non-contextual examples that may lead off to such an extent that the original question is never answered.

Tangential thinking is related to things like schizophrenia and psychosis.

I am actually a circumstantial thinker which differs from tangential thinking in that those who think tangentially generally don’t circle back around to the main point. On the other hand, “Circumstantiality is defined as circuitous and non-direct thinking or speech that digresses from the main point of a conversation. An individual that displays this characteristic includes unnecessary and insignificant information which, although sometimes relevant, distracts from the central theme or main point of a conversation. The over-inclusion of this extraneous information, can make it difficult to both follow the speaker’s train of thought or arrive at a meaningful answer to a question. Eliciting information in clinical situations from circumstantial patients may be difficult and time-consuming” (Kripa Balaram & Raman Marwaha, 2019).

The information isn’t unnecessary or insignificant. It’s actually information that is significant to the kinds of nuances that people who are hypersensitive notice–that is, it seems circuitous and irrelevant to eighty percent of people because eighty percent of people don’t notice the same nuances I do.

Sometimes in literature, the meaning of a text changes entirely based on one simple nuance.

Sometimes the perceived weight of impact of a topic can change entirely based on nuance.

For example, we go to the grocery store and there are three kinds of organic mustard, one local, five main brands, two off brands. Now the topic is simply, which mustard should I choose?

A tangential thinker would start off…Organic, local, main, and off brands as categories imply source which is important for ethical considerations. But Organic as a definition no longer upholds the standards for ethics it once did, so buying locally might actually be more ethical. Then again, main brands are better regulated and are cheaper because of higher rates of production which take place, perhaps, in other countries where they are being paid shit salaries from a U.S. standpoint but the people are being given jobs in factories since they can’t farm anymore since those factories were built on their farmland. So you are supporting those people but also the people who put them in that position in the first place. In this way, the conversation about which mustard to choose becomes loaded.

To me, these are not irrelevant questions. This is not unnecessary information. A lack of time for these conversations in the public sphere may be seen as problematic, especially from a treatment perspective in which one person pays another almost 200 dollars in an hour to assess, evaluate, and treat. But a lack of time for such nuanced concerns as these in the public sphere creates snake-eating-its-own-tail dilemmas. We go over the same things in circles wondering what came first, the chicken or the egg in terms of the mental health crisis, the economic crisis, the education crisis, the debt crisis, the political crisis. What if it’s not about what came first? It’s all a system. And my part in that system is where I put my money and how I earn it.

The circumstantial thinker comes back around.

So my choice of mustard is local because local is the closest to my personal sphere of influence in which I have the best chance of making an impact.

The information didn’t all seem relevant to the circumstance, but I would argue that one’s circumstance is never inextricable from the consideration of the impact on the system and that this tendency to separate our purchasing choices or any choices from their inevitable social and environmental impacts is a nuance that is often missed in the public conversation except by environmentalists who get a bad rap for being too “sensitive”. The conversation is thus still about the choice of mustard, however it is being informed by a recognition of my purchasing impact. This is not tangential thinking. This is observation of the processes in which I am involving myself by purchasing mustard, many of which are actually unknown to the American public through lack of curiosity, lack of education, and a lack of critical thinking, the subject in which Americans have been hit hardest academically in the last decade.

I had no idea that these classifications of thought disorders existed and its a bit alarming to me that answering in a roundabout way is classified as a thought disorder, specifically because the language that identifies circumstantial thinking as problematic actually identifies it as problematic for the listener, whose problem is keeping track of the conversation. The above quote says that the extraneous information, “although sometimes relevant, distracts from the central theme or main point of a conversation.”

Distracts who?

“The over-inclusion of this extraneous information, can make it difficult to both follow the speaker’s train of thought or arrive at a meaningful answer to a question.”

Difficult to follow for who? Meaningful for who?

This lady says I’m a tangential thinker after interrupting me precisely in the place I’m returning back to the main point of the conversation. I’ve been talking for less than a minute. It’s not like I’m rambling. I’m not a tangential thinker. You just don’t see where I’m going with this. You didn’t listen. You didn’t take the time to listen. Like most people, I was moving too slowly for you so you decided to speed things up by inferring; however, in inferring, you missed the nuances which would have led you to the conclusion that your inference was wrong.

You know how if you flip through all the chapters of a book and try to do a book report based on what happened at the beginning and end, you will probably get it wrong? This is what it feels like when people don’t understand that I am answering the question…this is just how my brain manages it. It feels like they have picked up the book of my opinion, read the sparknotes, and missed the whole point because they were so focused on the main point…the what happened…they missed the point…what it means that that happened.

The main point of Aladdin isn’t that he becomes a Prince and gets the girl.

It’s that what makes him a Prince is already present in his character. This is the part of the story that informs the human meaning.

Purchasing mustard without considering your purchasing impact is quite like writing a book report in which Aladdin finds a Genie, gets the girl, and becomes a prince. This happens and then this happens and then this happens.

There is no consideration for what the story says about the human experience and it’s meaning. I do not like to meaninglessly purchase shit. So, on mustard, I buy regular old mustard. Why? Because you’ve got to prioritize the shit you worry about. I’m not actually that neurotic about mustard.

My tendency to answer questions circumstantially comes from this desire to understand things as they relate to the human experience, not just as they are. We are not just human beings having an experience, we are human beings within a global ecosystem having experiences which then impact that entire system. Holding things apart from their systems is what led us to considering ourselves so apart from our ecosystem it is now in danger.

Its a systems approach to thinking that accepts nature’s cycles and understands how the smallest mouse’s health can influence the health of an entire population of birds of pray. Civilization is not beyond the laws of nature. It is a practice in delaying or putting off the limitations nature might put on us (like resource availability) but now those limitations are coming from human nature.

TIME. I can’t stress enough the value of time. It is in the nuances provided through time and deep thought one finds meaning and makes further meaning. The more time you spend thinking about something, the more complex your understanding of it. The more time you spend talking about something and listening, the more nuanced the conversation.

Now think about the above statements regarding time and productivity in the workplace.

People actually can’t pay attention for all that long. The brain needs a break. And a conversation is pretty useless if someone’s not following, regardless. Takes two to converse.

So circumstantial thinking is a problem in everyday conversation like long hours are a problem in the work place because most people don’t have the capacity to pay attention for long and I’m like an Ent. I don’t like saying things unless they are worth taking a long time to say. Probably this is another reason I turned to drinking…it turns off my inhibitions and allows me to say things without thinking too much about them. Now that I’m a little older and care less about what people think, I’m back to figuring it’s alright to be quiet, or to take my time.

It’s only an issue if I can’t figure out how to work with it, which comes back to the definition of mental illness which “refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders — health conditions involving

  • Significant changes in thinking, emotion and/or behavior
  • Distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities”(What Is Mental Illness?, 2009).

I want to say that I learned the importance of always coming back to the point in learning how to write a properly formatted essay. None of these journals are properly formatted. They are stream of consciousness essentially.

I learned how to stray away from the point and wander back to it through longer, albeit still properly formatted, essays. I learned how to take time analyzing texts, developing ideas, cross referencing information, and tying it together in ways that made sense with words and symbolism. I wonder what might have happened in regards to this tangential thinking, or circumstantial thinking, had I not been required throughout high school and college to write proper essays.

The tangential thinker digresses until the question is never actually answered. I have been trained, specifically by an education in creative writing, to bring the pieces back to the main focus, but there really isn’t room for the kind of meandering thought, microscopic focus, and ample time we allow in writing and reading in education in most day-to-day conversation. Hence the shyness.

I talk to my step-sister who identifies, says she will answer questions indirectly also and people will cut her off assuming they know where she’s going with it. She expressed the same frustration I have…when you answer indirectly and someone cuts you off because it seems like you’re not answering the question, they think you are stupid.

My teachers did this too, until I learned how to write a properly formatted essay. Weird.

Maybe I’m just highly sensitive because I consider the impact of my choice of mustard on other people. Maybe I’m highly sensitive because I understand that these stupid little choices are stupid little choices everyone makes every day and that 8 billion stupid little choices every day equal a bunch of big stupid choices. I’m tired of this being called “Sensitive,” or at least tired of thinking of that as a bad.

This kind of thinker, that kind of feeler, this kind of brain.

I’m tired of labels sticking to me that tell me how to box myself into a life.

I’m just going to be me. This kind of neurotic self-reflection, however necessary it was for a little while, is now entirely exhausting.

I’m a human being. I’m tired of these labels. They’ve helped as much as they’re going to. Now it’s time for them to start informing the personal legwork.

Be well you highly sensitive people you. It’s alright to feel. It’s alright to take your time.

May you be heard today. May you hear someone else.

May you choose whichever mustard pleases your heart.


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Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Incidence, Prevalence, and Years Lived with Disability 1990-2017 | GHDx. (2017). Healthdata.Org.

Holmes, L. (2016, May 23). The Highest Health Care Cost In America? Mental Disorders. HuffPost Canada; HuffPost Canada.

jenngranneman. (2019, December 2). 14 Things Highly Sensitive People Absolutely Need to Be Happy. Highly Sensitive Refuge.

Mental Health and the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010: The Lancet Animated Infographic. (2013). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube.

Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2015). Nami.Org.

Research – The Highly Sensitive Person. (2014). Hsperson.Com.

Rice-Oxley, M. (2019, June 3). Mental illness: is there really a global epidemic? The Guardian; The Guardian.

tangential thinking | Behavenet. (2020). Behavenet.Com.

The global burden of mental and substance use disorders. (2014, March 20). Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The Highly Sensitive Person. (2017). The Highly Sensitive Person. Hsperson.Com.

The Six-Hour Workday. (2020). Aseonline.Org.

Trautmann, S., Rehm, J., & Wittchen, H. (2016). The economic costs of mental disorders. EMBO Reports17(9), 1245–1249.

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