Monday, 28 August 2017


Labels are useful and so I generally don't get upset by them.  Other people will apply labels to me and I will apply them to myself and others.  They help us understand, clarify who we are and what we intend.  Of course they can be misapplied, they can become inaccurate over time, categorising and labelling anything is rarely a fixed thing.  A label I have not been in any hurry to apply to myself is HSP, also known as Highly Sensitive Person.  I know I am very sensitive so adding the label didn't help me in any way.  Finding out that there are psychologists who have studied this concept, decided what it means and to whom it applies and that there are people who identify with it and have been helped by this identification was only ever of mild interest. For the most part, labels that mark us as different from the norm are helpful if they allow us to find out we are not alone when we worried that was the case, and to encourage those not like us to accept our differences.

For someone who identifies as an HSP it is helpful to be around others who understand, don't judge and can offer support.  It isn't easy to live in a way that is different from the norm, and many people do that in various ways putting them at greater risk of harm than being an HSP can cause.  Having carefully explained my disclaimer, I am aware that what I write here might seem to some as trivial whining at worst or at best incomprehensible.   I would imagine only those with any sympathy towards Highly Sensitive People would bother to continue reading.

I've included the INTJ label in this because there is much misinformation or embellishment on the internet about the MBTI types and many if not all of the types can end up being described in terms of caricatures,  the INTJ in particular is somewhat idealised (if the ultimate villain can be considered an ideal) as a cool, unflappable, arrogant, confident, not giving any fecks at all sort of person.  Reality is much more complicated than that, of course.  So an INTJ type personality can also be highly sensitive.

What is meant by 'sensitive'?  In the case of the Highly Sensitive Person it is meant that over-stimulation of the senses can occur, especially in situations that most other people are not overstimulated by.  If you have not followed the link in my first paragraph, note now that it goes to the website of Dr Elaine Aronson, a psychologist who studies sensitivity and is, as far as I know, the one who coined the term HSP.  

I have not done as much reading and researching on this subject as I often do on subjects that interest me because I am not yet certain how interested I am.  I already know that I have been sensitive to smells, noises and bright lights, even bright colours my entire life to a point that I know isn't typical and I startle easily.  My fight or flight response is triggered by things others seem almost oblivious to or seem to enjoy.  I feel invaded or attacked and since flight is often unsuccessful, I cannot escape the situation, anger is triggered and I have thoughts of a fighting nature.  I fantasize about punching the person causing the 'attack' as a form of retaliation.  I want to inflict the same trauma that is being inflicted on me. 

Normally I am not a violent person at all so feelings like this only add to the stress I am already under.  If I am under emotional or psychological stress I become even more sensitive and verbally lashing out or a tearful meltdown are likely.  Being someone who is not typically emotional, who doesn't display emotions readily and who prefers to be in control, to be calm and collected, to respond logically, finding myself in such a state is highly distressing.  Perhaps you can begin to see how this all snowballs.

If, like me, you have lived your life with this way of being, you probably have coping strategies.  If you have discussed it with people you have probably been given suggestions like meditation, calming music, marijuana or herbal tea. Perhaps you have rubbed lavender oil on your temples or sniffed rose-geranium essential oil from a small bottle.  As an INTJ I prefer hard science to back up claims of cure or easing of symptoms but I also know what it is like to be willing to try anything that seems to work.  Desperation does that which is why the charlatans who exploit desperate people are so despicable.  But amongst the charlatans there are those who just mean well and believe in the miracle of herbs or think that it's not going to hurt to try something.  It may hurt your bank account but a fool and her money are soon parted and that's that.  Spend your money as you see fit but if you can't feed your children because of all that you spend on homeopathy you won't get any sympathy from me, although your children will for both their hunger and their having been saddled with a stupid parent.

Oops, that was a bit of a digression...anyhow, while I am aware that there are various relaxation techniques available to people and that they have varying degrees of efficacy and success, I've not found one that works for me and I need to make it clear that being a Highly Sensitive Person is not about being an uptight person, it is not about needing to relax more or de-stress, although finding ways to do those things can help as much as they help anybody.

Psychology is not a hard science, and although I value hard science greatly I am also very drawn to psychology.  I want to know why people are the way they are although I accept that it might be unknowable and I am inclined to favour neuroscientific explanations although it's a science still in infancy.  HSPs are considered to have not only a hyper-sensitivity to external stimuli, but also a greater depth of cognitive processing (which I think must not be mistaken to mean they are better in any way) and high emotional reactivity.    I have also read that we must distinguish between the terms highly sensitive and hyper-sensitive, with the former being biological and the latter being a coping style that is learned.  See this article.  The two can go together but do not necessarily. 

I have seen high sensitivity referred to as a disorder and a gift  but there is speculation, confusion and uninformed opinion at work there.  Sensory processing disorder is a different thing which may initially sound similar.  It is a neurological disorder which causes senses to get confused.  Sensory processing sensitivity is about perceiving more, being bombarded with sensory information that needs processing and being overwhelmed by it.  It would have survival advantages at times and be a burden at others from an evolutionary perspective but those survival advantages could lead to its continued existence in what is estimated to be about 20% of the population.  As someone living with it I don't consider it a gift.  I don't know any differently but I also know that if I could de-sensitise myself I would.  Just for some peace.

I prefer to think of it as something that just is, neither good nor bad, better nor worse, however for the most part it is not easy to live with and does need to be managed because an HSP is living generally living amongst others who are not over-stimulated by their environment and their sensitivity may be perceived as a weakness, as whining and attention seeking or as a bad attitude.

Here is what the good weather typically brings me.

Where I live we are visited twice a year by the Snowbirds, a Canadian Forces Air Demonstration Squadron.  For most people it is an awesome treat to have these jets flying overhead for a few weeks each year.  For me it is like living in a war zone and I loathe them.  I consider them noise pollution and when they fly over my home with no warning I want to duck and cover, curl up in a ball and cry. I would do anything to stop the assault including shoot them out of the sky if I had the means.  If I express my dislike of the Snowbirds I am considered strange and even unpatriotic by most people I know.  

I also dislike cigarette smoke intensely and live with neighbours who smoke outside so as not to stink up their own homes.  The smoke floats upwards and into my windows.  Again, to me it is an assault, an invasion of my safe space and a gross act of inconsideration. 

The noise of power tools has increased in my lifetime and nobody does any yard-work without power assisted machinery.  Wash, cut, prune, paint, you can do it all with a massive noise and you can do it all day.  When you have finished someone else can start up.  Summer, the time of year when I want my windows open and the fresh air to come in is also the season of extra noise.

Pot smokers have become even more confident as Canada prepares to legalize marijuana use, and while I have no ethical objection to marijuana I do object to the stink of it.  Skunk, dog shit, burning rubber tires, essentially it smells like one or all three of those to me.

Recently staying in hotels while on vacation, the stomping of overhead footsteps and the slamming of doors seemed endless and barely tolerable.  I lay in bed alternately cringing and

I resist believing myself to be special or unique, in fact I loathe the idea.  While labels generally don't bother me I cringe when labels applied to me hint at being special.  I am inclined to believe nobody is special and really dislike the self-empowerment movement that encourages everyone to believe they are.  It's impossible.  Not everyone can be special because that negates the definition of special.  I was raised to value humility, to not believe I am special in any way.  I don't think I can do and even if I were tested and declared gifted or any other kind of special I would resist it.  Having said that, I do have to admit to being a creative, intelligent, highly sensitive worrier.   I don't know anyone who doesn't believe they are intelligent despite evidence to the contrary so take my self assessment for what it's worth.  It's worth very little.  I really don't want to belong to the community of internet users claiming special snowflake status... poor me I am an empath!  I really don't want to, but I might belong there.  You can't make me join though, and I rarely join anything so that reassures me.  Clubs?  Groups?  Ugh!

But what does an introverted, self-reliant, reasonably smart person who worries, gets anxious, is stressed often, highly sensitive and is a bit worried about high blood pressure do to try and sort this out?  She Googles, of course.  How far that will get me, I don't know.  I dislike the touchy-feely stuff, refuse to do guided imagery and am suspicious of anyone who looks like she would sniff a bottle of rose-geranium.  However, I am willing to read and when I read I do glean nuggets of useful information.  In many cases it's a reminder, something I already know but have forgotten and am neglecting.

For me it is important to keep my mind busy.  If it is not busy and stimulated it pursues its hobby of obsessive thinking by worrying about things.  A recent example might be how many different ways I could die on the back of a motorcycle travelling on the Interstate highway.  Of course, it is difficult to be intellectually stimulated while sitting on the back of a a motorcycle and that's a problem I've yet to solve.

As important as it is to keep my mind busy, it also needs rest and making it rest is very difficult.  Reading fiction helps.  So does painting and gardening once did.  I need to do these things as well, to let my mind sleep.

I also need to know that I will not be able to employ these strategies all of the time.  Shit is going to happen.  I am going to react.  A bit of self acceptance is helpful here and so is knowing that while I may be different from the norm, neither am I a freak.   I will dredge up two of my favourite pithy and meme-worthy statements. 

Life is a journey, not a destination and I am always a work in progress.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

It's Never Black and White

My obsession with colour has lead me to read as much as I can find on the subject when I am procrastinating with regards to other things.   I am quite intrigued with the concept of temperature in colour because it's more subject to language vagaries than descriptions of saturation and clarity are.  How colour is perceived and described differs depending on whether we are talking about light or pigment and the idea of colours being warm or cool has mainly to do with how much blue (perceived as cool) or yellow (perceived as warm) are in the pigment mix.  I wonder how consistent this warm/cool perception is across cultures though I believe every human on this planet would consider shade cool and fire hot and generally we associated blues/greys/purple with shade and red/yellow/orange with fire.

Somewhere in my internet wanderings I got into a discussion with someone in which I was trying to explain why black and white, although usually referred to as neutral, were not flattering on everyone and particularly people whose colouring leans warm.  If black and white are neutral, why are you claiming they are cool? The woman asked me.  I didn't have an answer for her that was satisfactory to me, I only know that most humans do agree that black and white seem cool as opposed to warm and that in terms of personal colouring they are not neutral/work for everyone options.

It frustrated me that I understood this intuitively but could not explain it so I have been on a mission to improve my ability to explain this.  I doubt I have fully succeeded but it's taking better shape in my mind now.

The concept of warm or cool colour has to do with blue being perceived as cool and yellow as warm and thus the more blue in a colour the cooler it seems and the more yellow the warmer it seems.  That in itself had me puzzled as I tried to understand why a purely warm coloured person could wear any blue at all or a purely cool coloured person could wear any yellow.  I came to understand that in terms of personal colour analysis and pigment mixing, the idea is that people who need a palette of colours we would call warm need a palette of colours where there is obvious yellow added.  Those who need cool colours need their colours to be obviously blue infused.  People who are slightly warm or slightly cool wear colours that are less warmed or cooled by yellow or blue.

I wrote a blog post in which I explored what warm blue is, explaining that it is blue with yellow added, it pushes the boundary of what we would call turquoise or teal.  Cool yellow has a bit of blue added so it begins to push at the boundary of green.  Yellow is also cooled by the addition of white. 

Adding white pigment makes what we call pastel colours and pastels are generally viewed as cooler than the original hue they are based on. 

Black is reminiscent of shade or night which are experienced as cooler and pure black has a bluish tint to it.  Artists often use a pigment called Payne's Gray instead of black and Payne's Gray is a very dark blue that appears black but isn't as flat looking as actual black paint.

In  colour theory  based on light waves black is the absence of all light (colour) and white is the presence of all light (colour) which makes black a non-colour and white a colour.

In colour theory based on pigment black is the combination of all colours and white is an absence of them because you can't mix anything to make white, thus black is the colour and white is the non-colour.

In real life, colour is something we see and we see black and white just as readily as we see blue or red or yellow.  For practical purposes black and white are colours.  But are they neutral?  What does neutral mean?  Can anybody wear them?

Neutral is a word used differently in different contexts. Sometimes black, white and the grey they combine to make are referred to as neutral, based on the idea that white and black are non-colours.  This leads some people to assume that it follows that black and white as non-colours are also non-temperature, that is to say neither warm nor cool.

 Fashion neutrals refer to colours that go well with all or nearly all other colours.  There are caveats involved there because fashion neutrals can lean warmer or cooler or be highly saturated or very muted and this will influence how well they work with other colours exhibiting various properties.

The idea of personal colour analysis is that the colours that work to flatter a person are in harmony with that person's natural colouring, and thus share the same properties.  When it comes to perceived warmth (yellowness) or coolness (blueness) there is a blueness and a distinct lack of yellowness in what we call pure white and black.  That is why they lean cool and suit people with cool colouring better than people with warm colouring. 

Black can be warmed up by using a colour we may perceive initially as black but is actually a very darkened brown.  White can be warmed up by turning it into ivory by adding a bit of yellow.  Whether or not a person is flattered by warm-black (brown-black) or ivory-white will depend on what their personal mix of cool and warm colouring is.  For people who are very or purely warm, brown-black and ivory-white are not warm enough. 

Black and white are also very strong colours and so they work best for people whose own colouring is strong.  If you suit bright, clear colours black and white probably work for you.  If you are predominantly cool toned, they also probably work.  If you are cool toned but lighter and softer, in a category often called Summer, you are probably better off with your black softened to charcoal or replaced with navy blue and your white just hinting at ivory, taking away the intensity that will look harsh on someone whose personal colouring doesn't match it.

I had to think all of this through, organise my thoughts coherently and then write it all down in order to be able to explain this and the lengthy explanation given here would not be appropriate for a response to someone in a YouTube comment section.  I doubt that woman who questioned me on why black and white don't work for everyone will ever see this but this is for her.  This is the complete reply I was unable to give at the time.  This is the consolidation of everything I intuitively understood but could not express. 

This is also for anyone else who has been mislead by the fashion industry into thinking black and white are always right.  Wear them if you want to, if you love them, if you just don't care what personal colour theory says, but if black or white can't find anything to connect with in your skin tone they won't be doing you any favours and perhaps you would like to know that.

There are bigger things in this world to be worrying about than whether or not you should wear black.  Sometimes I just need to avoid those topics.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Life is Never Free of Drama for Very Long

At some point in our lives most of us encounter someone who would be considered a toxic person, although the terminology is new enough that I know of several people who will never have heard it.  With the internet available to help us diagnose everyone we know, it seems now that half the people I know on Facebook are dealing with someone who might be a sociopath or a narcissist.  There are a few people from my own life who might fit those descriptions too and I know how difficult and painful encounters with them can be, particularly if these people are family members or close to you in some way.  Toxic co-workers seem to be a bit of a problem as well.  After fifty years of living I find myself still somewhat surprised that there are people who just seem to be okay with not being very nice, with manipulative and lying behaviour, and who are quite willing to malign you  to others for their own gain.

Sometimes what is most painful is not the loss of what you thought was a good relationship with this individual but when they convince others to believe in their lies about you and you lose those relationships too or they are significantly weakened.

You have to ask yourself what kind of relationship existed in the first place if people are so willing to drop you, ignore you or believe lies about you, but the asking tends not to relieve the pain.  Only time does.

I've struggled most of my life with the belief that I can make people see truth or reason if I just explain things well enough.  Learning that I cannot has been a long, difficult though useful lesson.  I still have to resist the urge.  None of us can control what others think about us or even what they say about us.  We can only be concerned with our own integrity, make our choices, learn from our mistakes, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

More Colour Talk...I Can't Help It

I have just updated my Facebook profile picture to this, the most summery photo of me that I have taken this year. Yes, it's a selfie with the timer, it's outside on a cloudy-bright day, with the sky dimmed by smoke drifting in from the fires of interior BC.

It has been a long time since I've seen outdoor photos of myself, in natural lighting, showing that I am indeed warm-toned and summer has brought me some freckles.  Believe it or not that is a suntan though admittedly a light one. 

This is a makeup free face except for my Peach Me lipstick and the dress is my new favourite pink  colour, a pink that is warm, perhaps best described as a soft coral pink. I wear a lot of peach and coral these days.  It's one of the more easily found warm-muted colours at this time of year.  I feel fantastic in it to the point of being in danger of making it a signature colour. 

Although there are warm and cool versions of just about every colour, with a few exceptions as there is no cool orange, while cool yellows and warm blues can be tricky to identify, I find I like my appearance best in the very warm colours, that is the warmest versions of the colours that come from what most of us know as the warm side of the colour wheel. 

The right blue, which is something approaching teal, feels dramatic and perhaps it is.  In a sense, it is a complimentary colour to my golden skin tone as opposed to the analogous or more harmonious effect of the right versions of colour from the yellow/orange/red side of the wheel.   Cream and brown and olive also feel harmonious and natural, making good neutral bases.  

I Can't Wear Blue/Yellow/Pink/Green...

It's easy to rule out a colour if we've only ever tried wearing one or two versions of it.  It's also easy to mistakenly think all versions of a colour will work if we find that one or two do.  I have heard people say things like "I can't wear pink" or "Blue is my best colour" but these statements always need to be qualified.  I used to think I couldn't wear yellow but I now know I'd only tried the wrong yellows.  I didn't know that yellow could be made warmer or cooler, brighter or more muted, and when I wear the wrong yellow for me it makes me look yellow in a bad way.  The right yellow makes me look golden and glowy and more tanned than I actually am.  I made assumptions such as, if bright, clear orange looks bad on me all oranges will.

This was before I understood the three properties of colour which can all be understood on a scale.


Getting all three properties right will lead you to your best colours to wear.  Often people instinctively get one of them right and there are personal style/colour gurus who tell people it's only necessary to get one property, your dominant one and then they offer up a selection of colours so wide they are really just leaving it up to you to figure out which ones work for you and which don't, whereas other systems will work that out for you and explain why.

I am of the opinion that we don't all see colour in the same way but that some of us see more nuances.  If you really can't get your mind around the three properties of colour, or learn to recognise them, you won't want to bother about them when choosing colours to wear.

 We all have a best fit for each of the properties and a dominant property.  Knowing what these are helps us select the best colours to wear because our best colours share properties with our own personal colouring. 

We see and understand colours best in comparison so we understand a warm blue or a cool yellow, a muted red or a bright red in comparison to other blues, yellows or reds but we can also learn to recognise them more readily with practice.

We have biases and personal preferences and many people identify the colours that best flatter them as their favourites, others wear their favourites without either recognising or caring that they aren't flattering and I have met people who are so fixed in their preferences they see the colour of the shirt and not the person, and thus believe everyone looks good in their favourite shade of blue.  I have to gently accuse my mother of this and thus she didn't look at her daughter and see someone for whom she should buy an orange shirt, she bought for me and later encouraged and complimented the cool, soft colours she favours herself and which happen to suit her.  She now admits with astonishment that I look amazing in peach.

There are colours I generally do not care for or would not use in my own home decor or on my person but can admire them when they are worn by someone who suits them.  Context is everything.

My partner loves bright colours and those that lean warm, and it does seem that what looks best on him are the colours of the True Spring palette, clear, fresh, bright and warm colours. Colour warmth is confusing to him and I probably bore him to death when I try to explain it.  It gets even trickier when I tell him that yes, he and I are both predominantly warm but that my best warm colours are a bit muted and earthy, slightly dirty looking even, while his are clear and bright.  I think I've mostly got him convinced to trust me when I say "this yellow is better than that one although they are both bright."

 Why Am I Obsessed?

Every once in awhile I stop and ask myself why I think it matters so much to wear the most flattering colours.  I know there are people who believe that if you like it you will look great.  Anyone who says this to me leaves me wondering whether or not I should tell them that they actually don't look great in every colour I've seen them wearing.....I always decide not to.

It's true that I don't very often see someone who makes me think "Oh dear that colour looks awful on her and she looks like death warmed over."  (Though there is a chance that is the case with many people wearing black.)  I think it is a form of perfectionism that I must confess to.  I tend to believe there is, if not 'a right answer' then 'a best answer' for most things and I have difficulty settling for less.  When I see someone wearing a colour that overpowers them and makes them look faded, or conflicts with their warmth or coolness level and makes them look a bit ill, I think 'don't you want to get it right?"

But many people really don't care and there is no good reason I can think of why they should.  Sure, it can be argued that looking your best, which can in part be accomplished by wearing the most flattering colours, is a form of presenting your best self to the world and thus increasing your chances of success.  For me, it's relaxing to achieve sensory harmony, and wearing the colours that harmonise with my natural appearance actually feels like a gentle resting place.  Like an evangelist I want that for everyone but I promise that I haven't yet begun knocking on doors and asking people if they know about personal colour analysis and offering to share the good news.