My battle with being a “highly sensitive person”

watch the video above or read the transcript below

I’ve been meaning to do this video/post for a while now. Sometimes I think that it’s helpful if I’m open and honest about my weaknesses and failures and the things I struggle with, because sometimes when I create content, I give the impression that I’ve got everything ‘sorted’ and that’s absolutely not the case. It will never be the case.

It helps people I work with – my clients and BROJO Members and people who follow my stuff – to know that I’m not perfect and I’m aware of that. I have to deal with daily struggles like anybody else. The growth of confidence doesn’t mean you suddenly cross some final line one day and can then say, “Nothing affects me anymore!” It’s not like that.

So I wanted to share a recent revelation I had about myself.

I’ve been bingeing on YouTube documentaries about “real” people lately. There was this one about this 3 year old kid who was really, really fussy with food – he was actually getting into stages of malnutrition. He just wouldn’t eat and his parents were freaking out. So they took him to a doctor – a child specialist type person. They identified that the kid was actually super sensitive to food texture. The problem he had with food was the feeling of it in his mouth.

The kid couldn’t express himself properly because he’s too young. He just freaked out about food because of the feeling. The therapy they went through involved playing with food with his hands. He learned to get dirty and feel the different textures and then slowly work up to eating more foods.

So I’m watching this and the whole time thinking, “Fuck, this sounds exactly like me!”

All the things that they were describing sounded like me as a child, and for the first time ever I heard about this thing called hypersensitivity (turns out this was a mistake by the documentarian – the proper term is Highly Sensitive Person).

All my life I’ve been a very fussy eater. Most of my good friends know how I am with tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, asparagus etc. The list just goes on and on. I’m basically fussy about heaps of different foods. It gives me anxiety to go to someone else’s place when they’re cooking because they always seem to pack everything full of tomato. But it goes beyond that.

I had a lot of allergies when I was younger (this is hypersensitivity). I actually got hospitalized a because of severe allergic reactions to basic dairy products – I went into anaphylactic shock a couple of times. I’m better with that now, but I still have some reactions i.e. lactose intolerance.

I’ve always had a problem with strong sunlight, especially glare. In high school, I remember school uniform rules – we weren’t allowed to wear sunglasses – so in summer I’d suffer through every lunch break, basically crying and sneezing my ass off. I couldn’t look at anything – I could barely function because I just couldn’t handle glare, especially off painted surfaces.

If my hands get dirty and the dirt goes dry, rubbing my fingers together makes me want to spew. I used to be a landscaper. I’d be cutting concrete and the concrete dust goes on your hands  – a super dry substance. I remember we used to drive back in the work truck and I’d have to hold my hands up – I couldn’t let them touch any surface because if they did I’d get nauseous. I could barely even turn the tap to wash this stuff off because the feeling was so disgusting to me.

I’m super sensitive to temperature. It always takes me a couple of hours pretty much every night to get to sleep because I can’t get my temperature right. I’ve got my feet out, my midsection covered, arms out but chest covered. It’s a nightmare. I’m just rolling around all the time, and my temperature is going up and down. I’m used to it, but when I think about it I haven’t slept properly since I was a child.

I struggle with loud noises. If I’m in a loud environment and everyone’s talking at once, I can’t distinguish individual voices. I mean, I can handle it – I used to play in a metal band and all that. But I can’t hear anybody. So I really struggle to communicate in groups. I can talk – it’s not a confidence problem. I just can’t hear properly and feel overwhelmed or tired from trying. When there are multiple noises happening I just zone out.

I’m trying to learn Czech but every Czech situation is a social one, they don’t hang out one to one, they’re always groups. So socialising is just waves of noise to me, I can’t hear anything and it just bores me or stresses me out. My progress in learning is painfully slow.

I’m sensitive to pain. I always talk to other people with tattoos and ask them about how much it hurts, and always seems to hurt me more than them. I feel like I’m just such a pussy. The tattoo I got on my back made me pass out because of how bad it hurt.

I always had this insecurity growing up, thinking “Maybe I’m just a bit of a softy.” I seem to just be affected by everything.

I cried a lot when I was a young child. Every time I banged my knee or got into a confrontation when I was like 5-7 years old, I cried. I just seemed to be weaker than the other kids.

But when I watched this documentary the other night, something clicked for me. I realized, well, I’ve always been this way. Maybe it’s a thing. Maybe I have some sort of issue. I’ve always been fussy with food and noise, I hate getting anything wet on my hands, and to this day I can’t go outside without sunglasses.

When I just started looking into this thing called Highly Sensitive Person it just ticked all the boxes for me. So that’s what it’s always been. It’s like my nerve endings are more sensitive.

It’s actually something that’s probably on the schizophrenia spectrum. I used to work with a lot of people with schizophrenia, and one of the things they have in common is an inability to prioritize stimulus. ‘Normal’ people can focus on things and sort via importance levels – so if I’m listening to you talk, I can block out the sights and other sounds and my thoughts – I can just listen to you and I can prioritize what you’re saying over all the other stimuli that are coming in.

But for someone with schizophrenia, when they having a bad episode, all of that stuff comes in at once and it comes in with equal ‘volume’. They drown in stimulation. They get a million ideas at once and can’t do anything about them. The noise of walking through crowded places becomes a roar, the lights are bright and everything’s happening all at once. Unsurprisingly, it freaks them out.

I remember sympathizing, thinking “Yeah, I kind of identify with that.”

To understand what it’s like to be inside my head, just imagine having one good idea after another, just constantly popping up… non-stop and forever. They all seem like ‘good’ ideas. My wife literally has to rein me in from trying to take action on all of them because most of them are just flash in the pan things that I shouldn’t do anything with.

For those of you who struggle with being creative, this might sound awesome. But imagine 35 years of it – every day, being pounded with one good idea after another, almost none of which you can do anything about. That’s my brain. It’s normal for me. I’m used to it, but it’s fucking tiring. It really is.

I am somebody who doesn’t struggle to come up with ideas for content – new videos, new blog posts and podcasts – no, I struggle to not do them all. Because for every post that I create and publish, I had to discard 60 other ideas. It’s painful to let go – to prioritize and choose them because they all seem so good at my head.

So this was the realization I had over the last few weeks. I’m somewhere in this hypersensitivity / Highly Sensitive Person (or maybe schizophrenic) spectrum. I’ve got all the symptoms. I’ve had them all my life. My circumstances never do anything to change them – I have them on holiday, I have them when I’m relaxed, and I have them even more when I’m stressed. This is something I have to work through every day.

There are some benefits.

For example, because I’m hypersensitive, I have developed a strong emotional intelligence. I can accurately identify how people feel just by being around them, even when they’re cleverly masking their feelings.

I can almost read people’s minds because I spent so much time being both hypersensitive and socially anxious. For years, all I was doing was carefully assessing how people feel and what they’re thinking because I always saw it as a threat to me. That’s turned out to be a pretty helpful skill as a coach. As soon as I start talking to someone, I know when they’re hiding something, I know when they’re suffering, I know when they’re feeling resistance etc. – I can just sense it.

I know that some other people don’t have this sense. I can see them clearly upset someone, yet they can’t seem to see it because it’s very subtle, and they just keep on overly upsetting that person, or they don’t realize someone likes them and so on, they just can’t feel it.

And, like I said, I never run out of ideas. If I live for 1000 years, I’ll publish 1000 books. I’ll never run out of content and never go blank or have a writer’s block, it’s quite the opposite. It’s like 100 people trying to get through the door at once. It’s just about which one to let through.

So there are some benefits, but there is a lot of pain from it. It’s important for the people who follow my work, or people I’ve helped, to understand that I’m not cruising. I have to work at it every day. I wake up and I have this challenge every day of being sensitive to stuff.

Like all my injuries from rugby and martial arts and dancing, I can feel them all very strongly every day, and I must work around them. I have a cold shower every morning and while it’s kind of cool knowing that it probably feels colder for me than it does for other people, because my nerve endings are on fire, it feels like I’m bathing in broken glass – pure agony.

It’s been interesting over the last couple of weeks to realize what it’s done to me psychologically, because the way I described it to myself growing up was that I’m “soft” and “a pussy.”

I often went out of my way to disprove this a lot of the time, especially when I cared a lot about what other people think. When I first met my wife Lucie’s grandmother, she wanted me to have some shots of Jim Beam with her. It was a Tuesday morning, so I refused. She looked at me and called me “slaby,” which means weak in Czech. She thinks I’m quite soft because I work with a computer rather than digging holes or building. Since then, I’ve felt a compulsion to prove my manliness to her.

She doesn’t understand somebody who sits in an office and whose hands aren’t covered with calluses. So she thinks of me as very soft. It’s quite judgmental, I guess. And she’s one of the few people who can still push my button a little bit, because I have that insecurity about being a pussy.

This is probably why I’ve done so many martial arts in my life – I wanted to prove that I could fight. When I go to the gym and I’m next to someone, I always try to outperform them even if it causes me an injury. I’ve got a lot of my injuries because I didn’t rest properly. I force myself to work through the pain and don’t realise when the pain is me being injured, so I work through it and do something permanent to myself. I’ve injured myself snowboarding a lot of times, showing off to prove I could do the scary thing that everyone else was doing, even though I wasn’t skilled enough to do it.

I’ve had an insecurity with me all my life thinking, “God, I need to harden up, I’m weaker than the other guys.”

I did landscaping. Landscaping fucking sucks unless you’re the boss. Landscaping mostly means digging holes, mixing concrete, carrying heavy shit, and 12 hour days breaking your back – it’s dirty and cold and sore and difficult. And I did it just to prove to I-don’t-know-who that I wasn’t soft. A lot of my life decisions have been affected by the psychological interpretation of my hypersensitivity. I thought I had to prove that I’m hard, – i.e. someone who doesn’t react as much.

It’s probably an insecurity that I’ll have to keep working on because I know it still comes up. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of these new calisthenics exercises, and I have to try so hard to stop myself during a set when I feel it burning. It’s a struggle because “Come on, don’t be a pussy, push through the pain” thoughts keep popping into my head.

The only point of this video/post is just to share with you that I have my own shit I have to deal with. And it’s still something I have to struggle with. We’ve all got something like this, our individual struggles against our personal demons. Yours has probably caused you psychological issues too, and probably runs havoc in your head, leading to poor decisions. And that’s normal. Everybody’s got something. There’s no need to be ashamed of it.

Anybody who makes fun of you is just hiding their own thing. A confident person won’t make fun of you for it. So, be open and honest about whatever you’ve got going on and understand that anybody you look up to, even if it’s me, or Jordan Peterson, or Tony Robbins or whatever – understand they’ve got their thing too.

Peterson clearly has something similar to me in his brain – he sometimes struggles to speak because so many ideas seem to be coming into his head. Tony Robbins is clearly obsessed. He’s succeeded more than anyone would ever need to succeed and yet he still works seven days a week. That’s an obsession, it’s not healthy.

So we’ve all got our shit. Just be honest about it. Work through it.

For some of us, like with my thing, I’m just going to have it forever. It’s some sort of biological issue. So I just have to work around it all the time. And that’s just the way things are.

So I hope that helps. Sharing shit about myself that’s honest that might in some way benefit you, and if not, it’s just an act of shamelessness for me – practicing what I preach.

If you guys have a good weekend, please comment below if you have any thoughts on us.


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