My dear friend, Robin Renee, and two of her friends host an excellent podcast called The Leftscape. On it, they speak about many progressive issues of the day, from politics to pop culture, and everything in between. I am honored to be interviewed on today’s Leftscape podcast, where I talk about my life coaching practice, Free To Be HSP, Life and Mental Health Coaching for Highly Sensitive People and Individuals With Special Needs. Copy and paste this link into your browser to listen to the podcast: https://leftscape.com/free-to-be-hsp-episode-27/
You may have heard the term neurotypical, either in conversation, or perhaps reading through a psychological publication. You may also have heard the term neuroatypical, another term synonymous with it, neurodivergent, or simply just atypical. There is even a new show on Netflix called Atypical, which is about a family with a child on the autism spectrum.
The term neurotypical is used to refer to anyone who does not have any developmental disabilities such as autism and ADD/ADHD. It has also been broadened in recent years to include people who do not have any sort of mental health condition, including anxiety, depression and other such conditions.
Citing myself as an example, from grade school through early college, I struggled with academics, along with chronic anxiety and worry, but seemed to function “well enough” in many areas of society to the point that my diagnoses got missed. I often heard from teachers and others who were well-meaning, “she could do it if she just applied herself”. I had tutors in math from late grade school through early college; yet, no one came to the conclusion that I may have some sort of learning disability that made it difficult for me to move forward in my academic studies, or in life in general for that matter. After two and a half years in community college, and several remedial math classes before getting to a math class which actually counted towards college credit, I registered for Finite Math. Just three weeks into the course, I was in so far over my head, I didn’t even know what questions to ask. Instead of numbers, finite math seemed to consist of letters, and I had no idea what to do with them. I walked into the office of the Mathematics Department Chair and told him of my struggles in this class. I asked him if I might be tested to determine if I had a learning disability in math. Over 23 years later, I still remember his smug sounding reply to me. He said, “You’ve only given it 3 weeks”. My reply to him was, “No sir, I’ve given it almost 20 years”. He said that he would allow me to go to the Student Disability Services office and arrange for testing, but said he knew I would not be found to have any learning disabilities, and that I simply hadn’t given the class enough time.
I went to the Student Disability Services office and arranged for the testing required to determine whether or not I had specific learning disabilities. After undergoing the testing, my results showed the there was a significant discrepancy between my verbal and written proficiency, which showed well above my age and grade level, and my mathematical skills, which showed I functioned around a 7th grade level, at the age of 19 and a ½. They said it showed that I had specific learning disabilities in both the areas of mathematics as well as how I processed information. It wasn’t that I could not process information; it was that it often took me significantly longer than others in my same age bracket to process, retain, and be able to prove on a test, my understanding of the information I was attempting to process. Finally, after many years of difficulty getting people to understand how hard I was trying, these tests results provided some validation of my struggle.
I did successfully complete community college and transfer to and graduate from University of Central Florida.
Another area of extreme difficulty for most of my life has been the workplace. I have worked since I was 17 years old, and though some jobs have been significantly better than others for me, the majority of jobs I have worked in have always come with a great degree of difficulty. Navigating office politics, dealing with co-workers here and there over the years who were downright nasty, as well as dealing with some very difficult bosses. Some people seem, even if they will never like office politics, to be able to not only successfully navigate them, but to thrive in offices, or other types of workplaces. For me though, the innate knowledge of how to do this was just never present in me. I have learned over the years, some ways of being that may be considered survival tactics for the workplace; things like knowing when to speak up and when not to, how to phrase things so that they have a better chance of being well received, and things such as that, but it has never come easily to me. I now wonder if it may just simply be more difficult for those who are neuroatypical to navigate the workplace, then it is for neurotypical folks.
Just as society-at-large seems to have always favored, or been easiest to navigate for people who are heteronormative, (aka straight, usually white and usually male), I believe the same holds true for people who are neurotypical, and that the world seems to favor them. I have also come to the following realization, after over 43 years on this planet: Trying to be neurotypical when you are not is like trying to be straight when you’re gay. You can try to navigate an inherently neurotypical world as though you were neurotypical yourself, but it’s like trying to walk up an escalator that is going down. And who wants to do that for your entire life?!
So here and now, I declare an end to trying to be something I am not. I am, at age 43 and a half, coming out as a proud neuroatypical! Can neuroatypicals successfully navigate an inherently neurotypical world? Absolutely! We just have to go about it differently. We have to play to our strengths, let employers know what valuable traits we can offer them, and make accommodations for ourselves when going into situations that may be otherwise overwhelming, just to name a few.
I hope those who may have struggled their entire lives with this, be heartened by these words and understand that I am speaking from my own, lived experience. May we who are neuroatypical learn to thrive and collaborate with our neurotypical counterparts in the world, cheer each other on, and recognize that no matter how each of our respective brains are wired, we all have something positive to offer this world, and even change it for the better.
*Anne Sabagh is a Certified Life Coach based in Northern Virginia. She sees clients in person at Goose Creek Consulting in Centreville, VA, as well as conducting coaching sessions via phone or web from anywhere. She specializes in working with people dealing with mental health concerns in order to help them develop their greatest mental wellness possible. She is a highly sensitive person and an empath. As such, Anne brings a great deal of empathy to her work with clients. She loves animals, music, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Northern Virginia with her wonderful husband Tony, and their beloved cat, Robin.
The benefits of exercise are touted by many a medical doctor to enhance one’s overall physical health. But did you know that physical health and mental health are inextricably linked? It is absolutely true. But don’t just take my word for it. See for yourself.
I offer this example as proof positive that increasing your physical activity and fitness will also concurrently boost your mental health. I had worked at a particular job for over 2 years, and had, for the majority of that time, during my lunch break, gone out for fast food which included a large coke. I did this because getting out of the office was necessary for my mental health, and going through a drive-thru allowed me to not really have to think; just order. This diet did not help my physical health at all though, and I ended up gaining weight and not being happy with how I looked and felt. I knew I had to make a change, and knew what I had to do in order to do so, but seemed to lack the willpower it took to do it. That all changed when I decided to check my weight on the scale at work one day and the number read 169. That was the highest weight I had ever been, and was NOT a number I was comfortable with. I have never been a person who bought into the nonsense spewed by fashion magazines, and indeed I have always thought that such publications had it all wrong far as what true beauty was. None-the-less, I was not pleased with that number and on my 5’2 frame, it simply would not do. This was my wake up call to make some immediate changes.
In late May, I moved into a different department with my full-time job; and while it was still a job that was prone to stress, I at least had some relief in that I was not in the in-bound call center any longer, and had some breathing room in my daily duties. After making the switch to my new role, I began walking with a workmate during my lunch break. I would have lunch at my desk, and then take my lunch hour to walk a 2 mile stretch around the office park I work in. My doctor suggested that along with walking, to monitor my calorie intake as well, and aim for approximately 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day in order to lose weight.
With this additional of walking 2 miles per day and also monitoring my calorie intake for weight loss purposes, I started to see the results of my hard work. After 2 months, I had lost 9 pounds, and for the past 3 months, I have cut out sodas altogether, as well as being able to maintain at least some amount of daily walking for exercise, either during my lunch break, or after work. It is a regimen I plan to stick with for continued results. My goal, and the weight I feel most comfortable with is between 130-140 pounds. I shall reach it!
Even without the intent of losing weight, I noticed that when I walk, I feel much better mentally as well. Any stress I was dealing with during the workday, I am able, through the exercise of walking, to shake off much of the stress of the day that would otherwise be sitting in my physical body, causing upset: And who wants that?!
I feel clearer-headed after I walk and have noticed that when I don’t walk or get in some form of physical exercise, I tend to feel more stress than when I do. I am grateful for having come to this realization that physical exercise helps to greatly improve my mental health. I know it sounds perfectly obvious, but in the busy lives we lead, sometimes we need reminders like this. I hope this article finds you all well, and I look forward to hearing for you, how physical activity in your lives has affected your mental health.
*Anne Sabagh is a Certified Life Coach based in Northern Virginia. She sees clients in person at Goose Creek Consulting in Centreville, VA, as well as conducting coaching sessions via phone from anywhere. She specializes in working with people dealing with mental health concerns in order to help them develop their greatest mental wellness possible. She is a highly sensitive person and an empath. As such, Anne brings a great deal of empathy to her work with clients. She loves animals, music, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Northern Virginia with her wonderful husband Tony, and their beloved cat, Robin.
Life coaching was a profession I had been thinking about making the switch to for several years. Initially, I did not have a definite target population in mind that I wanted to work with. I felt it would be interesting to work with people to help them have the best relationships possible, as relationships, especially married or partnered relationships, are often the most central relationships in one’s life. I wanted people to have the most positive relationships possible, as harmonious relationships are something I value very highly. This is still an area of life coaching that I wish to help people to achieve their best in, but it is not what I ultimately determined would be the target population I wanted to work with.
Coaching is a practice where it helps to have a lived experience in what you are coaching others about. And while I do have experience with maintaining harmonious relationships, I have a lifetime of experience being a highly sensitive person, aka, an HSP. I first learned of this trait in 2000, when I picked up author & psychologist, Elaine Aron’s book called, “The Highly Sensitive Person; How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You”. As soon as I saw that book, without reading anything other than the title, I knew that was me.
It has often been said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This held true for me when I met my friend Stephanie, who is a Shamanic practitioner. My best friend Matthew asked me just about two years ago if I would like to go to what was called a “Heart Centered Sound Circle” that Stephanie was hosting. It was a get together where people chanted and sang and he said he had been to one before and really enjoyed it. It sounded great and I agreed to go. I met Stephanie there that day and she had such a positive, vibrant spirit. I continued going to different events she held and was particularly intrigued by one class she was hosting, which took place on July 22, 2017 entitled wryly, “So You Wanna’ Be A Psychic”. Stephanie is a highly intuitive person and had been asked by many people over the years how she just “knew” things. She explained in the class description that everyone has the ability to enhance their own physical senses and intuition, whether one chose to identify as “psychic” or not. The class description also spoke of a technique called consulting your “Internal Guidance System” which is a tool developed by Zen DeBrucke, an intuitive business and personal consultant and coach. I liked Stephanie’s down-to-earth, no nonsense description of the class and decided to attend.
Just before I left for the class, I happened to look up Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the band Linkin Park, online. He had been on my mind lately as, sadly; he had committed suicide just two days prior to the date of Stephanie’s class. When I looked him up, I saw the band performing their new song “One More Light” on the Jimmy Kimmel show. They dedicated their song that night to Chris Cornell, lead singer for the band Soundgarden and Audioslave, and a dear friend of Chester’s and the band, who had also passed away due to suicide just the day before their performance. In the chorus of the song, Chester sang, “Who cares if one more light goes out, in a sky of a million stars? Who cares if someone’s time runs out, if a moment is all we are? Who cares if one more light goes out? Well I do”. I found his words so beautiful and moving. I too wanted no more lights to go out, and wanted us all to be lights to each other through this life.
Chris Cornell’s passing on May 18, 2017 hit me very hard. Ever since reading an interview with him in the late 90’s, I could tell he was a really sensitive man. In looking back online and hearing some interviews of Chester’s, I could tell he too was a very sensitive man. When they passed away, it felt like I had lost two of my own.
I went to Stephanie’s class that Saturday afternoon with Chester’s beautiful song in my head, knowing it had come to me as a message. During the class, when Stephanie talked with us about us each having an “Internal Guidance System” she said that we could each ask our respective internal guidance systems’ questions, and if we felt and “open” feeling, that was a “yes” that we should proceed. Conversely, if we felt a “closed” feeling, that was a “no” and we should not proceed. I asked my internal guidance system in that moment, “Is it my calling to work with highly sensitive people and help them to have the best lives possible?” and “Should I pursue my life coaching certification at this time?” I got a resounding open feeling; and between that and Chester’s song I had heard earlier, the message was clear. This was my path.
I had been aggressively paying down debt, and though I knew I wanted to pursue my life coaching certification, I had thought, “I’ll do it after the debt is fully paid and my husband and I have moved to our new home”. This message I had just received though was that I could do it now, as the program I had researched offered a payment plan I could afford, and would be something I could do while still continuing to pay off my debt concurrently.
I was exuberant when I left the class that evening. I knew I had a calling and now had a plan to follow it. I was due to get paid at my current full time job the following week and on that very day; I registered for my coaching certification classes that would begin October 2, 2017. It was an 8 week program that would meet via tele-classes Monday and Wednesday evenings from 7:30-10:30pm, which would allow me to complete the classes after work. Following that, I would do my niche coursework in the form of a self-study in Life Coaching, and would specialize in working with highly sensitive people.
After thinking about life coaching as a possible career change for several years, I was finally crystal clear on what my path was; and was, and am, on my way.
Thank you Stephanie for being my teacher and appearing at just the right time in my life. Thank you Chris, and thank you Chester for your beautiful inspiration to me and all others whose lives you touched. I promise, just as Chris said in his beautiful song called “The Promise,” “to survive, persevere and thrive”, and I shall help other highly sensitive people like ourselves do the same.
One day, as I was scrolling through Facebook postings, I saw a several women in a photo wearing t-shirts that said, “Music Is Therapy”. The second woman from the left in the photo was Talinda Bennington, wife of the late Chester Bennington, lead singer of the band Linkin Park. The simple saying on the t-shirts really resonated with me, as music has long been one of my greatest forms of therapy. After seeing this picture, I knew I had to get one of those t-shirts. I got one for both myself and my husband. We have each gotten compliments whenever we wear our t-shirts. It seems many people agree with its sentiment.
For as long as I can remember, music has helped me to process almost all my feelings: Pain, joy, feeling misunderstood, wanting to run away from everything; anything and everything one can feel, music has helped me either work through, or at least feel like one other soul on the planet “gets” what I’m feeling.
One song in particular that has helped to remind me of one of my life’s most recurring lessons (a hard one for me to grasp, but true none-the-less), is George Harrison’s song, “All Things Must Pass”, from the album of the same name. Some of the lines are, “Sunrise doesn’t last all morning. A cloudburst doesn’t last all day. It’s not always going to be this gray. All things must pass, must pass away”. This song reminds us all that no matter what we are going through, it will not last forever. This can be especially difficult for me personally to remember when I am in the middle of a crisis; but if it is possible to just stop, wherever I am, and remember these words, that all things will indeed pass away, I am hopefully able to at least proceed forward, knowing that whatever I am dealing with, will eventually end.
Another song that comes to mind when I am not feeling so good about the way things are going, is a song by the band Sister Hazel called “Change Your Mind”. The chorus of the song is, “If you wanna’ be somebody else, if you’re tired of fighting battles with yourself, if you wanna’ be somebody else, change your mind”. When interviewed about this song in particular, the band said, “If you’re not happy with the way you feel about a given situation, change the way you think about it; change your mind”. That really rings true for me too. Sometimes I have felt stuck in a negative thought pattern, but have had my mood turn around completely for the positive when I re-frame what a situation might mean instead of thinking about it from a negative perspective. Perhaps the situation in question has a positive message to teach me; or perhaps I’m just looking at it through a negative lens and just have to change the filter in my binoculars, so to speak.
I am sure if I thought back through all the songs that have inspired me throughout the years, the list would be endless. I would love to hear from readers what songs have shown you that music is therapy. Sharing your stories of music that has been therapeutic for you will serve to help others who may be in similar situations to feel heard, understood, and less alone. And in so doing, you will be helping to spread the positive therapy of music, to others.
*Anne Sabagh is a Certified Life Coach based in Northern Virginia. She sees clients in person, if they are in her local area, or can do sessions via phone. She specializes in working with people dealing with mental health concerns in order to help them develop their greatest mental wellness possible. She is a highly sensitive person and an empath. As such, Anne brings a great deal of empathy to her work with clients. She loves animals, music, and spending time with her family and friends. She lives in Northern Virginia with her wonderful husband Tony, and their beloved cat, Robin.