I’m so excited to introduce a new series here on the blog: The Sensitive Creatives interview sessions, where I interview other highly sensitive, introverted and creative entrepreneurs to get their best insights, stories and advice.
First up is my dear friend and colleague: Blogger, food stylist and photographer Agnes Gällhagen of Cashew Kitchen!
Agnes is a wild hearted & quietly rule breaking solopreneur from Sweden, who cooks amazing plant based food and takes the most dreamy photos of it.
Visiting her blog is like taking a virtual vacation to a cabin in the woods. Like, I can actually feel my pulse slowing down (and my mouth watering) just by looking at her photographs. She's that talented, guys.
I’ve followed Agnes for several years because of her delicious vegan recipes but as I read more of her posts, I discovered that she is in fact an HSP too. And being an online solopreneur and freelancer, everything she writes about slow living, running a creative business and practicing self-care resonates so completely with me. And I think it will for you too.
So enjoy this interview with Agnes!
Hi Agnes! When and how did you first realize you were “different”?
In a way I think I always knew. I remember feeling very different from my peers and kind of like an outsider already in first grade, and my need of space and time alone became apparent when I was around 10-11 years old and only wanted to go home and play computer games or draw after school.
I remember being invited to a birthday party for one of my classmates one time in the weekend, and I felt this massive resistance towards going. I cried and and cried all morning, and made my mom call the other mom to tell them I was sick and couldn't come. What I imagine must have been an exciting occasion for the other kids, involving lots of cake and play, felt to me like a huge trespassing on my integrity and my precious weekends alone.
Another time we went to the amusement park, and I was placed in a ferris wheel cargo along with two other kids that were complete strangers to me. Halfway up (which was about 2 meters high in this tiny kid’s wheel, haha), I panicked and shouted for them to stop the wheel and bring me down.
I've been told by my parents that I was a very difficult child. Always sad or angry and whining about this and that. Today I am convinced it was because of a high sensitivity to impressions, that neither me nor my parents understood at the time.
However, despite having these feelings of being different from an early age, I continued to struggle with social events and asking myself what was "wrong with me" all the way up to my 20s.
How did you first find out about the HSP trait, and how did you react?
I first came across HSP in an article that I found through a blog when I was 23. The title was something like "Highly sensitives perceives waves in the air" (Article is in Swedish.)
As I read the article I felt like all the mysteries in my life was solved in the matter of minutes. It made a huge impact on me. Of course, later I've understood that it's one thing to realize something about yourself, and quite another finding everyday strategies to cope with it. But at that time I felt understood, relieved and like I for the first time in my life belonged to something.
The article described the strengths of being highly sensitive, how the smallest of things can make us feel incredibly happy and blessed, and how skilled we are in feeling other peoples needs. Instead of feeling frustrated with my way of being, I felt proud of my sensitivity.
This happened at a time in my life when my friends where out partying a lot, and I was juggling full time studies with working at a busy café and applying to art school on the side. I was also in a quite serious relationship, and my time alone was limited to perhaps 2 nights a week. I experienced severe mood swings and often came home after a party feeling sad and empty, crying into my pillows. I was often sick with this and that, and never felt quite well.
"I thought I had bi-polar disorder, or chronic fatigue syndrome, or hypochondria."
I couldn't for my life understand why I reacted in such a contradictory way to things I loved (such as being with my boyfriend at the time or seeing my friends). After a weekend at my boyfriend's parent's house, I remember having a breakdown and saying to him that "I think I'm depressed". When really, I was just overwhelmed by the nonstop social interactions.
I identified strongly with the HSP trait as soon as I found out about it. I started to cherish my time alone and make space for it in my schedule. I quit the café job and took a job at the reception desk in a quiet art gallery instead. Even though it took me many years to truly understand the extent of my sensitivity, and how to work with it, just knowing about the trait made me feel calmer and less anxious about my strong emotional reactions.
What are you struggling with the most about your sensitivity?
Living in a close relationship with another person is a great challenge to me right now. I struggle to describe my sensitivity in a way that doesn't make the other person feel unwanted.
And I struggle to make my need of alone time into a non-negotiable. It is so easy, wanting to conform into the mainstream expectations of what a romantic relationship should look like. It is also very hard to say no to your partner. Whether it's about spending a whole weekend doing activities together, visiting family members or traveling.
I am proud about my sensitivity and I don't feel ashamed or like I don't fit in anymore. But I struggle to make it work practically in the everyday life with my partner, who btw is a much more extroverted person than I am.
Is there some challenge related to your sensitivity that you have overcome, and how did you do that?
I have always suffered from the fear of missing out, and some part of me used to think that I had to go to any social event that presented itself and jump on any opportunity. It didn't feel polite to turn it down, and I felt like I "should" be able to do this. But when I started to learn about my sensitivity, I also began to realize that I didn't have to push myself to do all the things everybody else did. There is a reason I struggle with it, and the sooner I embrace that the better.
At first it felt like a failure, recognizing that my tolerance and energy levels are lower than most people's. But after a while I understood that I only felt weak/sensitive/moody/irritable/tired in certain situations. However, in the right environment, I thrive.
The most important challenge for me has been to figure out what that environment looks like. How much and what types of stimulation and social interaction that I actually thrive from, creatively and as a person.
"Just because I'm a highly sensitive introvert doesn't mean I can't thrive from being around people or challenging myself to do things that might feel scary, difficult or tiring."
Some aspects that have been important to me when it comes to facing this challenge are for example:
- Being upfront and honest with friends and family. Explain to them that my social energy is limited and that I can't handle certain environments.
- Learning to recognize early signs of overwhelm, before I push myself over the edge, and act on it. This is a daily practice, and some days I certainly slip.
- Challenging myself to do things that makes me nervous, like traveling or going on workshops with a bunch of strangers, because I know it will make me grow even though it temporarily drains me.
- Practice not being so afraid of tiredness or social overwhelm. It's ok if it's for the right reasons.
In what ways are your sensitivity a strength to you in your life and work?
I recently wrote on my blog "One thing that I value a lot when it comes to my high sensitivity is my ability to suddenly swoon over the smallest of things, even when I’m having a rough time. Like the sounds of melting snow, dripping from the branches. Or the complete stillness of the sea while the sun is warming my pale cheeks."
Recognizing the everyday magic is a quality within myself that I cherish a lot. Sometimes it's the one thing that saves me from spiraling into a black hole of anxiety. And it's also my most valuable asset as a photographer and writer.
As a blogger, it is essential to understand the dreams, goals and mindsets of your readers. I've noticed that my sensitivity helps me tune into the feelings and needs of others, which has been incredibly helpful when writing my blog posts and figuring out what my readers want from me. This is obviously a very handy skill in life as well ;-) I've always easily adapted to new workplaces, friend groups and settings because of this.
"Another, in my opinion undervalued, strength that comes from being highly sensitive, is that we are forced to forge our own paths if we wanna survive and thrive."
I believe that this drive and (forced) ability to think outside of the box, combined with our often intuitive decision making, provides us with a huge advantage when it comes to create and live a fulfilling life. At least for me, my sensitivity goes hand in hand with my visionary thinking and determination to do thing my own way.
What are 3 things you do regularly to feel good and take care of yourself physically and mentally?
My mornings are very valuable to me, so I always make sure to go up early so that I can get mentally ready for the day in my own time. To have a slow yoga/stretching session and a really delicious breakfast while reading are two thing I never compromise with.
I also take time to have a longer, mid day break when I go for a walk and watch an episode of a tv show during lunch. This helps me stay grounded in my life and allows for a welcomed escape, so that I don't spiral into stressful and anxious thought patterns or overworking.
The third thing I do is to nourish my inner life, and to keep some parts of it sacred. What I mean by this is that I fuel my imagination by diving deep into the world of fiction and day dreaming, and keeping these worlds to myself.
I have no desire to be understood completely by another person. In fact, I'm quite in need of letting these minds games remain private and sacred.
What other people or books or resources have been the most inspiring and supportive to you in your journey?
I actually haven't read that many books or blogs on sensitivity per se. Instead, what inspires me immensely are the countless of blogs and Instagram accounts where people so clearly and boldly are creating their own, glorious lives, just the way they want it. Regardless of being sensitive or not.
I'm inspired by fiction that tells the stories of curious & courageous women with plenty of integrity. Like Wild (Cheryl Strayed), Tracks (Robyn Davidson), The Wall (Marlene Haushofer), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) & The Signature of All Things (Elizabeth Gilbert).
And finally: What are you working on right now, and how can we support you?
I just launched my new blog!! After many months of agony.
I'm also working on launching a new service that I can't really talk about now, but will give more info on very soon ;-)
The best way to follow along on everything that's going on (and also receive more reflections on sensitivity and being self employed) is to sign up for my bi-weekly email letters and follow my Instagram page.