How to Maximize Your Personal Power for Self-Protection – Part 1

In my memoir, I tell of an incident early in my life, many, many years before Dr. Aron began her work to identify and classify the personality style known as highly sensitive. The characters in this incident were myself, another highly sensitive person (HSP), an energy vampire, and an enabler. At the center of the story was a souvenir glass swan; a graceful, elegant, but also functional souvenir that sat on the desk, and was a cherished memento, of the other HSP in the story.

Image courtesy of Alexrrz27 on Pixabay.

The incident fell on a day when the energy vampire chose to target both myself and this other HSP in the office where we all worked. It started at a meeting where the energy vampire and enabler conspired to inflict pain on me in a very personal way. But the energy vampire was not satisfied with me alone. When I returned to the office, I found a scene that struck me so strongly that to this day I ache for the other HSP.

The energy vampire had taken the other HSP’s swan that she held so dear, and thrown it on the floor with enough force to shatter it into tiny little pieces.

To this point in my life, I did not believe that any person existed that would purposely do that to another individual, whether they liked them or not. It was an incident that opened my eyes to the dangers we face in an unkind world. To me, that little swan became a symbol of those of us who can be easily shattered by the energy vampires of the world. And the absolute need to protect ourselves.

Knowing their words and actions can wound, energy vampires (whom I refer to as Swan-Killers) purposely set out to inflict as much pain as possible. They maximize their efforts by targeting HSPs because we can be hurt easily. They do this in a useless attempt to quell their own hateful feelings toward themselves. This is the only way they know how to handle these irrepressible, distressing emotions they have. There is little hope for them, but there is hope for us. We can stop being in their bull’s-eye.

Image courtesy of Geralt (Gerd Altmann) on Pixabay.

The way we do this is to shore up our own personal power. Yes, we have a great deal of personal power, but we are reticent to use it. Personal power is the force that we all have within us to manage our relationships and the events in our lives. This is not a strength that we pull from any authority given to us. It is the fortitude that comes from our individual characteristics, attitudes, and beliefs.

In Part 2 of this post, I will share four steps to take right now to shore up your power for protection against Swan-Killers and Energy Vampires.

We, as HSPs, have a unique kind of personal power. We need this power because we are favorite targets of Swan-Killers and other toxic people. To be the best you can be, own your power to stop abuse in its tracks.

Tune into Part 2 for four tips to magnify that power.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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How to Make Your Strong HSP Fight-or-Flight Response Work in Your Favor

There is no getting around it. We, as HSPs, have a very strong fight-or-flight response to stress. As I mentioned in my last post, it is critical for highly sensitive people to not only understand this phenomenon, but to learn how to manage it. When you manage it well, it can be a crucial aid in making the most of your highly sensitive nature.

Stress relieving activities are necessary for anyone in our overactive, stimulated, modern world. Even non-HSPs require this in order to cope. But as highly sensitive people, we are especially prone to the ill effects of too much stress. We also have needs that require attention that others do not. Effectively addressing these needs is the key to getting on top of your stress. When you do, the fight-or-flight response can work in your favor, rather than against you.

Image courtesy of Sasint (Sasin Tipchai) on Pixabay.

Take Care of Your Physical Health

Your top priority is getting your physical health running at maximum efficiency.

  • Eat right – Cut out junk and processed foods, eat the amount of food that is appropriate for you, and be mindful about your dietary habits when you are in social situations (it is very easy to overindulge when you are socializing);
  • Exercise – Choose an exercise that you enjoy and will stick with, include other forms of exercise like tai chi or yoga in addition to cardio, and record your progress;
  • Get enough sleep.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

When you are active physically, it can help improve your emotional health. There are activities you can do to strengthen and support that start.

Image courtesy of Engin Akyurt on Pixabay.
  • Meditate;
  • Practice relaxation exercises;
  • Indulge your spiritual side;
  • Bathe mindfully (water has the power to soothe).

Take Care of Your Special HSP Needs

Too many times, due to our extreme empathy and compassion, we place ourselves in the role of taking care of everyone else first. But remember that you cannot adequately care for others in your life before you take care of your own needs.

We, as HSPs, have needs that go beyond that of the non-HSP. Because our nervous systems are prone to overstimulation, we must take steps to rest them properly when necessary while indulging our need for deep thinking.

  • Set aside time for solitude and reflection;
  • Indulge in activities that you enjoy (hobbies, etc.);
  • Spend time in nature, connect to the outdoors;
  • Feed your mind – read, engage in stimulating conversation with a close friend or spouse;

Our fight-or-flight response serves an important function in our lives. But in order for it to function properly, providing needed safety and not go haywire, you must calm it during the times it is not in use. These activities will ensure that outcome.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Why Understanding the Fight-or-Flight Response is so Critical for HSPs

In my book, Mere Sense, a Memoir of Men, Migraine and the Mysteries of Being Highly Sensitive, I describe an incident that really threw me off my game early in my life. I reacted to a social incident with an uncharacteristic response, one that I not only didn’t understand, but also never wanted to do. This event made me question everything about myself – who I was, why I reacted this way, and questioning what was wrong with me.

The incident was actually a catalyst to spur me onto discovering my high sensitivity. But it was painful getting through that process, as well as an embarrassing way to start it.

What I eventually discovered is that my reaction was triggered by something very natural in all of us, and heightened in highly sensitive people. That knee-jerk reaction is something called the fight-or-flight response to stress. And it is especially prevalent and magnified in HSPs.

Image courtesy of Pedrofigueras on Pixabay.

It started out as a survival instinct in our ancient ancestors to help them escape the many physical dangers they faced in their environment every single day. At the first sign of danger, their bodies mobilized to either stay and fight the danger or flee away from it. It continues in our current society more as a defense to psychological and emotional stress rather than physical.

In HSPs, this response hits our highly sensitive nervous systems with more power than the non-HSP. The physical and emotional response is exaggerated. Our reactions to external stimuli may come across as bizarre or even shocking to the general public. As in my example, it signaled to me that there was something very different about me. And it frightened me.

Because of this trait, we HSPs must become aware of the fight-or-flight response in ourselves and take steps to calm it. This is possible, and we will go into that in the next post. First, we need to look at how to recognize it. The following is a list of some of the many possible signs:

Image courtesy of Geralt (Gerd Altmann) on Pixabay.
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Increases in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Increased perspiration
  • Dilated pupils
  • Trembling
  • Tense muscles
  • Dry mouth
  • If especially intense, you may lose control of bowel or bladder, or fail to feel serious injuries

Too much fight-or-flight response can result in serious effects such as weight gain, sleep and digestive problems, anxiety and depression, headaches and migraines, muscle tension, or diseases like heart disease, heart attacks, or high blood pressure and stroke.

This under-reported issue is so important for HSPs to be aware of and manage. Check in to the next post to find out what you can do to better regulate your fight-or-flight response. As HSPs, this is a critical health and safety issue you cannot ignore.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Using Your HSP Voice to Make a Difference

Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a pastor and a civil rights activist. He spread his message of equality through nonviolent resistance and peaceful protest against discrimination during the late 50’s and 60’s. He led a march of 250,000 people in Washington, D.C. culminating in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. His impact during his short 39-year life was so powerful that beginning in 1986, our country set aside a day, making it a holiday, to celebrate his accomplishments.

Dr. King was a highly sensitive person. His voice was his power.

We can’t all be another Dr. King. But we share a forceful and energetic trait in his HSP voice. With that voice, we are able to deliver potent messages to counter the disingenuousness that pervades today’s society. Your voice, too, can be an instrument for positive change.

Image courtesy of Peggy_Marco on Pixabay.

What are the qualities that make your voice so unique in a world filled with so many disparate and destructive voices and actions?


First and foremost is your conscientiousness spurred on by your reflective quality. You think deeply on issues and consequences. Your sense of fairness and justice come from this reflective action. As you reflect, your empathy and compassion parse out the self-absorbed rhetoric from what is honest and sincere. Your sense of fair play kicks in and spurs your emotional reactivity. You become angered by all the wrongdoing present in our world.  This affects whatever causes are dear to your heart.

A Clear Voice of Reason

Given enough emotional reactivity, your innovation and creativity begin to brew. We have vivid imaginations fueled by the nervous system energy a highly sensitive nature generates. Our perceptions are heightened because we are constantly taking in information from our environment and trying to make sense of it. This builds a finely tuned intuition. Our sensory and intellectual insights induce a wide array of solutions. Often these solutions are new, or a combination of previously unconnected ideas.

Building a Better World

We notice subtleties and even the smallest detail. This gives us a grasp of the ways in which we can build a better world. We are able to connect with people in deep and meaningful ways. Making use of both of these qualities, we produce blueprints for positive change.

Image courtesy of Viarami on Pixabay.

Although there are extroverted HSPs, most of us are introverted. This can make it uncomfortable to let our voices be heard. Conflict and violence, due to our highly sensitive nervous systems, makes us overstimulated and anxious. These two points, if we let them, can silence our voices. But we must combat the instinct to retreat within ourselves every moment.

The world needs your voice. Let the power of your words be the wisdom the world is so waiting on. Proclaim your well-thought-out answers at the most significant time, this very moment. Speak to be heard. Allow your voice to ring above the din of egotistical verbosity that takes us in the wrong direction.

In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Dr. King said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” Take these words to heart. They are your catalyst to speak up for change.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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How to Explain Your HSP Need for Alone Time to Others

When I first entered into a relationship with the man that would become my husband, I told him that there was something he needed to know about me. I needed time alone. It had nothing to do with him, or was a signal that I was angry, or was a sign of a relationship problem. It was a necessity for me because that was something I needed to effectively cope with daily stress.

Image courtesy of Renan_Brun on Pixabay.

This admission took place early in my knowledge about my high sensitivity trait. I barely understood it myself. All I knew was that it was vital to maintaining my sanity. I was relieved when he accepted my explanation, and believed me.

If the situation happened today, rather than decades ago, I would have a much more concise answer. One that has a science-backed, logical, and much more persuasive premise. Whether you are in a personal or professional setting, there are solid points that you can use to help non-HSPs understand your absolute need for solitude.

I’ve created a bullet list of points, that when applied to your own situation, make a solid explanation for your very real need for alone time.

Image courtesy of 0fjd125gk87 on Pixabay.
  • I am a “highly sensitive person.” This is not a random designation – it is based on scientific research. The research shows that people with this characteristic have very different traits that require different needs than the typical person.
  • The most distinctive difference between myself and a non-HSP, is that I have a “sensitive” nervous system. This nervous system is constantly on the go.
  • Due to this revved up nervous system, I have a very active mind. HSPs process information deeply. This means that my mind is full of a constant barrage of thoughts, feelings, and imaginings. My brain is always working on several things at once. And I take a deep dive into making connections to my life.
  • Another trait is extreme empathy. Because of this, I “feel” other’s emotions. Non-HSPs must experience and deal with their own emotions, and this can overwhelm them at times. As an HSP, navigating my own as well as others’ emotions means that my load of emotional contact is doubled or tripled. I become emotionally exhausted much sooner than a non-HSP.
  • These traits, as well as my other positive HSP traits of attention to detail, conscientiousness, and high emotional quotient, make me both a compassionate partner and a desirable employee.
  • As a romantic partner, I am highly empathic and motivated to work on the relationship.
  • As an employee or businessperson, I am creative, work well with people, and customer-oriented.
  • I am sensitive to environmental stimuli. Lights, textures, sounds, smells, and weather conditions are just some of the sensitivities that cause me problems.
  • With the above beneficial qualities and environmental sensitivities, I must take appropriate time to “rest.” Time alone is the only way to rejuvenate myself. Without this required rest, I become overwhelmed, distracted, irritable, impatient, and subject myself to developing or worsening health conditions. I am unable to be at my best.
  • In order to recuperate, I typically need X number of hours per day or X number of hours per week, etc. Replace the “X” with your specific requirement. Recommendations for HSPs is a minimum of 2 hours per day.

These bullet points are the highlights for a thorough understanding as to your very unique need. Customize them to your situation. They will help form an explanation that non-HSPs can understand.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Mastering Give-and-Take, an Essential HSP Skill, Part 2

Knowing the art of give-and-take is an essential skill we all need in order to successfully live a happy and productive life. Determining and maintaining boundaries is especially important for HSPs. Those boundaries are already blurred due to our empathic abilities. But for some, the boundaries blur even more. If you are constantly put down and denigrated, you grow up with the belief that you are not deserving. This belief can obscure those boundaries even more.

With such muddled boundaries, standing up for yourself becomes an almost insurmountable challenge. If you have not read Part 1 of this post, I encourage you to do so before reading this final section.

Thin Boundaries

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay.

A boundary in life is a line (sometimes invisible) that separates two distinct areas. In people, a personal boundary separates what is good for us vs. what is destructive. We must protect and defend our personal boundaries. When we set and maintain our boundaries, we can relax and enjoy life knowing that we are protected.

People with thin boundaries are often called “thin-skinned.” As highly sensitive people, we can be easily hurt, which would account for why people with normal nervous systems might label us that way. People, even within the HSP community, have different personal boundaries, which brings us to values.


Your values are the principles or standards of behavior that you hold dear. The ones that you find important and drive the forces in your life. If you don’t know what these are, your first task is to do some homework and put your values on paper. Choose four or five that you adhere your life to, and write a short paragraph as to why you honor that particular value. If you do not have a clue as to what your values might be, here is a short list to give you a gentle push in the right direction.

Once you know your values, you can apply them to each situation you run into. For instance, if honesty is one of your values, you can ask yourself what course of action produces the most honest response. This is a simple illustration. Most situations, you will have more than one applicable value, and they will integrate together to form your answer.

Inner Strength

Image courtesy of 8385 on Pixabay.

There is one final characteristic that comes into play here. Inner strength is the quality that will give you the courage to draw your personal boundaries and keep them from being violated. You probably have more inner strength then what you give yourself credit for. But it is a good idea to build on that basis by working on it daily. Here is a good article to get you started.

Give-and-take is a skill that allows you to practice your innate compassion and empathy while maintaining a healthy protection for yourself. Practicing healthy give-and-take, strong boundaries, and optimum inner strength will put your feet on solid ground. You deserve nothing less.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Mastering Give-and-Take, an Essential HSP Skill, Part 1

On June 14, I spent the late evening and part of the night huddled in the basement under the staircase, as a tornado touched down in the countryside two miles from our small town. In the morning, when we assessed the damage, we found many of our trees gave up some of their limbs to the straight-line winds created by the event. I mourned one limb in particular. It was from a tree in our front yard. The limb was massive and it fell so as to block access to our front door. I documented the damage on my Instagram account, uploading a video showing the extent of blockage that this limb created.

Picture of tree from our yard, with missing limb wound.

After we cleaned up the next day, and were able to take a breath, we noticed something odd in the wound left behind from this large branch that came down. Take a look at the close-up picture posted below, and see if you can see the oddity.

Can you see it? There was bark growing on the tree in parts where the limb should have attached itself to the tree, exposing its hollowness and thereby causing weakness in the branch. The branch had little inner strength to resist the brutal attack of the winds. It is no wonder this branch gave way and was destroyed by that wind.

The hollowed-out portion of the limb caused it to be more brittle than its counterparts, and that weakness was no match for the power of its adversary, the wind. Without a solid core, giving it strength, it could not create the give-and-take sway needed to survive.

We, as HSPs, can take a lesson from the limb of this tree. While opinion is changing, many of us grew up listening to criticisms from the world, and often our own support group. Some of these include:

Close-up of wound, exposing evidence of hollow branch.
  • Stop being so sensitive.
  • Toughen up.
  • Why are you crying?
  • Stop being so emotional.

I’m sure you have your own set of criticisms that were aimed at you. Being sensitive, we take such criticism to heart, and especially as a child. As one so young, this type of criticism is harmful, because children are new to a harsh world. Their job at this time in life is to form a solid foundation with which to navigate an insensitive environment. When attacks like this happen to a sensitive child, there is injury to their core being. And we’ve seen what a weakened core can cause – lethal damage.

Not all HSPs suffer from this phenomenon. Those who received understanding and support in the beginning of their lives have an advantage, and those HSPs had a high-quality tool to triumph over it. To those who did not receive such support, it becomes necessary for survival to build that reinforcement yourself.

Join me in the next post, where we will look at ways HSPs can counteract this kind of damage. And, with that newly found inner strength, how to find the right mix of give and take to satisfy their empathic drive, while maintaining a protective shield against assault from an insensitive world.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Dealing with Toxic Family Members, An HSP Essential Guide

It’s a fact of life that there are toxic people out there. I detailed some of the toxic people I’ve run across in my memoir, Mere Sense. But there are far more people I’ve come in contact with over my lifetime than I could ever write about in the span of a normal-sized book.

For some toxic people, once you have identified them, it is easy to just separate yourself from them. Separation is a very effective method for killing your exposure to their toxicity. But what if that is impossible?

Family is the major group that makes up this subset of toxic people – the ones you cannot or find difficult to separate from. Another smaller group is the people you work with or have a constant presence in your life through hobbies, sports, or benevolent causes (yes, there are toxic people involved in these activities too). For all of these people, you need a strategy to protect yourself.

HSPs are specifically vulnerable to these harmful people because we are so empathetic. We often make excuses for people due to tragic early circumstances or difficult childhoods. It’s not always easy to override the bad behavior when our strong empathy kicks in. But we must see the peril it puts in front of us.

So, how do we deal with inevitable interactions and maintain our sanity? Here are some tips to forming your own strategy that I have found helpful in my own life.

Caveat: If your physical safety is at risk, your only option is separation.

Toxic family members can “break up” your home life. Get a strategy in place to minimize their damage. Image courtesy of Dsndrn-Videolar on Pixabay.

Rely Heavily on Your Intuition

Your intuition is strong. You have the added benefit of awareness of another’s feelings, keen observation of nuance and subtleties, and depth of processing. Mobilize these acute characteristics to guide your reactions and behavior. Pay attention to the inner voice that tells you something is wrong.

Doing this will, first, alert you to the dangers as they arise. Secondly, it will give you some insight into how you should handle each incident.

Guard Your Property

Toxic people have little to no empathy for you or your property. And they believe that they are entitled to anything of worth you have. It is a sad state of affairs when you have to hide or lock away your property so that someone in your family won’t abscond with it. But it’s important that you do that. For larger ticket items, it’s vital to keep property in your name. Don’t sign your rights away. Don’t allow someone to “guilt-trip” you into signing any legal document that strips you of your ownership.

Set Clear Boundaries

Know what your values are and stick to them. Be clear about what you will and will not put up with. Take courage and say “no” when someone tries to infringe upon your values. Do this for every aspect of your life: personal, financial, sexual, emotional, etc.

Protect Your Feelings

Toxic people will hurt your feelings, and do so with no remorse. Family can be particularly harmful in this regard because they know you better than anyone else. When a toxic family member is in a “mood” where they are prone to be hurtful (feeling shame), back off. Interact in the least intimate way as possible. Share little deeply emotional information, and stick to general topics that do not expose your emotions or vulnerabilities. Use the “grey rock” method of communication.

Above all, reassure yourself that their gaslighting and manipulation do not reflect your true nature. Instead, it exposes their faults and defects. Reach out to friends or a good therapist to help you deflect the abuse and rebuild your self-esteem.

Toxic family members are hard to avoid. There are few families that can stand strong because they have no toxic members. Contact with toxic family members can have devastating effects on your spirit. If you cannot separate from them and must endure interaction with them, have a plan to protect yourself as much as possible.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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Applying the Superpower of “The Mere Sense of Living” Available to HSPs Only

For too long, highly sensitive people have taken the term “too sensitive” as an insult. No one can really blame us for that, as it has been used as a form of abuse for much too long a time. This needs to change.

We, as HSPs, need to rise above this derogatory contempt. And claim our sensitivity as the gift that it is. Not only should we stand up for our differences, but we must use them to carry out the mission for which they were intended. We must acknowledge them for the superpower that they are. In this way, we can use our unique perspective to carry out our purpose.

These are the steps I propose each of us take to claim our power and carry out our mission:

One: Step Into Our Authentic Selves

Conscientiousness and integrity are two of our most powerful traits. Political corruption, wars forced on us by ghoulish world leaders, the rise of narcissism all around us. These indicators present compelling anecdotal evidence that having good moral character is slowly disintegrating. If a rebound is to happen, HSPs need to lead the charge.

We can only do this if we acknowledge our gift as crucial to making the return to virtue possible. We cannot convince others of our intent until we are comfortable in that posture ourselves.

Two: Take Care of Our Special Needs

Image courtesy of Mohamed Hassan of Pixabay.

We have long tried to force ourselves into the habits and characteristics of the non-HSP, because that is what was expected of us. But we have a different nervous system, and that means we have a different anatomy. That distinct biology means we have needs that require different care.

Alone time to recharge. Managing conflict in a healthy, but calm and collected way. Reflection time necessary for difficult decisions and new ideas to germinate. Tolerance of our emotional responsivity. Accommodation for environmental concerns like bright lighting, excess noise, dietary and clothing adjustments. These are just some of the modifications we must insist upon for ourselves and from others.

Three: Use Our Sensitivity for Good

Just like a child that has to go through a stage of self-centeredness before he or she can learn empathy, we must go through the above two steps. After we have taken care of ourselves, we can be at our optimum performance. It is then that we can start giving back. At this point, we find within us our own unique talents. Those talents will guide each one of us on our separate paths to altruism.

It is through the many varied gifts that we have that we can make our exclusive contribution to the world. And if we can do it living our best life, that is the “mere sense of living” that is our superpower.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson

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An HSP’s Absolute Necessity to Connect Emotionally

We, as HSPs, need solitude. We thrive in solitude. There is research-backed evidence that shows that solitude is essential to an HSPs wellbeing in the areas of emotion, cognition, spirituality, and social/relational life.

Seclusion is great most of the time, but we are also wired to need an emotional connection. We crave this connection on an emotionally deep level. Imagine you are at a party, who do you gravitate to? A crowd of people sharing surface bits of information about themselves? The “chit-chatters?” Or, do you find yourself seeking out someone who is interesting and immersing yourself in really getting to know them? You will find HSPs choosing the latter.

A defining trait of highly sensitive individuals is their extreme empathy. Science has found that HSPs have more activation in their mirror neurons. These are the tiny brain cells that fire when we both perform an action and also when we see it performed. The observed action or emotion triggers our minds to mobilize the neurons that produce empathy. Since we “feel” within ourselves the action or emotion, we have the ability to empathize strongly with that person. HSPs are especially empathetic because our mirror neurons are more active than non-HSPs.

Image courtesy of Congerdesign on Pixabay.

Another trait that defines the HSP is our desire for authentic connection. We enjoy diving into life’s great mysteries. We love nature, seek to understand human behavior, and wish to expand our personal growth. This desire to take an essential part in life and to understand the lives we live means that we seek out sources for our knowledge all the time. Connection allows us a means to do this.

When we connect on this level, we become vulnerable. That vulnerability is a component of another HSP trait – authenticity. We crave connecting with those people who allow us to share without judgment. Where we can be ourselves with total acceptance.

And the best place to find this total acceptance – where we can be vulnerable, authentic, free to share without judgement – is in other HSPs. Our closest friends tend to be other HSPs. This need is so vital that we crave relationship with each other to help us navigate a sometimes-cruel world.

I urge you to nourish this vital requirement in yourself. It is part of your self-care program.

Copyright 2022, Monica Nelson


Looking for a way to connect in the solitude of a like-minded experience? Today, I am offering you a chance to download my ebook, Mere Sense, for free. Tomorrow, it returns to its regular price of $6.99.

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