I Don’t Belong Here

siena tripSometimes I wonder if I was born in the wrong time.  Or maybe the wrong place.  This modern life is not the ideal environment for an introverted HSP like myself.  All the information overload.  The packed schedules.  The social media.  Advertising. Piles of possessions.  Constant noise and light.

As the book Quiet emphasized, we live in a society where loud, outgoing, fearless extroverts are the ideal.

Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology.
Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

It makes sense- who can best survive and thrive in this kind of world?  Who can handle all the noise and information? Who can compete with the chaos and clutter?  The loud, outgoing, fearless.

It sucks when who I am at my core- sensitive, observant, cautious, slow to speak- is not what our society values most.  I’ve learned to embrace my HSP qualities even though they are often misunderstood or devalued.  The trait of sensory processing sensitivity exists because it was once very useful to our ancestors.  Imagine a time when being an HSP was seen as awesome, the ideal.  

mrs. ingallsI think of Ma from the Little House on the Prairie TV series.  I haven’t seen the show in decades (I’m dating myself here), but from what I remember, Mrs. Ingalls was soft-spoken, gentle yet resilient, industrious, and tuned in to the needs of her family and townspeople.  She was respected and admired by all, unlike that chatty, fire-tongued busybody Mrs. Oleson.

I think I’d do quite well in back then (aside from the spiders and cholera and whatnot). I think I’d like the quiet and the stillness.  The forced relaxation at night (not much of a night life on the prairie). I’d like reading by candlelight or having quiet conversations by the fire.  I’d like socializing with the neighbors at church or at the occasional town fair, but would probably be immersed in my family duties and my tiny house most of the time.  Some things I’d be good at as an HSP:

  • Foraging mushrooms.
  • Remembering which mushrooms are poisonous.
  • Distinguishing bird calls.
  • Spotting poison oak.
  • Tending to a garden.
  • Preparing for the winter.
  • Mending stockings or embroidering by the fire and not getting bored.
  • Singing lullabies to my children.
  • Perfecting my apple pie for the fair.

Not all of these are terribly pertinent for my Orange County suburban life, right?  Ha.thanks for your support!

So what’s an HSP to do?  I have two options.  

A. I can move somewhere off the grid and buy some land and actually live this slower paced, old fashioned lifestyle. Believe me, I’ve thought of it.  It’s not totally out of the question for us to buy some acreage in the wilderness someday.

B.  I can try to carve out calmer, slower, more peaceful life right here where I am.

The more practical option for me is B. Forming a little cocoon around me.  That’s the tagline of this blog: Longing for a calm heart and home. It’s the only way I’ll have the energy and drive to go out into this crazy world and accomplish things and be part of the community.  This book has helped me craft that more peaceful lifestyle for myself and my HSC.  I highly recommend it if you’re feeling like you don’t belong here, either.

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P.S. There are cultures where HSPs are still the ideal.  Japan is one of those places.  I’m not moving to Japan though.

 

 

Too Much Empathy?

too much empathy hspIs there such a thing as too much empathy?  Sometimes I think I’m pathologically empathetic.

I refuse to have pet fish in the house because it’s like pressing a little sadness button every time I walk by the tank.  I feel awful if they are looking bored or sick or if they just don’t have a sparkle in their eyes.  But I thought I could handle having pet fish for Sisi outside in a little container pond.  Ponds are peaceful, right? Zen?

I must have checked on them 20 times a day expecting them to be dead.  They looked scared and were hiding under the plants.  Did they hate our pond?  Did I set it up wrong?  Was this a big mistake?

As I vented my concerns to Joe he said, ” They were supposed to bring you joy.  They only cost 79 cents, please don’t spend too much time and energy worrying about them.”

He’s right!  Being super emotional about goldfish is like being super emotional about worms or crickets. But I felt a connection to these fish and a deep sense of responsibility.

How much time and energy have I spent (or wasted?) empathizing with pet fish, roadkill, fictional characters and strangers?  This level of empathy is a heavy burden to bear. I really wish I could turn it off sometimes because it’s draining. Here’s a quote from a study about HSPs’ increased brain activity in response to emotional stimuli.

This survival strategy is effective as long as the benefits of increased sensitivity outweigh the costs (such as increased cognitive and metabolic demand). In addition to potential costs, those with the sensitive survival strategy will always be in a minority as it would cease to yield special payoffs if it were found in a majority (Wolf et al. 2008). (source of quote).

There are times when the benefits of increased empathy DO outweigh the “cognitive and metabolic costs”.  Motherhood, for one! I am definitely in tune with my kids’ needs and emotions.  My empathy has helped produce secure sleepers.  My empathy has helped dissolve so many conflicts and tantrums.  My empathy has helped me establish good communication with my newborns before they can even speak.  And anticipate their needs before they turn into meltdowns.  And much much more.

But I have to remember, empathy has a cost.  I do not have infinite amounts to dispense.  How can I keep from “wasting” my empathy on things that I just cannot change or aren’t worthwhile or that just aren’t my business?  I’m getting better at this the older I get.

Here are some of my HSP empathy energy savers…

  • No super disturbing, emotional, or scary movies.  Just not worth the stress.
  • Letting go of dysfunctional and drama-prone relationships.  Or at least putting up strong, healthy boundaries to protect myself from the drama.
  • Choosing my causes: I can’t save the whole world, but I can carefully choose causes that speak to my heart and do what is within reach to contribute.   For example, a few causes that speak to me are North Korea, ethical shopping, and sustainable farming.
  • Prayer:  God made me extra sensitive to the needs of other people and creatures, but that doesn’t mean I am able to meet all their needs.  So I can lift up those needs to God who IS able, instead of dwelling on them myself.
  • Mind yo’ business:  I’m such an eavesdropper.  I get wrapped up in peoples’ conversations. I’m in a coffee shop right now, half-typing, half-listening-to-the-saga-at-the-next-table.  Seriously, I don’t need to be empathizing with the college girls next to me.  I need to learn to tune out what doesn’t involve me.
  • Therapy:  My therapist is really good at helping me cope with my overactive empathy and find outlets for it.
  • Pep talks:  Sometimes all I can do is coach myself through the moment, “Yes, you are feeling an overwhelming burden right now.  You were designed this way.  Sometimes your empathy is beneficial, sometimes it’s a hindrance.  Which one is it right now, and what can you do about that?”

Update on the Pet Fish:  The recent heat wave took both of their lives.  I guess Southern California is not the place for a small container pond.  I cried and felt so awful that I didn’t protect them from the elements.  Sisi looked at me with such empathy and said, “It’s ok mommy, we can draw pictures of them to remember them.”  Gotta love my HSC 🙂

container pond

Leaving My Family for a Week

costa rica mamaAlmost every year, my dear friend invites me to join her at a Costa Rican surf and yoga resort.  Each time I answer, “Now is not a good time, but someday I will!”  Except this last time I told her give me a few days to think about it.  I thought about it, and booked my trip.  It was incredibly exhilerating.

Is it crazy to leave my almost 5 year old and nursing 11 month old with my husband for a week-long surf getaway?  Is it brave? Is it selfish?

Since booking my trip months ago, I’ve had wild swings of emotions.  Excitement, regret, pride, guilt…

Excitement because duh! It’s surfing! It’s Costa Rica! Surfing is one of my favorite hobbies. I rode my first tiny wave in college and have been hooked ever since.  It fills me with peace and well-being as I get to be quiet and connect with the sun, ionized air, and ocean. It’s the perfect HSP hobby (if you can handle the intensity of wipeouts and rare but possible shark sightings). But I rarely get a chance to surf.  For the past 5 years, I’ve been pregnant, nursing, pregnant, miscarrying, pregnant, nursing. My body has not belonged solely to me, which means I don’t have the freedom to spend hours frolicking on my board.  And let’s be honest, any beach trip with kids is not quite relaxing.  You can’t take your eyes off them for a minute.  A whole week to surf all day every day without kids is literally a dream come true.

Regret because saying goodbye to my kids for a week will be torturous.  It hurts my heart just thinking about it.  I’ve left Sisi with Joe before and it went great, but will Matteo be ok?  Will he be mad or feel abandoned?  Am I jeopardizing our nursing relationship?

Pride because as an HSP, I totally surprised myself by saying yes.  I normally play it safe. But as I did a quick risk analysis of the situation, I realized that the benefits of a trip like this (to my confidence, physical fitness, well-being, and friendship with my travel-mate) will probably outweigh the risks. The timing will never be perfect time for a trip like this.  YOLO!

I’m also proud that I have a husband who is totally game to take a week off work and watch the kids.  I have no doubt he will do great.  Our kids are on a pretty predictable routine/rhythm, which makes it easy for someone else to take over. They are as comfortable with Joe as they are with me, which is not the case in all families.

Dread because as November gets closer and closer, I realize how much I need to do before I can relax in paradise.  I need to pump enough milk, make and freeze meals ahead of time (I’m not expecting Joe to cook much during that week), type up the daily schedule and make sure the household is set up to run without me.  One thing about Costa Rica- packing is easy.  Bikinis and sun dresses.  Oh, and a breast pump.

I’m also nervous about leaving the country.  I’m meeting my friend at the surf resort, but I have to fly there on my own and take a 4 hour taxi ride through the jungle.  I’m in my 30s, so this shouldn’t be a big deal, right? I often wonder why traveling alone makes me so nervous.  I love to travel internationally, but I’m very reliant on Joe to plan and navigate and solve all the little mini crises that arise.  Joe is like my lovey, and I’ll be so very far away from him.

My wonderful therapist reminded me that no one is FORCING me to go.  There is always a way out if I need to take it. I shouldn’t completely block out that voice in my head that is telling me this is risky, because it is.  But I don’t want that voice to completely take over, because…

I know it will be awesome.  It will be worth the emotional roller coaster.  I am investing my myself, getting better at a hobby that I hope to pass on to my kids someday.  I am facing fears, letting my husband make memories with the kids, and taking a little break from my everyday mom life.

I know many moms would never even think about leaving their kids for a week. They’ve told me so. I get it.  But something inside me said Yes, and I want to honor that part of me.

Question:  Have you left your kiddos for several days or more?  Did you experience any of the emotional swings I’m going through?  Any tips on making the whole process easier?