Party Anxiety

party anxiety tipsWhy can’t I be good at parties?

I ask myself this all the time.  I sometimes leave parties thinking I failed somehow.  Like I didn’t make a good enough impression, connect well with others or make good small talk.  Maybe I felt overstimulated and worried that others could totally tell.  As I’m driving home, I might replay an awkward scene in my head and wish for a do-over.

The weird part is that I’m usually at parties with people that I actually like, and it’s fun.  I laugh, I chat, I give hugs.  But I still leave with a heavy feeling in my heart, a sense of failure. A sense of missed connections.  And I feel drained and ready to sleep for 10 hours straight.

It makes me wonder:

  • Where does this performance anxiety come from?  Parties have always been a bit intimidating.  Even as a young child I had mixed emotions about parties- equal parts excitement and dread.  I think I tried to suppress these complicated feelings by being super outgoing and excited.  To this day, I can feel myself overcompensating at parties by being very social, trying to talk to almost everyone in the room, and being one of the last to leave- almost to prove to myself and others that I’m “good at parties”.  I totally suppress my HSP introverted side.
  • Are people really judging and evaluating me, or is it in my head?  Possibly, but not likely.  Most people are probably enjoying themselves too much to care, or are equally self-conscious and inward-focused.  Anyway, what does it matter?  You’d think in my 30’s I’d learn to stop caring what others think of me.  But since HSPs are especially empathetic, we’re good at picking up on others’ reactions.  It’s hard not to wonder how others’ are perceiving you, and if they are picking up on your anxiety.
  • Why do I get so overstimulated at parties?  I remember in social psychology learning about the cocktail party effect- the ability to tune out irrelevant background noise and focus on the conversation at hand.  I suck at this.  My brain has a hard time separating the relevant from irrelevant stimuli. I take everything in- the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and social cues- and that can be draining.    It takes so much energy to focus on the person I’m talking with, and even if I’m having a nice conversation my body might feel on edge.  This overstimulation produces a fight or flight reaction in me, which makes me think I’m stressed and anxious even though I may not be.
  • Am I missing the whole point of parties?   While my ideal social scene is a coffee shop with 2 or 3 girlfriends sharing deep conversation, parties are a totally different vibe.  Just because it’s not my favorite scene, are parties worthwhile?  I think so.  Each party has a purpose- to celebrate a person or event, to catch up with pals, to just enjoy some treats and keep each other company.  While I can occasionally connect in a deep way with people at parties, this is not guaranteed.  And that’s ok.  Togetherness for togetherness’ sake can be a good thing!

My solution:  This holiday party circuit, I decided to honor myself in these ways.

  • Plan ahead: This is such an introvert thing, but if you’re not a fan of small talk, maybe make a list of 3 or 4 possible answers to the question, “So, what’s new?”  My recent go-to’s: baby just turned 1, just got back from Costa Rica, signed up for Stitch Fix, planted my winter vegetables.  Much better to give a specific answer than a blank stare or “Oh, nothing much!”
  • Pep talks on the way to the party (and during).  I mean literally talking to myself on the drive.  I say things like, “You feel a little nervous about the party.  That’s totally ok.   It might be noisy and crowded, but you can handle it.  Take a break if you need to.  It’s ok to just grab a drink and sit on the couch.  It’s ok to just observe.  No one will be judging you; they have other things on their minds.  It’s not a popularity contest.  You were invited because someone wants you there.”  This helps so much!
  • It’s ok to just sit and watch for a while.  To get your bearings.  It’s actually kind of bada$$ to be zen and quiet in the midst of a chaotic party.  Get a drink, sit down on the couch. Let others entertain you. Chances are, when you’re ready, you’ll find yourself in a conversation and it’ll be swell.  No need to force it.
  • Take a breather!  Go to the bathroom.  Step outside for some fresh air.  Leave early if you really need to.  You came to the party and made an appearance even though it took some courage, leaving early is not a sin.
  • Pat yourself on the back when it’s over.  Don’t do what I used to do- replay all the awkward moments and chastise myself.  Instead, think of some good moments- funny things that happened, cool people you met, a delicious appetizer you enjoyed.  You are a work in progress, and you’ll have many parties ahead to keep sharpening your party skills.

These intentions have worked!  I’m not totally cured of my party anxiety, but at least I know where it comes from and how to help curb it.  I really did enjoy myself at all the parties I went to this holiday season, and did minimal Kristin-bashing afterward.

Did you experience party anxiety as a child?  Do you experience it now?  How do you cope?  

 

A Week in Costa Rica

All Photos courtesy of Surf Simply.  surfing 6I’m back! Not only did I survive the dreaded separation from my family, I am tanner, fitter, and more refreshed than I’ve ever been. I’m definitely a better surfer.  My turtle roll and paddle are much improved. I’m not so afraid of bigger waves or wipeouts.  I have enough Vitamin D stored from one week to last me the rest of Winter.  I’m so glad I went!  How can I make a trip like this happen again?  Already plotting the next getaway.
surf truck

surfing 3   theory

waiting

The first few days were rough, not gonna lie.  I was filled with dread and anxiety, like I had left a piece of myself at home and longed to go back to grab it.  I kept thinking, “Why didn’t I spend the money on a family trip?”  International travel, especially alone, can be super stimulating for HSPs in the first place.  And then leaving my family and all my familiar routines and rituals added to the stress.  Then being thrown into a “camp” situation with 10 strangers from all over the world took it up another notch. Also, my surfing was so rusty that I could barely catch any waves the first day. After too many wipeouts (see end of post) I felt out of my league and wanted to give up.  I thought to myself, “Surfing is great and all, but I’d much rather be cuddling my baby right now. Nothing is better than being with my family.”

nosara surf collage 2

However, after a few days, the “newness” of my situation wore off, my homesickness waned (Joe sent me reassuring messages that the kids were doing just fine!), and I started to really enjoy myself. If an HSP is going to travel to an exotic destination, an all inclusive surf trip like this is a good way to go.  I didn’t have to worry about finding a taxi or navigating the streets by myself.  All my meals were taken care of, and they were insanely tasty (and mostly paleo, to my surprise!) I forgot how lovely it is to focus on your own meal instead of sneaking in hurried bites while feeding two other kids.  Our days were full of yoga sessions, surf classes, and surf theory classes, but we still had a ton of free time.  Many used that free time to hang at the pool and socialize.  But readers, you know me by now. I told myself I didn’t have to socialize if I didn’t want to, so I mostly didn’t. Instead, I used that free time to nap, pump milk, and sit on my balcony listening to the rain and reading my Kindle (3 novels in 1 week!)  I also zoned out a lot, looking for wildlife (I spotted howler monkeys, toucans, a snake, and insanely colored butterflies from my hotel balcony.)  I spent quality time with one of my best friends, Helen.

me and helen 4

By the end of the week, I was excited to fly home and cuddle my kids, but so sad to leave paradise. Not quite ready to resume the busy hustle bustle of mommyhood, with all the bottom wiping and lunch packing and dish washing.  All moms, all parents, need a break from the rigors of parenthood.  Not saying you need to go on a deluxe Costa Rican surf adventure (although maybe you should), but if a chance to travel or get away for even a few days comes up, TAKE IT.  Make it happen, even if it’s inconvenient or gut wrenching. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.

nosara wave collage

I came home just in the nick of time.  There were zero ounces of milk left for Matteo.  He had actually forgotten who I was after a week.  He looked at me like a ghost, like an apparition, then clung to Joe and hid his face from me.  I took him unwillingly to his room to nurse, and he forgot how.  Tried to bite down and suck like a bottle.  Then after a minute, I saw it click for him, and he remembered what a breast is for and who mommy is.  We’ve been like peas and carrots ever since.

Siena made up for Matteo’s cold greeting.  She sprinted across the house and barreled me in a huge hug. Near tears, she told me, “Mommy, I missed you SO much!”  She’s not touchy feely, so this was a big deal.

wipe out

wipe out 2

P.S. The surf camp I went to is called Surf Simply.  Folks, I’ve been to a handful of surf camps/teachers/coaches, and I learned way more in 1 week at Surf Simply than all the others put together.  The coaches are great surfers, but more importantly, great teachers.  They break down all the fundamentals of surfing (stance, pop up, paddling, angling, trimming, carving, wave reading)  in a way that is clear and logical and easy to remember.  Best of all, they (gently) critique footage of you surfing.  That’s seriously the best way to correct bad habits.  From now on, any time I catch a wave, I will always hear my teacher Fran’s voice in my head saying, “Arm outside! Compress! Square the front foot! Weight forward! Look down the line!”

Why I Love Forest Kindergarten

why i love forest kindergartenImagine a classroom without walls where it’s ok to get muddy or run barefoot.  Where you can play with sticks and no one will yell the dreaded, “You’ll poke an eye out!”  No whiteboards, just drawing the ABCs with sticks in the dirt.  No books, just old fashioned story telling. No flourescent lights, just dappled sunlight beaming through the trees.  This classroom exists, and it’s called Forest Kindergarten.  The concept started in Germany- Waldkindergartens.  I’m blessed to have one just miles from my house. It’s like preschool, summer camp, and girl/boy scouts rolled into one.  And it makes my highly sensitive hippie heart sing!

Sisi is enrolled in this magical program, and Matteo and I get to come along for the ride.  For 5 hours on Tuesday, rain or shine, we sing, hike, study animal tracks and play.  The kids play and play while the parents sit on blankets under a canopy of trees and chat about the book assigned to us: Simplicity Parenting, which just so happens to be on my list of life changing books.  Our teachers are gentle and cheerful, always greeting us with a warm, genuine hello.  They have clear boundaries (this is no Lord of the Flies anarchy situation) but allow much freedom within those boundaries.  For example, “You may get muddy but please do not splash the mud on others.”  “You may play with sticks, but not during circle time.”thanks for your support!

I found this program googling “homeschool supplement programs”. I intend on homeschooling next year, but don’t want to do it all myself. I want to provide my kids with some sort of classroom experience.  I was looking into half and half charter school/homeschool programs, but they clashed with my unschooling approach.  I came upon a local Forest Kindergarten program and got the chills, it was exactly what I didn’t even know I needed.  It meshes with my parenting and educational style, and it gets my child out into nature doing what kids do best- play!

I love almost everything about Forest Kindergarten, but here are the main virtues:

  • Slow and calm pace.  Just a few structured activities, but mostly time to explore and play and be free.
  • Group snack.  Everyone brings a diced piece of organic fruit to mix together into a giant fruit salad we all get to share.  Every week Sisi gets to try new and interesting fruits (and it’s a snack that work with our paleo diet, hooray!)
  • Respectful speech.  There is no talking down, or baby talk, or sarcasm, or yelling.  The teachers speak to the children in the same respectful tone they speak to the parents.  This is so refreshing. And rare for preschools.
  • Rituals.  There are lots of little routines that give the day a nice predictable rhythm.  There is circle time, the hand-washing ritual, before meal blessing,  story time, quiet sit time, mystery bag, and the day ends with the goodbye song where the children walk under a silk rainbow bridge.
  • Positive Discipline.  No time outs, punishments, shame.  If a child is not able to participate in the activities in a calm and respectful way, the teachers may suggest that the child take a rest on their blanket until he or she is ready.  Since most kids have a parent with them, it’s up to the parents to guide the children and be positive role models.
  • NOT academic.  I know, maybe I’m weird for thinking this is a virtue, but I am happy that they are not forcing the ABCs or reading or numbers.  Each week, we “journal” (draw the moon phase and attempt to write the date and season),  learn one letter in sign language and try to make that letter with sticks, but this academic portion is not forced or stressful.  Trust me, Sisi is learning a TON at Forest Kindergarten, but it’s happening so naturally and organically that she doesn’t even realize it. That is the essence of unschooling!
  • Respect for nature.  They are exploring nature while being careful not to destroy it.  They compost their leftovers, use reusable containers, and try not to waste anything.
  • Trust.  Even the littlest students are trusted with breakable ceramic bowls and teacups, and trusted to help wash them.  We trust the kids to navigate the freedom that is given to them without abusing it. We trust they can handle a little heat, some scrapes, some rain.  Handle new tastes (pine needle tea, acorn pancakes, fruits and vegetables they have never tasted before.) I’m even learning to trust Matteo, that he can handle 5 hours out in the wilderness and be just fine most of the time.  We also trust that if our kids are showing signs of wear and overtiredness, it’s ok to leave early.  No one will judge.
  • Did I mention quiet sit time?  It’s 10-15 minutes where we just choose a little nook and sit there.  Quietly.  It’s an introvert HSP dream come true 😉
  • Cell phone free zone.  We are all present.  We give each other eye contact.  We are hands free parents for at least 5 hours of our week.  I hate my cell phone so this isn’t a challenge for me, but it may be the only time some parents are disconnected from their phones.

I encourage you to check and see if there is a Forest Kindergarten near you!

nature is the antidote

 

 

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.

lavender-367574_1280

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?

HSPs need more sleep.

hammock in sayulita, mexico.

I need my sleep. Really I do.

At least 7.5 hours per night, preferably 9 hours to function at my best. I had a friend in high school who just didn’t need much sleep to function well- she slept 6 hours a night at the most, and woke up perky and ready to go. Her mom frowned upon sleeping in late so she used to wake her up early on Saturdays to clean the whole house as a family. My mom knew that I needed to sleep in til noon on Saturdays to catch up from the school week. She wouldn’t even think of waking me up early, probably because I would be a hypersensitive grouch the rest of the day.

Turns out, most HSPs need more rest. In The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron says, “HSPs do worse than others working night shifts or mixed shifts, and they recover more slowly from jetlag.”thanks for your support!

This is definitely true for me. Why is this? Maybe it’s because daily life as an HSP is so stimulating for me, I need tons of sleep (and rest and downtime) to recuperate. Maybe it’s because I can’t rely on coffee to perk me up (HSPs are generally more sensitive to caffeine). Perhaps it’s because I just can’t deal with the sensation of tiredness- the heavy, achy, almost painful feeling of sleep deprivation (HSPs often feel sensations like tiredness, hunger, and pain more intensely.)

Every new mom expects to sacrifice some sleep, but my first child’s sleep issues caused me so much stress and despair. I do believe our sleep situation (both the feeling of failure I felt when she wouldn’t sleep, and my own sleep deprivation) contributed to my postpartum depression and anxiety. Thankfully, because both of us couldn’t tolerate sleep deprivation (highly sensitive children don’t wear sleep deprivation well), it forced me to come up with solutions to our sleep issues early on. I was determined to find a compassionate yet effective sleep method to help us all get the sleep we need. I’m so grateful that both my kids are great sleepers. Not perfect sleepers, but at least I can expect to get my full 8+ hours of sleep most nights. Just because I typed that, I bet both kids will wake up tonight.  Isn’t that how it works?  Never brag about your kids on the internet!  ha.

my soothing bed.
my soothing bed.

Why I Had to Quit My Floral Career

i quit being a floristWedding floral design seemed like the perfect job for me. I adore flowers. I can spend several minutes just examining a single perfect fuchsia or gloriosa lily. It sounds weird but I feel like flowers speak to me and tell me how they want to be arranged. I’m inspired by color and scent. I also love the planning aspect: coming up with a wedding vibe and color scheme, writing recipes for each arrangement, and making it all a cohesive visual experience. Brides told me I was really good at transforming their vision into reality, which makes sense because HSPs are good listeners and have great imaginations.

But now that I know I’m an HSP, I understand why owning my own wedding floral business was perhaps one of the worst jobs I could choose for myself. I had a fair amount of success in the industry, but the stress and anguish I felt pretty much all the time far outweighed the success.  The job required skills that don’t come easily to me (or most HSPs) at all.

  1. Pressure: Like most HSPs, I don’t do well under pressure. Talk about pressure: wrong flowers sent, flowers dying, crazy mothers of the bride, picky grooms with way too many opinions (the worst!), pulling all nighters to finish, stuck in traffic with a truck full of flowers on a hot day, huppah blows over in the wind 1 hour before the wedding ceremony. I’m getting all flustered just remembering these things.
  2. Selling myself. For days before each consultation I’d have to pump myself up. I am not a natural saleswoman. It was like having to do job interviews multiple times a week, every week, which is kind of hellish.  This did become easier with practice. I got quite good at consultations and booked a majority of the clients I met with because I’m friendly and can connect well with people in a short amount of time.  But I never stopped getting butterflies/mild panic attacks. I felt wired for hours after each consult- a mix of adrenaline and relief- even after 7 years in the biz. Just being honest.
  3. Responsibility: I took my job so seriously. Too seriously. It’s just flowers, right?  I wasn’t solving world hunger.  But I felt like there was so much at stake. I had one chance- one day- to wow them. I often feared being sued, ruining the wedding somehow or getting horrible reviews. Thankfully, these things never happened, but I’ve had friends who have had to deal with some serious issues.
  4. Delegation: As I hinted in the previous point, delegation, especially under pressure, is hard for me. When I am flustered it’s so hard to think logically. I was often so stressed out that my brain would kind of shut down and I couldn’t come up with a plan of execution, much less divvy up the work and clearly communicate my expectations to each employee. I’m also a perfectionist, so sometimes the temptation to just do it myself got in the way of handing things off to others.  Since becoming a parent, I’ve had to get better at delegating things to my husband and other helpers.
  5. Thick Skin:I definitely don’t have this. Thankfully, I had mostly wonderful, appreciative brides. But I do remember a few parents and grooms that were so hard to please.  HSPs tend to dwell on others’ criticisms and take them to heart.  As I get older though, I care a little less about what others think.  One of the best things about aging!
  6. Charging Enough: I also had a hard time pricing my designs.  I probably should have charged much more for my flowers, time and expertise. I respect my peers in the industry who continue to make a great living off of wedding planning, floral design, and photography. They know what they are worth and they have no problem charging for it. It doesn’t bother them to be turned down based on price. They are confident that the right clients will come to them.

    wedding florist career
    photo by Trista Lerit Photography.

So basically, owning my own floral design business was just not right for me. I kept at it for 7 years. When I had my daughter, there was no question I would quit. I felt a slight sting of grief, but never regretted my decision. Actually, I think it was brave of me to finally admit that a big part of my life needed to change.  Yes, sometimes you have to stretch yourself to fit your career, and I did, but don’t stretch yourself so thin that you disappear. Life is too short- find a career that suits your passions, skills, talents. Maybe it won’t be a perfect fit in every way, but at least you won’t be spinning your wheels wishing you were a different person.  You’ll be thankful that you’re you because you are awesome for that job.

I still get my flower fix doing flowers for friends’ small weddings and events.  It’s all the parts of the job that I LOVE, minus the pressure and stress.  I also wouldn’t mind helping out other florists if I needed some income.  If they want to do the business stuff and leave the pretty flowers to me, I’m all for it!

wedding flowers for friends: the best way to get my flower fix. Photo by Orange Turtle Photography.
designing flowers for my dear friends is the most satisfying way to use my talent. photo by Orange Turtle Photography.

Is your current job a good fit for your HSP qualities? What do you think is the perfect job for you, and are you going to go for it?  

 

I’m Easily Grossed Out

i'm easily gOne day, Sisi pointed out the only brown leaf on our liquid amber tree.  Leave it to a Highly Sensitive Child to notice and care about a leaf that looks slightly different than the rest.  I glanced at it, then did a double take.  There was a bronze smudge on it.  To my horror, the smudge was actually hundreds of sesame seed sized caterpillars sucking the lifeblood out of that leaf.  I wanted to throw up.  Any bug, even cute bugs like lady bugs and caterpillars, becomes disgusting in large quantities.  At least to me.  My husband didn’t think it was gross at all.

Every day since my discovery, my daily ritual is to examine these bugs with equal parts horror and fascination.  The O.G.s  have long since flown away, but I’m now noticing more of those bronze smudges all over the trees.  They are multiplying.  Hundreds of leaves munched away. There is caterpillar poop everywhere.  It’s gross.  And so interesting, but so gross.  It makes me all jittery when I see them, like they are crawling on me.thanks for your support!

I’m just easily grossed out. I always have been.  Moldy bread, ants eating a dead bug, that crusty stuff around a milk carton.  I gag!

I used to get so disturbed on rainy days as a kid because the the floor of a school bus was all wet with dirty water, smushed snails from kids’ shoes, stray hairs.  I tried to look out the window but found myself searching the floor for nastiness.  Please tell me I’m not the only one!

It’s not just sights either.  Gross sounds (swallowing, slurping, burps) can fill me with anger.  This has a term actually- misophonia.  I don’t think I have true misophonia, but I can relate to those who do.

It’s also hard for me to ignore gross smells.  My neighbors wake me up out of a dead sleep sometimes when they smoke on their porch.  I just donated several perfectly good towels because I just couldn’t get this slight mildewy smell out of them, even after many washings with vinegar and baking soda.   I can smell peoples’ saliva on Matteo’s head all the time- he’s irresistibly kissable so it’s no wonder.
baby caterpillars and eggs

Why are HSPs so easily grossed out? We are sensitive to subtle stimuli.  We notice gross things that others don’t.  And then we think about what we’ve experienced, holding onto it almost obsessively to wrap our minds around it. HSPs have stronger emotional and physical reactions to stimuli- perhaps we feel more jittery, nauseous, stressed out by gross things than the average person?  I’m just throwing these ideas out there.

Does this serve some sort of adaptive purpose?  Probably.  I can think of specific instances when my high sensitivity to gross stuff protected me. Like when I could smell mold coming from the wall (turns out we had major undetected water damage!)  I also swore I could hear very subtle scratching sounds in the walls at night that my husband didn’t hear (turns out we had rats living in the attic.)  I can smell when food goes bad much better than my husband, who gets food poisoning a lot more than I do.  But there are probably many times when this high-gross-out-factor has caused me unnecessary stress.  It also makes parenting a bit challenging.

Parenting can be gross.  I’ve had to suck it up and confront things that gross me out.  Crazy diaper blowouts, snot sucking with the nosefrida snot sucker, open wounds, and vomit all come with the territory.  My duty and love for my kids far outweighs the gross-out-factor.  I’m the adult, so I jump in and do what I need to do.

Question: I’m super curious how HSPs in the medical field deal with all the blood, bodily fluids, smells?  Did it take some time to get used to it?  How do you cope?

 

No More Mommy Tantrums

mommy tantrums

You see it everywhere: Parents pushed to the limit.

At Macy’s, a dad mocks his sobbing child.  “Wahh wahh, I’m being such a baby!” he says, winking at me as if to say, “Aren’t kids ridiculous?”  The boy cries even harder.

At the library, a mom yells at her child, “Be quiet!  We’re going home now because you can’t remember to be quiet in the library!”  She drags her out kicking and screaming.

On the sidewalk I overhear a dad saying to his boy, “Man!  It’s only 8:30 in the morning and you’re already annoying me!  I seriously can’t handle you right now!”  His boy looks defeated.

You can tell I’m an eavesdropper from this post.  Sorry-not-sorry!  It’s partly an HSP thing– this hyperawareness of others’ emotions.  It’s almost impossible for me to pass over a parent and child in conflict without taking it all in.

Trust me, I’ve had my meltdowns, too!  I’m not really hot-headed or prone to anger, but when I reach my limit, I tend to get cold.  I shut down. I might roll my eyes and give a guilt trip.  I think that kind of coldness is just as hurtful as a full-blown mommy tantrum.

But fortunately, I’m steeped in enough awesome parenting resources that remind me over and over to be calm. Breathe. Be cool.  Your kids are people, too, even when they are acting crazy. It’s normal for them to act crazy.  They deserve to be treated with respect all the time, not just when they are angels.  I repeat these things like mantras almost every day.

Janet Lansbury calls it wearing your superhero suit like a shield.  I love that image.  Because to your child, you are a superhero.  You are your child’s fearless leader.  You are bigger, stronger, wiser than they.  You are their role model for how to handle overwhelming feelings.  We add fuel to the fire when we are anything besides calm, consistent, and compassionate.

It’s so very hard to exude this zen attitude when your kid is crying and flailing in the frozen foods aisle and you have to leave your cart full of groceries in a hurry (I speak from experience.)  But you’ve got to fake it til you make it. You’ve got to exercise those zen muscles until a chill response is second nature.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

Your child hits another child in public.  You are mad, embarrassed and panicked.  Breathe, walk over, and calmly but sternly say, “I won’t let you hit.”  Hold down his hands and look him in the eye.  If he hits again, repeat “I won’t let you hit.  We need to go home now.”  Pick up the kid and go home.  As he throws a royal tantrum in the car, say “You sound frustrated and mad.  You wanted to hit and you wanted to stay at the park, but I am taking you home. You can cry and let it all out. I’m here if you want to talk or cuddle.”

Calm, cool, empathetic.  I guarantee, this strategy works better to simmer kids down than a mommy tantrum or that cold passive-aggressive thing I do. Promise.