The Ikea Story that Kept Me Up All Night

The Ikea “Sex Trafficking” story made me so upset. At first, I felt upset at myself for not being more careful with my kids when I shop (especially at that very same Ikea!) How could I be so careless? But by the time I got to the end of the story, I was upset for a different reason.

As a mom prone to worry and anxiety… As a highly sensitive person who is already very cautious and who is good at imagining worst case scenarios, I believe articles like these are an affront to my sanity and sense of well-being.

You guys, I’m not a helicopter mom on the OUTSIDE. I give my kids as much space and freedom as I can possibly muster. But I’m a helicopter parent on the INSIDE. My rational side knows that my kids are safe here in the U.S. Of A (not 100% safe, but safe enough.) My rational side has read the statistics which say the chances of my kids being abducted in a public place are infinitessimal. But that rational side is at constant war with my primal, mama-bear within. This primal, protective side has it’s place, for sure. But it’s also easily stoked by articles such as these. Some might say, GOOD! A little more worry, a little more caution; it’s all good. I strongly disagree.

Any ounce of worry and energy put toward completely unlikely dangers has trade-offs.

  • A parent’s sanity.
  • Takes our attention from true threats (car accidents, drowning, depression and suicide to name a few in the top 5 causes of child mortality.)
  • Causes us to deprive our children of space and independence (and the street smarts that develop as a result) that will serve them very well in the future.
  • Passes on a fear of strangers that could negatively affect them in the future.

I’m not directing my anger toward this mother. A friend of mine who actually knows this mom pointed out that this mom can’t help her gut feeling. I agree. We all get weirded out in public from time to time. There is this bagger at Sprouts who really creeps me out. The way he looks at my kids makes me choose a different line and leave in a hurry. But the fact that the mom’s hunch or 6th sense was turned into a dire warning to all parents complete with totally misleading titles such as “Mom of 3 Posts Warning to Other Parents: We Were Targets” makes me upset.  Perhaps not the mom’s fault that her story became so viral, but the fact that it did really peeves me.

I also don’t mean to be flippant about child trafficking. It’s horrific and every parent’s worst nightmare. But I think it’s important to note that the odds of it happening to a) young children b) in a public place c) by a stranger are extremely low. 97% of child abductions are by caregivers/family/friends, not strangers.  I’m not sure what percentage of that 3% is sex trafficking, but I’ll get it’s pretty small.

I grieve the “good old days” when I was growing up. I was allowed to walk a mile to the local grocery store at age 8 to buy jolly ranchers. I didn’t fear every stranger I passed along the way. I miss those days of safety. BUT WAIT, those days are still here. The crimes rates are actually lower now. So why are we all so worried? In part, social media and articles like these. That’s why I’m upset.

I found these statistics to be eye-opening (and definitely counter-intuitive!)

Introversion, HSP, or Social Anxiety? The blurry line.

 

Introvert? Check. HSP? Check. Social Anxiety? Dunno.

I refill my cup of energy with alone time (introversion.)  I am highly sensitive to stimuli of all kinds (HSP.)  But do I often fear being judged or negatively evaluated by other people (social anxiety)?  If so, does that fear permeate most or all of my social interactions?  Dunno.

I will admit:

  • I often worry about what people think of me.
  • I fear saying too much or too little.
  • My nervous, frantic energy around people often causes me to say weird things, stumble over my words, ask strange questions, talk too much or completely clam up.
  • I have trouble sustaining eye contact.
  • I am flustered when introduced.
  • I dread being the center of attention (although a part of me thrives off it, too!)
  • I spend a lot of time during and after social interactions identifying flaws in my social performance.
  • (More symptoms can be found here. )

So often, I feel frazzled inside.  I feel a buzzing sensation in my body which makes it hard to even hold a conversation.  I feel short of breath and my muscles tense. I dread that feeling.  I also dread the criticism I give myself during and after the social interaction. I find myself wondering often, is this normal? Does everyone feel this way?  And if not, can I just chalk it up to HSP or introversion?

Social anxiety wasn’t really on my radar until recently when I read the novel The Husband’s Secret.  One of the characters, Tess, suffers from social anxiety, but covers it with humor, sarcasm, and faked confidence.  Of course, the constant covering up begins to take it’s toll.  I related to Tess’s quirks so profoundly that I started to wonder if I suffer from social anxiety.

Since social anxiety is a continuum, do I have enough of it to be considered a full-blown mental disorder?

I don’t feel socially anxious all the time. Certain people and situations bring the anxiety out of me more than others.  I click with certain people right away. Others intimidate me immediately, and I don’t understand why.  Most people would call me  friendly, warm, enthusiastic, even social. I don’t usually avoid parties or people- I push through the anxiety and try to be present (See this post about party anxiety for proof!) I force myself because that’s the person I want to be. It’s inside me somewhere.

My therapist believes it’s impossible to completely separate HSP from introversion from social anxiety . They are overlapping circles- separate but related, influencing one another.  A Venn diagram with me in the middle. Part of me wants to rule social anxiety out.  After all, while introversion and HSP are neutral traits- good in some situations, unhelpful in others, social anxiety is always a bad thing: something to be cured.  But then again, at least it can be “cured”.  

Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, also believes it’s difficult to tease apart social anxiety from HSP.  One of the FAQs on her website is “Do I have an anxiety disorder or am I just highly sensitive?”  Dr. Aron answered that anxiety is only a disorder if the anxiety doesn’t make sense or is excessive for the particular situation.  For an HSP, the anxiety often makes sense!  We are programmed to be cautious, notice everything, try to predict the future, deeply process our mistakes, etc.  This way of thinking often causes anxiety!  To tell an HSP to stop worrying is like telling an HSP to stop being an HSP.

In social situations, we are very attuned to others’ facial expressions, sighs, yawns, subtle eye rolls, and tone of voice.  If someone is indeed judging us, or offended, or bored by us, we are apt to pick up on it.  We probably won’t forget it, either!  The social “traumas” that everyone experiences during childhood and adolescence- awkward first dates, feeling left out, having fallouts, might make a deeper impression on an HSP, and might make us cautious of any situation resembling those past traumas.

Something else that blurs the line is that overstimulation feels a lot like anxiety.  Overstimulation produces the same physical symptoms as anxiety- quick pulse, sweating, dry throat, headaches, muscle tension. Sometimes I can coach myself out of my feelings of social panic by telling myself, “It’s just overstimulation.  There’s a lot going on right now.  You are doing great.  You’re fine.”  I instantly feel better and find the strength to press on.

So I’m still not sure if I have social anxiety.  My therapist told me the label is less important than the goal: RESILIENCY.  What pep talks do I need to give myself to work myself out of these frazzled states?  Sometimes I can blame it on overstimulation, and I feel better.  Sometimes I can blame it on introversion and make sure I get more alone time, and that works.  But sometimes I have to admit that I’m feeling anxious becauase I feel I’m not good enough, or not worthy enough.  It’s humbling to admit.  I’m trying to figure this stuff out pronto because I want to teach my kids what it means to be confident, authentic people.

Do you feel the need to label yourself?  Do you find labels helpful or harmful?

 

My Toddler Scratches Other Babies

When Matteo scratches or pulls the hair of another child, it fills me with so much anxiety and shame.  That sting of embarrassment as the other parent tends to their injured child and tries to hide their  shock.  That deep feeling of disappointment as I think “Matteo, you’re so much better than this! What is wrong with you?”  Or worse, “What did I do wrong as a parent? Did I fail in some way?”

It all started months ago at the park.   The first time he scratched a cute little red-head at the park, I was shocked to see a “mean streak”. I can’t remember my reaction, but I’m pretty sure I made the scratch a very big hooplah.  Clearly this wasn’t effective because he did it again.  And again.  In the church nursery, at the playground, in the library play room.  Always with kids his size or smaller, when they seem to enter his territory or show interest in something he’s playing with.  What started out as an occasional defensive scratch or hair-pull has now turned into a habitual and preemptive strike anytime a little one comes near.  It’s gotten to the point when I dread seeing babies or young toddlers at the park. I’m tempted to high-tail it home.

We HSPs are pretty good at seeing patterns and consequences.  If we’re the anxious types, we tend to imagine worst case scenerios.  That’s what I did- I imagined that Matteo’s behavior, if unresolved, could lead to serious aggression and even violence down the road.  Maybe he’d be a bully!  This talent for forward-thinking causes me a good deal of anxiety.  But thankfully, it also motivates me to action.  I’d rather take this problem too seriously than too lax.  It always baffles me when people only tackle problems after they have turned into crises.  That’s not really the HSP way.  It’s certainly not my way. When it comes to parenting, I’m a nip it in the bud kind of girl.

So I came up with a game plan. But first I did my research.  I turned to the parenting expert I admire most, Janet Lansbury.  One of her podcast episodes (My 2 Year Old is a Bully) was exactly what I needed to hear.  She said the most important thing you can do is remain unruffled.  This scratching behavior makes sense to Matteo. He’s not a “bad child”, nor am I a “failure.”  He’s trying to communicate something with actions.  I need to answer him in a way that will take away this need to scratch.

  1.  Notice a pattern.  Matteo scratches or pulls hair when a young, small toddler gets in his space, looks him straight in the eye, or tries to touch him or something he’s interested in.
  2. Figure out what he’s communicating.  What I think he’s saying is, “I don’t like when little kids are too close.  It makes me feel scared and I don’t know what they’re going to do, so I will protect myself because you haven’t protected me from other smothering or aggressive toddlers in the past.”  In the past, I should probably have spoken up to parents whose children were violating his space, but the people pleaser in me really really really didn’t want to do that.  I tried to make it no big deal because toddler aggression is just a part of life.   But  my lack of response when he was clearly uncomfortable has caused him to strike first before others can hurt him.  When I look at it that way, his scratching and pulling is actually quite reasonable.  But of course, it’s not acceptable.
  3. Try to prevent the aggression.  I pride myself in letting my kids loose at the park to discover things on their own. I never wanted to be a helicopter parent.  But because Matteo is feeling scared and vulnerable in these situations, I probably need to shadow him a little more, even keep him in the carrier at times if he’s showing me he’s overwhelmed.  I may even opt out of social engagements and stay home a little more until he’s ready to face little ones.
  4. If he does scratch, I will calmly restrain him by holding down his hands and say, “Grabbing hair hurts.  I won’t let you grab hair.  We need to be gentle with our friends.”  Then take him somewhere else where he’ll have his own space.  The goal is to sound calm, unphased and confident, even though inside I’m probably freaking out.  I just need to practice that calm demeanor, and hopefully I can internalize it.
  5. I don’t believe in forcing aplogies, but I will check in with the other child and say sorry on Matteo’s behalf.

You guys, it feels so good to have a game plan.  How do you handle biting, scratching, and other aggressive toddler behaviors?

I also found this article super empowering.

Update 12/22:  My game plan is working, or maybe the phase is just passing.  He is scratching much less often.   And I’m responding with the calm, unruffled confidence of a mom who is in charge.  So yay me!

 

Camping is Stressful and Awesome

camping-is-stressfulI just returned from a camping trip to Joshua Tree National Forest.  It was an awesome trip, but I had to apologize to my whole family for being such a complainypants.  I was pretty stressed out and I think I set a bad tone for the trip.  The point of a camping trip is to relax and unwind, right?  It just showed how much control I like to have over my environment, and you can’t control nature.

So why do I camp?  Many HSPs have a special connection to nature.  Open spaces give us permission to slow down, daydream, and breathe.  For example, a day at the beach tingles all 5 senses just enough to keep us pleasantly stimulated, but not overwhelmed the way city life can be.  I also believe strongly in the benefits of physically grounding oneself in nature– digging your feet in the sand, hugging a tree, wading in the water, bathing in sunlight.

As a kid in suburban California, I never got to camp.  My dad was not interested, and my mom was too busy working and holding the family together.  My one and only camping trip took place in 7th grade when my best friend’s hippie family invited me on their backpacking trip in the high Sierras. I’m sure they  didn’t realize what a dead weight I would be.  I remember complaining.  A lot.  About: being devoured by mosquitos (they always like my blood best!  So unfair!), ear pressure and faintness from high altitude, being afraid of slipping off the side of the mountain or falling off the log bridge, etc.  With that family, I’m still infamous for being a complainypants on that trip.  They love me nonetheless, and understand that I’m a product of suburbia.

As an adult, I make it a priority to camp.  My daughter loves it. She’d chose a humble camping trip over a fancy hotel trip any day.  As an HSC, I see her thrive in wild, open spaces.   I am hoping my kids will be rugged and confident outdoors like my husband is, and camping regularly will help nurture that quality.

matteo-nook-1

But let’s be real- camping is called “roughing it” for a reason.  It’s not easy, and nature can be scary, especially for someone who is highly sensitive.

Things that stress me out about camping…

  • Packing light, but not too light.
  • Mosquitoes. Why do they love me and my daughter so much but barely touch my husband and baby? Do mosquitoes like HSP blood more perhaps?  Just a hypothesis 🙂 Also my bites become golf ball sized welts.
  • Fear of wild predators (bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes, etc.)
  • Keeping the tent clean and uncluttered and mosquito free.
  • Going potty in nature.  It’s just sooo hard for me.  Perhaps a gadget like this pee funnel might help next time?thanks for your support!
  • Making sure the kids are safe and comfortable.
  • Dangers in general, like falling off a cliff.
  • Worrying about food poisoning because the cooler didn’t keep things cool enough, or I didn’t wash the dishes well enough.  This amazing germ busting cloth helped ease my worries about the latter.  I used this cloth to clean EVERYTHING on this trip, including myself and the kids.
  • Worrying about breaking the rules of the park or getting yelled at by the park rangers. I’m such a goody goody.  I also fear accidentally setting a forest fire.
  • General discomfort of being sweaty, itchy, too hot, too cold, dirty, smelly, etc.

I read this list to my husband and he couldn’t believe all the things going through my head on a camping trip.  He’s the ultimate bare-footed, tree-climbing, rock-scrambling outdoorsman. It’s hard for him to even imagine being stressed in nature.  I’m hoping that by camping several times a year,  I can desensitize myself to some of these worries/fears/discomforts because camping is totally worth it.  The best things in life aren’t always easy, right?

When you read this list, can you relate?  Do you have a complicated relationship with camping, too?

camp-site cholla-garden-2   pesto view

I Don’t Enjoy Roughhousing With My Kids

don't like roughhousing

Is this an HSP thing?  A woman thing?  A me thing?

When my daughter wrestles, jumps and crawls on me it can really stress me out.  I have such a low tolerance for when she accidentally kicks me, grabs my neck, or pulls my hair.  The bigger she gets, the harder this time is for me.  I feel like such a wuss.

As I learn more about my HSP tendencies, I can totally see why I don’t like (and have never liked) rough play.  HSPs can be more sensitive to pain.  We might worry more about injuries.  We might be more ticklish, and need a little more personal space. I definitely prefer quiet, calm play- puzzles, origami, art projects, reading.  I always joked that I’m a nerd, but I think I just like to be calm within my own body. That’s how I liked to spend my time as a kid, and that’s how I’d like to play with my kids.

I wish it weren’t so because she just loves to play that way.  She’s always asking for “wild time on the bed” which is a routine we’ve done since she was an infant.  It’s our time to bounce, roll around, have pillow fights- to burn off excess energy before bed.  It was easy when she was a baby, but now she’s bigger and is a firecracker of flailing limbs.  There are lots of articles about the benefits of roughhousing, and I see firsthand how much joy it brings her.  She is in the BEST mood after some wild play with me, dad or friends. I know it’s necessary and good.

Is it ok that I don’t like playing in this way? Can I honor my own needs/preferences, or am I depriving my kids of something essential? Can I leave the wild play to dad, who genuinely enjoys it and doesn’t worry as much about injuries?  Would love to hear your thoughts.

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?  

 

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

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?