December and January are dark, dark months for me. Not only are they the months on either side of the winter solstice, which means, in solar terms, they are the darkest months in the Northern Hemisphere, they are bleak, dreary, difficult months for the right hemisphere of my brain. Or maybe I mean my mind. Yes, I do mean my mind. How can an organ have a dark month, or two?
(As an aside, did you know that some psychologists theorise that the mind is actually an aural-like thing that extends outside our body and that’s why sometimes two people who are near each other experience the same idea at the same time? Mindblend.)
Bleak, dark clouds over my right hemisphere do not mean I was depressed. Although 1 in 4 people in Britain will have clinical depression in their lives, and it is something that should be taken very seriously, this isn’t a post about depression. But I was virulently blue. That isn’t a turn of phrase, that’s really what it was. I get ill. A virus-like thing happens when I get overwhelmed. It seems incompatible with life, doesn’t it? Where on the evolutionary scale did that slip in? It’s the introvert thing. I know, I know, introvert is the new black and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to claim the label as an explanation for why they don’t want to go to any more office parties.
But I actually really like people. I find them interesting and fun and even the awful ones offer their own form of entertainment. I love meeting friends for coffee, welcoming kids back from university, gathering family for a big meal around the table. I love to organise summer BBQs and Christmas drinks. I love mixing the right mix of people so that everyone leaves slowly, smiling and already looking forward to the next one.
But I have this affliction that when I am around too many people for too long I am depleted. Charles Bukowski said, ‘People empty me. I have to get away to refill.’ Sometimes I have to do this in the middle of a party. I smile and say I have to go check on something and I leave the room and make a circuitous route up to the bedroom and just stand quietly for a moment. Maybe I sit. Depends on what shoes I’m wearing. I am not in my bedroom wishing everyone would leave; I am just there, resting my mind. Refilling.
Sometimes when there have been herd after herd of people passing through my world, as happens during December, I am so busy trying to keep on top of my work, my blog, my housework, my family’s lives and all the other tasks that naturally fall to me during the Holiday Season that I don’t make time to take time out to refill. Every year shortly after New Years Day while everyone else is feeling fit and excited for the new year, I fall ill with a virus-like ache for a week or two, and now I finally know why. It happens at other times of year as well, but usually for a much shorter duration. It doesn’t happen when I am especially stressed, it only happens when I’m busy with lots of people.
I only put two and two together with the help of my sister. We were standing in Boots looking at tablets and I was telling her about this mysterious virus I seem to get every now and then, sometimes lasting for a week or more, always seeming to happen at the worst times, when I’m busy with lots of people in the house. It doesn’t seem to be contageous as I’m the only one who ever seems to get it. She suspected I was a ‘highly sensitive person’ and suggested I read about it and see if it fits. She wondered if there might be a better way for me to give my time to others that wouldn’t be so depleting. She told me about a wonderful book The Introvert’s Way, by Sophia Dembling and later sent it to me. (I highly recommend it to you if you’re at all like me).
Maybe that thing that some psychologists theorise on, our aural-like minds mixing with others’ minds, is a thing some people have but not everyone. Like colour blindness. Or red hair. Those of us who are highly sensitive might be more affected by it. If you think about it, it could be really exhausting having your mind blend with others’ thoughts all the time and could be a valid explanation for the depletion. ‘Maybe’, ‘might’, who knows.
The problem for me isn’t just the virus-like aches, it’s the really blue feeling I get with the aches. I feel down, frustrated that I don’t feel like doing anything, and then I tip over the edge and begin a spiral into serious Bluesville. Not depression, just murky, sludgy meh. So I need to be vigilant and not get depleted!
A friend of mine just recently described herself as ‘thin-skinned’ as if this were a self-criticism. I told her it was an inaccurate label because it suggested her Highly Sensitive personality was a bad thing. She’s a writer, for Pete’s sake–it’s a blessing! I hate that she feels she is ‘thinned skinned’ just because this is the label society has placed in her in the past. When she said this I felt immediately defensive for her. She is also a very talented writer. Creative people need to have an ability to expose themselves to the environment. We aren’t just mirrors, bouncing back what happens in front of us, we pull in the information, mull it over, organise it and return it to you, presented in a new box so you can see your world in a different way. Being very sensitive means we can do this more effectively, but we just need to remember to learn how to protect ourselves.
So anyway, I took a break from the blog because being depleted I didn’t have anything to give to you. I knew I was refilled again when I sat down yesterday and started drafting posts. When I got to the 11th draft I thought I ought to get up and stretch my legs. I felt mighty satisfied having 11 new posts in draft for you!
So yes, I’m back. Refilled and ready for 2014 to really get going now.
Anyone else have experience as a Highly Sensitive Person, or do you know anyone like this?
If you think you might be a Highly Sensitive Person then check out this link to Psychology Today, you may find it useful.
And if you’re a creative person you might be interested in this writer’s beautifully written take in her post: Introverts, Empathy, and the Art of Creating Character, by Lauren Sapala.