living well


35 Comments 10 February 2014

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.


Your Comments

35 Comments so far

  1. Sadie Hanson says:

    What a great post…. I am only just starting to recognise myself as in introvert and a highly sensitive person, and I can’t tell you what a relief that is, now I can start to finally take care of my self properly, and I read that top tips for an HSP, and every point applies to me, especially on sleep (I am awful on lack of sleep). There’s also a great book called Quiet, a very interesting account on how the introvert got pushed side for the western ideal of extroversion. Thank you for writing this…. and I have particular times of year when I get aches and pains and odd colds when no one else does, and usually some when I am about to socialised a lot or have socialised alot. X

  2. Gosh what an honest and actually inspiring post. I bet that there are more people that feel this way than would care to admit.

    Thanks for sharing and glad you are back!

  3. Alice says:

    This was really interesting to read: I’ve often thought I might be a highly sensitive person. I don’t like big groups of people, loud noises and I really need my ‘alone time’. Sometimes I feel quite overwhelmed by life and need to take myself off to ‘decompress’ by being on my own. I am really not good if I don’t sleep properly and like you, if there’s a lot going on I get quite under the weather. It’s great to read that I’m not so alone and I’m definitely going to read more around the subject!

  4. Sonya Cisco says:

    Beautifully written, and I recognise myself in there somewhere too. I like a bit of solitude and like you seek a few minutes peace when at crowded events, even if that means sitting on a loo!

  5. Expat Mum says:

    Great post. I think calling people “thin skinned” is a bully’s way of allowing him/herself to be rude. It’s the same as when people say “Oh, don’t be offended”. I always want to say “Why? So that you can say more mean things and get away with it?”
    The people-depletion thing is very interesting. I spend most days completely on my own and my tolerance for a crowd is much lower than it used to be because of it. I’m not sure I could ever work in an office-like situation any more because of the amount of people around! And I certainly can’t do back-to-back engagements any more. Heck, I don’t usually go out on a school night these days.

    • Good point, it really is a bullying thing to do. Interesting that you think your tolerance for being around people has lowered, I never thought of it like that but that makes a lot of sense for me as well.

  6. Stacey Corrin says:

    Honestly it sounds like you’re describing me in this post. I’ve understood for a long time now that I’m an introvert, however I’ve always associated this with being a negative thing and have gone out of my way to apologise for it. It wasn’t until I started reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking”, that I finally realised that it’s not something I should be ashamed of. It’s just who I am.

    I get that feeling though and am glad that you recognised it for what it is now.

  7. I must read these books: sounds like we are peas in an introvert pod.

  8. Liz Burton says:

    So glad you’re back on the up. It’s very brave of you to share these feelings and I’m sure it will help others who are going through the same x

  9. Emma says:

    Such an interesting post. I feel that I suffer from the opposite at times. I need to be around people, obviously mostly friends and family, which is probably why I find this life so hard sometimes! 😀 Glad you are back and raring to go! :) xx

  10. Brilliant post, I am the person who loves to host a party but i always stand on the edge watching everyone else and when i think of my life i do it in all circles because i always feel when I do jump in i get ignored anyway x

  11. Cat says:

    All this talk of introverts makes me feel like the world has finally caught up with me. 😉 I’ve always found that I need to spend a reasonable amount of time alone or I just feel exhausted and over whelmed. In fact it’s what I find most challenging about parenthood, that moment when you know you just need 10 minutes of silence and you also know you can’t have it. So important to learn to look after ourselves though, how else can we look after everyone else?

  12. Honest Mum says:

    Adored this post, sheds real light on how others can deplete us-some more than others and why ‘me time’ is so crucial when you can get it-to feel restored, rejuvenated and yourself again! Fab post! Thanks!

  13. Very interesting. I scored WAY over 14 on the self-test! But then I’m a writer and blogger, and I think we need to be HSP in order to write well. I also loved the book, Quiet, though I have redone the subtitle in my head so it reads, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Shut the F Up!

  14. Kimberly P. says:

    Thank you so much for your post! I have only recently become aware that I am an introvert. A couple of other posts have been shared about this topic and upon reading them, I realized that I am an introvert. For a long time I have been made to feel bad when I don’t want to participate in a social function. I get things like “You should get out more…..” “You should go do….insert whatever activity applies” It’s not that I do not like people; quite the opposite in fact. And I do love to go to certain social gatherings. But sometimes I am not interested. If I am not the most talkative person in the room of people, it does not mean I am not enjoying myself, I am just doing it my way. So after reading this, it makes me feel so much better knowing I am not the only one. I even think this has affected me in relationships with men, but now I have met a man who I think is also this way. I shared one of the prior articles with him and he said he fit almost all of the characteristics and I think that is why we get on so well. Thanks again for sharing this post.

  15. Melissa says:

    Beautifully written post Michelle. I first learned the term Highly Sensitive Person in 2011. Back then I wrote this post

    What is amazing to me that that post still gets comments on it – even though the blog hasn’t been active since early 2012. I got the most recent comment on it 2 days ago. I’m glad I saw your post as it reminded me of mine and I need a reminder every now and again that my son is like this. He has changed with age and seems to cope far better now but he is still highly sensitive and I forget that at times. I think I might be too in a strange way.

    Glad you are back

  16. Mummy Barrow says:

    What a fabulous post. Funnily enough I thought I was unique in thinking like this. I am an only child and have always put it down to that. I love my own space and company and find it hard to share for too long. Off to look at those links now.

  17. Great post, I am sure it wil be of HUGE help to many people out there, who are also very sensitive. It makes day to day thins so much harder. Glad things are looking better.

  18. Glad you are back – this is a great post, and I so know how you feel. Sometimes everything and everyone can get too overwelming; and we need to recharge. I love my own company, and if I don’t get it, even for just five minutes, I can get very down. Makes being a mum to little ones harder as being on ones own is a mission in itself!

  19. Mari says:

    I get this too but could never vocalise it or explain it, you’ve done that and I hope my ‘throw it all at ya’ email didn’t add to this *Looks worried now*

  20. Lauren Sapala says:

    I’m so honored to be mentioned in this post, thank you :) I, too, am a highly sensitive person and I totally get it. I’m so happy you mentioned the link to my blog because it enabled me to find yours. I’m signing up to follow your posts right now, and so looking forward to getting to know you in the blogosphere :)

  21. Fantastic post. I totally get feeling emptied. When I was younger, I wasn’t really good at keeping the energy-suckers at bay. Well, you live and learn, I guess :) xx

  22. ModestaRichardson says:


  23. Iota says:

    Interesting stuff.

    There’s a book that’s on my “to read” list, called “Quiet”. It’s about being an introvert in a world that values extroverts. Have you come across it?

  24. Virginia Smith says:

    Yes, I read it over Christmas. Described me to a “T”! At least this book has nice things to say about us introverts!

  25. Mary says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post and can relate to a lot of what you say. Thanks for the book recommendations! I will look for them. On another note, I recently came across the book “Imagined London” by Anna Quindlen and after reading your other post about experiencing a book differently after we live in that area..I plan to find some books/read books about different areas I’ve lived in. Thanks again!

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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