I’ve only had two experiences in my life where I felt I could have died. The first was when I had taken an extra job working at a restaurant to supplement my teaching income that summer, but decided to keep working there nights and weekends during the fall semester. I was working every day and night somewhere. One evening, I had left work to visit a friend, and on my way home, I was involved in a terrible car accident that should have killed me. All I remember is that one minute I was driving, the next minute I was in my car, facing the opposite direction of where I was headed, and paramedics were lifting me onto a gurney. The first thing I said was, “Did I hurt anyone?” I didn’t remember my teaching job, just my restaurant job. It was determined that I fell asleep for a moment, and in that moment, my car hit the right guardrail at 55 mph, which spun the car around into the left guardrail, then finally came to rest facing the other direction in the middle of the highway. Thankfully, no other cars were on the road, and I only suffered a mild concussion and a very bruised up knee from hitting the dashboard and windshield. My seat belt was broken and the new one was on order, so it was not functional. From this I walked away and quickly realized that the restaurant job had to go.
I have been doing a lot of soul searching these first 16 days of the new year. I’m not one to make resolutions, but instead, I take an assessment of where I have been, where I am, and where I want to be. Last year was a learning experience in many ways, both professionally and personally. By the time the holidays arrived, everything sort of came to a head for me. I was not making the kind of progress that I wanted to make in any area of my life.
As a Highly Sensitive Person, I tend to take on the world’s feelings as my own and I take things too personally. Imagine being bombarded with sensory overload 24/7 and constantly trying to say and do what is right. That’s how it is to be me. I was overwhelmed with immeasurable fatigue and stress.
A little over a week ago, I made time to go to my doctor for a physical. I am generally healthy. In fact, I lost 17 pounds in 2014, gave up caffeine, and stopped taking unnecessary long-term medications. However, I also learned during this visit how much chronic fatigue and stress have been affecting me. I gave into my doctor’s recommendations to improve my sleep and alleviate feeling overwhelmed, thus assisting me reach my greater potential.
The results have been remarkable so far. Better sleep has an astounding effect on mood, mindset, and physical health. I catch myself starting to worry about something or becoming angry, but I quickly stop, regroup, and refocus. I feel a sense of calm I have not felt in a long time.
Giving of myself until I can’t give anymore overwhelms me. Being nice to the point of risking becoming a doormat exhausts me. Feeling guilty because I cannot be everything to everyone smothers me. Put a fork in me, I am done. I am giving in to what makes me happy, releasing what doesn’t, and rediscovering myself again. Letting go is not giving up, it is a courageous act of moving forward. More is not more. Less is more.
When you numb your pain you also numb your joy. ~ Brene Brown
I have one more thing to write before 2015 begins after all.
Yesterday, I had a panic attack about being alone. I don’t mean not being in a relationship, I mean feeling disconnected from the world, away from East Coast family and friends. I never had panic attacks until I lost my relationship and job in 2012, but I guess they are a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), maybe? Most of them are about finances, but this was personal. With these moments of panic often come moments of clarity and enlightenment.
While I took a big risk by moving across the country for a new life and I love to travel to new places, I’ve never really opened myself up completely to opportunities or people since I moved. I have RSVPed to events or get-togethers with people I didn’t know, then chickened out at the last minute. I wanted to go, but I was afraid. Sometimes I attended, but I would quickly exit. I just arrived home from Hawaii and realized that while I was there, I did the same thing. I spent a lot of time with new friends that welcomed me into their fold, but I also would retreat to my hotel when I could. Part of that is because I’m an HSP and crowds and activity can overstimulate me. However, I also think it’s because I am drained from keeping my guard up.
On Christmas Eve, I watched one of my favorite movies again, French Kiss, but with different eyes. It has comedy, romance, France, a great wine moment, and it has a woman like me, a crazy chick who takes a risk that goes against her grain. However, she discovers along the way that she had been living a very closed life.
As I thought of all of this, it hit me. I am like an egg, closed, afraid to break open. I’m afraid of someone breaking through the shell that I’ve built around me for two and a half years. I’m afraid of not being accepted. I’m afraid of rejection. I’m afraid to really live. My chiropractors have known this for seven months, as they have had to open me up physically nearly every week.
In 2015, this egg will be ready to crack open. What good is an egg with an unbroken shell? The shell is meant to be removed to get to the deliciousness inside. I know it will be a process to let go of my fears, but it’s all about baby steps. It’s about peeling the shell away one piece at a time. And just wait until you see what’s inside of me.
If I could describe this year in one word, it would be crazy. Who in the hell packs up and leaves the life they know, their comfort zone, their family, their friends, their people, the South, the reality they have known all of their life, and moves across the country to start a new career? I’ll tell you who. This crazy girl.
It’s been a roller coaster of a year. The first phase was bliss: I can’t believe I live and work here. Every season is gorgeous, well, except the pouring rain right now. I pass famous vineyard after vineyard every morning on Silverado Trail and in the beginning I was thinking, “Holy shit, I LIVE here!” There’s wine everywhere. People drink and give wine away like it’s water. I have about 90 bottles right now and started out with 24 when I moved and I am drinking wine multiple days per week.
The second phase is reality. Napa is expensive. My apartment is a third of the size and over triple the rent of my apartment in Virginia. Fresh food is abundant, but costly. Gas is higher than in much of the country. My old car had two major, unexpected repairs. Health insurance finally kicked in and I realized I need a dentist, doctor, and medications. I also needed a veterinarian for my cat. Reality exists in Napa Valley. I finally went to a chiropractor after having been in pain since December 2013 and realized that’s one of the best decisions I’ve made this year. Because of my chiropractic care, my overall physical and mental health have improved. I no longer have the pain I had. I’ve cut out most of the daily medications I was taking for allergies and other things. I now take one allergy medication and a couple baby aspirin per day (confession: I’m terrified of having strokes like my mom and uncles had, even though I’ve never smoked like they did). I also discovered along the way that I’m not really like about 80% of everyone else. That was a big reality check. There’s also the reality that every job has its good and not-so-good days, even at a gorgeous winery in Napa Valley.
The third phase I’m going to call the holidays alone. It’s the time of year when my dad passed away. My mom is in a nursing home in North Carolina. I’m in a place far away from my people. Strangely enough, in a place that is often festive with an abundance of wine, food, and events galore, it’s been hard to connect with people here. I knew a ton of people here via social media, then I arrived, but my social life is meh. There’s also the “I have no one to spend the holidays with” syndrome, which has been going on since 2012. This is my third year trying to arrange things so as to not be alone. In fact, this past month, my coping mechanism has been crazy-ass travel: Philadelphia, Seattle twice, and Asheville. I needed to get away and be with my people.
Although most days I feel like I am where I want to be, there are some days I really struggle. I miss people from the East Coast, I battle loneliness, and I have sleep issues from the stress of such a big life change. Sometimes it feels like me against the world. I owe an apology to those I’ve maybe leaned on a little too much this year, but I am thankful to have you, too.
Today was one of those challenging days. Both the rains and my tears flowed most of the day. However, at the end of the day, I discovered an unexpected blessing. A much-needed blessing. It was in that moment I truly felt like the Universe may not have forgotten me after all and I was filled with a bit of hope. After the rain and tears stop, there’s something beautiful to behold. Someone at work told me that when things get crazy tough, just go running through vineyard to clear my mind. I think she’s right. Running through the vineyard sounds like a much better idea than tears.
I’m ready to get back to the bliss phase in 2015. And admittedly, it’s still there inside of me when I allow it. I still say to myself, “Holy shit, I LIVE here!”
Today a friend shared a Huffington Post article with me, accompanied by these words, “This really is you, Beth.”
I read the article, “16 Habits Of Highly Sensitive People.” This might be the single most important piece of writing I’ve ever read. I didn’t even know there was a label for people like me, HSP (Highly Sensitive Person). I wish I had known earlier that I experience life and the world differently than 80-85% of the population.
In elementary school, my teachers called me “a sensitive child.” My classmates were much more harsh. They called me a “crybaby.”
I cry when I am angry. I cry when I watch commercials, videos, TV shows, and movies. Twenty years after the movie was released, I still cry when Mufasa dies in The Lion King.
Music like this often gives me chills and brings me to tears as well.
I am still afraid of the Flying Monkeys and the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. That movie terrorized me when I was a child. Now I understand why.
I will do anything to avoid conflict. I try to repress my thoughts and feelings so as to not offend anyone. In doing so, I make myself physically ill.
I have uncanny attention to visual, written, and spoken details and I often remember exact conversations – words exchanged, as well as when and where the conversation took place. This attention to detail makes me a great travel planner and wine club manager, but all of these details about everything swimming around in my head often overwhelm me.
I often have trouble sleeping at night because I can’t turn off my world, thoughts, and emotions. I feel like I am always connected, whether I want to be or not.
I love to spend time with people that I really like and who really like me. But put me in a place full of people I don’t know and I become anxious. I am torn between being polite and staying anyway and plotting my escape. I opt out of large gatherings of people and prefer one-on-one and small-group interaction.
I am more empathetic than most, which means I feel what you feel, both the bad and the good. I take your burdens upon myself along with my own. Sometimes the weight is unbearable.
I prefer to work alone. My ideal work environment would be to work at home, at my own pace. As a college professor, I managed to strike a balance between performing in a classroom and my 10 required office hours. I was a pioneer in online instruction at my former college, because I preferred this method of delivery and flexible scheduling. I recently changed careers and I work an 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. job in an open office with five other people. I have found this environment to be stressful. I love when my colleagues are out of the office, not because I don’t like them, but because it’s more quiet and I work better alone, setting my own schedule and working through my to-do list.
I can’t count how many times people have told me not to take everything so personally. Believe me, I don’t want to. It just happens. I am like a Bounty paper towel. I absorb the world around me and it becomes a part of me.
At this moment, I’ve never felt more validated. Thank you to my friend for finding this article and sharing it with me. What a relief, there’s a method to my madness after all. It’s called being highly sensitive and it’s real. I’m Beth and I’m an HSP. I’m different than 80-85% of you reading this. Please bear with me as I begin to learn how to better fit into this world. If you are someone who feels like me, let’s connect.
I have a chiropractor who believes in the mind-body connection like I do. Every visit she adjusts me based on zones, which have both physical and emotional components attached to them. I have finally reached the maintenance level of chiropractic care, but every now and then I have what I call a relapse. Today was one of those days and I knew it before I arrived for my appointment. Throughout the day, my physical discomfort increased relative to the emotional pain I was experiencing. I tend to repress my feelings, which affects me physically. I required a complete adjustment tonight.
After my adjustments, my chiropractor always provides me with an affirmation for my 15-minute rest period. Tonight’s was:
I am strong.
I trust my foundation.
I repeated my affirmation and thought about what it meant for me.
I know I am strong. I know I am a survivor. However, what is my foundation? What are my core beliefs and values?
When I think of myself, these descriptors come to mind:
In spite of everything that has happened to me, sometimes I am still guilty of doubting my own strength. I allow things to shake me to my core, to my foundation, if you will. I analyze and question myself. After repeating this affirmation, I realized there is nothing wrong with me. I am still strong. My foundation is solid if I just believe and trust in myself. I can only be shaken if I allow myself to be shaken. I will only crumble if I allow myself to crumble. It’s all about my choices and my reactions to the world around me.
My revised affirmation:
Choose to let go.
Choose to grow.
Sometimes I can’t believe I live in Napa, yet it’s been nine months since I moved. It often feels like an out-of-body experience or a dream as I am commuting to and from work via Silverado Trail, which has to be one of the most gorgeous commutes in this country. Napa Valley is amazing and I know my heart is here to stay in wine country, but I still feel like I am in limbo when it comes to my career and relationships.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the past nine months:
1. Leaving what was comfortable was and still is difficult, even if it wasn’t good or even healthy for me. No matter how beautiful a place I am in or how lucky I appear to be, I am reminded daily, especially thanks to social media, how hard it is to leave the other life behind. I had to create a whole new life for myself and it hasn’t been easy adjusting to a new schedule, career, and work environment. All are very stressful, even if they are for the best in the long run.
2. I lost my social and support network in Virginia and North Carolina and it still hasn’t been replaced. Again, social media is awesome for superficial, virtual connections, but it still drops the ball when it comes to real-life relationships. Some of the people in Napa and Sonoma I knew through social media before I moved are still just social media connections, not real-life friends, like I hoped we would be.
3. Teaching is the hardest profession, this I know for sure. Towards the end of my teaching career, I had already made up my mind that I was going stop teaching after spring semester 2014, but the universe had plans for me to exit unexpectedly in late 2012. In my former life, I often worked 16 or more hours per day, in the office and at home. Now I work more like 8-9 hours per day during the work week and a couple of hours per day on weekends as needed, by choice. I am happy the teaching part of my journey is over, although I would not mind teaching informally about topics like wine, travel, and the lessons I’ve learned from my life journey. I’d love to be someone’s mentor.
4. No matter where I live, I believe I am destined to be a loner. I try to forge relationships both near and far, but they don’t seem to work out. I’m surprised that my last romantic relationship lasted over 15 years, but then again, we were only together twice, three, or four times per month, so maybe that explains why we lasted so long. I’ve never said this in public until now, but the last couple of years of that romantic relationship, I used to wake up at his apartment on weekends and think, “Is this all there is?” I think that was a big sign I chose to ignore until he kicked me to the curb. I deserve more in all of my relationships. I will NOT be an afterthought. I want people to think of me first or not think of me at all.
5. If I ever find myself connected to someone in a similar situation as me, feeling like they are alone in the world trying to survive and move forward, I promise that I will reach out and include them. It surprises me that we as a society are so oblivious and wrapped up in ourselves that we completely ignore the signs of someone who is reaching out for the human connection, for support, and for a genuine relationship. If you know anyone that is single and/or lives alone, please INCLUDE them. At least invite them to your gatherings, for God’s sake, and let them decide whether or not they wish to attend. It’s not easy being alone anywhere, regardless of a locale’s beauty and opportunity.
We are NOT too busy to be welcoming, kind, and inclusive to others. We are here to love ourselves and each other. Be love. Share love.