Maybe if I hold very still and don’t breathe, the pain won’t find me.

Processing

I discovered living alone (without other humans, that is) when I was 16, and with the exception of brief sojourns with lovers or short-term transitional situations, it has been my lifestyle of choice ever since.

Close Quarters

Leafy trees show through windows in a wooden door set in a stone wall.Living with other people was what I turned to when I first struck out on my own because it was what I had always done, but I soon realized the omnipresent relationships placed unmanageable demands on my energy. Sometime in my teens I redefined home as the place I go to get away from people and rest, and that is what it has been ever since.

I rarely invite people in. If I feel social, I go out.

Most of my friendships are situational, the sum of proximity + time. That used to feel inadequate, but perhaps my expectations have evolved as I become a better friend to myself. The differences seem less important. Sometimes, as friendships deepen, I discover there are more similarities than I suspected.

Then too, as my life feels more and more like my path, not someone else’s that I somehow strayed into, I am less afraid to reveal a truer version of myself. If someone doesn’t find value in me, that’s about them, and I am not diminished by it. I no longer feel as if I am on the outside of other peoples’ lives, pining to be admitted.

Close for Comfort

The 17 years I lived with my recently deceased feline companion is the longest I have ever lived with anyone, considerably outstripping the time I spent in my childhood home (homes, really. We moved a lot). Now I am rediscovering what it is to live truly alone, expanding into all the spaces previously dedicated to her use, following my own rhythms, answering my own imperatives.
Drawing of electrocardiogram wave paattern with the outline of a walking cat in the middle of it.
And hearing myself think. This could be double-edged, if ultimately healthier. Did I comfort myself with purrs and fur in the face of disturbing thoughts, instead of finding solutions?

Possibly.

We shall see.

Closing the Sale

A headline caught my eye yesterday — what employers value most in potential employees is warmth and competence. “Oho,” thought I. “That’s why I’ve always interviewed so well.”

Like many of my other HSP qualities, warmth is so natural to me, I wasn’t really conscious of it. When employers hired me for my ability to connect with people, I was surprised, and skeptical that I had what they saw.

But when they wanted to wield that ability like a tool, shaping and manipulating customers with it, turning it on and off, I realized they were right, and more. My connections were genuine, therefore I had to honor them, regardless of the interests of my employers. In my HSP sensibility, this was all of a piece. Employers were not so happy about that. No, they did not like that at all.

However, their opportunism made visible to me what I had to offer, and how I wanted to offer it. The authenticity of the connections I make with people is fully realized at last in my relationships with my own clients.
One giant bronze hand meets another, passing something round, against a backdrop of a mountain landscape

Close to Heart

But these are business relationships, cordial, yet circumscribed. I can’t imagine how HSPs successfully navigate intimate relationships. Literally cannot. Nary a stillshot in my otherwise hyper-envisionary mind.

It’s not news to me that relationships are one of my remedial areas in life. Or to put that less judgmentally, are highly challenging. I have become more conscious of my fear of letting someone else too close to the center of my self. It’s well-founded, emotionally speaking, in a harrowing history.

I recognized many years back that I was consistently attracted to the wrong people, and stopped dating. I haven’t missed it much. I realize I have sidestepped an issue rather than resolving it, but that’s the right solution at the moment. Now is not the time, and perhaps this life is not the life, and that’s OK. I have to trust myself before I can trust somebody else.

Closure

My mental life verbalizes its way through adjustment to change. Grief happens more subliminally, below words. And maybe, though analysis has its value, its furious activity is also a refuge from pain which I can only endure in brief bursts.

For all of my words, it is sometimes music that anchors me in a crisis, providing, seemingly at random, a song to characterize this unique passage of my life, and carry me through the tsunami of feeling to peace. This time, a single line from long ago surfaced to guide me to that song:

The shadow of a woman on a sandy beach strewn with stonesLittle pebble upon the sand
Now you’re lying here in my hand
How many years have you been here?
Little human upon the sand
From where I’m lying here in your hand
You to me are but a passing breeze

The sun will always shine where you stand
Depending in which land
You may find yourself
Now you have my blessing
Go your way

Happiness runs in a circular motion
Thought is like a little boat upon the sea
Everybody is a part of everything anyway
You can have everything if you let yourself see
Happiness runs, happiness runs

Why? Oh, because

You can have everything if you let yourself be

(Donovan)

What You Wish For

In the first post I ever wrote for this blog, I said:

I love silence with a passion. To me, it’s not an absence of something, but an iridescent, sublime presence, that can move me to acute and transcendent bliss.

It’s 4 in the morning, and the great urban noise bowl that surrounds me has not yet begun to roar. Wrapped in a fog cocoon, the night is still.

Too still.

My cat died yesterday. She was the last of her family, and now I am a person without pets for the first time in almost two decades. And I am feeling so, so ambivalent about it.

Dependence

There are people who should not be parents, and mine were among them. My mother regularly expounded on what a burden children were. She said she loved me, but didn’t like me, and I’ve never felt likable or lovable since. And when she was stressed by her responsibilities, which was often, she lashed out in rage. If there is anything I don’t want to be, it is her.

Yet in the end, I am my mother’s daughter.

I talk about almost everything else, but my struggle to meet my own expectations about treating my dependents with kindness and patience is a dirty little secret. When a friend joins me at the vet’s office to see me through the final moments, she is platitudinal – verbal expressions of emotion are not her forte.

“You gave her a great life,” she says.

“I have regrets,” I reply, with a crypticness and brevity that are extremely out of character for me. But I owe honesty that much.

A leafless tree on a barren muddy hillside is weakly illuminated by a fog shrouded sun

The truth is, I often couldn’t deal constructively with her demands, especially when they were vocal. I felt desperate – I thought I would break under the pressure – I just needed her to stop. She couldn’t help it, poor girl. Why didn’t knowing that reduce my desperation, or strengthen my compassion, or patience, or selfless love, or whatever it is I didn’t have enough of??

Many times, I resolved to change my behavior. But no matter what my intentions, I just couldn’t sustain those changes. More than once, it crossed my mind that I might benefit from anger management classes. Or a daily yoga and meditation practice. But I pursued neither solution. I didn’t even read a book.

I did finally succeed in altering her behavior in a way that improved our relationship during her final months, but I am deeply ashamed that an 8 pound cat with a wasting disease was better able to regulate her emotional expression than I was.

I want to think this is a cultural failure. If I lived in a world that acknowledges differences in sensory reactivity, perhaps I would have better tools and support for dealing with stress and sensory challenges – and less shame to impede availing myself of them.

And maybe that is true, as far as it goes. But HSPs are more independent of their culture than other people, which has certainly been the case for me throughout my life, so how far is that? I understand my mother better now, but the damage she wrought upon my life is beyond repair, and therefore beyond forgiveness.

So how can I forgive myself?

Half Empty

I spent yesterday weeping, posting memorials, poring over photos and videos, trying to stake down in the present that which has slipped irrevocably into the past. All the things grieving people do.

Yet despite my wrenched heart, the fact that my load is lightened intrudes itself constantly. Already there is more time, money, peace, space. As I move through the rooms of my small house and discover all the different cat-things I no longer need, I can’t help noticing there was literally not enough room for her in my life.

But the silence.

I never thought the house could be too quiet.

I was wrong.

The silhouette of a black cat painted on a wall along a paved alleyway

Inside Depression

A figure walks away from the camera into the fog on a wooden path through treesIt’s been a rough spring. The clouds won’t quit. They’re damping down my everything. I replaced my SAD light bulb, but my light meter showed no change. So I waived my no-new-charges credit card policy just this once, and bought a new light, only to get the same readings. So much for the light meter. But whether the light is too weak or my SAD is too strong, I don’t need a meter to tell me it isn’t enough.

I keep up with housework, just. Since I mostly work from home, I don’t have to shower, get dressed, or go out in public. That helps. But I am impatient with my cat, snarky on social media, and racked with anxiety after the 15th of every month. Will I make the rent?? I stop buying groceries, make do with what I have on hand. It is dispiriting not to be able to afford something as basic as food. So far, things have always come together in the nick of time, but this month, I don’t see how that could happen.

I still have a part-time job, a holdover from my previous profession. Though the circumstances are about as good as a job of its type could possibly get, the contrast with my new work, which hardly seems like work at all, has made it clear just how much I hate that job, have hated it for years. It pays about 3/4 of my rent, so I can’t afford to give it up. And yet I can’t get myself to go in, putting it off until right before payday, then having to work all my hours over a short period.

Meanwhile, my business has fallen off. I’m not sure if this is due to changes in my advertising venue, or the advent of competition in a niche I previously had pretty much to myself, but most of my business these days is with previous clients. Which is gratifying in its own way, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. Why does an urgent need for self-promotion always rear its toothy head when I feel least able to put myself on display and take risks?

Not that I am completely defeated by challenges. HSP overwhelm is an emotional reaction, not true information about my abilities, I remind myself. I apply objective measures: It’s really huge that I am able to pay all of my bills each month, without adding anything to my credit card debt, for the first time in years. I have even been able to move some of the highest interest debt to lower interest cards. In the big picture, I am right on course in my long range plan.

I respond to emotional needs with common sense problem-solving. To fend off monthly funk and fear, I started tithing a percentage of every dollar earned straight to savings. This would be a great response to overspending. Unfortunately, the current problem is underearning.

I can’t seem to get much emotional mileage out of reality-checking and practical measures. They are lost in the shadow of the doldrums of today, which loom so much larger than the distant unknowable future. Depression takes the spark out of your plug. When the sun is out, to think is to act. When it’s not, the chasm between the two is impassable. All I want to do is nothing.

I have some major projects on my list. As you might imagine, they are well and truly stalled. Any tenuous flicker of interest that manages to penetrate the fog is swiftly extinguished by oversized expectations. But I’m getting past that a little, nurturing those tiny flames by not feeding them too much too soon. “Just do one thing,” I whisper to myself. And I do, and maybe a few days later, I do one more thing. After awhile, I am almost surprised when the progress is visible.

But no boost lasts long, not when another day dawns and it’s as overcast as the one before. I fear sunny weather may never kick in. We have summers like that sometimes. I’m in a holding pattern, and it’s getting really old.

Good News: People are Figuring This Out Younger

An artistic rendition of a giraffe, made up of many different colored shapes.If you are facing a crisis of livelihood | identity | values | reality orientation, check out this article: How to Pick a Career (That Actually Fits You)

It pleases me to see a 29 year-old figuring out what I didn’t figure out until 59. I kinda thought I sensed a cultural paradigm shift, but I feared that was just wishful thinking. I am reassured.

So, why is there a psychedelic giraffe in this post? I thought it was because I saw it on Pixabay today, loved it, and was too impatient to share it to wait until I wrote some post for which it is a relevant visual analogy. But maybe it’s a relevant visual analogy for THIS post after all…

Teachings of the Bubble Shooter

Screnshot of a half-finished bubble shooter gameLife lessons can come from unexpected sources – snippets of overheard conversation in a public place, serendipitous discoveries while channel surfing, surprising insights from acquaintances who didn’t seem to be paying that much attention.

And then there’s the bubble shooter. Bubble shooters have everything I like in a game – color, shape, matching. And they avoid most of what I don’t like. Despite the shooting, nothing gets hurt. The bubbles don’t even break.

But the best thing about bubble shooters is that they cut right to core truths that should have been obvious but weren’t. Here are a few things bubble shooter games have taught me.

That deer in the headlights is me.

I wasn’t really conscious of just how disabling time pressure is to me until I started playing with bubble shooters. It stops me cold. I become flustered, make mistakes and miss opportunities. When I ended up stuck for months on levels where decisions must be made 100% swiftly and accurately to advance, I realized I hadn’t paid enough attention to the impact of time pressure on the rest of my life. I switched professions (and found some non-timed bubble shooter games).

Some things in life are harder, and that’s OK (within reason).

Check the reviews of any bubble shooter game, and you’ll find people complaining about how the bubbles don’t go where you point them. This is intentional, of course. Easy levels are fun and affirming, but if they were all easy, there would be no sense of achievement. After awhile, success without effort would become boring. On the other hand, if every level was difficult, the game would be arduous and dispiriting. I have sometimes wished for an obstacle-free “rest” life when the scales were tipped too heavily towards adversity, but I ultimately discovered I need a balance of accomplishment and challenge to be happy.

Get your priorities straight.

What bubble shooters revealed about the randomness (and ineffectiveness) of my tactics shocked me, but it did explain a lot. I have spent most of my life feeling confused about priorities. Or so I thought. Actually, my priorities were fine, I just lacked the confidence to follow through on them. I never realized how badly this messed up my life until I noticed how frequently I chose an action that would end a game instead of one that would continue it, even when I could easily predict these outcomes. This was not so much self-sabotage as cognitive dissonance between my behavior and my goals. Bubble shooters taught me to become conscious of my top priorities, and properly weight them to take precedence over everything else.

The ad-free version is worth the 99¢.

I played a favorite game for years, fuming at the distracting, annoying, and sometimes outright offensive ads, ranting about them in reviews, even downloading other apps to try and suppress them. The ad-free version was only 99¢, but I was damned if I was going to be harassed into buying something. Finally, I really looked at that decision and realized how bizarre (and more than a little control-freaky) it was to view paying a buck for something that gave me hours of pleasure as losing a power struggle.

Sooner or later you will conquer even the hardest levels.

This is the most telling lesson of all. I have been stuck for weeks or even months at the same level, playing it hundreds of times, often with steadily diminishing hope that I would ever make it through. And yet, I always did, eventually. When I learned to regard failure as an essential stage of generating new strategies, I finally found one that worked.

Overlapping circles of color against a pastel background

Looking Up from the Bottom of the Year

A closeup of the sun against a dark sky showing solar flares, and a silhouette of long grass at the bottom.
When poets refer to the “dark night of the soul,” or gasp “more light!” with their dying breath, I know exactly how they feel. As a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder, my personal objective each winter is:

Just get through it.

So it will probably not surprise anyone that today, the Winter Solstice, is my favorite holiday. Last night was the longest night (and shortest day) of the year. Starting today, each span of daylight gets a little bit longer for the next 6 months. There is another month or more of chilly weather ahead, but I made it through the bottom of the year, a very heartening milestone.

The head of a roaring bearWinter with SAD is an endless round of rediscovering, when I notice that I have become snappish and utterly unmotivated, that I need to tend to my light therapy, get my sleep cycle back on a reasonable schedule, and/or spend more time outdoors. I don’t even try to curb my carbohydrate consumption. With the limited energies of the season, I have to pick my battles.

What would it be like to live on the equator, with 12 hour days and 12 hour nights year round? The consistency would be a relief, but I’d sure miss the 16 hour days at the other end of the year.

I have tried to calculate what shape and orbit and tilt would be required for a planet with my ideal weather (58-72 degrees, 365 sunny days a year and rain only at night), but my limited knowledge of astronomy fails me. And honestly, if it’s impossible, I don’t want to know. We all need our winter dreams.

Plant-covered stone sculpture of woman sleeping stretched out on the ground as if she is halfway under the earth.