I’m a Highly Sensitive, Introverted, Working Mum: How I (try to) work with it.

Do you ever get that sensation that everything is a bit too much; overwhelming even? The sounds are too loud, the lights are too bright, the room too hot, your clothes too scratchy? I do. I get it a lot. I find myself needing to snatch the remote, turn the sound down, dim the lights and strip down (NOT like that) and just breathe deeply. Or yell “do we live in a three-ring circus!?” and storm out dramatically. Depends on the day.

Or do you ever come out of a movie theatre, or play, or listen to a band, and feel inspired to the point where you are somehow changed; maybe you walk a little taller and with purpose; feel a sense of urgency to make some changes in your own life; find some meaning in the world that you hadn’t pondered on before; feel an indescribable heart-sadness, or nostalgia, or another feeling that you just can’t explain? Where you don’t want to speak to anyone, or come out of that magical space, but are forced out by the fact that the credits are rolling, and the ushers are cleaning up the popcorn, or your friends are waiting on you with a slight air of impatience? And do you get so confused when your friends move on to “where should we go eat?”, or begin to critique the special effects or acting, when in truth you didn’t even notice these things, for you were too busy having an out-of-body experience? Hey, me too!

Or are you really naturally empathetic? You pick up on other people’s moods to the nth degree? Where you worry for hours after you’ve left a person because they gave you a “funny look” and you know… YOU KNOW (!) that something is wrong (usually you think that they are mad with you), even though other people you confess this to will tell you that you’re being paranoid?

Guess what? Turns out that these types of things have a name; it’s called being a “Highly Sensitive Person” or HSP. It turns out that there is a fairly significant correlation between being a HSP and being an Introvert (something like 70% of HSPs are also Introverts) so apparently I’m not (that) strange – who knew?

I am definitely an Introvert, as well as a HSP. This means, I gain my energy from within myself (NOT from others like an Extrovert does), and feel pretty drained when I’m around lots of people for an extended period of time. Working in a people-oriented job and having a toddler at home, this basically means when I’m around more than a couple of people in general for any amount of time in my outside-work life. And when you’re highly sensitive as well as Introverted, this can mean that as well as NOT having your re-charging “me-time” you are also “leaking energy” by taking on other people’s feelings, even the ones who aren’t necessarily talking about their feelings, on top of a hundred other sensory stimuli that are affecting you more than others.

In addition to our social worlds and workplaces, HSPs and Introverts must also take into account what it will be like when they have children. Because children are a gift! BUT they are also loud, emotional, egocentric, and like to be TOUCHING.ALL.THE.TIME. Having children as a HSP and an Introvert means (for a while, while they are young and 100% dependant on you) that you do have to make sacrifices, that probably don’t seem like much of a sacrifice to those who aren’t HSPs or Introverted; It’s not always possible for me to have my body to myself, or to turn down the volume or the lights on the world. I’m happy (somewhat) to make these sacrifices on an everyday basis, because I love my son, and he’s worth it; but this does not mean it doesn’t all get a bit much sometimes.

So I’ve been working on ways to combat this; by making a habit of filling up my “emotional tank” when I can, so that when the moments come where I need to be “on” with people (at work or at home) I can do it to the best of my ability, and be the best mum and Psychologist I can be. For me, things that fill my emotional tank are:

Reading:

Proust reflected on reading as the “miracle of a communication in the midst of solitude”. It truly is a miracle for me! Reading provides me with experiences, people and ideas that I would never have been exposed to before, without the inevitable drainage that comes with other types of full-on social interactions. Between those magical dust covers (or Kindle cover for me these days, as I’m woefully short on bookshelves and space) is an opportunity to breathe in freely, entirely in my comfort zone.

Writing:

Writing journals, stories, and now writing this blog is the exhale to the inhale that is reading – a beautiful quote by Justine Musk and the inspiration for this blog’s name. It’s another opportunity for me to have communication with others in the midst of solitude; it’s strange that Introverts like me will feel comfortable to share their lives via social media in this way, but it does happen pretty often and I think the Proust quote is a good explanation as to why. We Introverts do actually love people too, just in different contexts to Extroverts (I.e. not all at once, and in certain environments ideally).

Quiet Sensory Time:

This is a tricky one, because as a working parent of a toddler, there is limited time to engage in it. I’d love to be able to say “go get a hot stone massage” or “do a yoga class” but for me it’s not practical. We have no nearby family (aka babysitters); so even though hubby and I juggle enough to be able to mow the lawns, clean the house, cook and wash ourselves (usually) for the most part when we are not at work, it’s all hands on deck.

But I have found some “hacks” that allow me to parent and have quiet sensory time at the same time. The sandpit is a good one. Sand is calming and soothing for me, and I can repeatedly fill up buckets of sand with a scoop for an hour quite happily, sitting in the warm sun (as can my son), and find a sense of peace doing it. A warm bath is another; If I give him a few bath crayons, I can lay back and relax (watching him of course!) while he happily makes murals in the bathtub (unfortunately this skill has generalised to the walls AND the carpet in the new house, but hey, can’t win them all!) A long walk is good too; my son sits quite happily in the pram as long as there is stuff to look at, so I can go for a walk outside and push the pram, and though I’m not alone, I can feel like I am for a minute. For double the amount of time if I also provide him with a container of food that takes a lot of time and concentration to eat, like pea and corn kernels, or sultanas.

So, these are just a few of the small ways I keep my head, and keep my energy tank filled. When I do find myself in the yelling, exhausted, or “freaking out” space, it is invariably at times when I haven’t been doing these types of things. We need to remember that we are important, and the people around us (including our kids, partners, colleagues and clients) are better off when we are filled, happy, and energised. SELF CARE IS NOT SELFISH. Sometimes we need to reflect on what keeps us filled up, and what drains us. Of course, it’s not always going to be possible to avoid what drains us, especially at work and as parents, so what fills us up, and what are some creative ways to manage our time so that we can actually do them? Some life hacks, if you will. I’m always after tips on this subject, so if you have any ways that you fill your tank between work and parenting, please let me know!

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