This was the prompt at a writing workshop I attended. Here is where it took me…down a long meandering path. I hope you might see yourself and your family in these stories and know you are not alone.
My house is small by US middle-class standards, but we live in a beautiful rural community just 40 minutes from San Francisco, so I’m not complaining! It was a summer cottage built in 1929.
I kept saying to my clients that everyone’s house is going to shrink continually during this pandemic. It was true for me as well.
In March of 2020, my son came home from Amherst College to study online from his bedroom in our small home. Also in March, we got a kitten. She had been a long time coming because our beloved house cat, Sassy, passed in January 2019. Sassy helped raise my son Asher–she was his fourth mother (but that’s a story for another time.) Sassy saved Asher’s life three times when he was a highly active, highly intense, highly sensitive, fast approaching toddler. But, I digress. Remind me to tell the Sassy stories in a webinar someday, maybe the next time we do temperament.
Doc, the new kitten filled our home with love and energy…and new chores. Asher, the 19 year old college student, filled our home with love and frustration(his) and hard work(his). We pitched a couple of tents in the backyard. One came to be called “The Sanctuary” and the other became Asher’s Room (his private room outside of the crowded house.) As summer progressed, we adopted a puppy, too. Now that fills us up totally. Banjo, a FUTURE therapy dog, is a handful of joy and rebellion. Our family has grown during the pandemic, and that’s no small thing for a couple in their mid-50s. But we knew the kitten and puppy would have a better coexistence if they met while both young.
Here we are at the end of May 2021. The child is 20 and the animals are one and 1.5 years old. We have managed and found a way for the three adults to all work from home much of the time. Scheduling time alone in the house was one very important “pivot”–it means the other family members have to agree to be gone at the same time.
My son began his dream job this spring, working as an emergency medical technician on 911 ambulances in Oakland, California. As a highly sensitive youth and highly sensitive man, Asher makes a wonderful EMT. He was telling me this week about the cutest five year old girl with a headache. Her household was very chaotic and the child seemed dehydrated and hungry. The partner drove the ambulance so sensitive Asher could ride in back with the little girl. He was as touched by her as he was by the massive trauma he saw arrive at the hospital while he was there. You may have guessed that he is a high sensation seeker like his mom. We love the stimulation even though it can wear us out and down.
I learned these past 16 months that I like not going to too many places or seeing too many people. I am an introvert like 70% of highly sensitive people. I learned to wear a mask and didn’t get any colds or flus that whole year! Hmm. Maybe I learned to appreciate masks.
I learned to utilize video. I created a YouTube channel and am slowly growing my subscribers. Please help by subscribing here. If I ever get to 1000, it will have advertisements and might even support itself one day. It takes no small amount of time and skill (that I don’t have) to produce, edit, and market those videos, even at my current low tech level. I stressed about how I looked on video for about four months, then learned to “soften my appearance” a smidge with Zoom. Then I learned to ignore myself on screen much the same way as I ignore myself in the mirror, even while putting on makeup or blow drying my hair (how does one do that?)
I went through three laptops because it became the most important tool in my work and the slightest problem was huge for me. (Luckily, my awesome I-T guy told me to buy the extended warranty thing, so the new ones were free!) I learned what tools I needed to be reliable and who really shows up in the world from customer service (not impressed by Microsoft most of the year) to friends (like Heidi Skye and Daniel Martin, two colleagues who kept me informed on the Covid front with their exhaustive research, sharp minds, and compassionate healing.)
I learned to ask for and hire help. And I gave a lot. I didn’t learn anything new about giving. I’ve always loved being a good citizen and practicing the principle of Giver’s Gain, a term coined by Ivan Misner, founder of BNI (Business Network International), a wonderful organization which for the past five years has turned me into a business woman. Before, I was just a therapist, parent, and horse trainer. The business piece escaped me my entire life before BNI.
I’m still looking for that elusive housecleaner who can put up with me and will keep doing a good job even after the third time. It’s hard to be so particular and so sensitive. Yes, you have to use my environmentally friendly, unscented, plant-based cleaners, and YES you still have to get things clean. It takes more elbow grease with vinegar than it does with bleach. That means we do the cleaning, and it isn’t very clean. Alas.
There came a day this year when I woke up and said, I am not having enough fun. My mentors have been pressing me to take a weeklong retreat each month for a few years now, and I started trying really hard to do that. It’s wonderfully restorative, and it is scary on a financial basis, but so is burnout. And, I have committed myself to start riding my horses again. I’m even horse shopping for the next baby I will raise. I figure if I time it right, this baby will be my riding horse for my 60s and 70s. Unlike my mom, I don’t think my body will still want to ride in my 80s. The joints are already pretty rusty.
And about retreat, remember the research that recently came out and confirmed what we all knew already? It said that the highly sensitive brain remains active even in a resting state. That is why, on my last retreat, it was the third day before I actually slept in a little bit. How exhausting to need to schedule 3 days to rest up from life before I actually start resting. No wonder Elaine Aron keeps taking month long and six month long sabbaticals (and even includes her monthly weeklong meditation retreats during them!) She’s my idol. One day I’ll grow up and do that, I promise!