When I was about fifteen or sixteen, I had to write a kind of list poem for my English studies. I think I called it something like ‘Nervousness’ and it was a whole list of things that made me feel ‘nervousness’. My teacher corrected me, writing that ‘anxiety’ was a better word to use. She may have been right, but I still think ‘nervousness’ has the right kind of twang to it. It seems to better describe the anticipation/anxiety that lingers in my stomach before any event of importance to me.

Anyway. My point is this: it was a long list. Now that I’m aware that I’m a highly sensitive person (HSP) the ‘nervousness’ makes sense. It is mostly about anticipation; it is normal for a highly sensitive person to seemingly ‘overreact’ to certain situations yet to come. For me, there is BAD anticipation and GOOD anticipation. Normally, I don’t like to use words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but you know what, for anxiety these words fit!

GOOD anticipation can make my stomach flutter and twist at the mere thought of something that I’m looking forward to, such as meeting with loved ones or friends; a good TV programme, a yummy meal, a chance to do some art… the list goes on.

BAD anticipation was at its peak when I did my piano exams when I was a teenager. The coming piano exam would loom large and fill me with dread, twisting my stomach into knots, days before the actual event. Then hours and minutes beforehand it was all I could think of… my stomach would threaten to empty its contents, my legs turned to jelly and my hands became sweaty. (The aforementioned sweaty hands are not good for a pianist!) I didn’t tell anyone about my anxiety – externally I must have looked okay, and I managed to sit the exams and pass. But, but, but… those nerves were dreadful. Joanne Limburg is spot on when she termed her anxiety ‘my Unbearable Feeling’ in her excellent book The Woman Who Thought Too Much. For me it is (almost) unbearable too.

I recently had to dialogue with somebody about something that I felt passionately about. It had the potential to be stressful. Days beforehand I worried about it, thinking through various hypothetical conversations, what phrases I should use… On the actual day of the dialogue I got myself into a right old pickle, crying on the loo… my stomach threatening to empty its contents, my legs turning to jelly and my hands becoming sweaty. Not good for a grown-up with a Ph.D., a mother of two, a professional…

Like most of the other situations that I’ve been anxious about though, it ended up being fine. I looked okay from the outside; I spoke calmly and it went okay. But afterwards I had a good cry. It was all so overwhelming. It’s at times like these that I hate being an HSP. Hate it.

Focussing on breathing, being mindful of the actual present moment can all help in the run-up to the stressful event, but I’ve not yet found myself to be able to fully control my nerves. Perhaps it’ll take a lifetime of trying. I don’t know.

Is there anything useful about these nerves? Well, they tell me that I care deeply about certain things. And despite putting myself into a situation that is high-stress (in my view), I can do it. I can do the stressful ‘thing’ (and cope with ‘the unbearable feeling’) and come through the other side.

I recently started Zentangling (learning from this wonderful book) and one of my favourite Zentangles is called ‘Knight’s Bridge’ (basically a checkerboard pattern of black and white squares). Getting through the stressful situation is like crossing a ‘Knight’s Bridge’. If I can see that I’m doing the stressful thing because it is of benefit to me or my family (or simply the right thing to do) then that helps. It is also good to know that there is an end in sight. Perhaps afterwards I can even feel a little ‘knightly’ for having done the thing and endured ‘the unbearable feeling’. This zentangle will be a small reminder that there will always be bridges to cross, hurdles to overcome. The ‘unbearable feeling’ may always want to tag along while I’m crossing the bridge, but who knows, maybe one day it’ll get bored and go away; and whether or not it’s there, I’m still going to cross the bridge.


Zentangle, featuring Knight's Bridge, by Marija Smits

Zentangle, featuring Knight’s Bridge, by Marija Smits


Many thanks to Amanda at WriteAlm for the writing prompts :-)




Of course I love to look upwards and gaze at the beauty of the stars. Looking at the constellations is a potent reminder of just how small I am; of how insignificant human life is. My troubles are as nothing to the vastness of the sky and the magnitude of the universe… How wonderful that the Creator filled the sky with all those points of light; all those colours produced by the setting sun, the rising sun, the many fantastic effects of the planets and other heavenly bodies. I cannot help but try to imagine how it felt to create all that beauty…

Yet of course us humans do not lead our lives gazing up at the stars. We turn our minds to more mundane matters; work, chores and of course, our own troubles.

How wonderful it is then to get a marvellous reminder of the wonder of human creativity and of the enormity of the infinitesimally small?

Just the other day my children and I began to do some marbleizing (marbling). According to my husband we were engrossed in this for almost 2 hours. It was engrossing! It was simply fascinating watching the acrylic inks drop onto the surface of the marbling solution, and then float and grow. We swirled the colours with wooden toothpicks, producing all kinds of constellation-like effects with the pigments, and we revelled in their beauty.

So perhaps we experienced a little of the Creator’s joy when creating the constellations. We manipulated matter and were delighted as we watched the larger effects of molecules interacting, dancing, creating new and unique constellations… We created our own universe. And it was good.


Marbling 'blue and white and red galaxy' by Marija Smits and family

Marbling ‘blue and white and red galaxy’ by Marija Smits and family



Multicoloured universe by Marija Smits and family

Multicoloured universe by Marija Smits and family


And if you’d like to have a go at marbling this is helpful:

Many thanks to Amanda at Writealm for the writing prompts :-)

Overwhelm and holidays

Before we went on holiday last month I was exhausted. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up work-wise, writing-wise, art-wise and the inevitable huge list of chores to do before we were suitably ready to finally leave the house…

I was very ready for a holiday. I took my laptop with me so that I could write but in the end I never even opened it. Getting away from home was good for me, and good for us as a family. I had a few very early nights, falling asleep when the kids went to sleep, and a few nights I stayed awake long enough to have a cup of decaf tea and to chat with my husband. We took our time to get ready in the mornings, spent most of the days at the beach (one day at a dinosaur-themed park) and also visited a castle. The only ‘officially’ creative thing I did was to sketch. Spare moments (mostly on the loo!) were spent reading.


Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits, August 2014

Sketch of shell, by Marija Smits (August 2014)


Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)

Sketch of view from Coppett Hall beach, by Marija Smits (August 2014)




A lot of the time I find myself just about ‘holding things together’ and I (mostly) fool myself into thinking that it’s manageable. This is probably because it is difficult to admit to being overwhelmed by looking after two children, running a household, trying to keep a small press afloat and maintaining enriching relationships with members of my family (and myself!). It is the age-old issue of pressure: pressure on oneself to be more than human and (perceived) pressure from society to be super-human.

From the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, I remembered reading about ‘chronic overarousal’ (or chronic overwhelm). This is when stress/anxiety levels have remained high for a long enough period to turn the highly sensitive person into a gibbering wreck. It also makes the person even more sensitive to stimulation, so that a small issue immediately becomes huge, so the whole thing feeds itself, becoming a cycle of overwhelming anxiety that is hard to break.

I think that before our holiday I had got to this state of chronic overwhelm. So reducing the amount I had to do, getting more sleep and more time out in nature all helped to put me on a more even keel.

Now that my eldest has been at school for more than a week I am getting back into the swing of things, and I am trying to remember the importance of keeping chronic overwhelm at bay, to keep going at a pace that isn’t too frantic…

There is a nip in the air; the soil is dry and tree leaves are beginning to turn red, gold, brown… I lament the loss of the summer, the passing of another season and a season so full of light, energy, things to do… Yet, autumn is a reminder that nature, itself, slows down. I would do well to heed that message.


A week ago yesterday school broke up. On that last day of term I took my eldest (youngest in tow, as usual) to school, and the mood in the playground was celebratory. Children, and parents alike, were glad that the holidays were almost here. Yet there were tears too.

On the way to school I had noticed a mother sitting in her car, having already dropped off her child, crying secret tears. I guessed that she had a child in the last year of primary school and that this could well be her last school run.

Sigh… the last school run.

The move from primary to secondary school is a big one. There are many such moves, or transitions, in life and for those of us blessed with a sensitive soul they can be particularly fraught.

For mothers these periods of transitions — milestones if you will — are another reminder of things past… a phase in our child’s life that will never be repeated. And as much as we rejoice in their achievements and look forward to the good times in the future it is bitter, this cup.

There are many times that I’ve thought that I’d like to preserve my children, just as they are, right now. I would like this moment in time frozen, preserved forever, like the swirl of glass in a marble. For a happy childhood is a jewel indeed.

Yet it is not to be. And it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. This is what it is to be human.

But still… I long for control; to be more-than-human, to have the ability to speed up, or slow, or freeze time.

Yet it is not to be.

I can no more preserve this moment in time than a glass-blower can produce a marble without heat.


Marble, by Marija Smits

Marble, by Marija Smits



With many thanks to Amanda at Writealm for continuing to provide this writer with inspiration :-)

And p.s. if you want to draw a marble like mine above, go check out: It is an absolute treasure-trove of useful art-related stuff!


A prizewinning week [or] subjectivity vs objectivity

Despite my husband being away last week, and so it being an incredibly hectic week, it was a good week. There was Sports Day and the local horticultural, arts & crafts show and the funfair and the local open arts festival… and I wanted all of us to somehow take part in all of these events. Thankfully, my mum came to stay with us for a few days so I got some much-needed (and greatly appreciated) help. While she played with my youngest I mounted and framed some of my pictures which were then ‘on show’ in the local open arts festival. I also entered a different set of pictures for the horticultural, arts & crafts show and I also encouraged my children to get involved by entering some of their own pictures.

Three pictures, by Marija Smits (entered in local open arts festival)

Three pictures, by Marija Smits (entered in local open arts festival)

It was all rather busy, but we had fun. My daughter came third in the beanbag-on-the-head race and fourth in the skipping race. My son came first in the toddler race. They both loved taking part – and I even ran in the mums’ race (while carrying my son!).

On the Saturday, before we went to the horticultural, arts & crafts show (via the funfair of course) to see if our pictures had received any prizes my daughter and I had a conversation about subjectivity and objectivity. We discussed how the judges of ‘creative’ competitions have a difficult task – they need to be able to take into account so many things in their choices, for example: the composition of the picture, the skill in the brushwork (or pencil marks), the choice of colour palette, subject matter etc. but ultimately it’s very much a subjective decision – one that is based on feeling and intuition, rather than facts. Judging a sports competition is easier since it is just about the facts. Who covered the set distance in the shortest time? Who threw the ball (or javelin) the furthest? At the end of a day, there is no right way to paint a picture, though there are of course various tried-and-tested routes to producing a picture which is realistic and pleasing to the eye.

My daughter was philosophical when her picture didn’t get awarded a prize, and she was generous in her ‘well dones’ when her brother and I each received third prize.

Then the very next day, at the local arts festival, my daughter received first prize for a photo she’d taken of her brother. She won a bar of chocolate and a Hobbycraft voucher (this is very, very welcome) and so we got to be generous with our ‘well dones’. It was a lovely way to round off the week, and the chocolate has been a big hit!

So although I’m not a big fan of ‘judging’ others’ creations (descriptive recognition is my big thing) I felt that overall it was worth taking part. It was good to feel part of a community sharing and enjoying each other’s creativity and I think that we all got enthused and inspired to produce more art for next year. I think that this has to be the ultimate creative goal, to simply make more because it is enjoyableand as a byproduct to ‘making more’ the artistic skills also happen to improve. Double bonus!

As for the chocolate, I swear I haven’t even had the tiniest nibble, although I have asked for a bit just the once or twice… ;-)





Last weekend we didn’t really need to be anywhere, so we decided to catch up with the gardening. While the two little ones harvested strawberries and raspberries, waved bamboo canes around and dug holes in the soil I weeded, pruned and then thinned the carrots. This task – the thinning of the carrots — is a job I’ve done nearly every year for the past 10 years.

It’s one of those jobs that I don’t particularly like (and actually, I like most gardening jobs – especially weeding!) but as I was doing it I experienced a moment of clarity as I was struck by the thought that this task is a useful analogy for one of the major things going on in my life at the moment.

In case you’re not aware of what happens in the thinning of the carrots, it’s this: a row of small carrots (growing very densely) is thinned out by plucking out the majority of the carrots, leaving only a handful of carrots in the row. These carrots now have enough space around them to grow and thrive. I’m left with a mighty handful of small carrots which will die a death (of sorts) on the compost heap.

Carrot thinnings, photo by Marija Smits

Carrot thinnings, photo by Marija Smits

I have a lot going on in my life at the moment, and I’m aware that I’m becoming overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I have to (or want to) do. It’s bittersweet – this realization that you can’t do everything, or see everything, or be involved in everything that you want to be. If you try to do everything it’s inevitable that many of the tasks you try to do won’t be done to the high standard you wanted them done. Or some tasks won’t get done at all. If all the carrots were left to grow I’d probably harvest a goodly amount of small carrots – not enough to make a substantial meal from, but good enough for a nibble. However, in all honesty, I want the big carrots (and no matter what funny shape they are!). I want to make a proper meal out of them.

However, I do find it difficult to pull out all those little carrots – they’re so full of life and potential – and yet if I don’t I’m not being fair on the others since they don’t get a chance to really thrive and grow and become something BIG. And then I worry; but how do I know that I’m getting this right? How do I know that I’ve plucked out the ones that should be plucked out? Maybe they’re the ones that would go on to do really well?

There’s no scientific experiment that can come to my aid. I simply trust to my intuition and go with what feels right. My eyes focus on one particular carrot and I just kinda know that it’s going to do well, and so I keep it in. Of course, when it comes to deciding on what to keep in or out of my life I spend much more time reflecting on the decisions I have to make, but ultimately, I still rely on my intuition. It’s hard to decide what you’re not going to do anymore. It’s hard to pluck those things out of your life. But ultimately, making those difficult choices brings clarity, and light, and space, and air to breathe and thrive and grow.


Thanks again to Amanda at WriteAlm for the writing prompts – they are much appreciated :-)



Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’

This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.


Sensitivity by Marija Smits

Sensitivity by Marija Smits



(a tanka)


Noise, movement, people,

chaos; my jangled senses

fret – rebel. I long

for quiet solitude, but

finding none I turn within.




When I used to teach biology at secondary school one of the first things I had to explain was ‘The 7 Signs of Life’. We used a helpful acronym – Mrs Nerg – to remind us of these 7 characteristics of all living things:








I immediately picked up on the word ‘sensitivity’ – what a beautiful sounding word! But what exactly did it mean? Well, in essence, it means that all living things display sensitivity, which is the ability to detect changes in their environment. At the time I didn’t think much about how sensitivity applied to me (I was too busy explaining how bacteria and plants display sensitivity) but now sensitivity is something that I think about a huge amount.

After reading Quiet by Susan Cain, my amorphous thoughts on sensitivity became much more concrete. I wrote about my take on Quiet here, and how I found it to be a powerful read. In Quiet, the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron was referenced to quite a bit, and, thirsty for more information about sensitivity I bought it and am currently relishing every page. This is from the preface:

“Cry baby!”


“Don’t be a spoilsport!”

Echoes from the past? And how about this well-meaning warning: “You’re just too sensitive for your own good.”

Although the first three ‘echoes from the past’ weren’t a strong trigger for me – the last one was. After hearing this from trusted people on several occasions (and hearing it from myself too!) I was pretty sure that I was somehow ‘broken’. After all, the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up. But Elaine Aron goes on to explain:

Having a sensitive nervous system is normal, a basically neutral trait. You probably inherited it. It occurs in about 15-20 percent of the population. It means you are aware of subtleties in your surroundings, a great advantage in many situations. It also means you are easily overwhelmed when you have been out in a highly stimulating environment for too long, bombarded by sight and sounds until you are exhausted in a nervous-system sort of way. Thus, being sensitive has both advantages and disadvantages.

So when I realized that it really is okay to be sensitive – that’s it merely about physiology I felt so much better. Understood. On a more even keel. It doesn’t take away the stress I feel when I do the school run or walk through a busy shopping centre or go to an event – all those people! all that noise! all that movement! – but it makes me appreciate the advantages – the fact that I am moved by the sun filtering through a canopy of leaves, a musical phrase, a line of poetry, a book, or even a bunch of coloured pencils (this really is incredible exciting to me at the moment!). It means that I can spot typos, concentrate for long periods of time and pick up on subtle nuances in the emotional state of my loved ones. So there are some benefits, right?

I think it’s important to point out that it’s not only women who are highly sensitive. BOTH men and women can be highly sensitive. Our western society seems to allow for sensitivity in women (to a certain extent) but in men it’s not so desirable. After all – the world is a tough place, and you just gotta toughen up.  

But here is my answer: NO. I cannot toughen up; I cannot make myself less sensitive, and I will not put on a constant persona to become the gregarious, social extrovert that society wants me to be all the time. Remember my wild woman post? Being wild is about being true to oneself, and this is me – often brought to tears over something sad, beautiful, or funny: often stroking my children’s hair – because, really, it’s just so beautiful with its fine texture, gorgeous smell and myriad subtle colours: and often in a dream world too, turning inwards to find the much needed soul-reflection which provides me with refreshment…

Of course I have strategies for managing my sensitivity and I admit that I’m constantly working on keeping my boundaries in place so that I give myself sufficient quiet time and room and space to be me, while ensuring that I put myself ‘out there’ enough to keep me stimulated, my ideas fresh and motivation high. I often have to remind myself that it’s okay to assert myself and fight for my own rights. But we all have our challenges, we all have to find balance in our lives. Just knowing that others (eclectic others!) are like me and experience similar sensations helps a lot.

If any of this makes sense to you in any way, please do let me know. But quietly. [Although you probably figured that out ;-)]


Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant

Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:

The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!

and as a paperback from

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details here:

Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:

‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two of her own powerful, inspiring poems, and the stories behind them.

‘Sensitivity’Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.

Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’

‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.

‘Barbie speaks out’ — Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines shares a platform with feminist icon, Barbie.

‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.

Survivor writes about the inspiring life of La Malinche and her place in Mexican history at Surviving Mexico: Adventures and Disasters.

Sophelia writes about the importance of her community as a family at Sophelia’s Adventures in Japan.