High sensitivity and social media – some guidelines that help me

 

Day 2 of Inktober, by Marija Smits

Day 2 of Inktober, by Marija Smits

 

Although much has been written about the ills of social media, I have a sense that HSPs feel the lows (and highs) of online life more acutely. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I do believe that high sensitivity, accompanied as it usually is with empathy and a deep sense of conscientiousness, only heightens the experience of being involved in social media.

An analogy from real life: as I write this I’m sitting in the car in a car park as I wait for my son to finish his gymnastics session. For the last half hour it’s been quiet, but just now a man has pulled up beside me, the radio blaring. He then proceeds to have a loud conversation on his phone. I feel my nerves getting jangled; I begin to pick the skin around my thumb nail as my stress levels increase, tearing away at the skin as I quietly, anxiously, run through my options. I consider moving the car but then worry that he’ll get offended. Heaven forbid I offend someone with my need for peace and quiet. I tell myself to sit it out – after all, I will lose some precious writing time if I move the car. I remind myself that he’s no doubt unaware of my discomfort; the level of noise emanating from his car is his normal.

Minutes pass. Eventually, I can’t take it anymore. I move the car.

And there, in a nutshell, is the problem of social media for this HSP.

There are many people in this world; many of them use social media. They’re simply going about their everyday lives, expressing opinions, sharing news, what they’ve eaten for dinner, cat videos, whatever. There is nothing wrong with this. But what it ultimately results in is a lot of white noise. And many HSPs, me included, are very sensitive to noise. I have to remind myself that this sensitivity is okay. I am not at fault or broken. I just have a different level of tolerance for noise compared with others.

Life is challenging enough without the extra added (artificial) noise of social media. There are many times I’ve considered leaving Facebook and Twitter entirely. I mainly stay for two reasons: my publishing work and the core group of friends and supporters who value what I have to share and seem to actually care about what I post. You see, that’s another stress of social media for me – I feel bad for posting stuff about myself, knowing that I’m simply adding to the white noise and possibly increasing other people’s stress levels. It makes me scared to post; makes me want to run away and hide and keep silent. But when my friends respond in a positive way to something I’ve written I feel a deep well of gratitude in my heart. Being seen in this way means a lot. Because it speaks to a fundamental drive in humans: connection. E.M. Forster was right when, all those years ago, he wrote “only connect”. It’s as good a creed to live by as any.

On a practical level, then, how can an HSP navigate the noise and avoid overwhelm (as well as manage the addictive qualities of social media)? Well, like with the car guy, I will either have to tolerate it or protect myself by imposing boundaries. Tolerating it for more than only short periods of time will only lead to high stress levels though (and the skin off my thumb) so imposing boundaries has to be the way to go. So I put together the following list of things I do to help me manage my life on social media.

1. Write down why you’re there. As with most things in life, when one goes about a task with purpose, it is far more likely to be a successful venture. So before I go on social media I make a note of what it is I came there for, be it work or to post an arty/writing update on my own page, or to respond to a message/connect with a friend. It helps to keep me focussed, away from proscratination, and in and out of there before the noise gets too much.

 

Trees in autumn, photo by Marija Smits

Trees in autumn, photo by Marija Smits

 

2. Minimize “idle scrolling”. There are days when I simply don’t have time to check my feed at all (those are good days – right? – because it means I’m busy with important work such as admiring autumn trees, or busy at work/creating). Some days I easily lose an hour to scrolling through my feed. This usually results in me becoming overwhelmed by various emotions. So I’ve begun to limit the time I spend scrolling through my feed. Yes, I sometimes feel bad for not checking in with all my friends and responding to their news, but I also figure that if they’re true friends they’ll understand.

3. Curate your feed. Because I work (mainly) in the book world I have gained many lovely bookish Facebook friends. But as with any given group of people there is a certain percentage who are far more vocal than others. They post incredibly frequently and so their updates have a tendency to live at the top of your feed. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being vocal, but as with the car guy, sometimes it’s all a bit too much. I still want to be connected to them via Facebook, but a little distance is necessary. That’s when the unfollow button comes in useful by making one’s feed that little less noisy.

4. To unfriend or not to unfriend? Ah, now there’s a question! With an ever-growing number of friends/followers and friend requests I do wonder about this. After all, some people, on becoming my friend/follower proceed to have zero interaction with me (apart from asking me to like their page or whatever). And the sheer number of virtual friends I have on Facebook boggles my mind! I mean, in school, I had a couple of close friends and that was it. It was emotionally manageable. For the time being I’ve decided to not curtail my list of friends by hitting the unfriend button, but I may well change my mind about that. Interestingly, the people I have the most positive interactions with are the people I know in real life. (Barring the few not-quite-met-in-real-life writer friends who remain steadfastly inspiring and lovely.) So this is one I haven’t quite made my mind up about, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s always worth thinking carefully about who to friend (or not) in the first place. 

5. Set some ground rules. I know I can easily get addicted to computer games, so I’ve had to set a rule: it’s always a no to requests to play Candy Crush (or whatever). My whole life would pass in a blur if I was to ever start playing this. Likewise, my tiny bank account would empty tout-suite if I donated to every friend’s birthday fundraiser. Again, I feel bad that I can’t donate, but I’m sure people understand.

6. Impose a curfew. From past experience I know that ‘just hopping into an (apparently lighthearted) conversation’ before bedtime can lead to a lot of stress. Miscommunication is rife on social media. Crucially, social media doesn’t present you with the all-important body language of the person you’re engaging with. In real life HSPs are very good at picking up on these visual cues and sensing/intuiting people’s feelings (whatever face they’re presenting us with). On social media you get nothing, well, apart from emojis. (I can see their appeal – they certainly have their uses – but they’re not a substitute for the myriad and subtle emotions a real human being can express through their body.) So, 9 p.m. is my limit. Otherwise I may well end up going to bed full of unexpressed and not-worked-through emotions. Not good. Cue staying up half the night… (In addition to my self-imposed curfew I also try to stay off social media most Saturdays to keep this time for family only, if possible.)

7. Be mindful of how you message. Ah, now this is one I know I’m guilty of not always doing. Sometimes I need a quick response to something and so I pop a message on messenger or send a direct message via Twitter. But I also know that publishers (me included) find ourselves somewhat deluged by these kinds of messages. Email really is a much better way of communicating when it comes to work stuff. So, one to remind myself of – use email when possible!

8. Beware the troll! Thankfully, I’ve had a fairly sheltered online existence so far, but it hasn’t totally left me immune to the dreaded troll attack. Naif that I am I didn’t think someone would actually go out of their way to throw some outrage my way re: what I choose as my writer’s label. But they did – you can read about it here. And just the other day in a totally innocuous public thread (where I had mentioned that I’m writing a novella) a complete stranger made fun of my “novella” (the scare quotes were his). Now, I must admit that I was rather taken aback about this, but then I had a little chuckle when I told my husband about; he was mightily impressed that this person thought I’d invented a new category of novel. Indeed, I may well add this to my CV. Anyway, the point is that even though I *think* I have a pretty good handle on minimizing overwhelm via social media, every now and then they’ll always be someone who pops up and gives you a whack on the head. The key thing is to not feed the troll. (Better to use the energy on writing a blog post about them…!) 

9. Group dynamics. Groups can be a great way of meeting with like-minded people who are working on similar projects. But sometimes groups become so large and cumbersome, or your interests change and shift so that you forget why you ever joined in the first place. Stay in groups that are positive and supportive, and quietly leave the ones that are noisy and no longer chime with you. 

10. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” (Kurt Vonnegut). As with any human interaction, kindness is key. Social media has the power to amplify the unkindnesses and to make this HSP sometimes want to run a mile. But there are so many kind people out there. It’s worth finding your tribe online to connect with them and to share some much-needed philia. Just remember to be kind to yourself. Sometimes it’s a kindness to stay away if the noise is too overwhelming or you find yourself slipping into the horrible black hole of life/career comparison, outrage and unkindness.

 

Yorkshire puddings, photo by Marija Smits

Homemade Yorkshire puddings – now a staple of our mealtimes since a lovely, inspiring writer friend posted about her fond memories of this delicious comfort food. (I’d only ever previously bought ready made – and they’re really not as good as homebaked.)

 

So… for the time being I’m sticking with social media (with the above guidelines) but I do remind myself that this can always be reviewed. Social media is a tool just like any other man-made tool. And it’s worth reminding myself of that. It’s simply one way of communicating with other people. But there are other less overwhelming communication tools out there – remember the telephone? Letter writing? When I can I try to phone friends and colleagues or write; I find these ways of communicating enriching rather than overwhelming and I always appreciate getting phone calls and letters back.

I would love to hear from others HSPs about how they handle social media and to compare notes! (p.s. I don’t have a smartphone and don’t receive social media notifications in my email inbox. Another thing that helps me cope.)

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Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn

Like ice-cream, every summer holiday has its own particular “flavour”. Now that both my children have returned to school and I’m back from doing the morning school run I’m reflecting on the flavour of the six weeks that have just now passed.

There’s been a lot of sweetness and fun, particularly when on the odd occasion (they do happen!) that both my children have got on well and simply got on and played imaginative games. With the upcoming Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, which I’m excited about, we’ve been listening to Queen a lot, so impromptu rock concerts have been the thing… Oh, and we discovered that the lyrics to ‘We Are The Champions’ are very flexible and can be rewritten to suit any and every occasion… cue youngest belting out “We want our doughnuts, my friends”. You get the picture.

There’s been work too, as I made sure that both my children did their daily ‘mummy school’. (Basically, each summer they get to set their own timetable – which they love doing – and then I help them with my own version of schoolwork. It ensures that they haven’t completely forgotten their maths or English basics so that they feel more confident about their lessons when they do return to school.)

 

Dirty Bertie 'Rats'

 

The Dirty Bertie series of books have been the books of the holidays. I think we’ve almost exhausted them all, but we’re still keeping our eyes open for more in the series at the library.

It’s been hot. Ice-cream meltingly-hot. Well, apart from the one week we went to Wales when hot was suddenly unfashionable…

Coffee shop stop-offs (to help keep me caffeinated and semi-alert), trips to the park, float fun sessions at the swimming pool, as well as visiting charity shops to buy cheap DVDs for various movie nights have also been regular, welcome features. And cat Top Trumps and doodling games have kept us busy when we’ve been off the screen (we all love playing Minecraft and watching YouTube).

There have been some worries though too. Mostly about what the new year at school would be like (my eldest making the move up to secondary school). Cue lots of empathy from me and her dad, but also lots of reassurance. And chats about how life is a lot about accepting change, but also how change can bring about new growth.

Thankfully, my daughter’s first day at school (yesterday) seemed to go well, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that “big” school will continue to be a positive experience.

 

Coloured pencils, photo by Marija Smits

 

Obviously, the autumn days will bring us more cool weather and shorter days, and although I always bemoan the fading of the light, I am feeling excited about the season ahead. I have lots to keep me busy: my publishing work, my new Book Stewards blog, as well as a whole bunch of writing projects to be getting on with (mostly to do with science fiction and fantasy). Also, I have plenty of new books I’m aching to read and I have a desire to get out my colouring pencils again…

Wishing you all the best for your new season start!

On Failing my Best Friend (Again and Again)

 

I have this friend. Actually, she’s my best friend. We go way back, like, to before primary school.

 

When I was a child our friendship was free and easy. We explored the world together, dreamt big dreams, and simply played the summer days away. We were the best team ever.

 

But then teenagehood beckoned. I became more self-aware, self-conscious. And critical of others. I started to judge my friend, and secretly thought her rather ugly and stupid. I often wished her away; wished for a better-looking friend, a “cooler” friend. Yet through all my harsh unspoken (and sometimes spoken) criticism, she stuck by me. Even when, at university, I started to abuse her – making her smoke, drink and dabble in drug-taking (God, what I put her through!) – she still stuck by me.

 

Thankfully, when I met my husband-to-be, my life calmed down. I started to be nicer to my friend. Slowly, I began to recall our early years of play; the fun we’d had on those summer days, climbing trees, running through fields full of wildflowers, playing hide-and-seek. My friend forgave me my shameful behaviour, and supported me through my twenties; was happy for me when I got married and then became pregnant.

 

Actually, she was amazing throughout my pregnancy and birth. And especially brililant when breastfeeding was a challenge. She got me through the tough days; told me that that I could do it. That I could breastfeed my baby. And she was right. I did breastfeed both my children. For years.

 

And even in that time of early motherhood when I was often bad-tempered and crotchety through lack of sleep, she was simply there, quietly empowering and supporting me, every step of the way.

 

But now that those years have passed, and I’ve found my creative groove through my publishing work and writing and art, I’ve taken her untiring support for granted again. Pushed her beyond her capabilities by making her work too much, stay up too late; forcing her to eat and drink more than she wants to.

 

This time, she has said a resounding, ‘No. Enough is enough.’

 

This has come as quite a surprise to me. But it’s forced me to really look at her, to realize that, like me, she’s only getting older. At 42, it’s time to treat her with the respect she deserves.

 

Because my best friend is irreplaceable, unique.

 

My best friend is my body.

 

And she is amazing.

 

Reflections on a Decade of Mothering

As we near the end of the year I can’t help but look back. 2017 was a big ‘mothering year’ for me as my firstborn, my daughter, turned 10. A big milestone – for her, for me. It’s taken me a while to process this! So I wanted to share my reflections, but to sort them into two sections – a serious part, and a less serious part. Feel free to read one or the other, or both. 🙂

The new bike, photo by Marija Smits

The new bike, photo by Marija Smits

 

Reflections Part 1 (The Serious Part)

 

1. Strength

When my daughter (who is a highly sensitive person [HSP] like me) is worried about something – some upcoming event, some friendship issue – I always tell her that she is strong; that she can get through it and cope. She always disagrees, saying something like, ‘But I don’t feel strong!’

I do find it difficult to articulate how we all have this inner strength (especially when externally we don’t seem “strong” – physically, or even socially) but I show her the evidence – reminding her of times in the past when she got through difficult or stressful events. That seems to help (a bit). But this reflecting on her past also reminds me that my decade of mothering has helped me to tap into my inner strength. As a quiet, highly sensitive person, I often feel weak and wobbly – not strong at all – and then I remind myself: hey, you gave birth! That wasn’t “nothing”. And don’t forget the fights you fought on behalf of your baby girl and yourself: to continue to breastfeed when nearly everyone thought you were “cuckoo”: to continue to co-sleep and keep close to your girl for years and years… And the “fights” continue although, of course, they are different, centering mainly on school/academic issues, friendship and social issues. I don’t welcome the fights, but at least I can tell myself this: you are strong. You can handle this.

 

2. Empathy

When times have been acutely tough I’ve had to remind myself: hey, you’re the grown-up here. Deep breaths, tapping into the inner strength that I mentioned earlier, and digging deep for the empathy that’s always there but may have vanished temporarily for any number of reasons – sleep deprivation, hunger, lack of time to oneself – have absolutely turned a high-stress situation around. Humour, too, can be an amazing way to alleviate (or at least pause) a fraught situation. And this ‘honing’ of empathy has benefitted me in all areas of my life.

 

3. Compassionate Communication

For me, one of the biggest benefits of becoming a mother has been the discovery of my tribe (a group of like-minded mothers). I found my tribe when I went to La Leche League GB breastfeeding support meetings. And then I went on to become a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor. Part of the training to become a counsellor involved me learning about compassionate communication. Oh my goodness! Learning about this stuff was absolutely eye-opening; it really has made me aware of all the barriers to clear communication, and how to shift those barriers, and to also find the middle ground between passive and aggressive ways of communicating (it’s called asserting). For an HSP who finds it difficult to speak up and out it really has been a godsend. Check out my thoughts in the ‘life-changing books’ section of the blog if you want to know more.

 

4. Trusting your Instinct/Learning to Let Go

Gosh, this one’s tough! Again, part of maturity, to becoming a ‘whole’ individual – a true wild woman – is knowing when to let go. Accepting that your children have to grow, step away from you, fight their own fights, and make their own way in life is tough. This can feel absolutely heartbreaking, but it’s also necessary. The key is to listen to one’s own inner voice – a mother’s instincts have been well honed over time (we’re talking millennia here) – so we instinctively know when our child is, or isn’t, ready for taking on a new challenge. The trick is to listen to that voice and to be true to it (which can be especially hard when lots of other people have loud opinions that contradict yours).

 

My girl and me, photo courtesy T. Bellamy

Toddling days, photo courtesy T. Bellamy

 

5. Acceptance

Some parents have very specific ideas of who their children should be. They may have laid out whole career/life paths for them. It’s understandable to make plans and have dreams like these, but the reality of who our children really are often ‘upset’ these plans. That’s when a flexibility of outlook, open-mindedness, and non-judgement all come into their own. Our child may not be the genius academic/Olympic medal-winning gymnast/maths wizz that we wanted/expected them to be. What then? Accepting our children for who they are, just as they are, and supporting them in their own life choices is one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

 

6. Self-care

In the early years children’s needs – to be fed, to be held, to be close – are frequent and intense. This is natural. But meeting those needs (particularly without support from extended family/friends) can be tough, just because of the intensity and frequency of the needs. Asking for help can be difficult but often essential. When I was in the thick of cluster feeding, frequent night waking and round-the-clock nappy changing it felt as though this stage in my life would never pass. But of course it does. I now focus far more on meeting my needs. Like my need for exercise, eating healthy food, time for creativity, time with my husband. I remind myself that all these things are about investing in my children too. I want to stay as healthy (in mind and body) for as long as possible so that I can enjoy watching my children grow into adults; and maybe go on to have children of their own.

 

7. Boundaries

Another tough one; particularly as it’s something that I find hard in my day-to-day life too. Boundaries are about setting sensible limits for the kids (for instance, on things like screen time, eating junk food/sweets) as well as the precious ring-fencing of family time, sleep time etc. but of course this principle extends to other things – like when friends/family/colleagues impose themselves upon you and try to move past the boundaries you’ve made that keep you comfortable, safe, happy. That’s when saying things like, ‘no’, ‘enough’ or asserting in a diplomatic way (things that doesn’t always come easily to me) is ever so valuable. This takes practice, but it can be done, and will make your life better because YOU are the one in control. Sometimes saying ‘no’ to a social event/volunteering gig/work thing (so that you, the parent, have some precious time to yourself), or saying ‘no’ to your child when they whine for sweets is actually the most loving thing that you can do for yourself or your child. But it’s tough to do. And you’ll often have to deal with the immediate (and possibly) spiky consequences, but in the long term it will pay off.

 

8. Love

There’s nothing quite like going through the intensity of parenting to make you look at your partner with fresh eyes. To see their strength, their empathy, their fierce love is really quite something. I will always be grateful for having my husband alongside me in those intense years of parenting our babies. And I am glad to continue to have him alongside me as we venture into the future, the challenges of parenting not as intense perhaps, but still just as challenging, because of their complexity. Plus, I just happen to really really love him.

 

Walnut hearts, photo by Marija Smits

 

Reflections Part 2 (The Less Serious Part)

 

1. Baby Wipes

If I hadn’t become a mother I may never have discovered baby wipes. Seriously, they are amazing. Everything can be cleaned with baby wipes – dirty bottoms, dirty faces, the oven, the floor, kitchen surfaces, car upholstery, even the cat! Everything. Genius. (Oh, and for very tough-to-remove carpet stains I can recommend Mr Muscle oven cleaner.)

 

2. Playground Frolics

Children give you a good reason to have a sneaky go on the swings, or roundabout, or see-saw, or whatever. (You know, so that you can check that the equipment’s safe and fun.) Just don’t get too carried away. A toddler crying because mummy won’t share is not cool.

 

3. The Perfect Excuse to…

not go shopping, or out, ever again. (Introverted HSPs who could happily stay at home 24/7 will understand what I’m talking about.) Also, the perfect excuse for being late. Like every single time.

 

4. Computer Games

I often justify playing Minecraft by myself because my son asked me to ‘do a little something’ in our world. So what if the ‘little something’ turns into a whole afternoon mining (or killing zombies)? God dammit, sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you gotta do to help your kids out.

 

5. Getting into Art/Building Humility

Okay, this one’s a tiny bit more serious, but there’s really nothing like doodling alongside your kids, having fun with colouring pencils/felt tip pens/paint and allowing yourself the opportunity to create crap (or otherwise) pictures. Who knows, you may grow a whole new career out of it, just like my talented friend Doodlemum did – or, like me, you could just be very pleased to have created something you wouldn’t ever have dreamed of creating a decade ago.

And as an aside, it was just the other day I realized that whenever I draw an idealized version of myself (see below) what I’m actually doing is drawing a picture of my daughter in the future. Seeing myself more as the background, as opposed to the foreground, is a humbling (and useful) experience.

 

At the swimming pool, by Marija Smits

At the swimming pool, by Marija Smits

 

A realization, by Marija Smits

A realization, by Marija Smits

 

6. Cake

The past decade has seen me ingest a huge amount of cake. You see, there’s always so much of it about (at toddler groups, mums’ meet-ups and breastfeeding support groups, as well as school which regularly holds fundraising events where baking and cake stalls are a feature). But I’ve done my duty manfully (or, rather, womanfully…?) and eaten ALL THE CAKE in aid of many a good cause.

 

7. Time Pressure

Seriously, there’s nothing like becoming a parent for having the realization that time is precious. Before I became a mum I had oodles of time – huge bin-bag sized heaps of time (which I filled appropriately i.e. with junk). Pre-motherhood I used to talk about how busy I was to write because I had work and house stuff to do, oh, and watching telly and socializing and faffing about. Then I became a mother and realized that, actually, this is what ‘no time’ looks like. Round the clock care for a tiny human being hugely contracted my available time to create. But… what’s amazing about motherhood is the sheer ingenuity of mothers who magic time out of the day to create. It might just be a scrawled five lines of poetry while your toddler happily plays with blocks (though realistically we all know they’re more likely to be pulling off books from bookshelves/busy flushing your phone down the loo/ingesting cat food or Geomag balls etc. etc.) but that poetry making is precious. And worthwhile. If you keep at it, you’ll soon build a collection. And even watching CBeebies can help to motivate you to become a poet/poetess. If Abney from Abney and Teal can do it, so can you.

p.s. I am not endorsing letting your toddler ingest cat food or Geomag balls. Both have scant nutritional value, and as someone who’s spent a worried 18 hours from the said ingestion of a Geomag ball to its evacuation (and subsequent rifling around in poo to recapture the damn thing) it’s really not worth it. But judging by this thread on Mumsnet I am not the only mum who has had this experience!

 

8. Christmas

Ah, this one’s bittersweet. For me, Christmas was never quite the same since my dad passed away (I was fifteen when he died). But now Christmas is something I look forward to again. It’s just so wonderful to see the grins on the faces of both kids as they wake up on Christmas Day, sleepily muttering, ‘It’s Christmas!’ And luckily, Father Christmas happens to be rather good at packing my stocking with lovely goodies too.

***

And lastly…

…a THANK YOU to all the kind readers of my blog who continue to pop along, read, share and comment on my eclectic posts. Wishing you all a very Starry-You Happy Christmas and all the best for 2018!

 

Starry-You by Marija Smits

Starry-You, by Marija Smits

The Appeal of Halloween to an HSP Who Doesn’t Like Horror

I’ve never liked horror – films or books – and the few famous films in that genre that I did watch when I was in my teens/early twenties (Silence of the Lambs, Seven) pretty much freaked me out so much that I quickly realized that although a lover of fantasy and science fiction, horror was never going to be my thing. Two decades later I haven’t changed my mind on that. Which is why I think my husband gets confused by my love of Halloween. So recently, I’ve been trying to figure out what it is about Halloween that I enjoy so much. This is what I came up with:

1) Halloween means different things to different people. Obvious, I know, but as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I am really not into Halloween as ‘night of horror’ (or the accompanying gruesome, horror film-derived masks/costumes, or horror film watching). But, linked as it is to Samhain, what fascinates me about Halloween is that it is considered to be:

“…a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld thinned. This meant the Aos Sí (pronounced /iːˈʃiː/ ees-SHEE), the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’, could more easily come into our world and were particularly active.” From Wikipedia.

As a lover of all things fae, uncanny, otherworldly, (and the pleasantly spooky, but not horrifying, spine-tingling that otherworldliness affords) this is pretty much my thing.

 

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

 

2) Dressing up! As an HSP I hate getting out of my comfy tracky bottoms and into something… less comfortable. But as a lover of art and all things beautiful I relish the idea of ‘me as art’ i.e. transforming myself into something otherworldly. My kids enjoy this bit too.

3) Pumpkin carving. Another chance to get creative, but with fruit! (And to also light lots of cheery candles.)

 

Pumpkin eating pumpkin, photo by Marija Smits

Pumpkin eating pumpkin, photo by Marija Smits

 

4) Halloween baking. Over the years I’ve made my fair share of pumpkin soups, stews and pasta dishes (not to mention the sweet treats). Again, my creative side likes the opportunity to cook something I normally wouldn’t cook.

5) The chance to chat to neighbours. Okay, as a prefer-to-stick-to-the-comfort-of-my-own-home HSP I’d rather stay in my house than take my kids trick-or-treating, but going trick-or-treating does push me out of my comfort zone to actually talk to people. It helps me to put a ‘face to a house’ (if you see what I mean) and to remember that the majority of people are actually pretty kind and go out of their way to make little kids feel like the stars of the (Halloween) show. One lady always gives us apples as well as sweets, and I’m pleased to say that my kids seem to value her jewel-red apples as much as the sweets!

6) Recently, I’ve enjoyed finding out more about the Day of the Dead (my daughter’s been particularly fascinated by this) and making links between all the global Halloween/All Souls Day festivals as well as Skeleton Woman/Lady Death, from Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Skeleton Woman being another facet of the Wild Woman). It’s important to acknowledge the ‘life, death, life’ aspect of our lives, and nature, and Halloween is one of the few festivals to do that.

7) A chance to play party games (such as apple bobbing) or to put on magic shows, shadow puppet shows… anything not too scary suits me just fine!

8) It reminds me of my childhood… and dressing up and going out trick-or-treating with my big sister and her friends. I felt ‘very big and grown up’ to able to do this, and I remember it as being fun (it helped too that my parents treated the whole thing as one big child-friendly party). I think I was nearly always a black cat (it was an easy costume to put together), which suited me fine, because cats are great.

 

Our new cat, Mitsie, photo by Marija Smits

 

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Gifts of Nature; Summer Reminiscing

Today is a bright day, a glorious day, and I am glad of the autumn sunshine since, lately, the world has felt very dark.

My children are on half-term holiday this week and I am slowing down a bit workwise so that I can spend time with them, help them with homework, and catch up with some much-needed cleaning and mending. I’ve also been playing around with inks and had various ideas for art pieces zipping around my head – well it is Inktober! – but more on that another time. However, today, I want to reflect on something else – another time that felt slow yet quick, hard but easy, intense yet rewarding… the six weeks of the summer holidays.

Sometimes, I feel that documenting the “small” things is unimportant, trivial, but when things get dark, as they are apt to do when we are so overwhelmed by information, then focussing on the “small” things can be of great comfort. Nature, in particular, gives of its healing gifts so freely… and it never ceases to amaze me how getting out into nature, a park, or simply working in the garden – weeding, pruning, digging, all things that are intrinsically “wild” – immediately makes me feel so much better. Calmer, grounded, “more me”.

We have a splendid cooking apple tree in our back garden, and this year, I remembered that the apples are ready for picking earlier rather than later, so me and the children spent quite a lot of time up the tree, and up the ladder, harvesting apples. (Our cat also had fun following after us!) As my husband hadn’t pruned the tree for a few years we had a bumper crop, like buckets and buckets. So we gave away buckets and buckets to passers-by, and in doing so, I was rewarded with the knowledge that others would be cooking and enjoying the apples too. Hating to see good food go to waste, I did my best – I really did! – to use up all the apples we did keep. I made apple cake, apple crumble, apple flapjack, stewed apple and no doubt various other puddings that I’ve already forgotten about. The kids picked blackberries from the local and ever-bountiful bush and so we also had apple and blackberry crumble a few times.

 

Cooking apples, photo by Marija Smits

Cooking apples, photo by Marija Smits

 

This summer, I’ll also remember as the summer of ice cream. My son decided that he wanted to set up an ice cream shop, so I borrowed an ice cream maker from a friend, Googled recipes, bought ingredients, and then we were good to go. We pretty much made everyone’s favourite – mint choc chip, rum and raisin (somehow my husband and I managed to vanish that one pretty quickly!), banana and blueberry, and raspberry. I’d wanted to make an apple crumble ice cream too (basically, apple puree with cooked crumble topping swirled in) but never got around to doing it. I also wanted to experiment with non-dairy milks: coconut cream, almond milk etc. but ran out of time. But, as I keep telling myself, these ideas will keep, they’re simply on hold.

 

Ice cream shop, photo by Marija Smits

Ice cream shop, photo by Marija Smits

 

The summer holidays were also when I did “Mummy School” i.e. a bit of reading, writing, maths and art most weekdays so that the kids weren’t too out of the loop for when they were back at school. They (mostly) enjoyed this, particularly the making-of-the-timetable bit, although I know they would’ve happily foregone it for the lure of the screen…

Creativity-wise, I read and wrote a bit, but as I had a real longing to work with ink, I picked up my dip pen and started copying pictures… anything, really, that I liked the look of. And as the Scooby Snacks card game was another firm favourite this summer holiday, I ended up doing some copies of the baddies from the pack of the cards. (By the way, I was sorely disappointed by the lack of obviously female baddies in the card pack – which I often mentioned to my husband and children. So they challenged me to come up with my own female baddie to add to the deck. Watch this space…!)

 

Scooby Snacks card game, photo by Marija Smits

Scooby Snacks card game, photo by Marija Smits

 

I’ll admit that towards the end of the holiday I felt like I was wading through treacle as lots of things (workwise and writing-wise) were being put off until the eventual “back to school” and the quiet and time it affords me. But, overall, I felt that we were productive in our relaxation and work. And as our county may be changing the times of our holidays next school year (not to mention the fact that this year is my big girl’s last year at primary school) the summer holidays felt particularly special.

And so now to autumn, the end of the hanging baskets (compost and flowers all a gift from my kind and green-fingered father-in-law), and the last of the tomato crop.

 

Tomatoes, photo by Marija Smits

Tomatoes, photo by Marija Smits

 

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On Feeling Invisible

Today, I am having a low day, a sad day. Today is a day to remind myself that there is a rhythm to life, a rhythm to creativity. It is a day for me to be mindful of the fact that energy ebbs and flows. Today is simply a low day. It will pass; these days always pass, but I wanted to document this so that when this happens again I will be comforted by this reminder. Also, if anyone else ever feels like this, I want to say this: I hear you.

Invisible Woman, by Marija Smits

Invisible Woman, by Marija Smits

Today is a day when I’ve felt as though I’m invisible. A few tiny tiny things (in the grand scheme of things) have occurred to make me feel like the character Amos Hart from the movie ‘Chicago’ who memorably sang the heart-achingly sad ‘Mr Cellophane’. A friend I was conversing with this morning wandered off mid-conversation to chat with another group of people. My inbox is continuing to remain desolately free of meaningful emails, although I’ve sent off many emails in the past fortnight (both professional and personal). Friend requests via Facebook of people I admire and would like to get to know better (though not in a creepy way, of course!) are just not happening. A Twitter conversation I started the other day trailed off into nothingness… My blog stats tell me that no one (well, okay, few people) are reading my blog. I am also failing to “see” my own work. It’s all rubbish, it’s all a waste of time. And most mothers can probably relate to this: all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, admin work, shopping, present-buying, birthday party-organizing, caring and loving that goes on unseen and unacknowledged by society (and sometimes friends and family too). Only a (work) rejection (for some funding) today made me feel something: Ouch!

I have to remind myself that other people have lots going on in their lives; to be patient, open-hearted. I have to remind myself that I am also guilty of forgetting to reply to friends’ emails (or social media exchanges) and that there’s no malice in my oversight – just an overstuffed schedule and a holey memory (and possibly also embarrassment when I realize how much time has passed since they first contacted me!). In short, we are all human. Forgive me. Forgive them.

The trouble with feeling invisible – for an HSP at least – is that a commonly offered solution is to: Speak out! Make yourself heard! All very well if you’re an extrovert and/or have enough energy to assert. But when I feel low this feeling invisible thing is self-reinforcing. I am invisible, ergo, I must hide away. Sometimes, hiding away (maybe with a large tub of ice-cream to watch a movie, or to play Minecraft, or whatever – at least the villagers interact with me!) is just the right thing to do. But there’s not always a chance to do this, and of course work, and household chores etc. etc. are an impediment to hiding away. And sometimes, hiding away can seem a bit scary, because there’s always the worry, Will I ever come out of this?

The answer is always, always this: YES. You will come out of this. There is a rhythm to life, a rhythm to creativity. Have trust in the rhythm of your body, the rhythm of the feminine wild. Do what you have to do in the “low” – hunker down, cry, make yourself heard – and then, when you are ready, come out once more to shine.

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