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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The End of an Era

Four years ago today I published a post about the bittersweet experience of watching our children go through certain milestones. You see, I’d seen a mother, sitting in her car outside of school, crying secret tears, because of an important milestone – the end of her child’s time at primary school.

At the time, I felt as though I could empathise with the mother, but I also knew that I was a very long time away from going through what she was going through. But you know what, time passed, as it has a habit of doing, and four years went by in a blur. This July, it was me crying in the playground with my daughter who was leaving primary school behind her forever.

I think that particularly as we’re HSPs, my daughter and myself found this transition tough. We’re not fans of change. We prefer the familiar, the comfortable; of knowing what to expect from everyday life. And so any approaching change has the potential to feel scary, daunting and very overwhelming.

I’ve noticed a pattern though. We tend to get majorly upset beforehand as we run through all the horrible possibilities of the future event or change, whatever, in our minds, but that when it actually comes to the event, the change, the experience, we get through it okay. We sometimes even manage to enjoy it and perform well, getting used to the new situation in the process.

I think this is a useful insight – a helpful reminder that pre-processing the change (though it may be upsetting) helps to mentally prepare us. It also tells us another useful thing. That: I can do this. And that: she can do this.

As the prospect of secondary school looms before us – and along with it a whole new host of routines and rules and children and teachers to get used to, I know it has the potential of being overwhelming, of making us uncomfortable, even scorching us with its all-too-intense fire. But I will remind myself that intense heat and pressure don’t always burn or decimate. Sometimes they are necessary for new growth. Sometimes they produce beautiful things.

 

The Dread of the Tax Return (especially if you’re an HSP)

Cartman doing taxes, photo by Marija Smits

You gotta respect the authoritay.

So… January has come and gone, and with it the deadline for filing personal tax returns. For various reasons, which I won’t go into here, I ended up in a bit of a mad panic filing my return on the day before the 31st January deadline. I hadn’t planned on doing it so late, but that’s the way it turned out. As I felt my chest tightening, frustration gnawing at my throat, I sort of stepped outside my body, looked at myself in an objective way and asked: Why are you so stressed? You’ll have to have a good think about that one day. Write it down. Figure it out. (The two are interchangeable nowadays.) It may help.

            Now that it’s February – ah! beautiful February – I can put down into words my thoughts on the matter. It will: a) be useful for me in the future and b) may be of help to others.

Some observations about the actual process of filing tax returns:

  • HMRC, a governmental authority, is, in many ways, an “authority figure”. Rather like a great big God (complete with flowing white beard) who lives in the sky. Or Big Brother watching you. Or a strict Victorian patriarch who must be obeyed. Or a faceless, voiceless, disembodied entity who hovers above and behind one’s head, just out of sight.
  • There is a deadline for filing returns. A penalty awaits those who fail to file their returns on time.
  • The form is long and involved. Like (to quote Eric Cartman) “hella” long. It is full of financialese, and incomprehensible to most “ordinary” people.
  • Sometimes just getting through “security” (and all the associated texts to mobiles/letters to old addresses/chanting various incantations in just the right order, to have the pleasure of even beginning to file the return) is a challenge/mystery in itself.

Some observations about HSPs:

  • HSPs are (obviously) very sensitive to changes in stress levels. HSPs like things to be calm, quiet and not overwhelming/over arousing (and I’m not using the word ‘arousing’ in a sexual sense here! Just in a general, sensory overload way). Yet even thinking about HMRC waiting for me to file my return brings me out in a cold sweat. I believe that HSPs have a particular sort of fearful respect for authority figures – which, in part, comes from our high level of conscientiousness. Doing the “wrong” thing i.e. not filing the return on time, very much strikes at our moral compass, our integrity, almost like a physical pain, and so the idea of not filing the return, and doing something wrong can bring about panic. Also, HSPs don’t want to displease the authority figure; to anger someone so powerful. We just want everyone to get on, be happy, be calm, because that makes us feel calm.
  • For some, time pressure can help them focus; bring about brilliant work. Not so much for HSPs. And especially not for something like filing our tax returns. We hear the clock tick tocking, every second bringing us closer to the deadline and a potential telling off from the Daddy of All Taxes. Panic sets in. Clear thinking goes out the window.
  • And what do you need most when faced with a series of questions written in financialese – a language us freelance creatives only ever encounter once a year? Yep, that’s right. Clear thinking. (Which has already gone out the window if you’re getting even a smidgeon too close to the deadline for your liking.)
  • And… finally. All this panic (which results in hand wringing, hair pulling, teeth grinding, pleas to the financial gods-that-be etc.) most certainly reinforces the idea in one’s head that one is not a competent, intelligent and rational person who is even capable of filling in a form. Hell, you’re not even sure you’re worthy of appearing before the Grand High Overlord of All Things Tax-related, you’re that much of a lowly maggot. Cue an existential crisis. Or at the very least, crushing despair and a lowering of self-confidence.

 

So, have I got any tips for patching up this egregious mismatch between HSPs and filing tax returns? You betcha!

  1. Get an employer who will give you a PAYE tax code and remove all tax filing responsibilities away from you. Seriously, I often long for an employer-knight in shining armour to take away all my tax troubles – although past experience has told me that being in a bad job is simply bad, bad, bad. THE BOSS may well very quickly dump his/her shining armour to become the new dreaded overload. Sadly, good bosses are few and far between.

 

  1. If no. 1 isn’t an attractive-looking option, or not at option at all for whatever reason, do consider employing someone to take away the stress of the tax return. Even the spectacularly useless Bernard from Black Books wisely took on someone to deal with his taxes. Brilliant comedy ensued. If this option is too costly either find a patient and financially-minded friend who is willing to help you out (either for free or in exchange for some of your brilliant art) or…

  1. Put on your I-can-do-this superhero cloak and prepare for battle! Ideally, you’ll be needing to enter into battle 3-6 months before the deadline to make it as stress-free as possible. Remember, you can actually save your return as you go (it does work, I’ve checked) and do it in stages.

 

  1. Take screenshots of every single page of the tax return as you go (with your answers within). As these will be timed and dated you will end up with a series of screenshots that take you from beginning to end. (I’ve found that the PDF/HTML completed return that HMRC provides you with at the end is baffling/gobbledygook, so screenshots page by page are better.) Then file them away safely. This will hopefully be incredibly useful for next year when you find yourself stumped by any particular question (that’s as long as year on year your tax return remains pretty consistent).

 

  1. Stock up on chocolate/tea or whatever takes your fancy while you do the task. Keep giving yourself treats and it may just trick your mind into thinking that you’re doing something pleasant.

 

  1. Keep reminding yourself that despite any tax return problems you encounter, you are in fact a worthwhile, confident, intelligent and (mostly) rational being, and that YOU HAVE GOT THIS. And if all else fails? Overcome your fear and unwarranted reasoning that you don’t want to waste anyone at HMRC’s time with silly questions and give them a call. Often, a very nice person will help guide you through the form. And if you get stuck in a phone cue, a jangly tune rattling in your ear, grab a pencil or pen, start doodling or start writing a poem or short story. Or sing along. Or rant. Or practice your deep breathing. Who knows, you may end up so blissed out you may start levitating.*

 

To recap. You are brilliant. And intelligent. And worthy enough for the financial gods-that-be. And… YOU HAVE GOT THIS.

 

*Not guaranteed.

 

 

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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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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The 100th Post! Blue Sky Tag (a Q&A with me), 5 Year Blogiversary & Giveaway

 

Pop art me, photo by Marija Smits

Pop art me, photo by Marija Smits

 

A while back, I was lucky enough to be nominated by the ever-thougtful Dawn from Journal of Dawn for the Blue Sky Tag. Thank you Dawn! So I thought I’d combine the Q&A, my nominations, and a giveaway in my 100th post (which also happens to be my 5 year blogiversary). I can’t quite believe I’ve been blogging for 5 years now, but I have, and I still love it.

 

THE Q&A

  1. Is your Life, today, half-empty, or half-full?

Such a tricky question – and somewhat like the problem of Schrödinger’s cat. I believe that just like light – which is both a particle and a wave – life is both half-empty and half-full simultaneously and it is only the observer that gets to decide at any particular moment. An optimist at heart I think I’ll pretty much always go with half-full. Today, because I’ve had a walk in the September sunshine and just now written a poem I’m pleased with (and fingers-crossed all my loved ones are okay) it actually feels like it’s three-quarters full.

  1. How have you found goodness from the bad situations in your Life? Example, please :))

Most of the bad situations in my life I’ve put into my writing, in one way or another. My father’s death, for example, I wrote about in this poem here, called ‘The Pulmonary Embolism’. I have found healing from exploring these things through writing (and no doubt, these life experiences have fired me, like clay, into a more clearly defined person). And if anyone else finds consolation in my writing then I reckon that’s a good thing.

  1. Which relationships have been the most challenging for you, and what strategies have you created to improve them?

Two challenging relationships… hmm. One has been with my mother (who, in so many ways is like me, but in other and, fundamental ways, unlike me), and ditto my mother-in-law. I think that first there needs to be reflection and understanding – of our differences and that our differences have the possibility to cause friction. But people will only change if they want to change – I have no control over that change. After that comes acceptance, and the grace (from within) to let go of my own judgement and the friction. If I felt that there was anything I could concretely do to change one aspect of our relationship I would use compassionate communication to do so. In the past I’ve used it in certain occasions where it was of immense help. I can highly recommend the book People Skills by Robert Bolton if you want to improve your communication skills.

  1. What causes you angst, and how do you overcome it?

Oh goodness! As an HSP, anything and everything! Global warming, neoliberalism, Donald Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, social media, unisex toilets in secondary schools, so-called education gurus, people being outraged by the use of the word poetess, the billion-dollar infant formula industry (which is a law unto itself), scratchy jumpers, noisy neighbours, coffee shops that don’t serve cream to go with the said coffee, owners who don’t clear up their dog’s poo and leave it on the street for you to squelch in… The list is endless! I’m not actually sure if I do overcome it. I guess I just figure out how much I care about the issue, and if there’s anything I can meaningfully do about it then I will try to do that. If I can’t do all that much about it I have to accept that and move on (remembering that it’s okay to focus on the good/meaningful stuff I’m doing already).

  1. Have you ever written your own jokes???? Memorized them, and tried them out in a long, boring line at the Post Office . . . Did anyone chortle??? (ie — do you have a good joke ready for a sour circumstance :)) (I had a lot of fun writing my Cow Jokes.)

Writing a good joke is seriously hard! So, no, I don’t have any great skill in this area. In a tricky situation I’ll fall back on this:

‘Knock, knock.’

‘Who’s there?’

‘Interrupting Cow.’

‘Interrupting cow wh-’

‘Mooooooo!’

  1. What challenges are you facing in your Life right now?

My main challenges are to do with my work, family life, writing balance. Trying to do all three successfully sometimes feels like too much of a struggle. Something for me to review.

  1. What do you obsess over? How do you rein in your obsessions?

I’m prone to OCD. Not particularly with physical compulsions e.g. needing to wash my hands, check things are off (although I do have a tendency to do these things probably a little too often)… but when I discovered from a book that some OCD sufferers have mental compulsions, that was a revelation. Here’s how it works: having a worry/fear/regret and thinking about it endlessly and obsessively, then feeling compelled to say a ‘special sentence’ (or whatever) in one’s head, a certain number of times to find relief from the obsessive worry. Others can’t see that there’s anything wrong, but it’s absolutely debilitating. OCD can permanently put life on hold.

Somehow, I summoned up the strength to talk to my partner (now husband) about it. He didn’t think any less of me for having this strange issue (I was sure he would look at me like I was bonkers), and his listening ear and support helped immeasurably. After that I made the connection that stress has a huge impact on OCD, so I had to make important life changes. Switching careers was part of the solution. And funnily enough, birthing and breastfeeding my children helped too. Apparently mothering hormones can help some women in combatting OCD.

  1. What strategies do you employ for stress relief?

Stress relief for me means ‘saying no’ and cutting back on everything that isn’t vital. Listening to music, exercise, and eating healthy and wholesome food – as well as laughing and having fun with my husband, children and friends. And of course cuddles help hugely too! (Books too. Sometimes chocolate.)

  1. What other-wordly phenomena have you experienced? (Intuition, dreams, deja vu, ET, communication with lost loved ones, etc.) What have your learned from them?

None! As much as I like the idea of otherworldly phenomena (they often crop up in my stories) I’m an earthy woman and haven’t had stuff like that happen to me. Though I swear that underpants gnomes exist…

  1. How do you make new friends, or strike up a conversation with a stranger?

‘Hello! How are you? My name’s…’ is usually where I start.

  1. What do you love to create? How do you motivate yourself to do more of what you love to do???

I love to create stories. Worlds. In pictures and words. I don’t tend to need to motivate myself to do something I love doing so much, but like all creative people, I guess, I can get lazy and spend more time dreaming up new creations rather than actually making them happen. That’s when I give myself a good talking to: Who d’you think’s going to finish that story? That piece of art? The fairies? Yeah right. Get to work woman! That’s usually enough of a butt kicking for me to get going.

Photo of Marija Smits by Tom Bellamy.

The final fruit of the writerly labours: reading the published piece. Photo of Marija Smits by Tom Bellamy.

 

My Nominations

So… quoting from Dawn here, via Mr Hush Hush who nominated her…

For those of you who don’t know, the rules of the Blue Sky Tag go something like this:

  1. Thank the person who has nominated you.
  2. Answer their questions.
  3. Create 11 questions for your nominees.
  4. Tag your 11 nominees.

And here are my 11 nominees:

  1. Jane
  2. Helen
  3. Maddy
  4. Nikki Young
  5. Rebecca Ann Smith
  6. Rachael
  7. Renee
  8. Sophie
  9. Alice
  10. Johanne Winwood
  11. Because I know so many fab writers/bloggers it’s been hard to limit this to just 11. So I’d also like to invite the following to join in if they’d like to (and have the time): Angela Topping, Ana Salote, Cathy Bryant, Clare Cooper, Sarah James, Alison Lock, Becky Cherriman, Ruth Stacey, Katy Wareham Morris, Suzie W, Teaching Tiny Minds, Cara McKee, Mumturnedmom, Rhyming with Wine, Antonia Chitty, Iona, Chrissie, Victoria, Katia, Sarah, Kamsin Kaneko, and any other of the wonderful women who make up the What I’m Writing group.

 

Here are my 11 questions:

  1. How are you? (No, really, how are you?)
  2. How do you feel about the season changing from summer to autumn? Do you have a favourite autumnal poem? (If not, simply share a favourite poem.)
  3. On the introvert-extrovert and sensitivity continuum where would you put yourself?
  4. Have you ever been ‘stuck’ in life? Or are you ‘stuck’ (in some way) right now? Any tips for getting unstuck?
  5. How do you balance family life, work and creative time? Is ‘time scheduling’ the way forward? Or do you have a more relaxed approach?
  6. What creative work are you focussing on at the moment?
  7. Are you a one-project-on-the-go person or do you flit between different creative projects?
  8. Some of your favourite books…?
  9. An inspiring piece of music?
  10. A favourite ice cream flavour? If you don’t like ice cream, here’s another question: tea or coffee? (And how do you take it.)
  11. A photo of one of your favourite places to create (or the place you mostly end up creating, though it may not be your favourite!).

And just to be awkward here’s a bonus question (feel free to expand or not, as you see fit): Where are you on the limerent/non-limerent scale?

Thank you again Dawn for including me in this fun exercise. And do feel free to answer my questions too, if you’d like. 🙂

 

The Giveaway

Lastly… here’s the giveaway – a fine literary bundle that all feature a piece of my writing. To be in with the chance of winning the below simply leave a comment on this post (and perhaps a why as to why you’d like them…).

 

Lovely literature!

Lovely literature!

 

The giveaway will run until midnight GMT on 24th September 2017 and I’ll announce the winners shortly afterwards. (This offer is open to anyone living in any country, but if someone outside the UK does win, I’d need a contribution toward postage.)

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