I’m in the middle of a book on introversion (more on that in a later post, after I’ve finished the book).  I just finished a great chapter on being ultra-sensitive.  You know, that kid whose dad tells him to “man up” and wipe off his sissy tears.  That woman whose best friend tells her to get a thicker skin or she’ll  never survive the world of dating.

Or me.

Until 2010, being an introvert was listed as a pathology; like  a fear of public speaking, it was considered a disease in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (the psychiatrists’ book of mental disorders).  Recent studies, however, show that introverts, and especially introverts who are also highly sensitive, just happen to be born that way.

People who are highly sensitive tend to be highly reactive; it takes very little stimulus to overpower them.  Crowds, new environments, even caffeine or alcohol, all affect highly sensitive people more than the average person.  I can attest to this.  Although I’ve developed a little bit of a tolerance for caffeine, I can still get a “bounce off the walls” buzz off very little.  A single drink is my alcohol limit.  First dates, job interviews, and new surroundings exhaust me.  Some of this I’ve come to just accept about myself.  Other parts, though, I try to change.  After all, you can’t get through life without going to a few job interviews.  If you end up newly single at the age of 40, you either settle for being alone or you figure out how to deal with dating again.

I get the added bonus, of course, of having stress affect my ulcerative colitis.  When I go through too many stimulating activities in the same time period, I get sick.  Period.  I can eat perfectly, sleep more than enough, and do everything else right.  If I, say, have a job interview, a wedding with a bunch of strangers, and an extended family gathering all in the same week, though, I’ll get sick.  (This happened last year around the Fourth of July.)  I’ve learned to pretty much put the rest of my life on hold if I have to go to a job interview; my body can’t handle more than that.

To an outside observer, especially one who is an extrovert who is often bored, someone like me may not seem to be making any progress.

I’m supposed to be finding a new place to live.  I can only do it in steps, because more than that overwhelms me.  Unfortunately, that makes it look like I’m not trying at all, which generates comments, which makes me try harder… which makes me ill.  Then I have to start all over.

A lot of people can’t tell, from the outside, that I have problems like this.  Apparently my frontal cortex is well enough trained that I can override my amygdala (that part of you that tells you when to panic) and appear relaxed among strangers.  I can deal with stress (outwardly).  But, just like my sensitive #2 son, I don’t like scary movies.  I’m more attuned to noises, smells, and textures.  I hate big crowds… or smaller crowds of strangers.

There are some strengths to being like this (strengths wrapped up in curses, as it turns out).  I’m very empathetic.  I literally feel other people’s pain, whether I want to or not.  When I went through my divorce, I experienced far more pain for hurting my ex-husband and my kids than for anything I was going through.  When I watch a sad movie, I cry because I feel what the actor is portraying.  I ache for those in need, especially children.

The curse of that, of course, is that I have to be able to deal with life.  I don’t have the luxury of closing myself off from pain.  I also can’t just “suck it up”.  Instead, I’ve learned to distance myself when I can’t deal anymore (or sometimes before I can’t deal).  I have an amazing set of emotional walls– not because I don’t like people or don’t care, but because I care too much.  I retreat behind my walls so I can function in everyday life.

Before you think, “Oh, cue the violins!  Someone’s having a pity party!”… I’m not.  I like who I am.  Being sensitive means that something as simple as sunset can bring me as much pleasure as  $2000 cruise brings someone else.  Seeing someone hurt causes me pain, yes, but if I can do anything to relieve that pain, it brings me a lot of joy, too.  I experience very low lows (I have been suicidal at times), but I’ve also been absolutely giddy with joy (without ever once being drunk).

I guess my only real issue with being sensitive is that it’s undervalued in our society.  It’s mocked.  Even though I can deal with a root canal with only a local, was a female flatbed trucker, and am about as far from a “girly-girl” as you’re likely to meet, I’m not ever going to be able to just shrug off the little things in life.  I can act like I do… but the reactions and the effect on my nervous system will still be the same.  For that, I get misunderstanding, ridicule, or even well-intentioned advice on how to change.

The biggest upside to being ultra-sensitive?  I bounce back from pretty much anything if you give me enough time.  Better yet… I’ll be there to help my friends (or even my “enemies”) bounce back when something overwhelms them, because I know how it feels.

You can man up if you want to.  I’ll be here when you need a shoulder to cry on later.

 

 

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I have spent the last nine months training for my half-marathon.  No, it shouldn’t take a “normal” person nine months to train for a half-marathon; when you sometimes spend a couple of weeks in a row needing to be tethered to a bathroom, nine months doesn’t even feel like enough.

The good news?  My half-marathon is three weeks from tomorrow.  I know I can finish.  I may have to walk a bit of it, but I can finish.

The bad news?  I didn’t plan so well and now I have conflicting events near the time that I need to run.

Lately I have had quite a problem remembering dates, or, more relevantly, remembering to check dates to avoid conflict.  I’ve been stressing a bit that this could be a precursor to Alzheimers (my father died from complications resulting from Alzheimers).  It only recently occurred to me that this is a direct result of being not busy.

From the time I turned sixteen or so, I have always kept a calendar or a day planner.  I’ve always had a full schedule… full enough that I wouldn’t dream of inking in an appointment or outing without checking the dates first.

When I got divorced, however, and especially when the courts awarded my ex primary custody of our children, I suddenly had too little to do to bother with much of a calendar.  The only things that really mattered where the weekends when my kids would be with me and what we were doing for those weekends.  Any other events were few and far enough between that I just automatically said yes.  It worked for several years.

I guess lately I’ve been getting busier, because lately there have been scheduling (or forgetting to schedule) conflicts.  I don’t think to check my calendar first because I never have anything on my calendar.  Except… I do.

So it’s time to get back to the habit of writing everything down, yes, but also the habit of checking everything before I decide I can do it.

I guess it’s time to get busy.

 

Side note:  I did work out a way to make my scheduling conflict work out once I finished having a hissy fit over the conflict in the first place.  It’ll be a little more work than I’d originally planned, but at least I don’t have to throw nine months of training in the trash.

Proverbs 31:18

She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.

A Proverbs 31 woman plans ahead; she’s not surprised (or at least not for long) by emergencies and unexpected events.  Turns out a beautiful woman plans ahead, too.

Planning ahead reduces stress.  Stress is one of the biggest destroyers of beauty and youth.  Planning ahead can’t remove stress entirely (and a complete lack of stress, ironically enough, is as unhealthy as too much), but it can cut it down immensely.

In my reading, I’m learning about T-cells (part of the immune system) and how they affect aging.  As we get older, we produce more memory T-cells, which remember the body’s responses to stress, infection, and invaders.  We simultaenously produce fewer naive T-cells, which enable us to attack new invaders.  Because of this, although our bodies still defend against known disease and infection, it has a harder time with each new one.  Stress acts in the same way, especially long-term, unrelenting stress, per the University of Chicago.

Planning ahead will keep stress managable.  If you plan your days (with room for adjustments), then you already know what you’ll be doing all day and surprises don’t hit as hard.  When you plan your menus, food choices are less stressful.  Likewise, if you plan for emergencies, you are better prepared to deal with it in a calm, not stressful, manners.

When you stress, your body goes through oxidative stress: the number of reactive free radicals produced by body processes such as  breathing or cellular functions exceeds the number of antioxidant  molecules capable of neutralizing the free radicals.  Over time, this damages the body.

The body itself produces antioxidants, provided it has enough manganese, copper, zinc, and other minerals to do so.  We can assist our body by eating foods rich in antioxidants (scientists generally concur that natural food sources are far more effective than supplements).  Foods like blueberries, pomegranates, walnuts, apples, spinach, sweet potatoes, green tea, almonds, and, yes, vices like coffee, red wine, and dark chocolate, are all rich in antioxidants.  Help your body out by eating these foods on a regular basis.

We can’t actually stop aging, nor can we truly reverse it, but we can do a lot of things to make aging go slowly.  The sooner you start, the better opportunity for it to take effect.

 

Here is a modified version of this recipe to get a huge antioxidant boost from a smoothie:

  • 8 oz almond milk (vanilla or plain)
  • 1/4 c dark chocolate powder/cocoa (not processed with alkali)
  • 1/2 c blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 banana, fresh or frozen
  • 1/2 c leafy greens (spinach/ kale)
  • 1/4 c applesauce (unsweetened)
  • 2-3 ice cubes (optional)

Blend all ingredients together until smooth and serve.  Makes 1 large serving ~200 calories.

I am not shy (which will actually come as a surprise to some who think they know me).  I actually like people, love having social interaction, and get a little bit down without any at all.  I am, however, a true introvert and too much social interaction, especially with large groups or unknown quantities, stresses me heavily.

Holmes and Rahe developed the Life Stress Test (the Holmes and Rahe Social Readjustment Rating).  This test shows how much “life stress” you have and, based on the numbers, is a predictor of stress-related illness.

I took a version of this test and failed.  Worse than failed, really, since my score was twice the base for failing.  I have a very high-stress life right now.  Ill parent (who I live with).  Divorce.  Children not living with me.  Multiple new jobs, new homes, new schools in the last three years.  The list goes on.

Unfortunately, all that stress translates to a poor ability to deal with new experiences.  I am supposed to be leaving for a wedding right now for two people I care about but who I’ve never met in real life.  I’m going alone, to sit with a bunch of strangers.  I haven’t been able to make myself go.

It doesn’t help that I have a job interview on Thursday and I’m worried that if I push myself through the stress of going to this wedding I may then not be able to deal with the stress of a job interview.

It sounds like excuses, right?  Maybe it is.  But I can tell you my adrenaline is up, I’m mildly ill to my stomach, and if I were the type who vomited, I’d be spending some time wishing I’d cleaned the toilet yesterday instead of five days ago.

I don’t even have a solution on this one, other than to keep your life stress reduced so you can deal with these smaller stressors… or to be willing to bypass smaller stressors when you have to deal with a bunch of big ones.

Chances are really good I’m not going to end up going, which is going to be a stressor in itself.  I may actually have to fight through some depression if I don’t go, but stress if I do.  I guess the right solution would’ve been to not put myself in this position in the first place.

Just say no?