Welcome to the latest post in my series called Taking Flight. I have called it that because there have been so many things I have learned from and since our losses that I feel like my life has just begun to take flight in a way that I never thought possible. Certainly I never
imagined it could be this way after losing a child (or children), but I never realized it could be this way before our loss, either. I am experiencing my life in a fuller, more authentic and exciting way now, and I wanted to write a little about that in hopes that it might be inspiring for someone new to grief and overwhelmed with the pain that comes from loss. I feel like a caterpillar who has undergone a complete transformation to a butterfly and now sees things from a whole new perspective. It has taken some time and a whole lot of healing work, but it has been so worth it.
Since my last post in this series, I’ve finished my first sketch for the new year, done some creating through knitting and painting, celebrated the people that I love for Valentine’s Day and birthdays, and have been reminded again how important it is to be who I was created to be in this moment.
I’ve decided to take a little break from Facebook for Lent. I find that I tend to get too emotionally invested in it sometimes – the political discussions, abortion debates, people’s bad days, people’s good days, what everyone ate for every single meal (ever). It’s not that I don’t care about those things, or that I don’t post some of those same things myself. If anything, I find myself caring too much. As I’ve gotten to know myself over the last forty-*ahem* years, I have learned that I am extra sensitive. I’m an empath. I feel all the feelings – my own and everyone else’s – and can get overwhelmed by too much input. My news feed can give me heart palpitations some days, and even email can feel like too many people making demands of me. Add in the everyday caring I do for the people I actually live with and love and need to care about and for – my husband and five children under the age of ten – and I can feel overwhelmed very quickly. Recently, I’ve learned that there is something called a “Highly Sensitive Person,” and realized that I am one of them, and that there are other people who are like me. It was eye-opening. It taught me something about myself, and one of my first steps in self care has been to get to know myself and accept these parts of how God made me.
Is there something wrong with me? Nope. It’s just the way I am wired, though I did spend so many years trying to figure out how to change that about myself: Why do certain people affect me so much? Why do I get so upset when someone else is angry? (They don’t even have to be angry at me, but if they are, the effect is even more profound.) Why am I okay in some groups but not in others? Why does a chaotic environment leave me wanting to curl up in the fetal position? I’ve been told I need to “lighten up,” “let things roll off my back,” “stop being so sensitive,” and “get thicker skin” my whole life, and I’ve wondered why some people are better able to do those things than I am. I’ve prayed that God would teach me how to be less sensitive and examined myself to see what I may be doing wrong. But as I am raising my crew of sensitive, emotional, gifted, intense, special and amazing children, I am learning that they need a mom who is in tune with their needs and who can pick up on the things they may not know how to verbalize yet. They need a mom who can sit with them when they are overwhelmed, empathize with them and help them get through it. They need someone who can teach them creative outlets for expressing themselves. They need a mom who knows how to create a calming environment and bring order to the chaos that comes with being part of a large family, because that is how she gets through the day, too. They need someone who values peace and down time and routine, and who knows how to set boundaries and limitations on the activities we do so that we can all have those things.
In other words, they need ME.
So the first step in healing through self-care for me has been to learn to be accepting of who I am and to do what I need to do to meet my own needs. I think that everyone should eventually have this kind of awareness of themselves, no matter what they may need healing from, but it seems to me that our loss was a catalyst for me. It acted like an earthquake, sort of shaking me apart and making me examine each part of myself in a new way as I eventually picked up the pieces. Relationships, behaviors, priorities, habits – nothing was spared. And as I put some of the pieces back together, I realized that I didn’t have to put them exactly like they were before.
The trauma of our loss and the things that our family has gone through has left me especially attentive to our needs.
Being extra sensitive is not doing something wrong. It’s not being selfish and it’s not a sin, though some people may act like it is. Knowing our personality types (I’m an INFJ) and doing what we need and our family needs to thrive is okay, even if it doesn’t comply with someone else’s needs or wants. I’ve found that the people most critical of my sensitivity or my needs are those people who like to control others in an unhealthy way and therefore don’t like it when I speak up for myself or set a boundary from their behavior. Often it’s precisely because I absorb so much of their negative emotions that I need to create that boundary for my own well-being.
Of course, we all have things we would like to change about ourselves – areas where we are still growing. Accepting ourselves doesn’t mean that we are completely satisfied with every aspect of ourselves. A lot of times, those areas that need to change involve things we do. (The fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5 – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – have always been goals for personal growth for me.) But we can’t change who we are at our core. If we want to, we can experience personal growth no matter what our personality may be like.
Lately, as the weather has been a bit more mild, I’ve been anticipating working outside in a garden for the spring. It has been on my mind that this first step of self care relates so well to planting a garden. We are all familiar with the phrase “Bloom where you’re planted,” and I love the idea that we all have different niches to fill and environments in which we are using our gifts. But sometimes we forget that we are all different kinds of seeds, too, with different needs for growth and different-looking results.
Some seeds yield big, flashy blossoms while others are tiny and less noticeable. Some need to go through fire before they can start to sprout. Some need special tending and are more sensitive to their environments while others aren’t as particular and can bloom no matter where they are. Extra water, less sunlight, more fertilizer – they all need different things. A sunflower seed can’t grow into a lily, but they are all part of a beautiful garden and a good gardener knows just which types of seeds to plant in each location. We have all been placed where we are for a reason and we can trust that the Good Gardener, who created all of us, knows what He is doing.
We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others and wonder why they are a certain way and we aren’t. Likewise, we shouldn’t take on their critiques, if they give them, that they are able to do ___, so why can’t we? It doesn’t work that way. We all have different needs and different abilities. If we were all the same, this world would be a very boring place. When we come to accept the reality of who we are and what we need to thrive and learn how to meet those needs for ourselves, we can better grow in understanding and empathy, which gives us the capacity to allow for others to have their own needs, too.
Understanding and accepting these traits in myself has been a big part of taking care of myself and healing – probably the biggest part. Did you find that you learned or finally understood something about yourself after your loss? Do you take better care of your own needs now?
If my description of being Highly Sensitive sounded familiar to you, and you’re interested in reading some other pieces on parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person, I found some helpful articles here and here.