Category Archives: Gratitude

Can One Be Too Sensitive?

When I was young I was told I was too sensitive.  I was told this by many, many people.  I cried easily and often.  I didn’t take criticism well.  When scolded I felt awful about myself, took all the words said, mulled them over and concluded I was a terrible child.  I remember wondering how it was that I could be so awful?  Why did I make so many dreadful mistakes and so often?  I believed that I was unusual in this way.  I thought there was something very wrong with me, confirmed by all the things I did that caused me to get into trouble so much of the time.

This thinking caused me a great deal of pain and suffering later in life.  I was not able to step back from what people said to me in annoyance or anger.  Even when they would later compliment me about something I’d done that they approved of, it was tempered by the last admonishment.  I didn’t know how to hold two opposing ideas about me at once and make sense of them.  It never occurred to me that it was my behavior that was being objected to.  It didn’t dawn on me that teachers and adults were talking about things I’d done and that my actions were separate from who I fundamentally was.

This morning I awoke and my child bounded out of their room in an exuberant flourish of happy energy and good cheer.  I urged them to lower their voice as I busied myself with preparing their breakfast and my coffee.  Over the course of the next hour I admonished my happy child to not pound the floor by jumping in gleeful abandon for fear of waking the downstairs neighbors and again to lower their voice for fear of waking their sibling and reminded this joyous child to not slam the door to our apartment (which slams on its own without anyone’s help) and while waiting for the elevator to lower their voice yet again.  And by the time the bus had come to take my wonderful child to school I had tried (I am hoping, unsuccessfully) to tamp down their enthusiasm a dozen times.  As I made my way to the subway I realized I had not shared in their joy for all that was joyful and wondrous.  I had not joined them in greeting this beautiful day with such untethered optimism.  And that old crushing feeling came down upon me like an avalanche.  I felt terrible.  I reflected on all those days when I was a child and how it felt to be hushed and told to lower my voice and how I would try with all my might and yet never could lower my voice enough.

As awful as I felt, as sad as it made me to reflect on all of this, by the time the subway came to my stop I saw how being overly sensitive is highly under-rated.  How can one be “overly” sensitive, anyway?  And what’s the alternative?  Even now in my mid-fifties I still am extremely sensitive, too sensitive, or so people tell me.  I no longer believe I will be able to develop a thick skin as so many predicted I would at some point obtain.  And honestly I no longer strive to.  Besides, if I weren’t too sensitive would I have noticed how I was shushing my child more than was necessary.  Without being overly sensitive I might not have made a mental note to be extra playful and bouncey when I see them this afternoon.  Without being far too sensitive for my own good, I would not have connected my child’s awesomeness with my younger, often exuberant and very sensitive, self.

Joy

Joy copy

There Once Was A Girl…

There once was a girl who was in tremendous pain.  Her pain was so great she couldn’t manage it.  She tried, believe me, she tried.  She immersed herself in books, particular those dealing with people’s neurology, but also dabbled in science fiction, mysteries, thrillers, horror, romance, this was before the age of memoirs, so she devoured studies of other people written by psychiatrists, therapists of every ilk and doctors.  Losing herself in reading was thrilling, but it didn’t help her sort through the intense feelings she had.  All those books couldn’t begin to heal her often overwhelming feelings, anxiety, sadness and fear.

She thought that moving away might help so she did that, and then she moved farther and farther still and eventually she found herself living in another country and all those intense feelings moved right along with her.  By this time she was using substances to quell the pain, on a daily basis.   She knew she could zone out and for a little while anyway she would feel nothing at all and it was a great relief.  But as soon as the substance wore off she was left, once again, with herself.  She went from seeking relief, to needing relief, to feeling that if she didn’t do those things that gave her even momentary solace she might die.

There is no other way to describe what she went through when she could not indulge in certain behaviors.  SHE WOULD DIE.  She did not know this for a fact, but she felt sure that she could not exist without the things that changed her consciousness.  She was convinced that these substances helped her cope and that without them she would not be able to, and all those feelings would overwhelm her, suffocate her.  She lived in terror of this.  Years went by and she did the best she could, but her need for calm and peace was never satiated.

As time went on she knew that if she was going to continue living in this world she would have to change, she would have to find other ways of coping, of just being.  And again her fears both mesmerized and caused her to stay stuck doing the same things again and again that now did not give her the relief they once did.  She knew in her heart she would die if she continued doing what she had been doing.  She knew it was only a matter of time now.  The thing that she once thought was keeping her from dying, was the very thing that would kill her.  Still, how to change?  What could she do?  How would she stop?

At first she sought help from doctors and therapists and the medical profession.  She tried the various things they told her to do.  She made charts and ate specific foods and took supplements and lots and lots of vitamins, but nothing she did made a difference.  She went to psychologists and talked and talked, for years she talked, and while that helped her understand some of what ailed her, all that talk didn’t help her stop hurting herself.  One therapist, someone who loved her very much and had been trying to help her for many years said to her, you must find others who do what you do, they will help you.  So she found them.  Hundreds of people just like her who did the same things she was doing.  They listened to her pain and shame and they nodded their heads and told stories of their own and they said, “Here. Grab our hand.  We will help you.  We will show you the way through because you cannot do this on your own.  This isn’t about will power, this isn’t about desire, this is about needing help.”  And so she did, though she was filled with abject terror and was not at all sure she would be able to follow them, she did.  They taught her to breathe when she was scared and they took her calls in the middle of the night and they came to her when she was too frightened to leave her apartment and they sat with her when she was too overwhelmed to move.  They taught her that she alone could not help herself, she needed others.  This was both a great relief and also her greatest fear.

Over time she learned to tolerate all those feelings she once believed would kill her.  It was incredible!  She could not believe she was able to sit with feelings!  This was a revelation and she grew stronger and more able to be in the world.  She learned to ask for help and she found some people were safe and others were not.  She learned to be in a relationship with another person and to respect them and to honor their boundaries and she experienced the joy of kindness and acting in kindness for no other reason than because it was a part of who she was – to be kind.  She experienced the joy of helping others who were in pain and came to believe there is no greater gift in this life than to offer a hand to another being who is in the depths of despair and pain.

(To be continued)

To My Father

I had a complicated relationship with my father.  One of my earliest memories of him was when I was no more than four years old.  I knocked on the door to his “in home” office and waited for permission to enter, just as I’d been taught.  Upon being told I could come in, I went over to his desk where he was seated and asked, “Why don’t you ever call me into your office?”  He smiled at me and replied, “Because you never do anything wrong… yet…”

It was the early 60’s.  Having children was not viewed with the same kind of thoughtful consideration it is given, by many, today.  Mothers were expected to stay home, while fathers were expected to go to work.  In-home offices were considered unusual.  Personal computers did not exist.  My father made notes and calculations on hundreds of pieces of paper.  It wasn’t until I was in my twenties before I could reliably decipher his illegible scrawl.  During my teens I fought with him daily.  I was more in touch with my animosity toward him than love.  During my twenties, his glaring deficits outweighed his assets.  It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I was able to begin to forgive him.  My last memory of my father, aside from his actual death, was when I went to visit my parents after a grueling and unexpectedly, emotionally, draining trek in Nepal.

I can still remember the sound of the gravel under the wheels of the car as it drove down the slight incline of their driveway.  I can still picture my father seated in his wheelchair waiting for me, under the fig tree to the left of the front door.  I can still remember the feelings of emotion – relief, love, exhaustion and gratitude – that I felt upon seeing him there waiting.  I ran to him, crouched down so I was eye-level and threw my arms around his neck.  I remember the words I whispered into his ear as tears streamed down my face,  “I am so happy to see you.  I love you so much,” I said.  And then I kissed his wrinkled, tanned cheek and didn’t let go.  “I am so grateful you are here,” I said between sobs.

I remember the look on his face, the emotion expressed in those blue, blue eyes of his.  He smiled at me with so much adoration and love and said to my mother, with a slight grin, “I think we should send her off to Nepal every year.”  And then he placed his hand on my head and stroked my hair as I wept.

That is my favorite memory of my father.  Not six months later he was dead.  I am as grateful for that memory today, as I was seeing him that day, now so long ago.

Emma - 2008These are your grandchildren… (Taken in 2008)

Nic -0 2008

A Word Of Thanks

A friend of mine hasn’t been feeling well.  She had a cold or maybe it was the flu.  When she wrote me I could tell by the uncharacteristic abundance of typos that she wasn’t feeling great.  I thought about her, hoping she’d feel better soon.  And then yesterday there she was, so much better, her old self, witty, funny, silly, and I felt tremendous relief.  I hadn’t realized how concerned I was until she was better.

When I was nine my father went horse back riding.  It was a Wednesday.  He and my mother always went riding Wednesday afternoons.  I was home, sick with the flu that afternoon.  I remember staring out the window of my bedroom, the sunlight far too harsh forced me to turn my head from its glaring light.  My father told me he’d look in on me when he returned.  He never did.  At least not for a long time.  That afternoon he fell off his horse and, as luck would have it, he did not die as, those who administered to his broken body, predicted.  He did not die, but he was never the same.

Sometimes our lives change so suddenly it is impossible for our minds to keep up.  Sometimes it takes years to fully appreciate how one second can change so much.

When Emma was born, I could not have anticipated how completely my life would change as a result of her being.  It took years for me to process, to catch up, to fully appreciate the magnitude of one child’s existence and all that would occur as a direct result.  I could not have imagined how completely her life would change mine.   And now, today, in this moment I can say with complete and utter conviction, her life has made mine infinitely better, infinitely more enriched, infinitely more meaningful.  Her life.  Her existence.  Selfishly, and I do mean that literally, selfishly, I have benefited so completely from her being in this world, it takes my breath away.

In any given moment our lives can change.  Just like that.  And in that moment we have no way of knowing where we will be led.  Awhile ago I made a choice.  I didn’t think of it as a choice at the time, but I see now, that in fact it was.  I chose to view the things that have happened in my life as moments of possibility.  As long as I am allowed to live, each moment is a possibility to learn, to grow, to be open to new ideas.  I can say that easily now.  I understand this.  As lives go, mine has been a privileged one.  My perceived “hardship” is nothing compared to what so many have endured.  I do not say any of this flippantly.  This choice I made has been relatively easy to follow.

When my friend was sick I worried, when my father almost died I was devastated, when my child was diagnosed I despaired, but these things happened regardless of my response.  My response to them didn’t change their occurrence.

In this moment it’s raining outside.  Drops of water plop erratically on the air conditioning unit outside my studio, the clouds drift lazily along, skimming the tops of the multilevel buildings I see outside my window.  The red brake lights from the cars careening along the interlaced roadways create a moving collage as they speed off and on the exit ramps of the 59th Street bridge.  In this moment I am safe, my husband is safe, my family is safe, my friend is feeling better…  In this moment, in this brief moment, all is well and I am filled with gratitude for all I have.  I am filled with appreciation for the enormity of how one life has so profoundly changed my own in ways I could not have dared imagine.  I am humbled, knowing I will never be able to fully repay the gifts she has given me.

Beautiful Emma

Em