It’s crazy how your entire life can shift in the most normal, ordinary moment, isn’t it?
On Saturday, May 22nd, 2021, my husband, the kids and I were at a park up in Scottsdale. It was a fun little park that had train rides, a carousel, playgrounds, model trains, and more.
While looking at the model trains, I went to use the bathroom. I got out my phone and a notification popped up from Apple News with an article called, “The Secret Superpowers of Highly Sensitive People.”
I’d never heard the phrase Highly Sensitive People before, but it resonated with me. And my gosh, I have fallen into a deep rabbit hole of rediscovery ever since then.
A Little History, Context, and Update
It’s no secret that motherhood has been rough for me since day one. While I envisioned myself beautifully stepping into motherhood with a gentle grace, it’s felt like more of a tumultuous tumble, only being able to brace myself for short periods before I fall a little further.
While my postpartum depression improved after about 9 months postpartum with Griffin, my anxiety didn’t. For the past three and a half years, my emotions have felt like a whiplashy roller coaster ride. A common sentiment I’d tell my husband was, “I’m just so exhausted by my emotions.”
At the end of November 2020, I decided I needed to start therapy. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and has helped me process past trauma and manage a lot of my big feelings. But the day-to-day triggers were still pretty exhausting.
The picture below is the day where I decided I needed to start therapy. Griffin’s birthday party got postponed at the last minute and I was riddled with anxiety and on the edge of tears the whole day, but that all is a story for another time.
By May 2021, my day-to-day anxiety was still pretty bad, despite having weekly therapy sessions. I had my annual OBGYN appointment and I was planning to ask my doctor about anti-anxiety medication. I had reached a point where I didn’t know what else to do.
Surprisingly, I ended up having a semi-OK day that day and I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask about medication. I have absolutely nothing against medication (obviously, I was going to ask for it!), but I’m actually glad that I didn’t end up asking about it that day.
The following weekend was when I came across the article about Highly Sensitive People (HSPs).
High Sensitivity is a trait that about 20% of the population carry, and it’s even been identified in over 100 different animal species. It’s not a disorder or disease, just a trait. HSPs have a deeper, more complex central nervous system, causing them to feel things more deeply.
Being highly sensitive can be a blessing because we are super-empathetic, we can pick up on things other people miss, and we tend to have deeper relationships.
It can also be a curse because I face things like burnout, exhaustion, and overstimulation much quicker than most people.
After learning about high sensitivity, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more ~seen~ in my life.
Learning About My Highly Sensitive Self
I started reading tons of articles about HSPs. I also watched the Amazon Prime documentary Sensitive – The Untold Story. It features Alanis Morissette and one of the most well-respected researchers on high sensitivity, Dr. Elaine Aron.
Suddenly, my “big feelings” felt explained. My sensitivity to crowds, long lines, loud sounds and light. My overly empathetic self, literally feeling what other people feel. My distaste for horror movies and violence. My near-constant decision fatigue.
But unfortunately, just learning I was an HSP didn’t solve everything. It gave me the WHY behind my feelings, but not the what to do about it.
Hitting a Deep Burnout
On Sunday, June 6th, I hit a deep, difficult burnout. The kids had been off and on home sick for a couple weeks, work had been stressful, and I started to mentally retreat. The week before, I even cried on a Zoom call with my boss and she encouraged me to just take a few days off.
That day we went to breakfast and then to the park, and I felt like I had lost all my words. I was so in-my-head that I couldn’t really engage with Andrew or the kids. And obviously, Andrew could tell.
While we were sitting in the grass, he said, “Why don’t you take a trip? Go to Seattle, you’ve always wanted to go there!”
I knew a multi-day trip by myself was what I needed, but holy cow, I felt super guilty about it. It felt so selfish. Not to mention, I was also going to Texas that weekend for my sister-in-law’s baby shower. So I’d go there, then turnaround and fly to Washington just two days after getting back?!
But I was literally desperate for an extended period of alone time. I needed more than just an afternoon. I needed several days by myself to process and relax.
As selfish as it felt, I knew that if I went, I would come back a happier mom. If I didn’t go, I would stay in my state of perpetual burnout, and not my best self for my family.
After overthinking it for the entire day (because that’s what I do, lol), I closed my eyes and booked my flight and an AirBnb in Washington.
Rediscovering Myself in Seattle
On Tuesday, June 15th, I flew to Seattle. I brought my laptop and worked remotely that week so I only ended up taking one day off.
I rented the most adorable AirBnb in Edmonds, WA, which is a picturesque Hallmark town on the Puget Sound. I could see the ocean and snow-capped mountains from my place. Everything about it was exactly what my soul needed.
I worked during the day (and saw the ocean from my table!)…
Walked to the cute downtown area in the afternoons…
…and spent each evening sitting on the same log on the beach watching the sunset… ALL BY MYSELF. It was wonderful! 😂
My mission for the trip was to think about how I could break my cycle of burnout when I got home. I knew something needed to change in my day-to-day routine so I could stop hitting the levels of burnout and anxiety that I have perpetually slipped into over the past 3.5 years.
An Introduction to Meditation
Meditation had been on my mind for a long time, but I’d tried it in the past and sitting in silence was basically torture.
I read in an HSP Facebook group that it can be easier to wind down with guided meditations, so I downloaded the free app Insight Timer and started their 7-day Beginner’s Meditation Course.
In the first lesson, I learned that it’s 100% normal and expected for your mind to wander during meditation. It’s called your “monkey brain,” and while it will always be there, you can learn to tame it so it’s a little quieter. It’s like taking a 3 year-old dog for a walk instead of a puppy. You’re not whipped around quite so bad!
After just a couple days of guided meditation and alone time, I was already feeling like a new person. I was developing a new sense of inner peace I hadn’t felt in almost 7 or 8 years. It was giving me space to step outside of myself and look at my mind and my heart.
I started learning that my anxious self is OK and normal. I can actually address her with love instead of anger and frustration.
My guided meditations along with the book Heart Minded: How to Hold Yourself and Others in Love by Sarah Blondin have opened up my heart to a new, more peaceful relationship with my inner self.
I am quickly learning to love and care for my sensitive side. To pay attention to her, listen to her, and give her time and space. To not blame her, but accept her as she is and nurture her.
And the more quiet time I spend through meditation, the more margin and space it’s giving me in my day-to-day life. I feel like I have more space to choose how I want to react to situations instead of my emotions controlling me.
I realize that I’m only barely into this journey, but the effects so far have been profound for me. I know that my cup is still being filled and the burnout I felt a month ago is not far behind me, but for the first time in several years I have hope for a less anxious future.
I also realize that I cannot do justice to the full scope of what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person, but if any of what I said resonates with you or someone you love, I encourage you to read more about it. Dr. Elaine Aron’s website is a good place to start, as well as What is a Highly Sensitive Person? via Verywell Mind.
I anticipate that I’ll probably do a few more posts on this topic, as I enjoy talking about mental health and this journey has been such a breakthrough for me. If any of this resonates with you, I’d love for you to leave a comment and ask any questions you might have! <3