“MayBelle Monday”: On Being Highly Sensitive During Covid 19

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Sometimes MayBelle gets overwhelmed by the world. Pretty often, actually, and fairly easily. Like last month, when she saw a woman on the corner, this one with a sign that read, “Lost job. Can’t feed family. Anything will help.” MayBelle worried about that woman for days.

Or that time in 2002 when she forgot to invite someone to her wedding. Since she was forty at the time, she thinks her shock about the whole thing even happening affected her memory. But still, she feels bad about it.

It’s just MayBelle’s nature. “Highly sensitive,” she’s called. People shamed her about it when she was younger, and tried to alter her nature with such phrases as “don’t worry” and “calm down” and “stop crying.” Most often their judgment was stated with such simplicity and sternness that it could have been an historical fact passed down through the ages: “You’re too sensitive.”

Back in the early 1990s, when MayBelle moved to Nashville, she spent a lot of time in bookstores as she got to know her new town. One Sunday afternoon—MayBelle remembers the day clearly—she found a book entitled The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron. There a few books that MayBelle can say actually changed her life. This is one of them. Never before had a “label” felt so right to MayBelle, someone who has spent most of her life trying to avoid such. And several years ago, when she found out she’s a four on the Enneagram—MayBelle likes to think of herself as a “flaming four” so individual does she try to be—she felt seen, and known, and understood in way she never thought possible. What a gift in allowing yourself to be categorized, which MayBelle fervently differentiates from being pigeon-holed. (Her favorite Enneagram folks are Richard RohrSuzanne Stabile, and Hunter Mobley.)

At fifty-eight, now MayBelle just goes with it: her sensitivity, her wonderings, her longings. All of it.

Being highly sensitive makes you a good friend, she thinks, as you’re hyperaware of what the people around you are going through. And you’re not scared of sitting with folks during their hard times. You can take it. And it fuels your creative work, what with being able to make something out of scraps and bits you pick up along the way. Discarded beauty others might overlook.

As you might imagine, MayBelle has been affected mightily by the pandemic. She’s been on high alert, you might say. And she’s spent more than a few minutes wondering how she might help, trying to figure out how one middle-aged goober could make a difference.

So she’s going back to the basics. MayBelle was pretty much raised by volunteers. By that she doesn’t mean that strangers came to her house in the afternoons to help her with her homework, only that her parents were often so busy doing good in the community that she felt, well, abandoned.

“We knew you could take care of yourself,” said her mother one day decades after the fact when MayBelle had the gall to complain about it. “It’s not like we left you out in the street as a toddler,” said her father, ever the pragmatist.

In addition to checking on her family and close friends, MayBelle decided that because she can’t save the world, maybe she can assist one person. Her “who” is a former co-worker who has had recent job struggles and doesn’t have any family nearby. Her “what” is calling to see what her friend might need. Her “when” is right now. And her “why” is because she can. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because her mother would want her to. Because she’s highly sensitive.

MayBelle on Marriage: Take Two {Who Says MayBelle Isn’t Romantic?}

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Lest MayBelle be labeled “inexcusably unromantic” or “a marriage buzzkill” (not her critics’ exact words), in light of last week’s post on marriage, let her set the record straight by providing intimate and heartwarming examples of the things she and Precious do for one another to show their affection. Don’t panic: This does not involve sexual innuendo.

Every year on their anniversary, Precious works to get gifts from both the “modern” and the “traditional” anniversary gift categories. To wit:

For their third anniversary, leather and crystal, Precious got MayBelle a baseball glove and a crystal baseball paperweight. He started trying to teach MayBelle about baseball when they first got together (Go Cards!), and they would “watch” games together over the phone. Those lessons continue today, as you might imagine if you’re privy to MayBelle’s deep and abiding disinterest in sports.

For their eighth anniversary, when the gifts were linen and bronze, MayBelle actually found a bronze (ish) lamp with a linen shade. It was a flying pig lamp, but Precious appreciated the effort nonetheless.

Precious cooks for MayBelle almost every night, because if they had to rely on MayBelle for food they’d be either really thin or really fat. Plus, he seems to enjoy the hunting down of recipes and the prepping and the chopping and the simmering, deliberate activities that require patience and a decent attention span, both of which MayBelle lacks.

Precious’ parents died before MayBelle came along, so she knows them only through Precious. One Christmas, MayBelle found an old drawing of his mother and had it framed beautifully (thank you Beveled Edge in Nashville) and it made Precious tear up a bit when she gave it to him, so surprised was he.

On another Christmas, when MayBelle had to be out of town for work, doing two things she really doesn’t like to do, fly and be on television, she thought there wouldn’t be time to get a tree due to the timing of her gig. They had agreed they’d “skip the tree this year.” But Precious went ahead and bought one and had it waiting for MayBelle when she got home. There it was, in all its Scotch Pine glory, in the middle of the den. Boy oh boy did that make MayBelle cry.

MayBelle hopes these examples reassure you that romance is alive and well in the MayBelle-Precious household. There are others, but MayBelle believes in leaving some things to the imagination. Plus, Precious is a private kind of guy.

“I think Precious might be more romantic than you,” said a friend, after, apparently, reading last week’s blog post. (This friend happened to be the one Precious called to ask for suggestions about the best spas in town so he could get MayBelle a gift certificate for her birthday.) She might be right. Having long prided herself on “bring practical,” MayBelle could probably stand to amp up her romance game. But she doesn’t let a day go by without telling Precious she loves him, and he seems to think there’s romance enough in that.

Estate Sale Blues {On What’s Left Behind}

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Seen at yet another estate sale. MayBelle’s mother used to wear Ferragamos, before she got so old, she’d say, that she had to trade fashion for function.

Often MayBelle doesn’t miss her deceased parents on those days you might consider made for mourning: death anniversaries, family birthdays, major holidays. Most likely she begins to cry, or is forced to her knees, at unpredictable times and in unexpected places.

Like this weekend, when she went to an estate sale, the kind where it’s obvious someone has left the house for good, as opposed to a garage sale intended to make room for more stuff. What’s left is what’s left behind, after the inhabitant has died or moved to a retirement community or skilled nursing facility, perhaps. For some reason, in her mother’s final days, MayBelle much preferred “skilled nursing facility” over “nursing home.” She was choosing her words deliberately, she surmises, so that she might survive the fact that her mother could no longer care for herself in a meaningful way.

MayBelle knows the territory because she’s been there, deciding what stays in the family, what gets donated or sold, what needs to be discarded. How to choose between a memory and a marble candlestick? Indeed.

As she made her way through the tidy townhouse, MayBelle looked for old postcards and photographs, small things she might use as writing prompts or for her art projects. Exiting a bedroom she glanced in the closet, where she noticed clothes like her mother wore in her later years: matching, machine washable, sturdy with a hint of style. MayBelle began to weep, seeing the same brands she and her sisters used to buy for their mother, clinging to any last gesture they might offer her when so much had been taken away. For a while there, MayBelle could tell any woman of a certain era where to get the best deals on Alfred Dunner and high-waisted cotton underwear.

MayBelle is what’s known as a “highly sensitive person”—yes, it’s a thing—and she can be moved to despair at warp speed. Bless her heart. She is also a person with an estate sale problem. Probably she should not spend so much time rummaging around in the pasts of strangers, as it often makes her sad and she does not need even one more tea towel. But this weekend it is where MayBelle found herself, wondering what had happened to the homeowner (was it a happy life?), forking over eleven dollars, and missing her mother.

MayBelle Gets Labeled {On Being Called “Obese”}

IMG_1913MayBelle was proud of herself for figuring out how to sign up for her doctor’s web-based information system, so that she could schedule appointments online, request prescription refills, and access all sorts of other helpful materials, like maybe how to get rid of night sweats and hot flashes you’re still having some three years after being told you’ve “gone through” menopause. (Can you say “vaginal dryness,” anyone?) So imagine her disappointment when she logged on today to arrange a follow-up visit and found the following in her file: “Mildly obese.”

MayBelle quickly double-checked to make sure she hadn’t accessed another hapless patient’s account, like, you know, someone who is, well, fat. Still MayBelle.

Now MayBelle is keenly aware she needs to lose a few pounds but deliver me, she said, looking around the room to make sure no one else had seen those two life-changing words.

“Those doctor’s office scales always seem to weigh me heavy,” she said, pulling in her stomach and sitting up just a bit straighter.

For a minute or so, MayBelle thought about going to buy a pie at the farmer’s market, or eating some cookie dough she just might have stashed in the freezer.

“Mildly schmildly,” she thought. “I’ll show that doctor from obese and move right up to ‘moderately.’”

Apparently once you’ve been labeled “obese” you don’t place much import on qualifiers.

But MayBelle knows that’s not the proper, or healthy, reaction. So instead she logged off, took a deep breath, and texted her trainer.

In Which MayBelle Snaps a Photograph of Shawn Colvin and Gets in Trouble

MayBelle is a rule follower from way back, and she tries not to cause trouble, especially in public. The other night she and Precious were at the Cheekwood Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in Nashville listening to Shawn Colvin in an outdoor concert. Sort of like Bonnaroo for middle-aged goobers. That would be enough, of course, but there was also a Chihuly exhibit, so it was a two-fer.

Lots of people were taking photographs, so MayBelle, determined to become a shutterbug, hopped up and snapped a few from the sidelines. Soon after, when MayBelle had returned to their picnic spot and resumed her seat next to Precious, a security guard leapt out at her–leapt she tells you!–and berated her for taking photos, saying she should have known better because that rule was listed on the website. MayBelle had not looked at any website, as Precious, the dear, had surprised her with the tickets in honor of their eighth wedding anniversary. The man continued to invade MayBelle’s space and speak harshly to her, all while other concertgoers were taking countless photographs all over the lawn. MayBelle is proud of herself, though, for she did not tear up or let the man intimidate her. Not too much anyway. She apologized and stood her ground.

But she’ll think twice about going to another outdoor concert at Cheekwood, which is too bad because her beloved John Hiatt is scheduled for September. Here are two photos MayBelle took before she was so unjustly harassed and made to feel like a criminal. Okay, that’s a tad melodramatic, MayBelle admits, but it was a sour ending to an otherwise lovely evening.

MayBelle Goes to an Acupuncturist

“Does it hurt?” asks MayBelle’s sister as they talk on the phone one afternoon in June. MayBelle is late for her appointment with the acupuncturist, and she should have known better than to call her sister with only ten minutes to spare. Their phone calls last an average of 45 minutes and you can set your digital watch by this. But MayBelle was desperate for a piece of information that only her sister could give her, so she gave it a shot and then ended up being late for her appointment.

“Sort of,” said MayBelle, trying to speak in a whisper as she entered the all-natural health center. She didn’t think cell phones would be appreciated there. “I’ll call you back.”

The truth is, the slight prick of the needles hurts much less than the leg pains MayBelle has been complaining about–don’t you feel sorry for her husband, Precious?!–for two years now. “Nothing wrong with your legs,” says the internist. “Nope,” echoes the orthopedist. So MayBelle has resorted to desperate measures, such as losing weight and giving up artificial sweeteners. Soon she shall have to say goodbye to the powered creamer she keeps in her purse since she can’t tolerate the lactose in the milk at Starbucks. What else will the long-suffering MayBelle have to give up next?

For now, she is feeling a bit better, and vowing to be on top of this “healthy living” approach before she turns 50 in two years. In fact, please remember her fondly  in the morning at 11 when she goes to the physical trainer who seems to forget that MayBelle is 48 and out of shape.

Maybelle and Her Mother Clean Out Closets

When Maybelle goes to visit her mother in the retirement “community” where she lives, they  usually undertake some kind of project. This time around, it was to clean out closets. As Maybelle diligently took each item of clothing to her mother for inspection, she came across two lovely formal gowns.

“I don’t guess I need to keep those,” said Maybelle’s mother, who is 88 and looks stunning in this picture with her first great-grandchild. “It’s not like I’ll ever go anywhere to wear something like that again.”

After the kind of pause than can be manipulated for maximum effect, she added, “You might want to hang on to them, though. You can always bury me in one.”