“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.

Show Me Your Scars and I’ll Show You Mine

IMG_3730.jpgI didn’t realize I was sick back then—just miserable. I knew I didn’t belong in law school, though everyone around me said I did. Problem is, you don’t drop out in my family. Wilsons persevere.

“I think something’s wrong with your thyroid.” This from my mother at the Thanksgiving table after my dismal semester. Turns out a goiter had sprouted in my neck and I hadn’t even noticed. That’s how out of touch I was with myself, people. (Google “goiter” at your own risk.)

“You better go see Doc Murray when you get back to Oxford.”

I did and it was. The kindly and charming old-school doctor sent me to a specialist, a not kindly and especially uncharming man, who glanced at me and said: “Most times this is cancer.”

My twenty-two-year-old self started crying and ran to call my parents.

“Come home,” they said. So I did. We got another specialist. A nicer one.

After the surgery to remove half my thyroid gland, I didn’t really mind the scar, even early on when it was angry and red. It proves I can weather the storm, if you will, that’s the way I see it. Cliché or no.

“I can fix that for you,” said a doctor acquaintance at a party not too long ago. He was tilting his head toward the base of my neck and stabbing for an olive with one of those plastic cocktail swords. Red I think it was.

“Fix what?” I asked. I wasn’t even trying to be coy, as I don’t think about the scar, which looks a little bit like a short, braided rope.

“Your thyroidectomy scar. The surgeon should have done a better job. You know, so it wouldn’t be so noticeable.”

Maybe your mother should have done a better job with you, I wanted to say. You know, so your personality wouldn’t be so bothersome.

“I don’t want it fixed,” I said instead. “But thank you for your concern.”

Besides the small rough patch on my right hand—a neighbor’s German Shepherd jumped up on me while I was riding my bike (boy was I proud of that banana seat) and I ended up in a puddle of gravel—I don’t have other visible scars. (I’ve had more surgeries, laparoscopies and such, but no additional physical reminders of trauma.)

My mother, bless her precious 93-year-old heart, is riddled with scars: colon cancer, mastectomy, gallbladder, vena cava filter, skin tears every time her body tricks her into thinking she doesn’t need to use a walker and she pitches to the floor.

I don’t know if she minds her scars or not. I could ask her, but the answer might not be based in reality, as dementia is robbing her of such. She doesn’t seem to mind them, though, or much of anything, actually. Instead she comes across as content, happy even, in the moment. She no longer seems anxious and does not spend her days borrowing trouble, a favorite pastime of hers that I’m sorry to say I have inherited.

Usually she just smiles, asks me if I’m her baby, and rolls herself into the dining room to join the other old souls who can no longer live on their own.

“Yes, ma’am,” I say. “I am.”

Scars and all.

Amy Lyles Wilson

Writing Prompt: Read Lucille Clifton’s “Scar” and write about what it brings up in you. Write for 20 minutes. I’ll set the timer. Go!

http://www.sunsetcoastwriters.com/blog/scar

On Dreaming {Waking Up Worried}

dsc_0066.jpgThis morning I woke up wondering how to make amends for having offended someone. We were at a conference and I’d tried to sit next to him during the lunch break.

“You can’t sit here,” he said. “I don’t want to be around you because I saw you do something I didn’t like.”

It might be merely sad if I were worried about someone jerky enough to refuse to sit by me because of a perceived slight I might not even have been aware of making, but the thing that makes my concern even more pathetic is that it was all a dream. After dreaming about a man, someone I did not recognize from my waking life, being rude to me, my response was to blame myself and beg for forgiveness. All this before I’d even brushed my teeth.

This can’t be good, right, that I allowed a dream to make me doubt myself? That my first inclination upon waking was not, “What a beautiful morning” (which it is here in Nashville) or “Aren’t I lucky to have a husband who brings me coffee?”

Instead, I opened my eyes and thought: “I can’t believe I made this guy so angry with me. What could I have done wrong?” Blink. Blink. Blink. “What can I do to make it right? How can I make him like me?”

“That’s a stretch even for you, Babe,” said Precious when I told him I woke up worried. “Usually we make it to noon before you take to fretting.”

I think he was kidding, but he knows I’m an anxious sort, that I have the potential to assume responsibility for actions that take place five counties over. That I can imagine all manner of things to be sorry for just sitting in the den.

But I’m working on it. I’m learning the art of presence. I’m practicing being centered in today instead of borrowing trouble against tomorrow. I yearn to be respectful of, and grateful for, this very instant. This one right here. I don’t want to be the kind of old woman who wanders too far afield into the unknown of the future or stays mired in the over and done with of the past. Today, though, I feel like my dream conspired against me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In training to be a spiritual director, we’re doing dream work, which is new to me. We’re asked to make notes of our dreams and sit with images that come up. Maybe this dream is inviting me to let go of what people think of me. Maybe this dream is reminding me that I can’t control how others react to me and that, alas, not everyone will like me. (This one still breaks my heart, that not everyone thinks I’m fabulous. And that there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.) This wouldn’t be the first time such propositions have been hurled in my direction. Maybe now I will get the message. If not, there’s always tonight, where another dream awaits.

Singing the Blues

IMG_2556Not really, because I can’t sing, at least not in any meaningful or memorable way. Although I’ve been known to belt out a little Van Morrison or John Hiatt when Precious isn’t around, it’s not pretty, or melodic. Just cathartic. These days, though, I’m not much in the mood for singing, or for anything other than reading, napping, and eating. Oh yeah, and wallowing. And maybe a little ruminating.

On paper, I shouldn’t be depressed: loving husband, fine friends, spiritual underpinnings, work I enjoy (although not always enough of it as a freelancer), warm home. But those of us who “suffer” with depression know that paper has nothing to do with it. I put the word suffer in quotation marks because I wonder about what it implies, that maybe people will pity me. I don’t really find pity an appropriate response to depression. I vote for acceptance and understanding instead. Because on this very day, in this tender place, I don’t need you to cheer me up (smiley faces begone!), or pat me on the knee while saying  “it’s going to be okay” (I trust it will be), or remind me I have a lot to be thankful for (indeed I do). I just need you to sit right here with me.

So far, I’ve kept my appointments, met my deadlines, gone to the gym, and, on most days, managed to practice proper hygiene, but I haven’t done those things with my usual levels of energy and involvement. Instead I’ve met the minimum and then hurried back home to hunker down. Sometimes, while hunkering, I find myself mulling over mistakes, worrying about the future, and wondering where I might have made a different move. And although I enjoy a little introspection as much as the next middle-aged goober, I suspect such intense “what if-ing” isn’t healthy, not for the long term anyway, and I’m working to make sure I don’t over do. But I also know this is part of me, this depression, and that it deserves my attention, and maybe even my respect.

It’s cold and gray here in Nashville, without snow to make the weather seem worth it, so that doesn’t help. I don’t know if I might be susceptible to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but I plan to check it out just in case. 

So tonight my depression and I are listening to the soundtrack on NPR devoted to cabin fever and trusting in tomorrow. Maybe we’ll light a candle, and even sing a few bars. What do you listen to on dark winter nights?

 

Here’s Hoping Fifty Really Is Nifty…

From Her NashvilleAugust 2011

This month I turn 50. As in, half a century. As in, at least half of my life is gone. It sounds depressing, and in some ways I guess it is. But for the most part, it feels like a gift.

Earlier this year, I vowed to become as healthy as I could before my momentous birthday. I increased my visits to the shrink, started getting acupuncture, hired a personal trainer, scheduled facials on a regular basis, tried to give up carbs, and took up yoga. I had hoped the big day would approach and find me 30 pounds lighter and boasting a low cholesterol number. Alas, those things did not happen. What I can celebrate, though, is feeling more like myself than ever.

Read more here…

In Which a Middle-Aged Goober Steps on the Scale and Weighs Her Options

from istockphoto.com

And so today I looked at the scale in the doctor’s office and found out I weigh more than I have ever weighed in my life. Ever. For years now I have avoided the number, telling the nurse I didn’t want to know. I would take off my shoes and shut my eyes, waiting to hear her say, “Okay, you can step off now.” I’d make sure not to look down at my chart while talking with the doctor, so as to avoid glimpsing the truth. But today, in this year that marks my fiftieth birthday, I decided it was time to stop kidding myself: I’m overweight.

This is not a news flash for me, of course. I’ve known for a while now, even though I’ve managed to kid myself into thinking I look okay and feel pretty good. Neither of those things is true. Photographs show my full face, wide hips, and soft belly. My knees ache, I snore (Precious describes this, lovingly, as “fog horn like”), and my cravings lean more and more toward sugar and carbs.

One of my friends, a woman I met just three years ago but feel I have known for decades, lost 30 pounds on Weight Watchers. I thought she looked fine before, and she did. But now, she’s just about the best-looking sixty-something woman I know. And she’s way cool to boot. I would like to be her when I’m 63, that’s how fabulous she is. She says she was never driven by vanity; it was her creaky knees that made her lose weight. That’s the way it is for me, I think. I don’t seem to scare small children when I go to the mall, and Precious loves me as I am, about 20 pounds heavier than when we married in 2002. But now I make moaning noises when I get up from the couch, which isn’t often, because that’s become my favorite place to park myself. I complain about back pain, low energy, and blue moods. My cholesterol is through the roof. Can you say put down the cheese doodles?

Another friend says she lost weight by eating only on alternate Tuesdays, and yet another swears by the hCG diet, which seems to involve injections and possibly urine from pregnant women. As it is with most meaningful undertakings, I will have to find my own way to better health. I suspect my path will involve smaller portions and more workouts, but I’ll keep you posted.

In college, I thought I was too heavy. Pictures from those days make me teary-eyed with envy, as I see now that I was “normal” back then, back when I weighed 40 pounds less. Today, though, my weight is not the only thing I’m paying close attention to as I plod toward the big five-oh in August. I’ve taken up yoga, and I like how it’s putting me in touch with my body in new ways, making me aware of moves I didn’t even know were possible and affording me a sense of calm (thanks Hilary and ALIGN!) Also in my arsenal are a therapist (no website!), a personal trainer (thanks Stephanie!), and an acupuncturist (thanks Eden!). A supportive husband, a loyal dog, and plenty of women who have gone before me.

“It’s the sharing of our stories that saves us.”

What’s a Middle-Aged Goober Doing at Blissdom?

I don’t really know from blogging. As a professional writer and editor who has worked in the publishing world for 25 years, I know about words. As a woman nearing fifty, I know about marrying late, burying my father (the first love of my life), caring for my elderly mother, and wondering if I’ll get it all done before my time is up. As a retreat leader and workshop facilitator, I know it’s the sharing of our stories that saves us. And here I’m talking about the tough stories, the ones about loss, and grief, and regrets, and dreams denied that all too often our society/family/religion/ego wants us to keep to ourselves.

But this whole blogging thing has me a bit stymied: Do I need a catchy theme, with a title that enhances SEO? (I do actually know what that stands for, thanks to Randy Elrod.) Do I have to be a “mommy blogger”? If so, I’m screwed, because I blog under my own name and I do not have children. So where does that leave me, a middle-aged goober who encourages women to write their hearts out?

For starters, it leaves me looking for all the guidance I can lap up. So last week I headed out to Gaylord Opryland Hotel and attended the Blissdom Conference. (I was miffed last year when I heard about it after the fact, and couldn’t believe I was so out of the loop in my own town.)

I walked in knowing I would see at least one familiar face, because we’d promised one another we’d take turns rescuing whichever one of us was feeling more vulnerable, as we were both stepping outside our comfort zone. I ended up knowing several folks, and even ran across a co-worker from Her Nashville. But mostly I interacted with women I had never met or even heard of.

And here’s what I learned:
There are women—women just like you and me—doing amazing things online: advocating for charitable causes, exposing issues surrounding small farms and raw foods, inspiring better parenting, making all sorts of crafty items, cooking healthy food, finding their way through addiction. The list goes on, and that list can be both freeing, “there’s room for everyone,” and intimidating, “who do I think I am.” What the Blissdom panelists and speakers modeled for me is that there is still plenty of room, and that if I think I’m the one to tell a certain story in a certain way, then I am. Funny, that’s exactly how I advise the women in my writing workshops: you’re the only one who can tell your story and yes, the world has room for it. Let’s write it, and then we’ll worry about what to do with it.

But there was more: conversations with women from all over the country that I never would have met otherwise; time for socializing in an environment free from competition for who has the most Twitter followers (not me); great swag, really, the best conference happies ever; delicious food; and the playing of “Party in America,” “Party in the USA,” which made the menopausal me burst into tears (in a good way). On top of all that, I heard Brene Brown, whose book The Gifts of Imperfection is already informing my work; and Scott Stratten, on whom I think I have developed a crush. (Please don’t tell Precious.) I think I even made a few new friends.

In the end, there were women there who’ve been blogging longer than I have, and women who have just started; women who have confidence in themselves, and their words, and women who wonder if they’ll ever bring themselves to hit “publish”; women who are younger and thinner, and women who share my creaky knees and desire to lose weight. But our common denominator remains: we all have stories worth telling.

“Do you work?”

Clark Gable: “Oh, Mr. Faulkner, do you write?”

William Faulkner: “Yes, I do, Mr. Gable. And what do you do?”

It’s a simple enough question, posed to me by the office manager at my dentist’s office this morning while I’m paying my bill. (I’m not really dressed to be out in public, so this may be one reason she’s wondering. Sometimes I forget that everyone doesn’t run around town in their sweats. Without makeup.) This, after just being told that one day my gum may separate from my teeth, bottom left, thereby allowing “stuff” to accumulate in the resulting pocket.

“What happens then?” I ask, not really wanting to know. I am still gripping the sides of the dental chair, even though the examination and cleaning are over.

“We send you to a gum specialist,” says the smiling dentist. Man does he have nice teeth.

“But let’s not worry about that just yet. For today, everything is fine.”

Obviously the smiling dentist does not know me as well as, say, Precious or my therapist. For worrying about instances that might never happen is my favorite hobby. Right up there with borrowing trouble and catastrophizing about events that statistically occur once every gazillion years if you live in the Outback and don’t have insurance. At least that is what the old me would do; the new, 2011-me is going to be laid back, carefree, a go-with-the-flow kind of middle-aged goober. So I smile back at the smiling dentist with the perfect teeth and sort through the basket of free toothbrushes looking for one with a purple handle. I have just read, in Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness (Karen Rauch Carter, Fireside, 2000) that purple is a color of prosperity. I can’t find a purple toothbrush, so I throw caution to the wind and go with red. The old me would have never done that. I’ll have to look up what red means asap. I’m hoping it indicates “bold” and “confident.” “Published.”

“Yes,” I say to the woman behind the counter. “I work. I’m a writer.”

I am terribly pleased with myself for answering her so directly, free of excuses about not being in the New York Times or not having been an Oprah Book Club pick when there was still time to be an Oprah Book Club pick.

“Do you enjoy your work?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I do.”

“Then you’re lucky.”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I am.”


In Which I Break Down in Midway Airport

Photo from iStockPhoto.

Last week I faced one of the most challenging developments in my career. It was exciting and scary all that once. And I was pretty much out of my mind with apprehension. As well as insecure, curious, happy, nervous, giddy, and sick to my stomach. Throw in being about 800 miles from home and you have quite the recipe for one freaked-out middle-aged goober.

Knowing how worried I was, Precious said this: “I’ll believe in you until you can believe in yourself.” And so he did. And then finally I did, too.

But not before I had a meltdown in Chicago’s Midway Airport, attracting a sympathetic gaze and grandfatherly pat from a chaplain. Think sweet (the priest) and pathetic (me) simultaneously.

Others assisted me along the way as well, maybe more than they know, although I have tried to tell them how much I appreciate their support, and their prayers, and their text messages. I love that at my age, 49, I can reach out and ask for what I need without worrying if people will consider me “needy.” I was needy last week, and so ask I did. I’m not sure I could have completed my assignment—or even gotten on the plane—with any sense of grace or aplomb if I hadn’t been sustained by such loving souls.