“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.

A Good Enough Day

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Upon returning home from an idyllic two-week trip to my favorite place, Chautauqua , I was met by a frantic puppy with sharp little teeth, loads of laundry, work to catch up on, and a world in upheaval. Being the highly sensitive person that I am–a middle-aged goober who can feel overwhelmed in crowds or when witnessing conflict–it all seemed too much. So yesterday I concentrated on the basics: Take a shower, make at least a little progress on an editorial assignment, and keep the two appointments I had scheduled. I’m glad I did, as I’m always made better when I get up and go, even if the movement is slight, like a short walk through my neighborhood. As evening settled over Nashville, I headed for my gratitude journal. This practice of stopping and taking stock both reassures and renews me, and I can get off center fairly easily if I don’t do it. Honoring that which matters is a sacred act.

To wit: Friends who didn’t freak out when I met them for lunch and said, “Good to see you. I may cry while we eat.” Instead, they offered, “Go ahead. We might, too.” The three of us are in that stage of life where we’ve lost—or our losing—our parents; our health is throwing us curve balls; and we’re letting go of some time-bound dreams while still pursuing the ones we care about the most. We are doing the best we can, and we are not giving up even if we have to slow down a bit and order salads instead of cheeseburgers.

In my younger days, I probably thought “good enough” meant I wasn’t living up to my potential, or that I was settling. At this stage of my life, I know it means the freedom and self-assurance to live well, without comparison to others’ accomplishments or accumulations, without wondering “Would my life have been better if…?”

So on this day, I’m thankful for a good therapist, the playfulness of said frantic puppy with the sharp little teeth, a husband who knows how to cook, my writing partner who sat across from me for three hours as we wrote our hearts out, and this amazing sky.

It is good enough and plenty.

Amy Lyles Wilson

P.S. What are you grateful for, at this very minute?