I started this essay several years back, before I started blogging and before Boy started school, when we were up to our eyeballs in working with him and the challenges he was facing at that time. I dug it out of the vault recently – it was really only in outline form – and I’m proud to say I finally finished it to share here. I also added a little background info because it was the inspiration for the original working title of this blog, which I changed at the last minute, obviously. Anyway, you’ll definitely recognize a theme if you’ve been following along here for awhile.
I’ve mentioned Girl was one of several people who encouraged me to start my own blog. This went on for 5 or 6 years, I think? At one point, she even went so far as to put together a couple of drafts of a header in an effort to push me along. She took the photos, edited them, brainstormed with me about titles, did the design work, the whole thing.
Here they are for your free entertainment at my expense:
Is the first one friendlier, happier, younger, more attractive, kinder, gentler? Is the first one better all around because the second one is bordering on America’s Most Wanted? Which one is the real me? I don’t know, but when I shared them both on FB, a little bit of hell broke loose and I had to reassure my people that I wasn’t having some kind of mid-life crisis or something. It was pretty hilarious.
Whatever, I wasn’t ready back then anyway.
As I said, I nearly called this blog The Intensity Of Being Me. I’m happier with the title I chose in the end because, in essence, my daughter chose it via her Mother’s Day gift to me and it was primarily her encouragement which led me to be brave enough – or dumb enough – to publish here in the first place. I’d say it all worked out as it should have. Still, I haven’t been able to shake the thought that TIOBM is a great title for *something*, and so, here it is as the title of this blog POST…
THE INTENSITY OF BEING ME
I’ve been working on making peace with how deeply I feel things, how much time I spend turning things over in my head, thinking and wondering and considering and imagining and figuring out, wishing at times I were more optimistic, trusting, breezy, serene, maybe even a little OBLIVIOUS. There are so many completely oblivious, thoughtless people, man, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Well, yes there is, but what I mean is I don’t automatically view oblivious people as bad people. Just clueless. A few pages short of a chapter. I admit sometimes I think it would be a relief to be that way. But usually not. Anyway, I’ve definitely mellowed a little over the years and I’m certainly calmer, less anxious, less hard on myself than I’ve ever been, but it’s been pretty much my entire adult life’s work and a helluva lot of it too. And I’m far from done. Finally settling into my own skin a little bit is such a relief, even with the whole menopause thing, even with the unfinished work, which is an entirely different post, trust me.
Recently, I remembered a conversation I had with my first therapist 30ish years ago when he said, “you are a very intense young woman”. I remember at the time feeling so awful about that comment – like it was a judgment, a diagnosis, something deeply wrong with me that set me apart, something that needed fixing, AS IF I needed a longer list. It felt as if there was something better, more likeable, less abnormal about the oblivious, less sensitive, and easy going people who seamlessly roll with all the punches, and who look good and act appropriately while doing it too.
My intensity “problem” was something I tried to “fix” for many years – along with my introversion and high sensitivity – way before there were people coming out of the woodwork writing books about such things. And finally, after years of self-loathing, I decided it was time to view the whole thing differently. Because what if it’s not something that’s fixable? What if it’s part of my God-given personality and temperament? Not bad, not wrong, just different from yours? What if my gifts are rooted in it? What if fighting it amounts to nothing more than turning my back on myself? Not that I will ever stop working on trying to be the best version of myself I can be, but after all is said and done, whether its because of childhood experiences or some of the assholes I’ve encountered or the way I’m wired or a combination of all of the above, I’M INTENSE.
And just so you know, I’ve recently come to detest the outrageously high value our culture places not only on extroversion, but also on constant positive thinking and the annoying as all hell glass-half-full schtick, as if there is no other “right way” to be. Having said that, I think I understand it, I really do. It’s easier, more pleasant to be around all of the outgoing, smiley, happy people. Even when it’s bullshit. We believe our vibe attracts our tribe and our outcomes are linked to our attitudes blahblahblah. And maybe it’s true, to a point. I try to find a balance because I definitely don’t want to be a recluse or stuck in negativity all the time and I’m not. Practicing gratitude is important and I do. But the truth is, sometimes, the glass is NOT half full. If people are always focused on validating – especially publicly – their positive thoughts, feelings and experiences to the exclusion of their negative ones, well, I call bullshit on that because I’ve tried it. And it was bullshit. And not so deep or real either. What about space for beautifully painful feeling or thought? What about disappointment, worry, sadness, confusion, fear, outrage? What about experiences that are simply raw and ugly? What about empathy? What about the change, productivity, creativity and healing that can flow from acknowledging, processing and moving through the full spectrum of human realities? What about honestly calling a shitpile a shitpile? How does one know real joy without pain? How does one see beauty without also seeing the hideous? Yes, being aware of the energy one is spreading around matters. Yes, balance matters. Yes, being able to process and move through negative thought and emotion is imperative. Yes, having the skills to set aside certain feelings at times is critical. But there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging both the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of life. It’s real, and in my opinion, necessary. Does my focus on both make me more intense? Ok. Am I a bad or lesser person because I need so much time alone, or because I cringe at too much superficial, perky small talk, or because I have to keep my distance sometimes from people low on emotional intelligence, or because my eyes roll up in my head when the self-absorbed, meaningless monologues begin? I don’t think so. But really, just because my brow is often furrowed and I’m not always smiling with sunshine and rainbows beaming from my face and my FB page isn’t a stream of constant positivity and perfection (sorry, but BULLSHIT) and just because I’m not always talking doesn’t mean there is something wrong with me. I’m just not you. And you’re not listening when I DO talk anyway.
Looking back, I SO wish I had acquired the necessary tools I needed to better understand and manage my intensity instead of feeling like it was an undesirable personality trait, something I needed to hide or something that needed to be removed like a black hairy mole. Because viewing it as if it was something not good made it bad. And it didn’t have to be that way. But who knew from intensity and the like back then? And who cared anyway? Did my intensity shape the way I perceived my experiences or am I intense because of my experiences or both? Who knows. Doesn’t matter.
I slowly came to realize I needed to try to accept this about myself so I could just BE myself and breathe. And if one more person suggests that I “let it go”, “lighten up”, “stop thinking that way”, “smile”, etc, AS IF you think you know what I need, well, my head might just spin off my freaking neck. And no, I will not read Love Languages so you can try to figure me out in 3 easy steps. It’s so negating. By all means, please call me out if you think I’m being an asshole in some manner, but otherwise, please stop trying to mold me into a mirror image of YOU. I have my own intense and highly sensitive strain of happy, ok? Or maybe content is a better word. Or maybe a mixture of contentment and surviving. Maybe the action up in my head isn’t my enemy. Maybe I finally find the company to be quite good some of the time and I don’t slam the door in its face anymore, I manage it. It’s ok to have my especially intense brand of thoughts and feelings, but what am I going to DO with them? Because in the end, they are just thoughts and feelings, nothing more. But they’re mine. They can be catalysts, they don’t have to be quick sand anymore. They can actually be a significant strength because I often see things under the surface that other people might not see. Or I can put the things we all see but can’t or won’t talk about into words, on my schedule, not yours, after I’ve had the time I need to process whatever it is. Examining and expressing these things can lead to great discomfort, which can lead to action, which can be good or bad, depending. And while these intense thoughts and feelings can be a source of great pain, anger and anxiety, all of which are difficult, they can also be a source of great joy, meaning, beauty, passion, inspiration, and creativity, which I love. The big picture question is what am I going to DO with it all? I acknowledge that anxiety and intensity often seem inextricably intertwined. How do I manage the anxiety and celebrate or at least productively channel the intensity?
Maybe try blogging. Ha.
I really do believe getting to peaceful as an intense person CAN BE DONE (I hope) because I’ve experienced brief moments of it, but I want more. I need more. Self-acceptance is key, I know that, as is acquiring the ability to better cope with the uncertainties of life too, because the world we live in can be a pretty rugged place to be. Especially for people like me. I’ll never give up working on those things. This little blogging gig certainly helps, as well and practicing meaningful self-care – which often includes pressing the metaphorical mute button, saying no, discerning what, how much and with whom to share, adjusting or reducing expectations and creating some distance, or even saying GOODBYE – is a MUST so I don’t crash and burn, something I did repeatedly until I knew better. I know better now.
This post wouldn’t be complete without reminding you that I have two very sensitive children who feel everything very deeply and who are also up in their heads a lot, both of whom are quite INTENSE in their own ways. One seems to have fully inherited her father’s optimism gene and the other received some of it, not all. The optimism – even in small doses – seems to tone down the intensity a little and I admit I’m glad for that – even while I insist they be true to their FULL selves – because it most certainly does make their lives a little easier. I think. I hope. Interestingly, one kid is an extrovert like Husband and one is an introvert like me. Both kids are way smarter than I am. The whole thing fascinates me, I read about it constantly, and just so you know, the-most-intense-person-in-this-house-award goes to….ME. Shocker.
My Dad likes to tell me that Boy, in particular, and I are lucky to have each other. I think that’s true. If hadn’t been for the journey we’ve been on with him, coming to understand and respect how he is wired, how he processes information and his environment and emotions, what he needs to be his best self, I might never have fully acknowledged this part of myself as being integral to my own inner workings, as opposed to something needing to be exorcised or changed.
Better late than never, right?