So, my kids and I are moving from our current apartment to a house. And we’re really excited about this move!!
As my eldest and I were chatting a couple of days ago, she said “Mom, why are you feeling so good about this move? I’d like to know…”
I had to ponder that for a few minutes, but mostly, I’ve felt like I’m constantly chasing my tail in the apartment we live in currently. I love the neighbourhood and the community we have here! But the place is just too small for us. We moved here at a time when I had to cut costs. My kids were struggling, I had one child with me full time, and shortly after that, circumstances dictated that I have all three children with me full time.
We’ve been four highly sensitive, intense, significantly introverted and “need our space” kinds of individuals living in a three bedroom apartment. With a dog, cat, two aquatic frogs and three guppies! And two are teens, with all the increased intensity and developmental need for self definition and volatile emotions!
We need space to be ourselves and grow/develop. And yet we’re four people in a space that feels like one of those little puzzles where there’s only one square free and you have to jiggle all the pieces around to try to make the picture right! I’ve been trying (and failing) for three years. I’m tired.
Now that we have space (a house with a bedroom for each of us, an office, a rec room downstairs, a yard, etc…), I feel so relieved! Literally, like I can breathe again – a weight has been lifted off my chest. It’s not that we couldn’t live in the smaller space, but it took so much continuous energy to make it work!
But, I also feel really good about how the increased space, individual rooms, ability to move, etc… will affect our relationships and our emotional reactivity! The shame has been crushing, I realize now. And having to constantly co-regulate with my children, as we try to navigate these familial relationships while so stressed out, is also exhausting! They are such capable and skilled kids too – much more self aware and intuitive than I remember being at their ages! And yet, we still all get on each others’ nerves on a regular basis. Conflict and the need for relationship repair is ever present.
It’s not entirely a bad thing, to practice the every day logistics of getting along with people. But it does consume energy. Which is then unavailable for other important tasks.
And here’s where I’ve really learned that human beings and our energies also obey the laws of physics!
When I separated from my husband, the kids began to spend time at both of our homes – they worked up to living one week with me, then one week with their dad. For the first time since becoming a parent, I was kid-free for extended amounts of time!
Those empty hours were hard in the beginning! Too quiet and too much time to think. Too much to be anxious about. Too much time to feel emotions that I had long supressed beneath “too busy”…
The only thing I could do to get through those early weeks was to walk. I spent hours walking at Rocky Point Park, beside the ocean. I walked until my toes bled, some days! I remember a good friend saying, half joking, “You know, at some point you’re going to have to do something other than go for walks, right?” But after walking, I could go home to my empty house and manage the rest of my day – it was the only way I could cope for a while.
I also remember reading an article about how President Obama eats the exact same breakfast every day. He puts no thought or creativity into deciding what he was going to eat – he just turned it into a routine and stuck with it! Why? Because he has much bigger things to spend his time/energy on deciding!
Self regulation research points to the same concept. We have an “energy pie” and if it’s being consumed by simple survival, then there’s no energy left for self actualization, learning or joy! This is why studies have shown that living in poverty drops your IQ score by a significant amount (something like 20-40 points). Just finding food and shelter uses up your resources…
Physics taught me that energy can be neither created nor destroyed – only transformed. I learned that this applied to all sorts of physical, chemical, atomic, and more kinds of energy!
A marble, lifted up and placed at the top of a ramp the kids built now has potential energy – gravity wants to pull the object towards the center of the earth. Let go of that marble and it will start to roll down the ramp. That potential energy has transformed into kinetic energy – it’s moving!
A campfire, on the other hand, is a chemical reaction involving the carbon based wood and oxygen – and chemical energy is transformed into heat that we use for roasting the perfect marshmallow!
And while physics taught me this concept, life taught me that human beings and their emotional/physical/intellectual energy are not exempt from this law of physics!
When I went walking because I was simply feeling too much and didn’t know how to handle all those emotions, I transformed emotional energy into physical motion.
And when I am constantly feeling ashamed of myself for not doing better or being better, I’m using a significant amount of the intellectual and physical energy I have available to get things done for my emotions instead!
The best thing about this application of the physics theories I learned way back in high school is what it has taught me about helping me and my children to live the lives we want!
1) We feel intensely – we can’t help it! But we don’t have to wallow in those feelings, paralyzed and overwhelmed by emotions like shame, anger, frustration, etc… Problems with anxiety can be seen as a buildup of emotional energy with no opportunity to dissipate it. And yet, we can “burn” those emotions off with a good workout! A walk. A kick boxing class. Some jumping jacks! Emotions don’t have to STAY emotions – we can transform then to physical energy and ease the pressure.
2) Being highly sensitive to all sensory stimulation will transform into behaviour challenges, it’s inevitable! Being aware of the energy overload of noise, crowds, lights, smells, voices and such allows us to make choices about our environment. As the “meter” goes up on the sensory input scale, we can respond by using strategies to calm down. Taking some quiet and alone time, having a nap or soaking in a long bath/shower! I’ve been encouraging each of my children to think about the things that calm then, since it’s different for each of us. For example, a shower calms me and my eldest, but stimulates and overwhelms my littlest one. or it might be like #1 above – physical release of some sort. The trick is to find out what calms YOU!
3) Emotional and sensory overwhelm will consume every bit of your available energy, if you let it. And the parts that suffer are executive function (the ability to plan, organize, remember, etc…), creative energy, physical energy and intellectual energy. Feeling overwhelmed very quickly becomes a self perpetuating spiral. I feel overwhelmed, I don’t get stuff done. I don’t get stuff done, I feel ashamed and get more overwhelmed. I feel more overwhelmed, I get less done! And so on… The key to this is to recognize the need to dig deep to understand the foundational patterns and dysfunctions that lead to our overwhelm. At some point, you have to actually deal with the issues, not just manage them – they become too big to try to manage. Some aspects of this are simply physiological – some of us feel more deeply and intensely, it’s how our brain works. But a lot of my overwhelm has come from the “stories” I tell myself about what I feel. That I “shouldn’t” feel so much. That I “should” be able to get things done. I bet you know what I mean! I try to remember a mantra that helps me: “Struggle is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” In other words, sh*t happens – I can either deal with it, or I can beat myself up about it. My choice. It’s a work in progress! These “stories” need to be understood and never underestimate the power of an outside view or a good counsellor to help wade through to find more functional ways to see ourselves and the world!
4) We have our “energy pie” for the day, and we have to choose how we’re going to use it! Nowhere is this better described than by the “spoon theory”, I think! It was used to describe living with MS, but applies equally well to highly sensitive, intense personalities. So, this tells me that choosing my environment is critical. If I want energy available to get things done and create and work, then I need to be in a space that feels good and supports me. When I’m struggling with writers block or can’t manage to organize myself or keep track of things – I have to look at my choices. Mitigating all the other energy drains will allow me to focus on what I need to get done! Eat the same breakfast. Or, in other words, create routines for things that don’t need my creativity or thought.
And so, I’ll now go back to using the excitement and anticipation of moving to this wonderful new space, to transform into the physical energy and stamina I need to pack boxes and move furniture!
Let me know how you’ve seen energy play out in your life – I’d love to learn more!