If you have spent some time on this planet, chances are that you have encountered a stressful situation. I know that what might be considered stress inducing for one person may not for another and that people deal with stress in their own unique way.
I was recently turned on to a field of research about the “Highly Sensitive Person (HSP),” and it was literally like reading about my own life. I am in the process of reflecting and writing about what I have been learning about this subject and the correlation to my own life. Suffice it to say for the moment that being an HSP, I am primed to respond in the extreme to any and all elements of life that might require a stress response.
Since I was a child, I have developed a hyper sensitive response that involves my system going from zero to 100mph into flight-flight-freeze alter mode at the drop of a hat. I know it’s a cliché, but I have developed such a sensitive startle response that the literally dropping of something that makes the slightest sound will send me into complete panic mode.
My reptilian brain is working 100% of the time to protect me from danger. The problem is that the danger is not entirely “real.” It has been real at different periods in my life, and I have been conditioned to be ready should crisis arise so that I respond in the extreme to any possible threat of attack.
This priming in my body translates to an enormous amount of energy being put toward maintaining of this hyper alert mode. Like anything, I have become so accustomed to operating in this mode that I am able to function relatively well and also to hide the fact that my interior realm is planning and preparing for attack at all times.
On the surface to most people, including my therapist, I appear to be quite well adjusted and calm. People tell me I have a buoyant, joyful energy. Those I confide in that I take medication for depression and extreme anxiety tend to be shocked.
In reading about the HSP, I have learned that many sensitive “people like me” tend to prefer to be self-employed so they can limit the excitement (or danger) in their daily lives. After 10 years working in a very top-down government agency, I also took this step. Though I make a fraction of the salary, I feel much more at ease being able to carve out my own schedule and pursue the projects that interest me and that I believe to be important.
Unfortunately (and fortunately) for me and my sensitive nervous system, since leaving my government job in Alaska I have fallen into the job role of absentee landlord. I say unfortunately because it is one of the worst jobs I can think of for a sensitive person. The kinds of issues and people I have dealt with over the past seven years are surreal in hindsight. “You can’t make this shit up,” as the cliché goes.
I say fortunately because I have also learned a tremendous amount about my Self, communication, letting go of any sense of control, and non-attachment over these past seven years.
Crisis—and how we respond to it—is its own best teacher, provided we are willing to listen and learn from it. Because I do not like the feeling of suffering, I have pursued many avenues of study to try to learn to live with the constant stress. At any time as a long distance landlord, I have been operating at anywhere from low level to high alert. Always, I have lived with the knowledge that I have a house to manage and very little control over the actions of the people living in it and the community of people who can and have done and said both supportive, cruel, and outright false things about me and said house.
The light at the end of the Alaska house tunnel seemed ever out of reach. Then from out of nowhere, a light appeared, about two months ago. It began as a hazy oasis in the distance, the signing of a purchase agreement, and slowly but surely it became more real and tangible.
Of course, my well-trained system, for which mind and body are inextricably connected, has refused to believe this was the real deal. We had already experienced the pain and suffering from two sales that ended in disaster (and that were not particularly pleasant as they were happening), so why believe the third time would be the charm (since I seem to be writing from the perspective of so many clichés, why not add another to the mix)?
Despite my conditioning, the sale progressed with relative smoothness. The greatest upheaval (and accompanying stress) came on the day the buyers were slated to sign the closing documents. Suffice it to say the promised level of cleanliness from my tenants was not realized. I managed to save the sale with the promise of hiring a professional cleaner, but the experience of nearly losing the sale and having to communicate about the turn of events with my now former tenants brought my system into the highest levels of full alert: sirens blaring, red lights flashing, the works.
Even with the successful closing of the sale and my tenants vacating the property and boarding a ferry bound for a destination that would take them far from this small town in Alaska, I was not able to relax. My husband bought a bottle of Cava, which sat untouched for days in our refrigerator.
I was so conditioned to hold onto the fear that something might happen to destroy this tenuous peace that I was not able to even enjoy the fact that my New Year’s resolution for “financial freedom 2019” had been realized. It was as though if I allowed my self to relax into this new reality in which Alaska was not a constant presence, should this tenuous, newfound peace might be taken away I would not be prepared. My shields were down, and I had left my battle stations untended. In a nutshell, I was vulnerable, which is a feeling that is very uncomfortable.
This weekend, I traveled to Antwerp for a daylong training in nonviolent communication. I talked about my recent house sale experience in Alaska with my practice partners, and I began to feel like maybe (just maybe) I could begin to relax and even celebrate the end of this seven-year chapter of my life. When my husband texted that he had gotten special food stuffs from the store incase I felt like celebrating, I responded that we should celebrate. I even included little emoji faces with confetti and party hats to show my support for this idea.
The dinner was wonderful. And Cava is always a treat. I wouldn’t say that I really felt real relief. I did, however, fall asleep without any anxiety medication or sleep medication and slept more deeply than I recall having slept in years. Though I did not put this into words until the following day, I went to sleep for the first time in nearly nine years (including the two years I lived and worked in Alaska) with the peaceful realization that there was nothing I needed to worry about.
I awoke exhausted, and I found it difficult to move through basic functions like convincing my eyes to stay open and bring the world around me into focus.
After somehow managing to get through my morning walk through the woods with our big, white husky, I was done.
It’s exhausting, holding to so much stress, I confided in my husband.
Life is a full-time job, he responded.
It really is. You are so smart, I said.
I told my husband that I had been telling a friend about his advice to me during times of stress (so basically, all the time), and she had responded that he was very wise.
I told her that you are my live-in guru, I said. I continued, Maybe the universe sent you to me, knowing that my life would be a full-time job.
I paused for some metaphorical head scratching.
So then, why did the universe send me to you?
He didn’t say anything. His usual response, however, is that the universe sent me to him to keep his life interesting. His family motto is, “Anything but normal,” and I definitely fall into that category. I think I also help him to stretch himself. There have been countless moments in our life together when he has thanked me (sometimes with more of a sarcastic inflection than others) for giving him opportunities to grow.
Certainly, my struggle to create inner peace in the constant barrage of stress from Alaska has provided opportunities for both my husband and I to learn and grow. This newfound peace is doubly sweet because it marks the beginning of a new chapter in our lives together as well.
Closing the chapter on Alaska does not mean I am instantly cured of my behavioral conditioning, but it is a good start.
My husband recently fixed the water faucets in both our kitchen and bathroom sinks so that they have high pressure. Every time I turn one on, the water comes out so strong that is splashes everywhere. My system responds by going into full alert, and I shriek and experience a rush of adrenalin.
After the most recent water pressure-shrieking incident, I laughed. My husband asked if I was enjoying the new faucet.
Yes, I am enjoying going into full alert mode every time I turn on the water, I responded.
Well, you know, now that the house is sold…you gotta have something.
Thank you, Alaska, for giving me opportunities to grow. I wish you the best of luck in all of your future endeavors, may they never involve me again.