For my whole life, I have dealt with being overstimulated by seemingly normal human experiences. I’ll never forget my childhood best friend taking me aside one day – we must have been 11 or 12 – to tell me that I was “sensitive”. It landed me in this spot we all know, so familiar in the skin we’re trying to stretch at that age. This spot tells us that something is wrong with us, we either need to buck up or start faking it.
And, so I did both of those things. Whenever something that would be overstimulating showed up for me, instead of holding back or resisting, I would just leap headfirst into it. Rip the bandaid off. I earned the thing that felt like the biggest prize of them all, the label “Fearless”.
I loved that label mostly because is transcended the truth of me. It took a big eraser to the reality that I was terrified, that I was held together by spit and sawdust. My inner world just floating out in to space like the credits in Star Wars. And, you know, the older I get, the more I discover that most of us felt like this. Most of us just put on our fun, fearless space suits and acted like we were going on a big ol’ adventure, when deep down, we were like, um, can someone just tuck me into bed and attach a sturdy tether to something bigger than what you’re currently offering?
So, yeah. I will say that along with this normal experience, I dealt with a few extra bonus rounds of humanness, OCD and sensory processing disorder and what I know today is ADHD. And I know I am not alone in this. I know that so many of us, as we trudge along into middle age, begin to discover that along with terror, maybe our brains worked differently and maybe our family systems in which we were raised were not perfect. Shocker, I know.
But, within and around that, I come back to the terror that I felt with overstimulation. The way it ushered in other questions about death and health and all the things that I figured were at the end of those Star Wars credits. I so desperately wanted someone to define them, to reduce one prickly prickle from life so I could just … take a deep breath. Be playful. Giggle. Stay curious.
Instead, the arrangement I had with overstimulation was that I would take the hit and pick up the pieces later. And most importantly, I would pick up the pieces without anyone seeing, without any help, without any dents in my space suit. This led to a lifetime of secrecy when it came to my sensitivity, which led to an adult life of seeking all the ways I could dull the stings and pings of life through substances. What will drown this all out the fastest? Yes, that. Yes, please. And, yes, I’ll have some more.
Obviously, the cost of this arrangement is clear. We know what inevitably happens with substance use disorder: Hurt people harm their lives and the people in them. And outside of that, as much as I figured substances would loosen me up, over time, the reality of not dealing with my terror led me to being a secretly tightly wound person. Like that scene in When Harry Met Sally when Sally is ordering (not that scene, ha) and she’s explaining how low maintenance she is but then she is asking for everything on the side in a particular order. THAT. And as time marched on and I birthed kids and faced sobriety and grown up life and trauma and blah blah blahhhhh, the cost of it all was a lack of access to joy.
I don’t even mean happiness or fulfillment. I mean that feeling we all know so clearly. When a moment is absolutely not perfect, but something about it – maybe the flicker of the sun behind the cloud, or your kid saying the stupidest joke known to humankind – dives in extra deep into your bones and warms you up from that place right behind your sternum and shoots out of your heart, your eyes, your touch, everything. Joy. Playful. Curious. Expansive. Imperfect. Impermanent.
I wonder, often, how and if my kids see me experience joy these days. These days after the pandemic, after the fallout of another marriage, after the moves to new places, after bills and bills and bills and bills, after friendships ending, after all the things we grown ups experience that just tighten our hearts down with screws. And then all the ways my sensitive spirit no longer finds a way to come to the surface for a breath. Does that show up in my kids not witnessing me experiencing joy?
I think it must.
So, as much as I want to talk about what I will do to truly “be with” the truth of overstimulation in my life, first I want to come to terms with it. Find the nugget beneath the behavior change and move from that golden spot. That’s where, in the end, motivation lives and that’s where our lives change. Maybe it’s where joy is too. And, deep down, I am a joyful person. An extremely joyful, silly, curious, playful person. Retrieving that feels like an important – and possible – thing right now, today. Before my kids head off into the world as their own people and look back at what they learned. I want them to know my joy, that there was joy even in the mess.
Lucky for you, we can do this adventure together this month in our new Hook, which we’ve aptly called March Meltdown: Coming to terms with overstimulation. And in case you don’t know what the heck a Hook is, all you do is 1) register, 2) listen to one short episode of our mini podcast each week, and 3) you comment or discuss as you like in our community. OH, and 4) you try to show up for 5-15 minutes of exercise as often as possible during the month.
The Hook starts on Monday, March 6th. If you are a current member, you can register by logging in to your account, clicking the “Hook” link in the teal navigation menu and following the instructions there. If you are a new member, HELLO! Simply sign up and follow those directions above.
I’ll see you there. Space suits not required.