What’s Beyond Our Comfort Zone? Maybe A Welcome Surprise

Comfort zones for most people extend well beyond billowy soft cotton tees or bed linens. Well beyond our physical body. And well beyond the walls we call home. As I ventured out for my first visit to a new hair salon – which demands that comfort is key – I got more and more prickly as I drove the six short miles. The scenery drastically changed, so did, well, everything.

But let’s back up. I love the city and proclaim to be an urban girl. I am, within limits. But I stepped outside my comfort zone when I got out of the car at this center city salon. It’s Aveda – a well known, upscale, organic, chi chi international chain that is fairly overpriced yet interestingly desirable.aveda

I started going to an Aveda salon by mistake, when I lived in the ‘burbs about 50 miles from our new digs. Back in the day, Aveda was just coming on the scene and everybody wanted its botanically-based products, especially those of us with an aversion to chemicals. While I welcomed that, when my longtime stylist said she was switching to Aveda I was naturally a bit hesitant. I’m a creature of habit and worry about change. But I trusted her, and after the first round I was hooked. It smelled better, looked better, even felt better. So I sucked up the cost every few weeks to ensure I didn’t sport any gray.  (And a quick side note – I feel very fortunate, this is a first-world situation I know.)you smell like aveda

Through the years and several moves I frequented the local Aveda salons nearest me, and grew accustomed to the the familiarity. My color formula transferred easily from place to place, I never really missed a beat. I was comfortable.

But now, out of the burbs – I’m actually embarrassed and ashamed to say – I had a little hesitancy as I drove through some unfamiliar-looking territory. I don’t pay much attention to lifestyle but sometimes it catches my eye. We live in such a different world now, pretty much nowhere is technically “safe.”

Whatever it is that knocks us out of our comfort zone – and it can be anything really – we notice. Our senses heighten, our posture straightens, our mind and heart may start racing, it’s really only natural, and admittedly happens to everyone.

perfet hairI drove around the block in circles at least four times looking for a parking space outside this new salon. I parked the car with hesitancy, went inside, and decided at that moment this place was not for me. Sure it was Aveda, but it didn’t feel the same. I couldn’t leave though, I would be charged for missing an appointment.

And here’s the crazy part. As the experience unfolded, much to my surprise, it was simply wonderful. The stylist and I were totally compatible and chatted as if we had known each other for years. The crew was just my speed, the expertise beyond compare. I felt completely at home in that Aveda salon. That’s a pretty big endorsement coming from a new but seasoned color client.

Life has a learning curve, and for some it may take years. When it comes to comfort we need to learn to stretch, because it may reveal something we never knew was there. Growth is pretty amazing. And good hair color definitely is too.

comfort zone is a beautiful place

Securing A Job Is Actually An Inside Job

I realized I have a little problem with confidence. On the outside I present as a strong, confident, accomplished person, but inside…totally different story.

burr poolWe were invited to a poolside gathering at our new condo complex last weekend, complete with cocktails, a beautiful spread of food and the perfect background jazz. It’s not a complex actually, it’s an old estate home that was renovated into about 20 two-story condo units. It sits on 23 acres of pristine land behind an old stone wall, so it’s quite intimate and equally elegant.

I didn’t really know anyone, except for burr backmy immediate neighbors, although we have seen others in passing, each of us waving hello. Last week when I had the great lost cat fiasco, I emailed the manager of the estate who emailed all of the residents to watch for our cat. Within minutes I not only had people outside looking for her, but I had several emails of support. I knew then that I was living with compatible people.

So when I met one of my email neighbors face-to-face, also a cat-lover, I thanked her profusely for her kindness, and we got to chatting. “What do you do?” she asked me. That’s a loaded question given my history.

I certainly couldn’t answer, “Well I am an abuse survivor who lives to tell about it…mother of a grown child formerly on the autism spectrum [what do you say when they grow up?]…and an independently employed lost professional soul when it comes to an official job title.”

writerSo instead, I told her I’m a writer – which I am – that is my cosmic gift or special purpose from which I’m trying desperately to make a living. “Oh how interesting and ironic,” she said. “I need to hire a writer!”

Turns out she works at one of the premiere medical facilities in our city, in fact, it’s known world-wide, and she works in Communications – my original degree and first job out of college. When I heard where she worked and that she was hiring a writer I proceeded to tell her the highlights of my resume as if I was amazing. I would like to think that on some level I was amazing, I used to work for the Kennedy family among other things, but I lost that loving feeling about myself quite some time ago when my life took a drastic turn of catastrophic proportion.

But that was then. And now, I suppose I could appear amazing on the outside, but feeling it on the inside? Not so much. After I had proclaimed my substantial credentials (which may very well be in the eyes of the externally confident beholder,) she asked for my resume. “I will send it tomorrow!” I proclaimed. Again – pretending to be awesome.

resumeInside I was a wreck. It was fairly intimidating that in her pile of perfectly-premiere applications that mine would be amongst them – the underdog who bases her credentials on life experience instead of work history. Oh sure, it’s listed, but almost as a sidebar. I have adopted my own resume format which talks about who I am and what I know, not necessarily what I have “done” in the working world.

So be it. After I hesitantly sent her my resume – she is my neighbor after all and I will have to see her possibly for years to come – I owned my individuality. Never mind I’m terrified about being able to sustain any job, let alone a full-time one, the stamina it takes of a day-in and day-out career, and living a “normal” life after years of trauma and drama with a body that feels chronic pain. But those are technicalities. Ones that I hope, will sort themselves out day-by-day.

In the meantime, maybe confidence is overrated. Maybe, being who we are – even as an underdog – has its benefits. Underdogs are flexible, able to be more innovative, aren’t tied by reputations and the pressure of being the best kid in the class. There’s a freedom to express ourselves without intense risk, and an opportunity to be more creative in how we showcase who we are. We can be our authentic selves, and that’s the gold-standard of existence. We just have to come to believe it.

confidence

It’s Ok To Be Happy Even When We’re Not

A heck of a lot of people seem miserable right now, and until recently, I used to be one of them. It’s so easy to get caught up in our stressors and not realize how impacted we are or even who we are because of them.  And because birds of a feather flock together, we gravitate toward others who are equally miserable and support us in our unhappiness. Then we call them our tribe, our community, and we feel better about ourselves and our life. After all, misery loves company.

unhappy hour

A long time ago I became part of a special needs advocacy group that had thousands of parents all fighting the same process to help their child diagnosed on the autism spectrum. It felt good to belong to a group of like-minded parents on the same journey. I made quite a few close friends and we banded together in determination and support.

mazeRaising a child on the autism spectrum can feel like living in a dark maze that takes an incredible amount of effort, diligence and hope to survive. There are so many pitfalls along the way, but we have that community of supporters who hold our hand, sometimes even carry us, without asking for anything in return.

Through the years it was interesting to watch how other people coped. As time went on our children grew up, but some of us stayed friends maintaining a special timeless bond.

The trouble is, that the misery that we felt going through the toughest times with our children became so habitual that for some of us, it stuck. We lived in daily turmoil, so much so that our mindsets settled into that pattern of darkness and despair, pessimism, fear, sadness and pain. We never came out of the dark hole long enough for the light to make a difference.

This can happen with anything in life, whatever our issues and circumstances – health, family, work, relationships – doesn’t matter. We can get stuck without realizing it, looking at our life and the world around us wondering when it will all change for the better.

happy againBut it’s not the world that has to change, it’s us. And it took me a lot of years to really see that. Our actions and responses are rote. The way we think, feel, see, hear – we perceive our entire life through our misery filter. Eventually, when it goes on long enough, we forget that it’s ok to be happy. Question is, are we willing.

After losing most of my friends and life as I knew it, it finally occurred to me that my misery was inside of me. That was huge. But ironically the road to happiness was actually harder to navigate than the road to raising a child on the spectrum. I had to examine and shift every, single aspect of my thinking in each moment, every, single day. I had to re-route my habitual way of existing mentally, emotionally, even physically. It was literally “starting over” all the time – catching myself and what I said, thought, felt, and reaching for a better option.

I did the work and feel much better. But I’m not sure the work is ever “over.” It’s all about how we look at things and whether we can find the goodness, even when it’s minute. When the goal is happiness, the path is deciding it’s possible right now. No matter what.

happiness

Written yesterday on my son’s 23rd birthday. We both made it to the other side. 

Call Me A Princess – But Know I’m Not Proud

We’ve all heard that life is about how we respond to it. Some people are able to flow through life lighthearted, relaxed and easy going, while others are more worried, excitable and high strung.

Whether we’re a personality Type A or B, our control over our reactor factor depends on how much of it is innate personality and how much is a result of our environment. But regardless of nature or nurture, everybody has their limits of what they can and can’t live with in their personal world.

It was brought to my attention more than once this past week, how I respond to life. The words were always the same – perfectionist…uptight…animated…a good friend even called me The Tempest. Definition of tempest? A violent, windy storm.

Tempest

Ok, there have been some times – even a lot of times in my life, that I tended toward a more tempest personality. Am I proud of that? No. Can I change it? Maybe. I prefer Sir Husband’s term of endearment: Princessa. I’m not sure there is even an official definition for Princessa, but it likens to someone who has a little “princess” in her personality.

calmI’m not particularly proud of being a princessa. I would love to be more serene, carefree, flexible, patient and relaxed. But I’m not. And a lot of people I am close to, love to point that out.

A couple of weeks ago I got a voicemail from a good friend on the day we moved, “Hey, just reminding you that you don’t have to do everything in one day. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away, you can live out of boxes, take your time, organize, fix and decorate as you go along.”

I laughed out loud when I heard that because while that’s absolutely true, it also felt impossible to me. I’m a perfectionist, always have been. When I don’t have things the way I like them, I am uncomfortable until they are at the very least, tolerable. I’m not sure why. Intellectually I know that it truly doesn’t matter if my house is perfect. But emotionally, I get a little wiggy if I don’t make quick order out of chaos.

The irony is that I don’t care how anyone else lives, in fact I almost don’t even notice. But for me, I have personal standards that seem to just be part of my make-up, part of who I am. Princessa…but not proud. It’s not easy to be a perfectionist, in fact, it’s exhausting.

IMG_2229I thought I was doing ok (and this happens a lot – I get my life in some semblance of order and feel calm,) and then I IMG_2231opened the dishwasher in our new home. I didn’t respond well when I saw how disgusting it looked inside, unsanitary, I never dreamed it would be like that.

After the initial upset, I reminded myself that I am grateful to even have a dishwasher, and all the other first-world amenities that we tend to forget in our day-to-day life truly are gifts. But I didn’t use it, nor will I, because to me it’s just gross.

Princessa? Maybe. But embracing and accepting who we are, while being grateful for our circumstances, is a pretty good first response.

calm princess

Closing Chapters Feels Good And Is Only Human

closureWhat is it about humans that we like to have closure? Of anything – a relationship, job, school year, sports season, even the holiday season. This sense of resolution or conclusion feels stabilizing.

Ahhhh….it’s over.

Imagine how life would be if all the stuff we enjoyed on TV, movies, sporting events or books, did not have a beginning, middle and end. No final score, no decisions, no happy or even sad ending. When I’m glued to a show that says “To be continued” at the end of the episode I get a little upset. We don’t need closure, we like it. We like to close the book, the season, the series, and even chapters in our life.

Sometimes we know it’s coming, sometimes we seek it, other times it hits us when we aren’t even trying. Like when standing in the middle of Walmart looking at trash cans. We’re moving soon and I wanted a new trash container for my bathroom when I realized the metal one we have is rusting. It started out as a no-brainer errand.

finishedI grabbed a reasonable facsimile and put it in my cart. At that moment I got an overwhelming sense of wanting to get out of the store, my house, my town, and our state. It felt urgent to be done with my life where we live. Today, right now, I just wanted to go – although we’re only three days away from leaving.

It’s been a long couple of months – Sir Husband got a new job clear out of the blue one state over, we sold our house the day it went on the market, found a new place to live that same week, we have been packing and hauling our things there every weekend, it’s been a whirlwind ordeal.

While it’s an all-good endeavor, it’s stressful nonetheless. The process of moving itself is huge so I haven’t had time to focus on the big-picture end result. That’s the other thing, humans are result-driven. We push toward the result of our actions. We want to see and feel goodness come from our hard work.

The readiness of moving hit me hard in that bathroom accessory aisle, so I paid for the trash can, left the store and headed home. I realized that was the last time I would probably ever be at that store, on that road, seeing that scenery that I had seen for the last three years. And it felt good. Closure.

Closure is a feeling. And when we get it, we feel better. Done. Like we’ve come full circle. It’s a way of thinking and feeling that usually means we can let go of whatever was driving us – either good or bad. It’s final, and opens our minds to new possibilities, options and paths.

Closure may just be one of the driving forces behind human adaptability.  Although it’s fairly safe to say most of us learn adapt, even when we don’t have it.

In the meantime…moving on.

moving on

Super Downsizing for This Move Started To Feel Personal

IMG_2770It’s not a mystery that a lot of people – myself included – have a thing for firemen. They’re awesome. So when I finally had to say goodbye to my grandfather’s antique extension ladder, it wasn’t as hard as it could have been because a fireman bought it.

I’ve had that solid metal ladder for decades. I never even thought about getting rid of it until we learned we had to super-downsize to fit into our tiny city condo. Not only do we not need a 25-foot ladder, apparently we don’t need anything.

So for the last few weeks we sold, donated or threw away literally almost all of our stuff. I thought I was a pro at purging, but little did I know that when you get rid of nearly everything you own it starts to feel personal. First you get rid of things you don’t want, then things you don’t need, then it gets a bit tricky.

I wanted the last of it – the stuff we hemmed and hawed on whether to store or sell – the stuff that felt like extensions of us – to go to good homes. I actually put that in the ad for the ladder, “want it to go to a good home.” When the fireman came and took it away, I decided I could live with that.

car loadedWe’re down to the bare minimum now, but the latest round of elimination was the hardest. Maybe we’ve been too busy to notice we’re dismantling our life. It became rote to go through the house, sort, pack, load up the car and drive on autopilot to the town transfer station where we separate our trash from donations from the free-swap areas there.

 

IMG_1642I always loved going to the dump and getting rid of things I don’t need. But when I turned in for the umpteenth time, I surprisingly felt upset. The struggle came at the free-swap section, where people put things they don’t want anymore. I reached for three big candles I had in the back seat. Faded and worn, they sat on a triple-teared iron candle holder everywhere I lived. Those candles quietly burned while I was watching TV, or nursing my babies, reading a book, or chatting with friends. For 20 years they were part of my life. Amazing they were still in tact.

I held them in my hands and was overcome with grief. I didn’t want to let them go, although I have new ones for the holder, that for some reason I haven’t used. They’re just candles, I had to talk myself through it. I put each one carefully on the free table, got back in the car and slowly drove away.

Our stuff is part of our life. Sometimes it’s not even things we pay attention to that end up being valuable. The backdrops in our world adding dimension and meaning we weren’t even aware of until they aren’t there.

We’re down to the wire, in a just a week we close the door on our house for the last time. When we look around we feel a little disoriented. The house echoes and seems empty. It even smells different. But we’ve crossed the threshold. We can’t move all our stuff, but we can still move all our memories. Now we’re ready to go.

worker fairies

 

 

Yea, I’m Sensitive, So What?

sensitive heart

I’m finding myself a little sensitive lately. Ok that’s not true, I’m always sensitive, in fact, I’ve been this way forever. I can’t help it. Nature or nurture, it doesn’t change the fact that I take things deeply and to heart without trying.

A lot is going on in the world right now that calls for us to sensitively desensitize. Every week there are more tragedies that cross the bad-news line. So how do we desensitize to protect our psyche, while our heart still continues to care? I haven’t mastered that yet, and some days it’s just too much. Holing up and turning off the world isn’t really an option, and won’t change the fact I’m still sensitive.

Blog.oyster.com-cobblestones-boston

A fuzzy memory from childhood about a little girl named Elizabeth still haunts me to this day. Her father yelled at her, “Toughen up Elizabeth,” when she wasn’t managing walking well on a cobblestone street. Elizabeth began to cry, and I remember feeling sad for her. It seemed insensitive, he blamed her for being unsteady and also for being upset.

I’ve heard those words forever. Toughen up. Usually followed by, you are so sensitive…what’s wrong with you….lighten up…get a grip…quit crying. 

It’s interesting how people place blame when we aren’t reacting how they expect us to. And nobody wants to take responsibility for hurting someone’s feelings – intentionally or not. Instead they place blame on the sensitive person. That of course then crushes them – as if something is wrong with them for feeling deeply.

For years I thought something was wrong with me because I don’t have any narcissistic traits and it seems that self-serving edge is what is needed to survive in this world. Although a pre-occupation with self is not something to aspire to, nor is a complete lack of empathy – both a narcissist’s m.o. There must be a happy medium, which I’d really love to find. But when I did some research I learned I may be doomed.

Highly sensitive people have a differently-wired brain that needs a comfort-zone. We’re reactive, and are capable of feeling the whole spectrum of emotions as if they’re right on our sleeve. We’re intuitive, polite, people-pleasing types who have trouble saying no. And our sensitivity doesn’t stop at our feelings. HSPs have sensitive nervous systems too, we struggle with bright lights and loud noises, which makes it easy to stress out.

It isn’t a surprise then that I have trouble watching the news, or being blamed for being sensitive when I’m just being myself. I wish I could tell this to Elizabeth. Walking on a cobblestone sidewalk is hard. In fact, it may hurt, just like when people tell you to toughen up.

It’s ok to embrace this character trait without any harsh self-judgement. Being sensitive is special, no matter what others may say. In fact, it’s courageous. The world needs more compassion — sensitive people, head to the front of the line.

141225xmas26 copy