One of the hardest things about being on this personal development path is facing up to the truths about who you are. Just when you think you have it all figured out, something happens that makes you question all you thought you knew. Although that makes it sound like it’s a smooth process from something happens —> new realisation. How this usually goes down (for me, at least) is: something happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation finally dawns.

I am not a particularly gregarious person. I can be chatty and animated when I feel at ease, but large groups of people make me want to run for the hills. This year I attended a conference with 1,000 people, a retreat with 80 people, another retreat with 50 people, I did book readings for groups of 20-30 people and co-lead a retreat in Morocco for 10 people. This is a lot of in-person stuff for an introvert who functions best on her own. What I learned was I am at my best with groups of no more than 30 people. Anything bigger than that and I feel utterly overwhelmed and have to slink away to decompress (add jet lag and PMS to that and I’m TOAST, as I discovered while in North Carolina in October. The place was beautiful and the people were lovely, but I was not at my best by a long shot).

I’ve been reading up on the traits of Highly Sensitive People, a term that’s been bandied around the blogosphere a lot recently. It’s like the introversion/extroversion thing — suddenly stuff is making sense for a lot of people. I’ve always been overly sensitive to stimuli — strong smells, bright light and loud or invasive sounds are particularly hard for me — but I always just thought I was a “bit fussy”. After a recent bout of (what i thought was) uncharacteristic anxiety, I started to add it all up. (Reading this article was my proverbial a-ha.) When I mentioned to Sas last week that I thought I might be an HSP she laughed and said ‘You think?’

Riiiight.

I turn 40 in February so there’s a lot of reflecting going on in my dimly-lit corner of the world. I feel very far away from the young woman I was at 30 let alone the girl I was at 20. I know myself so much better but that doesn’t mean I love myself so much better. There are pieces of my personality I’d change if I could. I don’t for a moment expect to be perfect all the time — ha! What a notion. No, I expect that I will be thoroughly imperfect most of the time, but within that I hope to do my best. And sometimes that means taking myself out of situations where I can’t BE my best. The older I get the less I’m striving for the Big Achievements. I don’t need to do a TED talk. I don’t yearn to be on a best-seller list. That all feels very external to me, when what I truly crave is peacefulness. Self-acceptance. A sprinkling of ease. A pinch of grace. And the ability to forgive myself when I screw up.

So I continue to practice: something happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation dawns. Then something else happens —> I feel like crap about it for months —> new realisation dawns.

This HSP tag has brought some useful clarity with it. For years I thought it was my bereavement that made me so sensitive, but now I see that it’s just part of my make-up, like my blue eyes and flat feet. So I’m trying to accept that sometimes my overwhelm makes me seem aloof. That sometimes my awkwardness makes me appear unfriendly. That sometimes I feel another’s energy so acutely it makes it hard for me to be around them, let alone talk to them. Because I also know this sensitivity is why I arrange my books by colour, why I keep a bowl of perfume oils by my side when I write and why I could take a 1000 photographs a day, I see so much in this world.

I didn’t sign up for the easy path this time around. If you’re reading these words I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean. When I read about the heartbreaking things that have happened lately I stop for a moment and hug my loved ones in my heart. I try to let go of the fear of something happening to them, and I recommit — for probably the umpteenth time that day — to heal my hurts so I don’t pass them on. To nurture compassion for my self so i learn to have compassion for others. To shine my light even if it’s just a tiny flame. It’s the best I can do.