Space to Think and Be

A thing I need is space.

Space to think. Space to process. Maybe even space to feel safe, a bit of a boundary.

Is this natural for kids raised in big families, especially middle children who never quite had that space to themselves? Too young to have a household just with mom and dad. Too old for exactly the same thing, but a couple of decades later, once the older siblings have moved out.

I’ve never had my own room. Not at home or away. I’ve always shared a room with at least one person – a sister, a brother, a spouse – and often with more … up to six girls at one time.

Funnily, I never even realized how much I craved space, and more than that, actually needed it, until I experienced it for the first time nearly a decade ago when two of my kids had reached school age and a sister of mine kept the other two one morning a week. I could think deeply about things without sudden interruptions every few minutes, without the constant mental draw of others in the house. It was amazing!

Perhaps it has something to do with the depth of processing that highly sensitive people have. We HSPs hear and process every interaction and conversation. We hear every exasperated sigh or sharp retort. Highly sensitive people can’t just tune it out.

And as empathetic people, we don’t just hear it and see it; we feel it. We take it in.

As a young teenager, I wondered why I couldn’t fall asleep until after everyone in my family was already sleeping. I think it was because some part of me was tuned into the energy of the others in the household and only once that energy faded into sleep was I able to finally sleep as well.

It’s the same now. If my husband is restless, I am awake until he finally gets comfortable and falls asleep.

Even when people are in other parts of the house, and not in the same room, the overall energy of the household is different from when the house is empty except for me.

During these 40 days to come, I hope to find some space to think more deeply and from which to consider and contemplate things.

(Even now, my ability to complete this post in a way that satisfies me is hindered because, within a few minutes of beginning, one and then two of my kids came into the room and now my husband has joined them and I simply don’t have mental space to keep writing. So, until next time.)

HSPs and the Need for a Bit of Space

It’s strange and welcoming that on the first day of my 40-day focus on healthy living, I am back in a place – a situation – where I feel I can write. When I left this place, I did not foresee myself returning, especially not so quickly. But here I am … and although I am tired after a long day and although it is not over yet, I am – I feel – at peace.

Something I have not done for months now is to write regularly and this is one of the main things I want to do over the next 40 days – write every day. Some days, I might reflect on the events of the day; some days, I might share something from what I’ve read, as another thing I am attempting to do is read every day from a book that is meaningful and true.

And as I mentioned when introducing this 40-day focus, not every journal post over the next 40 days will be mine. Three friends are making this same journey – or similar ones – with me, as well as keeping journals of their decisions, observations, and daily challenges.

We haven’t yet decided how it will work … who will post and on what days. Perhaps some days you will see more than one post, depending on how inspired each of us feels to write. 

Space for Writing

About the place I find myself right now, the situation in which I feel able to write once more. It is a physical place; often, this is not the case. Often, my ability to write has little to do with the physical place I am in, but more the mental place – space – where I find myself.

As a highly sensitive person, it is very difficult to write when I do not feel that I have space or “air” enough to write.

And the place we are right now, as a whole, is a difficult one from which to write, is it not? With so many voices clamoring to be heard and so many speaking in anger or frustration or simply ignorance, it is difficult for anyone – much less a highly sensitive person – to process and filter and find a safe place from which to write.

I could say something cliche like “Sometimes all it takes is just getting started,” but it would not be true. Otherwise, I would have been writing over the past several months, but I could not. Even if I sat in front of my laptop or sat with a notebook and pen in hand, I could not have commanded myself to write.

It takes more than physically being in the right place, but mentally and emotionally as well. I know that this goes against what some people say about writing. Many successful writers claim that you must write even without inspiration and the inspiration will come. I am not saying this isn’t true, and I have written “on command” plenty of times in my life to know it is true.

And yet, there is that feeling that comes when you finally feel that you have space enough to contemplate and process and from which to write. Again, perhaps this is an HSP thing. Perhaps those who are not highly sensitive people can more easily write on command and maintain a strict writing schedule.

But this is something I am going to try to do for the next 40 days of healthy living. 

Being a Bridge

Sometimes I feel that we as a whole are on the edge of something and the thought is exciting, and at other times the thought is frightening. Because being on the edge of something often means falling or building a bridge.

And so few of us, these days, it seems are willing to be bridge-builders.

Some people reading this might even say, “Well that sounds good, but I’m going to wait to make my final assessment until I know what side of the political spectrum she is on.”

Well, I’m not going to make it that easy. You will find no strict borders here. No walls to shut out those who don’t agree.

You can call me a bridge if you’d like.

But even the fact that this is my first time writing in a while and on day one of my 40-day journal of healthy living, I have resorted to talking about politics frustrates me. So enough of that.

Finally, you might find these journals start but don’t quite seem to find an ending place. They are thoughts that have begun and have the potential to carry on … perhaps you will carry on these thoughts and journeyings in your own heart and mind and take them somewhere.

Perhaps you will contemplate what it means to build a bridge, or to be a bridge, or how you might find ways to create space in your life. Perhaps not for writing, but for something else you deem important.  

I wish you space and peace and the most beautiful of views from your bridge. 

Rediscovering Madeleine L’Engle

I can’t remember when I wasn’t an introverted bookworm. Can’t remember a time I didn’t love books.

Once I discovered libraries, it was always a joy to find a new author, a new set of books to read and love.

Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Fiction 

I didn’t discover Madeleine L’Engle at a library but at a friend’s house. I was spending a week with friends in Sacramento and happened upon A Wrinkle in Time. I sped through it. My friend had a big family and some cousins visiting at the same time. It was easier to bury my introverted self in a book than to interact with so many people in that household. 

I loved the tale of introverted Meg Murry and her little brother, Charles Wallace, whose name always seemed too big for him. Of Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit and Meg’s fantastic journey that took her to the end of herself where all she had left was love, and it was enough.

That same week, I also read the next book in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic Time Quintet: A Wind in the DoorAt the time, some aspects of the story went over my head as I fell headfirst into the microscopic yet immense world of quantum physics merged with supernaturalism. 

My friends didn’t have a copy of A Swiftly Tilting Planet, but I found that one at our local library after returning home. After reading it, I began scouring the library for everything written by Madeleine L’Engle.

I found And Both Were Young, a coming-of-age story about a girl at a Swiss boarding school who falls in love with a French boy and begins a secret relationship with him. I loved the character Flip, an introverted girl who never quite fit in with her classmates and preferred wandering among nature and sketching the sights of the great Swiss outdoors.

Then I read The Young Unicorns, which I found slightly confusing. Although I was familiar with the way that Madeleine L’Engle merged normal-seeming characters with supernatural events, something unnerved me about the darkness of this story. It has been over 20 years since I read it and I remember little (a sign that I should read it again) but I still remember the way I felt when I learned about the source of a young girl’s blindness … as though my own life could easily suffer that same upheaval, as though I could easily face that same darkness.

Much later I realized that The Young Unicorns was the third book in a series written by Madeleine L’Engle: The Austin Family Series. No wonder I felt like I was jumping into the middle of something I didn’t quite understand; I hadn’t read books one and two.

Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Nonfiction

The next book of Madeleine L’Engle’s I found at the library was The Summer of the Great Grandmother. I also found this confusing, but for a different reason: all I had read so far by Madeleine L’Engle was her fiction. And not just Madeleine L’Engle; fiction was pretty much all I read up to that point, period.

I didn’t know what to think of this work of nonfiction. I can’t even remember if I finished the book, though I must have. My life revolved around books as an introverted tween.

A decade passed. Possibly two. I revisited Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, but not her nonfiction.

Then at a used book sale, I happened upon several of her Crosswicks Journals, including The Summer of the Great Grandmother. Of course, I picked them up. 

During this 40-Day journey toward healthier living, I decided to begin reading the book once more. I wanted to immerse myself in good literature and refamiliarize myself with this introverted female author with whom I felt a kinship since I was a child.

The book chronicles her summer caring for her aging mother who was suffering from dementia, and also journals other aspects of that summer, including a scare that her husband might have a brain tumor (it turned out to be diabetes). 

Discovering Madeleine L’Engle’s Introversion

This introverted author journals with such care and precision, following philosophical tangents and reflecting on matters weighted with truth and meaning. She writes:

I used to feel guilty about spending morning hours working on a book: about fleeing to the brook in the afternoon. It took several summers of being totally frazzled by September to make me realize that this was a false guilt. I’m much more use to family and friends when I’m not physically and spiritually depleted than when I spend my energies as though they were unlimited.

The observation felt so true, especially at this time when I’m seeking out healthier living amidst the stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s easy to spend and spend and spend, to pour out into family and work, forgetting that we have limited resources.

Part of healthy living comprises carving out time for oneself, especially when we have jobs or situations where much is expected of us – emotionally, mentally, or physically. 

For years, I worked at a job that exhausted me – mentally more than anything else. It wasn’t a good fit but because the job opening came through a friend, I felt guilty at the thought of letting go of the position.

Finally, after weeks of insomnia and numerous occasions of heading home in tears at the end of a challenging day, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I just didn’t have what it took to keep that job over the long term; it took me far longer to let go of the guilt of quitting the job. 

I feared that I would be thought of as “too weak” and “too sensitive.” It took a while to recognize that this job was simply a bad fit for me due to the kind of person I was: a highly sensitive person who thrives in other environments. 

Madeleine L’Engle observes this about guilt:

When I try to be the perfect daughter, to be in control of the situation, I become impaled on false guilt and become overtired and irritable. 

I intimately know this overtiredness and irritability. I think many introverts and HSPs do. But when we let go of this guilt by embracing who we are and not allowing ourselves to be ashamed by it, we can find freedom.

Madeleine L’Engle found freedom as a mother, wife, daughter, grandmother, and introverted author by allowing herself those times to disconnect from everything else as she wandered among peaceful, quiet places in the woods near Crosswicks. 

While dealing with the stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, my task is to discover and embrace what is healthy living for me as an HSP and introvert.

Perhaps something like this is your task too in your own journey toward healthier and mindful living.