Phoenix Rising

I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again: the book blogging community is an extraordinarily supportive one. I’ve had so many messages of gentle and sympathetic concern for my absence – thank you, thank you. I’ve been trying to get my head around it all myself, and I think I’m finally able to tell you all what’s been happening.

So, my parents had their 50th wedding anniversary party and I was indeed well enough to go. The event itself went off splendidly. The venue was the beautiful private room of an extremely good local restaurant, with doors opening onto its own terrace and the weather, for once, was perfect. There was an almost palpable atmosphere of love for my parents, surrounded by family and friends who are all clearly devoted to them. My brother made a speech that brought tears to my eyes, because I wasn’t expecting it and he did it so well, and my dad spoke very touchingly too (I was expecting that one, which helped). And as ever among a collection of people there were some amazing stories. My mother’s mother married several times, and after her first marriage failed, the husband in question went and married again and had a second family. One of the daughters of that family only found out about the existence of her half brother (my uncle) a few years ago and searched until she found him. She was there and couldn’t be more delighted to have extended her family and made new and clearly precious bonds. A family friend that I spoke to told me about the four years he had spent as a teenager in a closed hospital ward suffering and then convalescing from tuberculosis. I had had no idea he’d been through this and we agreed that it was impossible to explain to other people who hadn’t had a lengthy illness what kind of an effect it had on your life. But one other man there knew: several years ago, at the same restaurant celebrating my mother’s birthday on that occasion, he’d told me he wasn’t feeling well. It turned out he had a brain tumour and a terrible year followed. This time he was completely restored to health, appreciating life all the more for what he’d been through, and with a whole new daughter who was a delightful livewire (my mother is her godmother). So, it was a wonderful celebratory occasion for my parents.

But I didn’t do very well.

One of the worst things about chronic fatigue is that it makes you inexplicable to yourself and others, and then, as you try to figure out what it’s all about, you have to face up to yourself in a way that ordinarily healthy people never have to. I’ve always had a tendency to social anxiety, but chronic fatigue has fed into it in a chicken and egg sort of way. I can see how it happened. All those years when my son was small and I was working hard at the university I had to pretend an awful lot that I was fine when in fact I felt awful. It was my choice not to let on: I couldn’t bear to let people know because it felt to me like I was letting them down, like I was a fraud and a wimp. The need to repress my own feelings and forge on regardless was undoubtedly an important factor in developing chronic fatigue. Now, I still feel deep anxiety at the thought of people seeing me unwell, distressed, anxious, particularly when, after all these years, they want to see me free of illness. There were so many people at the party that I hadn’t seen in a long time, who wanted to see me fit and healthy. And I know how domineering sight is. All the (invisible) things I had done in the past year – writing a book, seeing students, looking after my menfolk – all could so easily be dismissed as irrelevant if I was seen to be unwell.

I thought I could carry it off, but anxiety got the better of me. I felt terribly anxious at the lunch, but I managed it and I don’t think anyone would have noticed anything amiss. But by about 4 I was flagging, and asked Mister Litlove to drive me back to my parents’ house, thinking a rest would sort me out. I was just rallying a little when everyone else followed us back, too, and somehow, the sheer volume of noise they made sent my anxiety levels rocketing. Then I felt too bad to get in the car and face the journey home (old hands here will recall my claustrophobia in moving vehicles). I thought if I could only sleep I might calm down so we stayed the night, but I was far too hyper-tense by this point and lay wakeful and panicky and self-reproaching. I’ve looked into the biology and neurobiology of all this, as you may imagine. Body memories have a lot to answer for – they are the inadvertent recall of previous, analogous occasions of fear or threat, and they are sent from the ancient lizard brain as ferocious, not-to-be-ignored messages. If you are already stressed, or the memory provokes a highly stressed response, you can flood your system with the hormone cortisol, which actually prevents access to the hippocampus, or the part of the brain with useful, calming knowledge in it. Hence that incredibly visceral feel of anxiety – it is intended to be excessive and disproportionate in order to make sure you get yourself out of danger, so it really has to be nipped in the bud if you want to get a grip.

Well, to cut a long story short, I did manage to get home the next day, but then inevitably I didn’t feel too fabulous. Chronic fatigue, like anxiety, has a self-protective dimension that shuts you down. But equally I was still full of stress hormones that can hang around for weeks in your system if you don’t take care. They are the hormones that make your nerves feel fried, as if you would jump ten feet in the air at the mere sound of the phone ringing. I have discovered over the years that only one thing really works, and that’s a kind of sepulchral calm. If I can ease myself into a silent, meditative state, I revert to normal far quicker, and indeed I am really pretty much myself again now. That’s a good bounce back for me, so at least that’s something to be pleased with.

But the question is, what is this self that I have returned to? I’ve never been a party person, and the past five years that I have spent mostly on my own I have to say I have really enjoyed. It’s not that I don’t like people – I am deeply curious about them, sympathetic to the trials of human nature, and tend in fact to forge relationships easily and quickly. It’s simply that being with people is the most stimulating and demanding thing I do, and it seems to require huge amounts of mental and emotional processing. The lovely and extremely talented Jean pointed me towards the work of Elaine Aron last year, who has identified a kind of personality type which she terms ‘highly sensitive’. I feel a bit daft saying I’m highly sensitive, but I am. I’m extremely porous to the feelings of others and easily invaded by them, and I just need oceans of quiet time. And thanks to chronic fatigue I favour short, informal kinds of socializing, where it’s fine for me to duck out if I need to, where no one will mind or be offended or worried if I do.

But my reaction that weekend obliges me to recognize that I have a deeper desire for avoidance. I was reading up about social anxiety disorder on the web, and found that cognitive behavioural therapy is the preferred method of treatment. It is described as ‘an inherently unpleasant’ treatment, in that the poor anxious person has to be forced into situations that disturb them, on a graded basis, of course, and with as many figurative comfort blankets as possible, but still. And somehow I could not readily believe that the solution to sensitivity was, or ought to be, brutalisation, however graded. I’ve had my share of facing my fear and doing it anyway, with more public speaking than most people have to accomplish in their lifetimes. It didn’t work back then to cure me of feeling anxious in social situations and I don’t suppose it will work now. I’d rather like the next decade to be one in which I stay in, peacefully, and write a few books, with my main socializing taking place here in the virtual world, where everyone is at the right distance and I am gloriously disembodied. And over time chronic fatigue will recede to barely a bad memory, and my inner world will change again. I suppose I just want to be exactly what I am, which is to say at this moment, not like other people. I’d like for it to be okay to be eccentric and nervous and sensitive and gradually recuperating and not always to feel I ought to whip myself into a more readily acceptable state. Perhaps this is the wrong way to look at it? But it is how I feel.


37 thoughts on “Phoenix Rising

  1. Poor you! You’ve certainly had a time of it. I think the party was just too much and it would have been for many of us, even if we like crowds and lots of social interaction. I’ve heard the best therapy is also to “feel the fear, do it anyway” but you have done plenty of that in your life. So I would say to rest and recoup in your own way and in your own time. Subjecting yourself to smaller gatherings is a better way to build up to the big ones. When I developed a fear of flying after 9/11 I didn’t hop on an airplane from California to Europe, I took a short flight to Southern California and worked my way back up. I am glad that the blogging community makes you feel supported and that you find comfort in your books. Just the fact that you can articulate your feelings is a big step towards recovery, I would think.

  2. Yes, it’s ok, Litlove. It is ok to be yourself. To let go and accept yourself exactly as you are right now is sanity. Years ago I read a book with that premise, and I am wracking my brain trying to remember the title and author, a therapist who came from a Buddhist perspective. I’ll post again if I remember it. But the point is that there isn’t one dot of need really to be anything other than who you are at this moment. And to accept that and be peaceful with it is wisdom. Who you are right now is someone who wants to stay in peacefully, write, and socialize virtually. Who you are is someone I am glad to know.

  3. <> : of course this should be okay! I’m full of sadness and indignation that we live in a society where it is not okay. Please take good care of yourself and try not to feel bad. I’m sorry it has been feeling so hard, and very glad that Elaine Aron was helpful, as she was to me too. Yes indeed, it is very difficult for incorrigibly self-ironising Brits to label ourselves ‘highly sensitive’ without cringing 🙂 But what else can you call it when your interactions with the people you describe whom you encountered at the party clearly went so deep? And how could this not make life particularly demanding – rich but difficult?

  4. Aargh, I did one of those things that the stupid computer reacts to ‘intelligently’! My comment was supposed to start with a quote from your post: ’I’d like for it to be okay to be eccentric and nervous and sensitive and gradually recuperating and not always to feel I ought to whip myself into a more readily acceptable state.’ : of course this should be…

    Note to self, do not use French quotation marks because the computer reads them as html instruction to put text in italics… sigh

  5. So glad to find you back and becoming well again.

    When you’re a super-powered wordsmith-empath accomplishing what you are accomplishing, of course it’s okay to be whatever you want to be. – There’s no danger of you becoming a Howard Hughes: the latter reclusive Hughes, that is; the multi-millionare aviation whizz would probably be okay, all things considered.

    Be well and be happy.

    (Btw, “porous to the feelings of others” – as I said, a super-powered wordsmith.)

  6. If you ever find you get to a point where you are a shut in and can’t leave the house to go to the shops for fear of interacting with people that would be a problem and probably you would be quite unhappy and would need to take some steps. But living with Chronic Fatigue, as you do, and being a sensitive contemplative sort of person it seems entirely understandable that you would want to husband your energies and keep social interactions low key.

    Also for what its worth I don’t have Chronic Fatigue and I don’t think I have social anxiety disorder. I can work a room & chat to strangers at a school or work function without discomfort and often with enjoyment. And yet- I find large family gatherings of the kind you describe an exhausting ordeal. There’s something about the combination of feeling like I have to demonstrate an appropriate emotional response/present myself in way which I might not be feeling, the forced bonhomie, having to simultaneously interact with people that I have a lifetime of history with but not necessarily much in common with in a highly charged environment which shreds my nerves and makes me long to retreat to a quiet dark space by myself. I’d much rather see extended family connections individually or in small groups. It could be that’s just me but I doubt it.

  7. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do of late is admit that I just can’t do certain things. All I really want to do is work on the manuscript, and I have found that I cannot both work and write poetry. I just can’t. I feel all kinds of things, including those that resonate with “wimp” but what ever valuation I give the facts, it doesn’t change the facts themselves. I just can’t. I have to choose between the job and the poems. So I quit the job and all those helping-others tasks. Yes, it will almost certainly be hard because people expect someone with my background and connections to “do my bit,” but I have to choose between what someone like me ought to do and what someone like me desires and damn if I am going against the only thing I really want to do. May you be equally selfish.

  8. I’ve been through cognitive behavioral therapy and did not find it brutalizing. Just a lot of self-talk, retraining a mind that had developed some nastily unproductive ways of talking to itself and fulfilling its own prophecies. I was not made to have any encounters or endeavors I found frightening or threatening, ever. Just so you know what my experience was.

    When I’m ill, I read children’s literature, mostly. Or Patrick O’Brian. One of the two never fails to make me feel better.

  9. Litlove, I am so sorry that a day that should have been so happy for you became so stressful. When you used the word ‘porous’, it all made sense to me. We are expected to grow thick skins in order to cope with other people and situations. Some of us are born thick-skinned, others learn it over time, others don’t. I come from a family of sensitives, thin-skinned people too overly aware of the unspoken tensions and currents in a room for their own health. Luckily for me, my mother married into a family of stomping, hearty, practical types, so I have those characteristics to draw on too.

    I believe that your porousness is what makes you such a beautiful, talented writer. Don’t fight it, embrace it. It makes you who you are – and if that means avoiding big family gatherings, so be it.

    Big hugs.

  10. Very happy to see you back but I’m sorry that you had such a difficult time. Your highly sensitive nature is one of the things that I like about you but I can see how it is as much of a hindrance as a help. That flooding of negative affect (and cortisol) is such a pain and I’m not surprised that it was so debilitating. Perhaps we should be grateful for your retiring nature since we get to read your posts and reviews and books.

  11. I think it is perfectly okay to be “eccentric and nervous and sensitive and gradually recuperating”. It makes you, you! And if you’d prefer to live a contemplative existence, with rare forays into the masses, I think that is just fine too. Society is often pushy, and people are expected to conform. This is nothing new, but modern society has its own flavor and brand of pushiness. I’m sorry to hear the festivities were so yucky for you but glad you were able to write about it. I hope that helped a bit.

  12. I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been so unwell. I’ve never suffered from chronic fatigue, but I’ve suffered from depression on occasion and although others preferred it when I “whipped myself into a more readily acceptable state”, I never found it helpful and it always left me exhausted. I hope you get to recuperate gradually.

  13. It sounds perfectly right to me to be exactly what you are and to do exactly what you need to right now. I hope that is possible and that doing that makes you feel better! A friend recently sent me information on the “highly sensitive” person idea, and I could recognize elements of myself in it; I also identify with what you say about being highly porous and needing oceans of quiet time. It makes sense to me to treat those needs with great respect!

  14. It sounds as though you’ve had a pretty rough time of it, kiddo. I guess, in some way or another, we all have hills to climb and it isn’t always easy to get through the day. I am relieved you’re feeling better. Obviously, we all love you just the way you are. I quote not a poet, not a scholar, nor a philosopher, but…(of all people) Popeye: “Iyam what Iyam.” And so are we all.

  15. As a socially anxious person myself, I feel great sympathy for you. I’m the same way–I love my friends and family, but being around a group of people for longer than a few hours is exhausting for me. It saps my emotional resources like nothing else. I’ve discovered in the past few years that it helps me to use pretty things as “armor”. I do better in social situations if I’m wearing something nice, if I’ve bothered with my hair, if I’ve put on makeup. Not that the situations are substantially less tiring, but having armor makes me less likely to creep away early in a weepy state. I do the cognitive behavioral thing as much as I can, because identifying and confronting my cognitive errors puts me in control, and that helps too. You’ve probably heard of this before, but have you read Feeling Good? It’s as good a cognitive behavioral therapy book as I’ve found, and the exercises in it have helped me and my sisters, as we are all anxious anxious girls. :p

    I’m sorry your family visit was so stressful for you!

  16. As someone who has a form of chronic fatigue and who has, in the past, suffered from debilitating social anxiety — here’s what I’d say. A couple of things, actually.

    Avoidance is problematic only when you are avoiding something you actually *want* to do. In my own case, social anxiety/social phobia was inhibiting a much more real part of myself that actually enjoys being with people. I will never enjoy being in a large group of people, and I don’t ever intend to put myself in that situation unless to refuse would be very hurtful to someone I cared about. But that’s not social phobia; that’s just me not liking noise and crowds. The social phobia was something quite different; an actual terror of people and how they perceived me, and of the mistakes I might be making and how those mistakes would be held against me later, and the probable repercussions of everything I said and did. That social phobia wasn’t really me; it was protecting against threats that used to exist — which existed until my early twenties, actually — but which no longer exist. I tried the CBT “feel the fear and do it anyway” with no result. After some thinking about it, I realized that standard CBT really ignored the key piece of the puzzle, which was that the fear wouldn’t dissipate until I proved to myself that the people I choose to be around now are not as cruel and awful as the people I spent the first two decades of my life with, and who had formed my emotional underpinnings. What cured my social phobia was taking the risk of being seen to be vulnerable — and holy crap, it was horribly difficult. But I learned that most people are kind, and if I said, “You know, I’m inexplicably nervous,” they’d usually ask what they could do to put me at ease. Or, more surprisingly yet, sometimes they’d laugh and say they were nervous too. I found that admission of vulnerability elicited confessions of tender spots and fears from other people. There were a couple of people who didn’t “get” it, but — they were by far the minority. And after repeated confirmation that it was, in fact, okay to be me … the anxiety magically vanished. I still don’t like noise and crowds, and because I am an introvert, I will always have a limited amount of energy for engaging outwardly, but I no longer have any fear. When I avoid things, they’re things I don’t want to do. But fear no longer keeps me from engaging with people in ways I actually want to engage.

    All of this is to say — I don’t think that your desire to avoid certain occasions is a problem, unless you feel that you really want to be there and *can’t* due to anxiety. There is a big difference between being prevented by fear, and feeling fear because you know what will happen if you force yourself to do something that is against your nature. I don’t read what you experience as social anxiety so much as fearful knowledge of what will happen if you push yourself to be someone you’re not. In my case, anxiety was preventing me from being someone I really was, and therefore it needed to be addressed. I still feel apprehensive when I go into situations that require me to be someone I’m not, for even a short period of time, and I think that apprehension is perfectly reasonable. Your anxiety seems to me to be more on that end of the scale … a reaction to something that is unnatural to you.

  17. At least you didn’t combust from the antibiotics as I had feared may have been the case, then you really would have been a phoenix rising from the ashes! I am glad you are on the mend. I see nothing wrong with being an eccentric, nervous and sensitive person. Too bad times have changed so much that you cannot go abroad for a long period for a “cure” in a quiet out of the way place with a great view. Take care dear Litlove!

  18. I feel so terrible for you–it would be awful to be stuck in a situation where you were so obviously uncomfortable and unable to get out of it. I don’t think people should be made to conform to any certain type or standard (is there even such a thing)–everyone is so different and that’s okay and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it. I always thought being sensitive (even highly sensitive) was a good thing! Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to feel healthy and well. The nice thing about the modern world is that you can be as solitary or not as you like–with the virtual world so many people are just a click away.

  19. What an honest, heart-wrenching post. I have to admit to having two very different reactions to it = unusual for a “black and white” person like myself. On the one hand, I completely agree you should just be able to be YOU, and treat yourself to your happiest life and best health possible. If it is oceans of alone time and working quietly that you require, then that is absolutely what you should pursue. That said, I would hate for the anxiety/stress/chronic fatigue to keep you from doing things you truly WANT to do …ie, you deserve to be able to attend a family event like the one mentioned above and enjoy the day for what it is and return home without a whole lot of restorative work to do. I don’t know…I know that I am easily prone to anxiety and claustraphobia (especially on car trips) but I force myself through the anxiety because for the most part I enjoy people. I don’t know… I guess I just want to say I am very glad you are still with us here in the virtual world because you would be sorely, sorely missed otherwise. Whatever you do, take good care.

  20. Thank you for sharing this. A writer friend and I were just talking this morning about how draining and exhausting we find it to spend too much time with people and neither of us have chronic fatigue or other mitigating circumstances. I am just grateful that you share your voice here, in this space. Do whatever you have to do to keep yourself healthy and happy.

  21. Darling, as everyone else has already emphatically expressed, and as you already know yourself somewhere deep-down, this is far from the ‘wrong way’ of looking at it. On the contrary, I would say it all sounds very right. You know who you are and how you wish to live in this moment, and you know it with a clarity many people would envy. I can’t think of anything, as Lilian says, more sane and wise than trusting that.

    I knew David would weigh in with something helpful from his own perspective, and I find it useful myself to additionally hear his thoughts on your experience because I am different to both of you, in the sense that I love some of these situations you both loathe. However, I too definitely require large amounts of alone time and always have, ever since I was a child. I must always charge the batteries, as my dear granddad used to say. Perhaps what got me to this comfortability point a little earlier than you was being an inveterate blurter by nature – I think I have always unabashedly confessed my feelings of unease, discomfort, nerves as often as any positive. I’ve simply never seen the point in hiding or denying them, or of pretending to be something I’m not. That’s just asking to be caught out, and I feel fraud enough even being myself (I think this is common to many writers).

    Because I was always getting that alone time – and liking it – I guess some part of me always thought that if the whole world spurned me, well, I’d probably be okay. It wasn’t that I even *liked* myself – like just about everyone, for too long I didn’t – so it wasn’t a robust self-regard or massive ego responsible for this belief, but I have always just accepted myself, and sought to protect myself from situations I know are harmful to me.

    I am so pleased your parents had such a special day, and that you were able to be part of it, but gosh, I agree that brutalisation is no cure, and I also think there’s no good reason, none at all, why you ought not shape your decade just as you describe. It sounds lovely.

    Love to you, just as you are.

  22. You’re so brave for breaking free from that cycle of social guilt and identifying that your good time doesn’t fit the pattern of what a good, healthy social interaction is often presumed to look like (and just to clarify I think there are many ways to live happily and have healthy interactions that aren’t recognised by mainstream sight). It’s really complicated to deconstruct but the urge to please and to at the same time see our friends happy restricts the kind of genuine relations we can have with people, because of the way it encourages us to conform. I guess we all have to break free one person at a time until the cycle is broken and we can all be genuine with each other. You’re leading the way!

  23. Dear Litlove

    So sorry you had that experience – as one who also suffers from that sort of anxiety, your description is most apt! I hope you’re finding a gentle release – I know it can often take days to recover.
    It is so frustrating when one thinks one can (or should) cope, only to be foiled by one’s physical responses! Also the sense that you’ve worked so hard to achieve some level of relief and recovery but somehow end up back at square one…

    I haven’t been around to contribute much of late (small child, reoccurring illness..) but wanted to let you know that it was reading your blog (a long ago post on Natalie Sarraute) that really inspired me to follow my inclination to use fiction to explore ideas and emotions. It continues to be a most fruitful avenue to learn, grow and attempt to make some meaning. I think we’re similar personality types, so your plan for the next decade sounds perfectly sensible to me – it seems the tension lies in the comparison between expectations of the inner and outer world.

    So two reading recommendations –
    Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – inspired by Hentry James’ Portrait of a Lady (oh Isabel Archer! Why does she do that to herself?) Toibin’s Eilis Lacey is just as memorable a character, in both works the tension of repression and renunciation is exquisitely drawn. In a beautiful, steady tone, Brooklyn really gives a wonderful insight into what Eilis Lacey chooses to see, think and avoid.
    The other is Tim Parks’ memoir – Teach Us to Sit Still – his exploration of discomfort – particularly the tension he encounters whilst meditating and his analysis of his word craving mind. Very thought provoking for any reader/writer who also seeks some physical and mental calm!

    And finally a quote from Robert A. Johnson “The mystery is this: There is one right thing to do at every moment. We can either follow or resist.” (from Balancing Heaven and Earth)

    I hope you find some moments of ease Litlove.
    All the best

  24. Oh Litlove, what a dreadful time you’ve had!

    When I read your post it seemed that you were suffering from the burdens of other people’s expectations and were contemplating CBT for their sakes, not your own.

    I agree with what others have written: if being eccentric and nervous and sensitive and generally yourself isn’t hindering you then why would you want to change? Especially as you seem to be so lovely. [smarm!]

    I hope you’re feeling much better now.

  25. Kathleen – Good on you for overcoming your fear of flying (perfectly understandable under those circumstances, I’d say). I completely agree that you have to start small with these things, and build up confidence. Books are always my great comfort zone, and its thanks to them that I learned how to talk about these things at all – and bloggers are wonderful, always full of solidarity!

    Lilian – you are such a dear heart, really you are. I wonder whether the book you read was by someone like Jon Kabat Zinn? I’ve read up on mindfulness before and that’s a similar, ‘be where you are’ sort of idea. I long for peacefulness in all its forms. It’s like a thirst almost. And my blogging friends here (and that means you) are so wonderfully supportive I find I couldn’t ask for more. 🙂

    Jean – that’s exactly it: I do find my interactions with people very rich. It’s like eating chocolate truffles – I simply can’t have too many before I start to feel overwhelmed… and there’s something lovely about that if I can keep it under control. I am so in your debt over Elaine Aron, whose book was a revelation. I read it saying, but that’s me! and I took a lot away from it. And oh I feel for you with your computer – why is it always a real nuisance when machines think for themselves? It’s like predictive texting – hopelessly difficult!

    Lokesh – you are a sweetie. No, I don’t think I’ll become Howard Hughes just yet. 🙂 Fingers crossed for the wordsmith – that’s something I would most definitely like to work on.

    Amanda – if I couldn’t shop, believe you me, I would rush for the therapy. 🙂 So I agree – some things demand a response and others can be lived with. I think you hit the nail on the head in your comment, in that there is something about feeling the need to be in the ‘right’ emotional place all the time at certain occasions that is really tiring. And fond as I am of my relatives, there are many whom I haven’t seen in a long while and who don’t necessarily share my interests. And partly this is my fault in that my interests these days are narrow if deep, so I can’t expect many people to share them. Very small gatherings or, indeed bigger anonymous affairs I can mostly deal with. It’s the middle ground that’s hard work.

    Mary – oh bless you! I often think cfs has made me more selfish and it’s an uncomfortable sort of thought. But it is true, isn’t it, that one can come up against a brick wall when certain things just don’t work and can’t be made to work. I feel very glad for you that you have the focus and space you need and it sounds completely reasonable and right that you should. So by that measurement I might well be able to accept it for myself.

    Jenny – I am so very glad to hear that! When I read this website, it sounded awful and seemed such a mean way of going about things. I can certainly see that thought patterns are easily triggered in stressful circumstances, and finding a way around them would be good. I do so much thinking around things as it is, though, and quite often it seems to get me nowhere in the end. But I am extremely pleased if cbt helped you, though, and it goes up in my estimation accordingly. And thank you for the suggestions, also!

    Charlotte – that is such a lovely comment, thank you. I so want to grow a nice, thick hide and yet it seems impossible. How lovely to have some jolly, practical genes. Most of my family consists of sensitive types (although in all fairness some are quite practical too), so I think I was doomed! 🙂 And hugs to you for saying such nice things about my writing. I’m inclined to think at the moment that anything that helps it is worth the price I have to pay.

    Pete – aww that’s lovely, too. You know the literature – have you come across anything good about flooding and negative affect? If you do, let me know, although I daresay the theory is something I could write myself now! I’m very glad if something good comes out of my nuttiness and particularly here, where I get so much back from my blogging friends. 🙂

    Verbivore – you are so kind, my friend. There were bits of the party I very much enjoyed (some good conversations) and I recorded it all with one side of my mind to play back later, even while I was freaking! But I think I was really destined for one of those small villages in la France profonde where people follow their routines from one end of their lives to the other and barely cross over to the next village. I wouldn’t have minded at all! 🙂

    apiece – it is lovely to hear from you and I do hope you are doing okay. I miss catching up with your blog! Well, I’m glad (in a way) to know that you haven’t found it so very easy to shape shift either, although I would wish neither of us ever had to even consider it! It seems to make things worse for me these days if I do any of the activities I have become allergic to – although that’s problematic in all kinds of ways. But I’m lucky enough to have a few weeks before term starts to recuperate and I’m hoping to have a very quiet time now.:)

    Dorothy – the blog world is such a wonderful place to find solidarity! If you’re just the same, then I am in very good company.

  26. Grad – I wouldn’t mind being Popeye – I must eat my spinach! And whilst I may moan about cfs, I am so so grateful that it isn’t any worse. It’s an inconvenience at times, when other people have to put up with really disastrous health problems. As you say, everyone has some cross to bear, and if it weren’t this then it would just be something else.

    Jenny – I haven’t heard of that book and will definitely look out for it now. I’m glad to be in such good company, even if the qualification to make it in isn’t a real delight. 🙂 I agree with your armour completely, and I did have a lovely new dress to wear, but I guess just sometimes even the best laid plans come apart at the seams. But I really do feel better for knowing that it’s not just me. I always feel that the world is full of party people – and then there’s me. If you and your sisters can get the better of the anxiety, then maybe there’s hope for me.

    David – I found your comment fascinating and I’m thinking about it still. I think you are quite right and it’s the fear of somehow having to transcend myself that brings me out in hives, as it were. I feel that you could help yourself once you really understood exactly where the wellspring of anxiety lay and I know I haven’t yet managed to put my finger on it. It’s to do with failing the standards I’m expecting others to have for me, or being seen to be distressed when I shouldn’t be. But beyond that, as you rightly point out, is a sort of mad desire to cling to authenticity, as if I’m being forced to give it up. It’s funny, because I love things that amuse and entertain me, but feel anxiety rising as soon as I’m in a company with a lot of people laughing loudly – because I’m afraid I’m not going to find what they’re saying that funny and I can’t manufacture laughter. Generally I think people are kind and don’t judge unless you make them feel uncomfortable, and I would readily admit to being nervous. Sorry, I’m rambling here and thinking out loud. But I really appreciate your comment and find it very insightful and thought-provoking.

    Stefanie – got any good spas in Minnesota? You know I nearly did combust with anxiety but your comment made me laugh. The antibiotics were a bit of a pain but thankfully they did do the trick in the end. My family doesn’t do parties all that often, thankfully. We reckoned that the children getting married would be the next ones, so cross your fingers I’ll have a good decade before I need to contemplate any more big gatherings! 🙂

    Danielle – you know I may have felt differently about all this, if I didn’t have the virtual world as such a comfort! But I must say I do love my online community. And it’s lovely to feel the support of my blogging friends – I appreciate it so much. Being sensitive is good for book reading, I’ve found, but a pain in the neck for living, but then I always think of you as a sensitive person, too, so your experience may be similar. I’ve been able to have a good rest since the party and I’m feeling a lot better now, thankfully. Books have been very good therapy!:)

    Courtney – that’s so lovely. And I really understand and agree with your dual response. I really wish that there weren’t these events that I find so difficult to do. It would be nice to be able to contemplate a big gathering with calm rather than trepidation. And of course, when I do these things and they don’t come off in the way I hope, my confidence gets undermined and the next event is harder still. I’m not sure what the answer is, either, but I’m sure a gentle return to social activity can’t hurt, and hopefully by doing that, I’ll work my way back in again. And in the meantime, I do have you and all my other dear blogging friends to help me out. I’m a lucky girl.

    Kristi – that’s so lovely, thank you. I’m very comforted to know that you also find these events draining. CFS complicates things and makes it hard to identify causes and effects, and I can forget that some things in life are just tiring, no matter what. 🙂

    Doctordi – that is such a wonderful ‘you’ comment – I love it, thank you. I think life would be much easier if I could show on the outside what I feel on the inside, but I think I’ve got a bit of the circuitry missing. I simply cannot emote. I used to joke with my Phd student about what our last words would be: his were ‘I’ll be back’, mine were ‘I’m fine’. Although in fact, I don’t mind telling anybody anything, and will readily admit to vulnerability or unease. But no one takes you seriously if you can’t back that up with the right sort of body language and there I fall down. But ultimately you’re right and it’s about accepting who I am and protecting myself where necessary – and neither of those things have I always done with grace or swiftness. Tackling them is a good place to start.

    Jodie – what a lovely, lovely way of looking at it – thank you for that! I am at the vanguard of forging unorthodox social relations, rather than a wimp. I love it. But seriously, I do agree that the problem comes with wanting badly to please others and to make them happy on their terms. It’s such a deep desire and then so difficult when it clashes with my own limitations. That’s exactly the point I struggle.

    Kirstenjane – it’s wonderful to hear from you and I’m so sorry to hear you’ve got a little one who’s been poorly; that’s so very stressful too. Thank you for this extremely sympathetic comment. What you say about being foiled by the physical is exactly it. I really thought I could do it, and so that made it worse when I began to suspect I couldn’t. And these things can take an age to get over – physically I feel much better. But of course I have lost confidence and it will take a while to get it back. I’m so touched to think that something I wrote about Sarraute inspired you – that’s marvellous. And those book recommendations look fantastic! Brooklyn I’ve been thinking about reading for a while, but the Tim Parks is news to me and it sounds right up my street. And the quote is beautiful – thank you.

    Helen – new best friend! Aww what a lovely comment, thank you. And I am feeling a lot better now, after a good ten days of rest and the combined efforts of my blogging friends to cheer me. You really raise my spirits – I am extremely lucky!

  27. I simply don’t believe grown people should force themselves to do or be things that clearly go against their nature. Embrace the life you want for yourself, and with that you’re much more likely to be happy and healthy, both physically and emotionally.

    I have a copy of Elaine Aron’s book on my shelf. I bought it years ago because my son was rather “highly sensitive.”

  28. Litlove – I’m glad you can look back at the experience now with a measure of humor. I believe this is your saving grace, as well your ability to write these moments out so carefully. I do hope you are collecting them somewhere, just as carefully as you write them.

  29. Don’t know about spas, but you could get good rates during the winter at some lovely hotels on Lake Superior with hot tubs in the room and a near guarantee to be snowed in a time or two 🙂

  30. Litlove, I don’t believe you are looking at this in the “wrong” way at all. Being sensitive, and literary, and eccentric (?) and even nervous is what makes you you. I am glad that you are gradually recuperating (I would have felt the same at such a party–in fact, I did). This is probably too New-Agey for you, but have you thought about Guided Meditation? (I’m a recent convert to yoga, which can help tone down anxiety symptoms–the breathing, the focus–when I’m not feeling like an idiot, it truly helps; did wonders for the CS this summer) I believe it is like yoga, with its breathing, but no physical activity involved–absolutely no pretzeling!
    Anyhow, I am so glad that you are still among us, and holding your own.

  31. Light virtual hugs across the pond and air kisses! You write so beautifully, THANK the UNIVERSE for the internet so that you can write and share with us and hopefully feel safe and calm where ever you want and need to be. I agree, close human proximity/interaction is exhausting. Just want to say hi and give whatever small comfort I might. 🙂

  32. Emily – your comment came in while I was replying to the others! Thank you for your kind words. I’m doing my best!

    Becca – I do still feel prone to that child’s sense of needing to be what others want me to be! And of course one simply cannot do it any more at 41 (although I like the way you phrase this much more). And how lucky your son is to think that you saw those traits in him, found Aron’s books and were so well placed to help him. Understanding is the best thing a person can have.

    Verbivore – I always feel that if I can get to the point where I can laugh about something, I’m sort of saved, if you see what I mean. Thank you for that lovely comment. You are a dear heart.

    Stefanie – oh boy that sounds good.

    ds – oh thank you for the solidarity, that is hugely helpful. And guided meditation sounds great – I do meditate already and do sensing exercises, but they all fell to pieces on the day and I am ready to try anything. That’s a lovely, supportive comment, thank you.

    Care – you are a darling, really you are. And I completely agree about the internet – it has made such a difference to me to be able to connect with friends this way. And friends like you who do indeed bring a great deal of comfort to me. Thank you.

  33. I just came across your website so I know this comment is a bit late, but nevertheless, I needed to say “thank you,” my dear, for saying so well what I’ve felt for so long. I’ve been slowly recovering for 14 years-from a host of very real chronic health problems that no one views as all that serious except me. And that is because I and not they have to live with them.

    I was once upon a time a very high-functioning if quietly dysthymic woman, then, thanks to a series of medical errors that would make anyone crazy, I developed a triad of disorders-chronic pain, PTSD, and Major Depressive Disorder-as well as a sleep disorder, chronic fatigue and a few other “…orders” along the way…that turned me into a barely functioning neurotic mess. I have struggled and struggled to get better, and I HAVE, but never quickly enough or in the right way for the rest of the world–especially those closest to me.

    I’ve felt like a failure for so long I forget how to feel any other way.

    So, in researching an article about journaling and change I came across this site and this post and I felt so validated I had to comment. I’ll definitely try hard to get back and read some more of what you have to say.

    I sincerely hope you are maintaining your attitude=positive or not. I believe it will save your sanity if not your life.

  34. Kathie – and thank YOU for your lovely comment, which I am warmly appreciating here. My heart goes out to you as it sounds like you have been put through the wringer. It’s 13 years since I first fell ill, and I know how long those years have been, and how frustrating. There’s this impossible situation – if we behave ‘well’ over our illnesses, which is to say play them down and pretend they are not happening, the people around us are happy, but we feel unrecognised, struggling with symptoms, invisible, misunderstood. Long term chronic illness is just so incredibly hard. I am sticking with the policy that I voiced in this post, and still trying to think of ways to make life easier for myself (and still feeling rather guilty about it!). But solidarity with people who understand and who’ve been there too is a huge help. Thank you.

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