I finally got to the bottom of my exhaustion today, after a friend on twitter suggested it might be due to my diet. I spent a lot of time musing on what is actually causing it, and whether sugar and caffeine are to blame.
It’s certainly true that there has been more coffee and cake this holiday, as survival against being home with the kids. But, if anything, my diet has been better, as I’ve had the children to feed too. Lunch is more likely to be pasta and veg than marmite toast, and there is much more fruit. I’m also drinking less tea, because I never get a chance to make and finish a cup while it’s hot.
But today I broke. We were meant to go and pick the car up from the garage and then go to the farm. Somewhere between trying to make a picnic as the kids hurled demands at me, and fighting to get two children dressed who declared they didn’t want to go out, I lost it. I walked away, climbed the stairs and crawled into bed. I couldn’t take it anymore.
Followers of this blog will know I am both an introvert and an HSP or Highly Sensitive Person. The latter is a term I hate, because it sounds like something kids would taunt in the playground, but it’s a diagnosis that applies too closely to me to be ignored. Let’s look at the two terms:
Introvert: I found this brilliant definition on the gifted kids website (not because I think I’m gifted, but because I googled it!).
Definition: Contrary to what most people think, an introvert is not simply a person who is shy. In fact, being shy has little to do with being an introvert! Shyness has an element of apprehension, nervousness and anxiety, and while an introvert may also be shy, introversion itself is not shyness. Basically, an introvert is a person who is energized by being alone and whose energy is drained by being around other people.
Introverts are more concerned with the inner world of the mind. They enjoy thinking, exploring their thoughts and feelings. They often avoid social situations because being around people drains their energy. This is true even if they have good social skills. After being with people for any length of time, such as at a party, they need time alone to “recharge.”
When introverts want to be alone, it is not, by itself, a sign of depression. It means that they either need to regain their energy from being around people or that they simply want the time to be with their own thoughts. Being with people, even people they like and are comfortable with, can prevent them from their desire to be quietly introspective.
Being introspective, though, does not mean that an introvert never has conversations. However, those conversations are generally about ideas and concepts, not about what they consider the trivial matters of social small talk.
Remind you of anyone? This is me. My life became a different place when I realised I was an introvert and that was okay. I am married to someone who recognises that I need plenty of alone time, and that even having him home in the garage can stop me from fully recharging. I am liberated by the knowledge, but it’s tough to handle at times, especially when most people I know are extroverts and think I’m antisocial or just plain weird.
The parents who tell me they love being home with their kids, love the constant chatter and the laughing and silliness are not introverts. And, possibly, they will never understand why, even though I love my children, it physically pains me to be around them all the time.
Highly Sensitive Person: On the HSP Website, it says this:
Is this you?
- Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
- Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
- Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
- Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
- Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
- Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
- Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
- When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?
I read this list and ticked every single one. I tick them in relief, because so many things I thought were just me being difficult or a freak turned out to be things that other people could relate to. The two bits I’ve emphasised are the ones that have been hardest this holiday. As above with the introvert definition, I “need time alone to ‘recharge'”. This holiday that has been “bed or a darkened room”. A lot. Not very healthy. When the children are at school I recharge by writing and walking the dog, sitting alone in cafes and getting the weekly food shop. None of those options are available to me, so I sleep.
Another thing that has exhausted me this holiday is the constant conflict. I hate arguments. I grew up in an argumentative household and any sort of disagreement, even without raised voices, ties my stomach in knots and makes me shake. Recently I’ve been having heart palpitations and there is a permanent knot of angst in my tummy. When I went to get my contraceptive pills this week they wouldn’t give them to me because my blood pressure was high.
Today I realised why.
My children are three and five. They argue all the time. When they’re not arguing, with each other or with me, or having screaming heebie jeebies because their socks are the wrong colour, they’re shrieking with glee, which usually ends in someone crying because they get too hyper. And, try as I might to block it out, I can’t. I’ve been living amidst constant noise and angst and conflict for fourteen hours a day for over four weeks. I have had two hours by myself to recharge. Two hours in four weeks. It’s been five years since I had a child at home full time, and back then they couldn’t talk.
I don’t know if being an introvert and being HSP are the same thing. I don’t think so. But I know that being both, and being a stay at home mum, are definitely mutually exclusive things if you want to stay happy.
My exhaustion is because I’m ‘switched on’ all day. It’s like wearing a heavy rucksack that I can’t put down. It starts off manageable but gets heavier and heavier as the journey continues. So my body copes by shutting down. If it can’t make the noise go away, it will go to sleep and escape that way. That’s my thought anyway. And it makes me sad. I had such great plans for the holiday and, in small doses, I genuinely love spending time with the children, taking them to the park, listening to their shows and reading them stories. But this summer I reached my limit.
I suspect it is all exacerbated by the fact that my children are likely also introverts (with two parents that are, it’s pretty inevitable), so they’re also suffering from being with each other day after day. It’s noticeable that my son, who has had no time by himself, being either at home with his sister or at nursery, has reverted to a tantrummy two-year-old. Normally he has a day or two with me just watching TV and cuddling. Time to switch off. Then he becomes my sweet little boy. At the moment he’s angry and stroppy and teary much of the time. Needless to say that isn’t helping any of our stress levels!
So I just have to hang on. In a week and a half I’ll have a few hours by myself. I think it might take more than one day to regrow the layers of skin that have been stripped away, but just knowing it’s coming is helping me cling on to sanity. It doesn’t help that hubbie is between contracts and at home, but hopefully that at least will be a short-lived situation.
And next year? Like it or not, tears and tantrums or not, even if it’s only for a day a week, they’re going to camp!