Relationships

My Furry Companion

This week I unexpectedly lost my long time furry companion Dusty Bottoms. I decided today's blog should be dedicated to honoring his life. 

Ten years ago we were walking my nephew around the park while my sister and her husband celebrated their aniversary. We approached a corner and saw the cutest little dog.

We'd been trying for about a year to have a kid and I also wanted a dog, but my then husband wasn't too sure. When we found out they were looking for a new home for him, to my surprise my partner agreed. His previous owner said that he had a knack for getting uder foot, and sure enough he would follow me around everywhere, but didn't mind too much if I accidentally bumped into him. 

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Shortly after that, I got pregnant and also was assigned to a job 45 minutes away. My son's father went off to boot camp for the army band for an extended time leaving me home tired and alone with only Dusty for company many a night. He was patient all day and never left a mess, but would occasionally send me a message when I got home that he did not like being alone that long. 

Every night before bed he would play with me through the blankets and he was always careful never to attack my bare skin. When my son was born, he intuitively sensed that this little new member of the family needed quiet at night so he toned it down at night, but when the boy got old enough to play they had lovely games of tug-o-war and fetch. 

He was there for me through my divorce and late nights with a colicky infant. He was a perfect example of unconditional love.

He had a history of seizures and bad teeth, but what I didn't realize is that the seizures had injured his back and his teeth issues had damaged his heart. The vet I had gone to randomly shut down and it was hard for me to find a new vet - especially with everything else on my plate as a single parent. 

The last couple of years he's been in a lot of pain and he lost almost all of his teeth.  My husband has been great with taking him to the vet and caring for his needs. I know I gave him a good life, but there is a part of me that feels guilty that I didn't bring him in more regularly to the vet.

He was always there for me, unconditionally, and my attention was so divided. 

Last week we saw a cyst on his neck that had gotten quite large without us noticing because it was covered by his ear most of the time. My husband brought him in, and we were releaved that the vet figured it was a bug bite that got infected from all of his scratching. They drained it and gave him antibiotics and a cone.  This weekend we noticed it was getting worse not better.

When I got home from my Reiki master class on Saturday, I decided to try some Reiki on him to see if it would help him heal, but instead I believe it helped him to let go. 

Sunday morning he woke with a seizure that caused lots of pain with the cone against his cyst. I removed the cone and we really saw how much worse it had gotten so my husband brought him in right away. It turned out there probably was a tumor under there and his tiny little body and heart were not able to fight the infection. We decided it would be kindest to him to not make him suffer any longer. 

My husband invited some family and friends over to celebrate his life and we buried him in a nice sunny spot in the new bamboo grove. 

He was there for me through the toughest phase of my life, and now I honor his memory as I move through the next phase. 

Creating Community

On this week's Embracing Intensity Podcast, I talk about the Power of Community. I believe that growing up with supportive and accepting community is what gave me the foundation of support I needed to find or build my own community wherever I go. 

Unfortunately, a lot of intense, gifted and creative people don't always have that foundation of people who "get" them, so it can be hard to even know where to begin the process of connecting with and/or creating community - at least community where you feel comfortable and at-ease. 

Creating Community: 5 ways to build deeper connections - Free Find Your Superpower Course inside

I share a bit of my own journey and challenges making friends as an adult on the podcast, but I'd like to share here a few steps that I've found have consistently yielded bbetter connections for me. 

Find an existing community. I assure you, there are people out there, the trick is figuring out where to find them. I talk a little bit about where I've found connection in the past in this post here, and since then I've also found networking groups for women to be an additional place to find connection since entrepreneurs tend to attract an intense crowd. I also frequently refer to this post from Paula Prober on where to "find your pips."

Invite people to connect 1:1. If you really want to connect, you can't just stop at attending events, you have to reach out beyond the event. Believe me, I know this can feel like asking someone out on a date, but once you break that barrier, the connections you make can get much more deep and rich. Nowadays, social media can help - as you interact with them more online it can make reaching out in person more comfortable. In fact, I connected with an amazing family through Facebook based on a page like and a gut feeling and all three of them got along fabulously with all three of us (the trifecta of family friendships!). I never would have known though if I hadn't reached out and asked. Remember that if you are feeling a need for deeper connections, there are people out there who are feeling that as well and are just as scared to reach out. 

Don't take things personally. This is single handedly the most important part of making new connections without losing sanity. Not everyone is at the same place at the same time. Perhaps this person you feel you could deeply connect with has one too many things on their plate to add one more. Trust your gut in who to reach out to, but remember that if they say no, or don't have the time, it is not about you. I repeat this quote all of the time, but it especially rings true here - "You never know what someone else's motivation is, so you might as well assume the one that is best for you." (Paraphrased from The Charisma Myth) This pretty much sums up the way I try to live my life, and when I am successful I can truly see the power of assuming the best in others!

Manage your expectations. This goes back to seeing the best in others. As intense people, we hold ourselves to high expectations and can expect the same from others. This can be a recipe for dissapointment when no one person can meet our expectations. You may have different friends who meet different needs. One person can't always be everything to you, especially if you have complicated needs. Take time for gratitude and appreciate what the people in your life already have to offer. Express that gratitude often and your connection will grow. 

Invite larger groups if you'd like. If you are an introvert and/or prefer only 1:1 interactions, this step might not be relevant. If you are like me, however, and thrive in a community that you had a hand in creating, this can go a long way. Once I had a couple of close friends in the area, I could start inviting people to events where I knew at least one other person would join. Having that solid foundation, I could reach out to more people and feel the sting less when they didn't respond. If they came on occasion, or continued to reply (even if they were too busy to join), I would keep inviting them. If they didn't respond at all, I would eventually stop reaching out. When I first started with my closest group of friends, I would send individual texts. Now that group is so tight-knit a group message usually will do, though there are those that I know prefer an individual reach-out. 

To help you explore your own unique gifts so you can connect with others who "get" you, I created a free Find Your Superpower Course to help you: Identify your individual areas of excitability with an excitability checklist; Customize the name of your own unique superpower; & Explore how you can harness your own power instead of suppressing it or letting it get out of control.

No One Way

No One Way: The fallacy of the "one right way" - Free retreat planner included!

On this week's episode of Embracing Intensity, I got a little personal about my relationship history and how I used to mistake drama for passion. I thought that drama was just a biproduct of two intense people in a relationship, but I have since found otherwise. Not to say that there's no drama in my current relationship, but there is definitely an ease to it that I had not experienced in the past. 

I was going to write a blog post about the key factors that I have found useful in minimizing drama, namely open communication (Nonviolent Communication is a great tool for this), identifying your "hot buttons" or "triggers," managing your expectations and not making assumptions. I go into these on the podcast, and planned to go into it in more detail on the blog when inspiration hit me on my afternoon walk. 

The heart of most drama in relationships is the idea that there is "one right way." 

When we have a need that isn't met, we get an idea in our head about what strategy will best meet that need. Sometimes we confuse the strategy with the need and think that it is the only way to get that need met. 

While this may work when we are flying solo, in relationship if you get stuck on one particular strategy or point of view, your communication can be perceived as a demand rather than a request. 

Strategies are very personal, while needs are universal, so if you can focus on the need, then you can better communicate about how both partners can get their needs met. The Center for Nonviolent Communication has a great Needs Inventory list here. Most of our needs fall under one of these 7 categories: connection, physical well-being, honesty, play, peace, autonomy and meaning. 

So the next time you feel stuck on something that you want but aren't sure you can get - take a look at what need it would meet and explore other possible options to meet that need. You might surprise yourself and find something even better than what you thought was the "right way."

To help you take time out to connect with your own needs and explore creative ways to meet them, I created this free Retreat Planner!  It includes information on: How to prepare for your retreat in the way that’s best for you; Simple, accessible, and straightforward practices to deepen your experience; A template planner;  A guide to using essential oils to enhance and deepen your healing experience; A recommended reading list; and more!

The Power of No!

I've been revisiting the power of the word "no" lately. I was getting pretty good at it, in fact I wrote a blog post about it, but shortly after that I felt compelled to say "yes" to additional work at my day job and then got caught up in taking on commitments that drained me rather than fed me. Having taken on certain commitments, it would have been out of integrity for me to back out, so I had to take a look at what else I was letting in to my life. 

When I interviewed Sophia Treyger for my Embracing Intensity Podcast, she was at the very beginning of her own journey of saying no. 

I recently attended an Intimacy Soiree with Sophia Treyger about what we have manifested in our lives, and she talked about finding the relationship she had always been looking for, so eloquently expressed in this blog post. One key factor for her was saying no to the opportunities that were just OK, so that she could leave room for the big yes! Connecting deeply with herself enabled her to connect even more deeply with others, including in her relationship and her thriving Intimacy Soiree community. If you are in the Porland, OR area, I highly recommend you attend on of Sophia's Events, you can find a link to the next one here, or join her page on Facebook for future events.  She has a gift for bringing out deeply intimate conversations!

I too found that taking a break from dating is what led me to my marriage, and being selective with whom I spend my time is the key to maintaining my energy. 

Relationships are such an integral part of our level of functioning! I have found as well, that when I  make the effort to include only those people who nourish me into my life, my energy is higher for dealing with other things that come up. This year I had the most busy chaotic start to a school year I have ever had, but yet my energy is much higher and my headaches fewer than last year. What is the difference? The people I spend the majority of my time with are all supportive of eachother. There is a feeling of being in this together. 

Sometimes, even an extravert like me, has to take a break from social commitments. Last year, when I moved out to the country and took on extra work, I needed to turn inward and connect with myself. I started moving away from large group activities to more intimate ways of connecting. As the social butterfly I've always been, this left room for feeling like a bad friend because I didn't reach out to my circle of friends nearly as much. But when I do get to connect, it makes it all that much sweeter! 

Sometimes what energizes us at one time in our lives is not what energizes us in another. 

What are you saying "yes" to that may no longer serve you? What areas of your life are you finding draining? What would you like to say "yes" to that brings you energy or opens you up to exciting possibilities?

The Search for Compatible Lifeforms

I was fortunate that at an early age I grew up in a community that not only accepted my weirdness, but celebrated it!

I'm finding more and more as I connect with communities online, just how lucky I've been. Many excitable, gifted, intense and creative people who don't fit into the "mainstream," struggle to find a place where they really connect. 

My parents found connection in the Unitarian Universalist community and raised us with their intergenerational support. This summer, my sister, mom and I went with the kids to an intergenerational UU creative arts camp. Listening to stories of people struggling to find acceptance over the years made me realize how easy it is to take it for granted when my parents worked so hard to get us to that place. 

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I went through a period of intense loneliness. Finding friends as an adult is hard stuff! Especially once you are out of school. 

I tried the local UU community, but at the time there were not a whole lot of young adults. I finally found my place in a local theatre company, which was also something I had done growing up. When I became a single parent of an infant though, it became harder and harder to stay involved and then the theatre went under. 

I decided to try the UU community in the bigger city of Portland, and have since developed the most amazing group of friends I could imagine. It would not have happened though, if I just attended events and let it end there. Here are some things that I did to help build my own network of compatible lifeforms:

1. Find groups with common interests. Maybe something you did as a child or teen? Maybe something new? Just remember that every community is different and what works for you in one place and time might not work at another place and time. Some additional places I've found connection include other spiritual minded groups and most recently groups of other women entrepreneurs. Other places may include creative groups, social justice organizations, sports and other common activities. 

2. Connect individually, outside of the groups. The first time I asked my good friend Lana out outside of the group we were involved in together, it seriously felt like asking her out on a date! Getting up the nerve to do so was the best thing I ever did! We had been going to events together for almost a year so I had a pretty good feeling we would connect, but you never know what's on the other side. Reaching out like that opened up a whole line of reaching out to each other and spurred off an amazing group of friends!

3. Don't take things personally. Once I started reaching out to people individually, if someone declined or said they were too busy, I tried very hard not to take it personally. I reminded myself that everybody is in a different stage of life and they might legitimately have way too much going on to add one more thing to their plate. I once heard a quote about how you never know another person's true motivations, so you might as well assume the one that is best for you. This has worked out for me pretty well thus far. 

4. Be persistent. When I started sending out individual invitations to things, I started to get a sense for those who really did want to connect at a later time and those who just had other things they were focusing on. I'd plan something with one good friend and then reach out to a few of those who had expressed interest in hanging out in the past. That way, it was no big deal if they declined and if they decided they could make it, it was a bonus! 

5. Find a coconspirator. Once Lana and I connected, we each reached out and started planning events and ways to connect with others. It started with individual invitations and developed into a group where you could throw out an idea and get some pals to come along. It may be that you don't want a whole big group, but finding even one like minded friend you can connect with and conspire with can go a long way!

Now I would love to hear from you! Where have you found compatible lifeforms and how did you connect? 

Hey by the way, did you know I have a Facebook Group called the League of Excitable Women? You should come join us there if you are so inclined. You might just find some more compatible life forms. 

This was written as a part of Hoagies' Gifted Blog Hop

Beware Stealth Expectations

Beware Stealth Expectations

I just about lost it this week!

Between a perfect storm of factors, including hormones, work stress and misplacing an important document in the move, I ended up accidentally triple dosing myself with ibuprofen and wallowing in my own stress drama for a bit. But with all of the factors contributing to my angst, the number one killer was what Brene Brown calls "Stealth Expectations."

According to Brene, in her new book Rising Strong, stealth expectations are those expectations we don't even know we have that set us up for significant disappointment, resentment and shame when they are not realized. She gives the example of how she and her husband would get in arguments because weekends when they were both in town seemed more difficult than weekends when only one of them was home with the kids. This was because when they were home alone, they had no expectations of getting things done, but when the other adult was around they unconsciously loaded up expectations of what they could get done in that time.

For me I have seen this in our move because at the old house, we gave up any expectations of having things a certain way because it never seemed worth the effort. Now that we are in our new space, we are navigating through our own stealth expectations of how things should be.

At work, what put me over the edge was realizing that while I didn't take on extra days strictly for the money, I was expecting to work and get paid more this month to accommodate the extra load, but because of snow day and holidays I had to fit it into my existing work days. That combined with the fact that my usually "easy" position had several unexpected and urgent situations to deal with.

I used to handle this kind of load all the time, but now that I wasn't expecting it, I got a little bitter. It reminded me of how I managed at work back when I was sleep deprived with a colicky infant, going through divorce and handling several legal cases, but now when I get one night of interrupted sleep I have no idea how I functioned back then! I functioned because I didn't expect things to be any different.

Listening to Rising Strong (which is totally worth a listen because Brene reads it herself and is hilarious), I am realizing how much better my life is when I let go of my stealth expectations and how it's good to reality check myself on occasion when those expectations come up.

What are some stealth expectations that have gotten in your way in the past?

Beware stealth expectations

Behind the Curtain

Behind the curtain

I have to admit, with all the amazing things that have happened in my life in the last few months, I start to worry that people will find my posts obnoxious. I’m the kind of person who likes to share things when they happen - but when so much happens at once it can be overwhelming.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the social media world and think that’s the whole picture of someone’s life. What we don’t always post though are the things we don’t think anyone wants to hear for the fear of sounding like a whiner. These are the things behind the curtain.

For example, in my life before I got married, turned 40 and acquired a retreat property - I had started suffering chronic headaches again that got worse rather than better when the summer began. I had to go back to my day job more and now full time to make ends meet and put almost all business plans on hold.

It felt like a huge set back to me, but now I see how even though the stress is still giving me daily headaches, this is exactly what I need to work through so that I can best help the people I most want to serve.

You see, I realized that I want to help burnt out idealists like myself reset their energy and develop a self-care plan so that they can keep sharing their gifts with the world in a way that sustains them. However, when I stepped back a bit from my day job the answer for me was just work less in the “system” and more toward something that really utilized my skills. I had not, however, found a way to work within the “system” and come out of it without feeling depleted. In fact, I started this school year with a deficit instead of rebuilding my energy over the summer.

When I was asked how I dealt with extreme fatigue and burnout, I realized that although I’d managed my own fatigue quite well the year before - when a lot of stressors hit at once I was still ill prepared to find my way out of it. When “wait for summer break” has always been my answer and my summer was the most stressful time of that year, it’s time for a new approach.

Now it is still my intention to step back from my day job gradually over the next few years because I’ve come to realize that my mission lies elsewhere, but I see this spring of working full time as an opportunity to explore the best ways to take care of myself within the system.

I had planned for a lot of collaboration and connection this year, but to start 2016 I realized that I have to spend some time first turning inward and connecting more with myself. For me, this will include mindfulness training and some time exploring my creative side.

What will you do this year to connect more with yourself?

behind the curtain

Top posts of 2015

2015 was an eventful year indeed! In the fall alone, I went back to my "day job" full time, got married, turned 40, and acquired a small retreat center. I also got a new computer, which switched up my fonts and images a bit. Needless to say, I've been a little preoccupied to post weekly, but there have been some well followed posts along the way. Special thanks to Hoagies Gifted Education blog hops for connecting me to a wider audience even when I haven't had the chance to widely promote my work. For the first part of 2016, my plan is to focus on self-care and get comfortable in my new home. I plan to start a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program in the new year and to keep a journal about my experience. I'd like to start weekly blog posts again, so keep your eye out.

In the fall, I will plan to launch my Embracing Intensity podcast and find ways to share our new Quinn Mountain community through in-person coaching and small retreats

For now, enjoy my top posts from 2015!

5. An Orange In the Apple Barrel

Bonus - 25 Things Only a Highly Excitable Person Would Understand - Not posted in 2015, but by far my most visited post this year!

When Life Has Other Plans

When life has other plans

When Guy first asked if I'd marry him, my only hesitation was that we couldn't afford a wedding. I had dwindled down my own savings trying to start a business.  I had gone back for an extra day at my "day job" so I could pay the bills and work on my relationship with money so I could get better at putting myself out there. My plan was to launch my podcast and work on building community for a while without pushing the money end.

Guy had come to the US from Germany with plans to start a business but then gave most of his savings to support family after tragedy hit, and it turns out this part of the world does not compensate artisan baking skills the way they should. He had connected with his affinity for plants when I gave him free reign of my garden and he told me not to move for at least 6 years because he had big plans for it.

Fortunately, my dad was there to help us out with the wedding, but we did not expect his support to take us beyond our wildest dreams!

A few weeks before the wedding, dad sent me a message on Facebook with a realty link for a property described as "Awe-inspiring 38 acre nature retreat in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area," and asked if he should set up an appointment to check it out.

I said, "Are you looking for a new place?"

And he said, "No, thinking about you guys and a place to have classes, retreats, etc..."

This place was stunning! It was like every dream we'd ever had rolled up and quadrupled. I could do wellness retreats and personal coaching and Guy could develop his garden design and plant photography, and use his business skills to run the place. My sister who's an accomplished crochet designer had been planning a crochet retreat and had lots of ideas for crafty events and her husband is a big outdoorsman who was excited to connect with the land.

I looked a little closer at the front and I said, "is that a garden railroad?" - and it was. Now you have to understand that my grandma Diana is an avid garden railroad enthusiast. My sister and I always liked the idea of having one, but would certainly never have gotten around to building one - let alone one as well landscaped as this. That was the clincher!

So we headed there after the kids got out of school with my dad and my sisters family. They did not lie, the more we saw the place, the more we were in awe. The thought and details that the owners had put into the place showed so much love. On the lower level of the house there was a B&B suite and a small apartment. Next to the house there was an event space that she held weddings in. It had an established wedding venue and our mom is a retired minister!

Funny thing was, I wanted nothing to do with planning my own wedding, since planning my first one caused a minor panic attack and we didn't have much time or money to put into it. We were very fortunate to have a rockstar crochet designer for a sister, a minister for a mom, a harp player for a dad and a master pastry chef as his former boss. I specifically avoided starting a "wedding" pinterest page until after the wedding was done and I started imagining what kind of rustic weddings we could have on the beautiful property.

The boy was pretty grumpy during the tour because he wanted to run and play, but had to stick close due to liability. I was surprised to find that he wrote a three page description of the place the next day at school. He even drew a picture of the labyrinth. Yes, there really is a labyrinth!

We went into escrow on our wedding day and were supposed to close on my 40th birthday. Because of the unique type of property and financing though, things took a long time to get settled. Time dragged on and we were afraid we would loose the place.

It finally went through though and got the keys after work on Tuesday!

It's still all so surreal. I had had my year planned out, but it looked nothing like this!

Once we sell our old house, we can get the business end going. As we get to know our new home, I am sure that great things will come out of it in the next few years!

You can follow our progress on our Quinn Mountain Retreat Center page on Facebook. Website to be updated soon!

When life has other plans

At 30, I Thought I Had it All Figured Out

Ten  years ago, on my 30th birthday, I thought I had it all figured out...

I was getting established in a new town and a new career I'd planned on for years, I was starting to build a community of friends through the theatre, and I was getting ready to embark on the journey that is parenthood.

I would have two kids, approximately three years apart (hopefully at least one girl, since I never totally understood boys), I would continue writing and eventually publish the workbooks I'd been using in my school based counseling groups, and I when the dust settled with the kids, I'd start volunteering to direct musicals with my husband as musical director so that the whole family could be involved.

A few short years later I found myself a sleep deprived single parent to a very colicky infant, changed to a job with less kid contact and more paperwork to be closer to home, and the theatre communities I had been a part of had ended for unfair reasons.

Now that I'm turning 40, my life looks nothing like I had imagined 10 years ago, but in many ways it's so much better!

Raising an intense child has connected me with my own intensity and desire to help others embrace it in themselves rather than suppressing it or letting it get out of control. His issues as an infant got me looking into my own diet and how it might affect him. While I never found a connection with him, it laid the groundwork for completely changing my own way of eating.

While my new job did not allow for much creative exploration with counseling and intervention, it did give me more free time in my days outside of work to explore what I wanted to do for me. I started a food blog, which led to looking into health coaching, which eventually led to life coach training.

Though I most definitely miss my theatre friends, single parenting doesn't lend itself well to participating in full length plays, so I was already becoming more distant by default. Losing the community I loved forced me to look elsewhere for connection and eventually brought me back to my Unitarian Universalist roots. There, I've made the deepest of connections with people I can't imagine my life without.

I once pondered to a close friend that I wondered if I was being too picky in looking for a partner, but then I said, "I just want a partner who makes me feel at least as good as I do when I'm with my friends."

To this she replied, "I'm sorry we set the bar so high."

She was completely right, and I finally met someone who measured up!

I expected to have a big shin dig on my 40th birthday, but between getting married two month's before and hopefully closing on potentially life changing move next (more on that next month), a small get together is all I need.

Ten years later, and arguably wiser, and I can honestly say I have no idea what the next ten years will bring. One thing I can safely say is it will be an adventure!

Open to Receive

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgement to giving help. ~ Brene Brown

A few years ago I was involved in a mindfulness community and a speaker said something along the lines of Brene Brown's quote above. I remember this struck me because we were in a room full of professional helpers. To think that if we judged ourselves for needing help, we were also judging others made me a little uncomfortable.

If you think about it though, it's that discomfort that makes asking for help so much more difficult than giving it. Asking for help requires vulnerability. We have to put ourselves out there and risk rejection.

Offering help is easy. It makes us feel good to help others feel good. It helps us to connect without feeling vulnerable because we are not putting our own stuff out on the line. It also may make us feel powerful, but is it at the expense of the power of the other?

As Brene Brown points out, vulnerability is uncomfortable, but it is a crucial element in being what she calls "whole hearted."

So who should I ask for help?

Well Brene shares some types of people it would be wise to avoid sharing your vulnerability with: Someone who hears your story and feels shame for you; Someone who responds with sympathy ("I feel sorry for you") rather than empathy ("I've been there"); Someone who looks to you to be a pillar of worthiness and perfection; Someone who is so uncomfortable with vulnerability he/she scolds you; Someone who thinks you must be exaggerating; Someone who always tries to one-up you ("you think that's bad...").

Instead, share your story with someone who loves you because of your vulnerability not despite it and can respond with empathy. This is the type of person who can be trusted to help to the best of their ability. You may only have one or two such people in your life, but if you give them the chance to help you it will deepen your relationship even further. 

Why I Wore Orange to my Wedding

I started school very young, so it should be no surprise that I was not as mature as my peers. I was a bit extra hyper and asked way too many questions for the teacher's taste. When they tried to hold me back in Kindergarten, my parents had me tested and the psychologist who worked with me said, "she's not a smaller apple, she's an orange."

Over the years orange continued to be my favorite color. It was vibrant and happy, just as I usually saw myself. As the years passed and I became a "mature adult" though, my tendency to wear orange started to fade away.

When I was divorced about seven years ago, orange slowly started to creep back into my wardrobe. I remember one time my best college friend I only saw on occasion these days said to me, "you've got your orange back!"

I continued to find myself attracted to people who saw the same flaws in me that I saw in myself. I lacked a filter, was too scattered and lacking the qualities of a responsible adult. It would make sense then that I would be drawn to "more responsible" and often therefore more critical partners.

Not that I didn't have relationships with men that weren't critical, but for me those always seemed to fall short, or lack some spark. I started to worry that it was me, not them, that was the problem.

I decided to take a year or so off of dating to "fix" myself so that I could be drawn to the right person. I worked on listening to my body, improving my health, and most importantly getting out of my head and more into my heart and gut. About half way through this process I had a thought...

What if rather than fixing myself to find love, I needed to really open my heart to heal?

Within a week of having that thought, I came in contact with my Guy. I knew pretty early on something was different this time. Not that it was all easy - he had a challenging past I couldn't help but worry would come out in some surprising way.

As I've seen it, it has come out in a beautiful spirit that lives life with great acceptance and humor. He appreciates everything he has and loves me because of my quirks rather than despite them.

When we decided to get married, I knew that orange was the only choice for my dress, and my amazing sister Laurinda, from ReCrochetions, managed to make this awesome dress in about three months. She was not sure about trying a technique she'd never done before, but I told her I had full faith in her. I was clearly not disappointed!

These Are a Few of My Favorite Books

I first diagnosed myself as an undergraduate psychology student as having, "overactive dendrites," which essentially meant that I was highly sensitive but I didn't know that term at the time. There were a lot of things I connect with about being highly sensitive, but some of it didn't quite fit as I am also a high sensation seeker and an extrovert. As I researched more about my own son's intensity I realized that I was highly excitable, which means I both perceive and respond to the world more intensely than others, not just in my senses as described by high sensitivity, but also in my mind, imagination, feelings and body.

Over the last few years, I've read all kinds of personal development in order to explore the best ways to harness the power of excitability. These are a few that have had the most impact on myself and my work (Amazon affiliate links included):

The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius(tm) by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. Jacobsen describes a gifted adult as intense, complex and driven. She doesn't so much focus on intellect so much as the personal characteristics they share. This book is a great start to help understand your own gifts and intensities and use them in a positive way.

Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope by James T. Webb. I've found quite a few books aimed at bright or intellectually gifted adults to be either extremely academic, overly self-admiring, or focused more on problems than solutions. Webb's book does an amazing job of describing the existential dilemmas that more intense people face and describes both negative and positive coping skills for those facing disillusionment.

Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults edited by Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski. This is literally THE book on excitability. I appreciate that it looks at intensity at all stages of life. Some of the essays are more academic in nature, but others are more personal and compelling.

The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life) by Chris Hardwick. This was by far the most entertaining personal development book I've ever read! Chris Hardwick was a "has been" MTV V-jay turned highly successful blogger and podcaster. He shares how he transformed his life by approaching it like a roleplaying game.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall Rosenberg. Nonviolent communication is a tool I use throughout my work. When I first learned about it, it appealed to me right away because it was close to my own natural style of communication, and I believe why I've had a skills with communicating in difficult situations. While the actual "language" of NVC can feel a little awkward, the spirit of understanding the underlying needs we are trying to meet with our actions is invaluable. It also gives tools for making objective, unbiased, observations and understanding our feelings better.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) by Don Miguel Ruiz. This was one of the first personal development books that had a profound affect on me. Such simple concepts that really made sense to me. The four agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don't take anything personally; Don't make assumptions; and Always do your best. Easy to understand, but sometimes difficult to implement. It's helpful for me to revisit these concepts every now and then.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey. I kind of blew off The 7 Habits for a long time as too mainstream and cliche. When I finally got around to reading it though, I realized that these were inarguable truths. The 7 habits include: Be proactive, Begin with an end in mind; Put first things first; Think win-win. Seek first to understand, then to be understood; Synergize; and Sharpen the saw.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown.  I pretty much love anything written by Brene Brown. Her TED talk on Vulnerability was the first TED talk I ever saw and set the bar for all future talks. In Daring Greatly, she takes her research and gives practical applications. I especially appreciated her chapter on wholehearted parenting. The Gifts of Imperfection is another great book!

How to be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo. I got this book to "save" my marriage, but it also helped me to let go. The five keys include attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing. He also talks about stages of relationships and how to choose a suitable partner. His book How to Be an Adult: A Handbook for Psychological and Spiritual Integration is also a great one, but sometimes it's hard to hand someone a book called "How to Be an Adult" without extensive explanation. It addresses tools to move on from your past and take ownership of your life. My favorite chapter is on how to be assertive in getting your needs met rather than passive or aggressive. It's a great companion to NVC concepts.

Breaking Free from Persistent Fatigue by Lucie Montpetit. You might ask what this has to do with intensity or personal development, but I've found I'm not the only one who has experienced persistent fatigue from experiencing the world more intensely. I've picked up so many chronic pain and fatigue books over the years and nothing ever really clicked. I love Montpetit's approach because she looks at energy balance not just from a health perspective but from a psychological or spiritual perspective. I share some of her most useful tools for balancing your energy in my post What's Your Energy Balance.

There are a lot more amazing books out there, but I thought I'd cap it off at 10. I'd love it if you'd share below what books have had a positive influence on using your own intensity for good!

Are you a Highly Sensitive Extrovert?

I got into the field of education because I thrive on connecting with others. But as the expectations on educators go up and the funding goes down, there is understandably a lot of stress around me that I have a tendency to pick up. This is a common problem of Highly Sensitive and Highly Excitable People who often find themselves in helping professions.

It is useful to step back and get some alone time to regroup. Being an extrovert though, I gain energy from being around people. So how does one find balance when a part of you is easily overstimulated and a part of you needs to go out and engage. These are some things that I've found helpful for myself:

Learn to be alone. When I was single, I did everything I could not to be alone. If I wasn't working or with my son, I was almost always out with my friends. I used to pull cards from a deck with transitional themes and occasionally I would get the "void" card, which describes itself by saying, "you may be covering up the emptiness or pain through an addiction." Now for me, addiction didn't come in substances or typical "addictive" activities, but in my fear of being alone and fear of missing out. If my friends were out and I were free, I wanted to be there. If I were home alone, I would do anything go get out of the house. Once I started a meaningful business though, and I felt some direction with my time outside of my "day job," I was able to enjoy and savor my alone time. Now that I have another adult in the house, I don't feel the need to go out as much, and I value the time I have to just do my own thing.

Choose your company. I used to pride myself on my ability to get along with challenging people. I was flattered that picky people wanted to spend time with me. Now I realize that the biggest challenge for me is not in having people like me but in setting limits and inviting people into my life that nourish me instead of ones that drain me. I still cast a wide social net, but there are only a few people that I am super close to. Those I spend the most time with I am consistently energized by, though of course we all have our rough times. I once ended a relationship with a great man because for some reason I felt consistently drained when we were together. We maintain a high respect for eachother, but in a relationship we just didn't work.

Find your purpose. As I mentioned above, once I felt a sense of purpose outside of my "day job", I was able to enjoy my alone time more. Finding a sense of purpose can help guide you in deciding exactly what choices in your life will feed that purpose and what will detract from it. This will help in deciding what social activities will be energizing and what you might find more draining.

Just say no. Learn to say no to things that aren't fun or in line with your purpose. Take a close look at how you spend your time and decide what things are really worth the investment. Time is one of your most valuable resources, so spend it well. This includes making time for play and self-care. If you are tempted to go out, but not really sure if you should. Step back and look at why you want to go. Are you afraid of missing out on something? Are you avoiding time alone with yourself? Or is this something that really will revitalize you? By all means, don't be afraid to say yes as well - just know what you are saying yes too.

To be a Highly Sensitive extrovert is anything but boring. If you embrace all aspects of yourself and learn your limits though, it can be a fun adventure!

Intensity X2

The first time I got married I had observed that we both had highly intense parents that had divorced and remarried less intense partners, but this wouldn't stop us because we were clearly "meant to be." Now I won't dispute that thought because we were meant to produce our amazing son, but it did ultimately end. I believe this was not because we were both intense people, but because our particular brands of intensity did not entirely mesh well together.

The early stages of meshing together were a challenge. In hindsight I see that I mistook drama for passion and assumed it was just a part of two intense people connecting. Over time we were able to find a pretty good balance that was based on open communication, but our communication styles were very different so that took quite a bit of work to maintain. Still, I was taken by surprize when it ended. I had so many friends who complained about their spouses in a way that showed a lack of respect and I never felt that personally on either end.

What was lacking to some degree was complete acceptance. There were always things about each other that the other could not completely accept. I always wanted him to be less moody and he wanted me to have more of a filter. This seemed fair because I think these were things we couldn't completely accept in ourselves either.

For you Buffy fans out there, I used to complain that I didn't understand why everyone got all woozy over Angel when he was so broody. When things ended, I remember him saying that he was an Angel and what I really needed was a Spike (we're talking post soul here by the way).

Over the years I tried dating people who were less intense, but there was always something lacking for me.

Fast forward seven years and I have found someone who loves me because of my quirks, not despite them. Not to say that there is nothing we would change about the other, but we accept each other as we are. In fact, my Guy once said, I "accept the shit" out of him, and he does the same. He makes it pretty easy since despite a challenging past, he fully appreciates everything he has in his life. That's not to say it's all roses and no thorns, but the thorns are brief and we can talk about anything! He doesn't take things personally at all, and I'm working on it. We share the five As that David Richo says are essential in a healthy relationship, acceptance, attention, appreciation, affection and allowing.

After seven years of single parenthood, I'm moving back into the world of marriage again when I wasn't sure I ever would. If I've learned anything from my years of relationships and dating it's this - drama is not the same as passion or an inevitable outcome of two intense people meshing, and compatible communication styles save a lot of drama. Also, until you completely accept yourself, it will be difficult to find someone who completely accepts you. If you do, and it's mutual - treasure that!

Owning Your Power!

I knew that I was going to use David Richo’s chapter on assertiveness in How To Be an Adult  to help develop my lesson on speaking up for my group program, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he talks about assertiveness as “owning your own power.” This is so important because one of the best things we can do to increase our energy is to increase our sense of power and reduce our feelings of powerlessness. The most crucial way to do this is by getting clear on what we want and asking for it.

Assertiveness is owning your own power

Assertiveness is taking responsibility for your own needs and asking for what you want in a clear manner.We understand that we are the only ones responsible for our own feelings and needs. No one can “make us” feel a certain way. It is our thoughts about the situation that makes us feel that way. To understand this better, it is helpful to get clear on the difference between a stimulus and a cause. Someone’s actions might be the stimulus that lead to your feeling, but it is not the cause. The cause is our unmet needs and the thoughts that we have surrounding it. If we own this and get clear on our needs, we can have the power to take charge of them and make clear requests from people.

Passivity is giving your power away.

Passivity is not speak up for fear of the possible consequence. Unless of course, the person you aren’t speaking up to is out of control or violent, in which case you being assertive by taking care of your own needs. Glossing over or minimizing your concerns, or making excuses for other people’s hurtful behavior will just ensure that these things won’t be addressed. If you overcommit or do things out of “duty” then you aren’t really using your own power. As David Richo says, “what we are not changing, we are choosing.”

Aggressiveness is changing power to control.

Aggressiveness involves attempting to control or manipulate others. When you are aggressive, you demand rather than request things of others. Or else you indirectly try to control their behavior through manipulation. Other behaviors Richo identifies as aggressive include competitiveness, spitefulness, sarcasm and blame. Most surprisingly, he includes rescuing others as an aggressive behavior, because it puts you in a position of dominance over them.

Steps to owning your power:

So how can you increase your assertiveness? You can use the four step STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Request) to communicate assertively.

  1. Stop - Observe your thoughts and judgements around the situation.
  2. Think - Connect with your feelings and needs.
  3. Act - Express your feelings and unmet needs.
  4. Request - Make a request that might help meet your needs.

This will help you get clear on what you need so that you know what to ask for. Just remember, you are making a request, not a demand, so if the other person does not want to grant your request, be open to other strategies that might meet both of your needs.

Emotional Liberation

If we don’t value our needs, others may not either.

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Many emotionally sensitive or excitable folks tend to be people pleasers. We may start out denying our own needs to meet the needs of others. In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of LifeMarshall Rosenberg describes four stages in what he calls the movement from "Emotional Slavery to Emotional Liberation" (p. 57).  Simply put, we start by blaming ourselves, then start to blame others, then we can move to sensing our own feelings and needs and then the needs of others.

Emotional Slavery

Rosenberg calls the first stage "Emotional Slavery."  At this point we see ourselves as responsible for other people's feelings.  We take criticisms of us personally and accept the other person's judgement.  This inclines us toward a feeling of shame, guilt and depression.

I believe many of us are driven by the desire to be "nice," but as I discussed in my blog post You Can be Kind Without Being Nice, our culture's way of defining nice is very superficial.  It's all about presenting ourselves as pleasant people.  I personally prefer to be "kind," which to me is more about intent than appearance, meaning that you intend to communicate clearly in an empathetic way.

The "Obnoxious Stage"

I've seen quite a few folks who have felt like victims in their lives throw the baby out with the bath water and decide they are in no way responsible for anyone else's feelings.  Rosenberg calls this the "Obnoxious Stage."  At this point, we fault the speaker and we protest or invalidate their perspective.  This is driven by feelings of anger.

At this point we are no longer concerned about being "nice," but in our attempts at self-advocacy, we may come off more aggressive than assertive.

Emotional Liberation

Once we take full responsibility of our intentions and actions, we reach what Rosenberg calls "Emotional Liberation."  At this point we shine a light on our own feelings and needs to express self-empathy.  We become conscious of the underlying issue and that there is more than one way to meet our own needs.

When we've connected with our own feelings and needs, we can move toward communicating kindly with others.

Empathy

The final stage of emotional liberation is when we can feel and express empathy toward the needs of others.  Not in a way that sacrifices our own feelings and needs, but in a way that looks to support the needs of all parties. At this point you show attempts at understanding the other person, which usually engenders more cooperation.

Once you can clearly express your own feelings and needs while taking into consideration the feelings and needs of others, you are free to explore strategies that can meet everyone's needs.

Five Keys to Self-Love

I never really thought of myself as a "responsible adult," so I counted myself lucky to have married one. His somewhat critical assessments of me seemed fair, because I judged those same things in myself.

When things started to come to an end, I found a book called How to be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo in order to  "save my marriage." Instead it helped me to let go. It also helped me realize that you must have these things in your relationship with yourself before you can have them in a relationship with someone else.

Even after my divorce, I found myself most attracted to men who judged the same things in me as I judged in myself.  I was involved with a few very kind men who didn't see these judgements at all, but things just never quite felt right.  I started to wonder if I was sabotaging my own relationships because I was attracted to that judgement.

So, I spent some time trying to "fix" myself, until one day I realized that perhaps instead of needing to completely heal to find a good relationship, I needed to open my heart in order to heal.

Within a week of this realization I was in contact with my amazing Guy!

According to David Richo, there are 5 As involved with mindful loving.  These are needs we have in relationships that we must first give to ourselves.

"Attention means consciousness of the interconnectedness of all things."*  As a sensitive and/or excitable soul, it is easier to put your attention on things outside of yourself, but you must be sure to bring your attention inside as well.

"Acceptance means saying an unconditional yes to the sobering givens of existence, the facts of life."* This doesn't mean you can't take steps to make changes, but you must first accept reality as it is without judgment.

"Appreciation means the attitude of gratitude."* Appreciate not only what you have around you, but what you have within you.

"Affection means the love we feel for others and for the universe."* You are likely great at giving affection to others - turn that around to yourself as well!

"Allowing means that we grant to others and protect in ourselves the right to live freely and without outside control"* Let yourself be fully you!

The next time you feel like you need to "fix yourself," try opening your heart to yourself and offer it attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection and allowing.  Maybe you'll find like I did, that there's actually nothing to "fix" only to heal and healing starts from within.

*How to be An Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving by David Richo, p. 50

The Best Friendships Sometimes Make You Cry

I am thankful on a daily basis for my amazing and genuine friendships. Sometimes I end a day with my friends and have that warm fuzzy feeling in my heart of contentment.

Having such wonderful friends made me wonder whether I was being too picky about relationships, I once said, "I just want to find someone who makes me feel as good or better than my friends," to which one of my closest friends said, "I'm sorry we set the bar so high." She was right, they did. I finally met someone who jumped over that bar, but that's a story for a different time.

So what is it about my friends that make them so great to be around? For me it's open, genuine honesty.

You see, I can be what other people might see as lacking in filter. It's not that I don't consider the impact of what I say, it's more that my tolerance for the truth is much higher than it is for many. I can also be impulsive at times and say things without thinking. This means that I occasionally will say something that other people don't like.

I am generally good at picking up on body cues, but sometimes either I'm absorbed in something else so I don't notice, or I pick up on something I can't quite interpret and make up things in my head which might not be accurate.

My biggest fear is that I will say something that will hurt a friend and never know about it.

A couple of years ago we had a big dinner to welcome a friend back to town. I had a great time, but the next day I was surprised. I got calls from not one, but two friends who wanted to talk to me about something I'd said at dinner that upset them. This took me completely by surprise because I had no idea the things I had said had had that affect. In the end, they mostly just needed to get it off their chests.  I apologized and we all moved on. The thing is though, this rarely happens to me these days. For the most part I can just be myself with my friends without worrying about what I say. With the perfect storm of hurting two friends in one night, I cried a little.

Now I reflect back on that moment and I think about how lucky I am to have friends that are comfortable enough to share with me when I say something they don't like. So often we push things that bug us aside because it's "no big deal," but then if we don't work through them they can hang over our heads.

I still get bouts of anxiety in social settings that I'm going to say something that will rub someone the wrong way. I don't feel that way nearly as often as I used to. Having friends who tell me straight up when I do reassures me that I must be doing OK the rest of the time.

We are all real people who occasionally say and do stupid things. When we accept and communicate about that with our friends, it keeps the air clear so that we are free to be fully ourselves!