You’re Too Sensitive

Has someone ever said something to you that hurt so much that you’ve never forgotten it? Or maybe there was truth to it but you didn’t want it to be true because that’s not the person you wanted to be. You see, I’ve always admired those rough and tough females who were witty, had comebacks to every insult, could punch a boy out if bullied, who never cried in private much less public. I was never that person.

It was the late eighties. I was a teenager. I remember the house I lived in on Norbrook Acres Drive, standing near the living room in some argument with my father. My sister and mother were there. I don’t remember what the argument was about or what we said to my dad that made him so angry. He stormed off shouting, “All of you are too sensitive.”

Those are the words that cut like a knife. Did he mean all females are too sensitive? Just us, the women in his family? He was angry, so being sensitive must be really bad, so I must make sure I’m the opposite of sensitive. I don’t think my dad’s words bothered my middle sister. She’s more rough and tough or at least she appears to be. But I was deeply bothered. He must have wanted a boy. Boys are not sensitive. And on and on through my brain these thoughts flew.

As an adult when I’m supposed to know myself, I’ve often wondered why I get so overwhelmed by life. I see mothers rushing around with their children, doing all these activities and they seem so happy. I on the other hand, want to get it out of the way and do what I want to do: play with the kids, relax, write, read, be alone. I simply can’t handle rushing around in a frenzied state all afternoon long. And why do I cry when someone tells me a sad story? Can’t I merely nod and empathize like other people without tears trailing down my cheeks? And why do I get so annoyed, so cranky when surrounded by streams of people, say at a parade or Costco on a weekend? I discovered why one day when I went to You Tube, Ted Talks and something interesting caught my eye: a talk called “The Gentle Power of Highly Sensitive People.”

I am not alone. I’m simply an HSP – a Highly Sensitive Person. Not to be confused with an introvert (many HSPs are extroverts), a wallflower or a doormat. In simple terms, an HSP experiences life in a vivid way: sadness is deep sorrow and joy is high ecstasy. I may be emotional but still confrontational. I may not like crowds but I have the ability to easily and deeply connect with others. This is genetic. I can’t change it anymore than I can change my eye colour. I can’t toughen up. Even more surprising, fifty percent of males are HSPs. It is not a feminine trait. It doesn’t mean males are weak. I know this as a fact. I’m married to an HSP. I’ve seen him take on situations and people that more aggressive types have shied away from. Being married to an HSP is great. I feel cherished and understood.

What’s not so great? Realizing my ten year old son is an HSP and that I’ve spent the entire baseball season telling him to toughen up, to not take things personally, to stop thinking so deeply about everything. I should know better because it takes one to know one. But I, like everyone else, have fallen into the trap of thinking that only aggressive people win, that sensitivity is a weakness, and that my son will not be able to handle life. Now that I’m aware of this, I hope I’ll be more helpful to him instead of trying to mould him into something he isn’t and will never be. What I think I was really trying to do is to shield him from the pain of life, from the pain of his own emotions and to protect him from all that hurt. But I can’t, not anymore than I can change his eye colour. He’ll go through life as I do, feeling everything deeply, from the happiness that lifts us into heaven, to the sorrow that carries us to the depths of hell.

Something to Chew On

  • Kids fighting leaves me feeling irritated and simply rotten. All that discord destroys the peace of the house and puts everyone in a foul mood. I wonder how can my children dislike each other so much. Then I rememb-er when I was young. I fought with my sister all the time. We just did not get along. “How did you resolve it?” asked my husband. “I don’t know. We grew up.”

It was nineteen seventy something. Times were hard in Jamaica. All the wonderful goods from America had stopped coming in and supermarket and pharmacy shelves were bare. My mother worked for the airlines so she’d go to Miami and bring us those coveted first world treats like Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks cereal. We complained that the cereal from the Caribbean tasted like cardboard. Once mom bought us a pack each of grape flavoured Bubble Yum. I rationed mine, biting only half and saving the other half. I hid the pack in my drawer. One day I went into the bedroom I shared with my sister and opened the drawer. My bubble gum was gone. I knew who the culprit was. The thorn in my side. She’d eaten her Bubble Yum within hours. She later told me she didn’t think I would notice the gum was missing. To say I was angry is an understatement. I railed at her, threatened her life. I reminded her for years after, that she’d committed this offence.

Years later when I had my first child and my sister was working for BET, she came to Jamaica to visit. She opened up a very large suitcase on my bedroom floor and there inside were packs and packs of grape flavoured Bubble Yum, Twizzlers and jelly beans.

“These are for you,” she laughed. “I hope this makes up for the time I ate your bubble gum and thought you wouldn’t notice.”

We sat on the floor and ate Twizzlers, jelly beans and bubble gum for hours, reminiscing about our childhood and growing closer.

I am the eldest of three girls. I am blessed to have a great relationship with both my sisters and I hope my children will learn to get along and want to be around each other as adults. After all, who else but a sibling would be honest about how I really look in that dress, and sometimes know more about me than I know myself. And so, I tell my son, “one day, you’ll realize how much you love your sister.” “No I won’t,” he says. Silently, I say, oh yes you will.

While writing this blog, I called my sister.
“You know those yoghurt covered raisins you had in your pantry over Spring Break?”
“I ate them.”
“All of them?”
“The whole box?”
“Yeah. Did you notice?”
“I didn’t notice,” she said laughing.

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block is a horrid thing. I’d never experienced it before, at least never so badly as now. My fingers used to run quickly over the keyboard, darting clicks of inspiration, and the words would appear. I’d be satisfied. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, I’d edit until satisfied. Sometimes days would pass by and the writing wouldn’t come. But it passed. I always had the confidence that the words would flow again. This past year has been different. I’ve opened up the computer and stared at the blank screen in misery. I’m like a well that was once full and is now bone dry. The stories that came so easily have abandoned me. I still write in my mind, but once I open the computer, my fingers sit poised for action, ready to dart. I close my eyes in despair as the truth sinks in. There is nothing to work with, like a carpenter ready to build without wood or knife.

I wonder the reason for this. Is it that I’m so mired in parenthood, my mind filled with all the little responsibilities parents have to think about: have you done your homework? Why not? Where is your lunch box? You left it at school again? You need money for what? Where do you need to be dropped? And on and on it goes.

Is it because I now live in Canada: a safe place where people obey the laws and things run more or less by clockwork, where I’m content and the majority of people lead uncomplicated lives? I’m not saying Canadians are boring but the news headlines in Jamaica were enough to inspire many a story. Have I relied too much on stories and not enough on good writing? After all, one of my favourite writers, Canadian Nobel prize winner for literature, Alice Munro, writes about Canada and her stories hold me spellbound. I re-read her books over and over again.

Perhaps I’m so busy that my creative mind has been pushed down so far that it is unreachable. My mom came to visit in June. She pointed to a grassy area next to a highway near my home. “Look at the field,” she said in delight to my daughter. “There are so many shades of green, white green, grey green, I can count ten shades of green. An artist has to notice the landscape around them.”

I glanced briefly at the field before returning my eyes to the road. “I don’t notice the greens,” I said. “I barely notice the field.” I gripped the steering wheel and made a left turn. My body felt tight and there was a dull thudding pain over my eyes. I was rushing to take my daughter to dance. We were late. My eyes were narrowed, my heartbeat fast, my breathing shallow. I was on the road but barely noticed the other cars around me. I didn’t see the landscape at all. It took all my concentration to converse with my mother and focus on the road. I wanted to breathe but there was a constriction in my chest. I have to slow down, I thought fleetingly. I have to notice the shades of green.

This, I think, is part of the problem.

I Almost Quit

Ever thought what it would be like to return to high school? My husband and I discovered free language classes in our city but there was a catch. We’d be returning to high school and taking classes with teenagers. If we didn’t mind this, we were told, we’d have a free school year of just about any language (except French, the one most useful to us living in Canada – go figure). We chose Spanish. This was four years ago. Hubby and I did 10th, 11th and 12th grade Spanish. We sat through classes with quiet teenagers, loud and disruptive teenagers, emotional teenagers, but it wasn’t too bad (except for the one time in a fit of temper, I told the class clown to just SHUT UP. I’d never experienced a student who made it their mission to disrupt a class and harass a teacher.)

The first few Saturday mornings of class, hubby and I felt self-conscious as most of the other adults probably did, but we eventually made friends through the years, losing some along the way who dropped out to pursue other things or attend to other commitments. After Grade 12, my hubby decided not to continue. He’d had enough of waking up early Saturday mornings, homework assignments, projects and studying. I, along with some of the other adults, chose to take Grade 12 again. Every Saturday morning, I’d leave my slumbering family and cozy house to brave winter’s icy breath. I’d arrive at class with the unsettled feeling of guilt and misgiving. How could I be so selfish to pursue this when there was so much laundry to be done, the house to clean, and what about my writing which suffered due to this extra commitment?

Every day I sat in the same seat, second row beside my friend Noel. Hubby and I met Noel when we first started and there was always this friendly competition between us. He could speak (frequent trips to Cuba) and I could read and write. “Remember I don’t have children,” Noel would remind me when I lamented that I couldn’t take trips to Cuba. “Remember I studied Spanish in Jamaica,” I’d remind Noel when I got another high test mark.  Yet, a malaise came over me this past year. The lack of sunlight and never ending winter, the demands of every day life and the commitments I’d made drained me of energy and motivation. “I can’t come to another class,” I’d say every single Saturday morning to Noel. “You can do it,” he’d say every time and he watched while I slashed the date from the school calendar to countdown toward the end. “Only twenty more classes left.” Once my eyes filled with tears. “I love this teacher and this language but I shouldn’t be here. What am I doing here?” “Nineteen more classes left and you’re acing this. You can do this with your eyes closed. You can’t quit now. You’re halfway there.”

Off he went to Cuba and came back tanned. “You’re so lucky,” I moaned. We shared bits and pieces of our lives. Guaranteed he’d tease me a bit and make me laugh.

I won’t return next year. Noel says I should because I’d come so far. Maybe but most likely not. It’s time for me to attend to other commitments like my writing. But now and then I think of Noel because I never would have made it through the year without him. His encouragement was what made me stick it out when it would’ve been easier to quit. “You did it,” he said last class and I wondered if he knew how much I credited him with that.

Are You a Nice Person

My daughter interacts with Siri (Apple’s voice controlled personal assistant) every day. As soon as she gets up, she asks, “Siri, what’s the weather going to be like in Mississauga today?” In a split second, Siri shows the data for Mississauga, the highs, the lows, the sunshine, or not. My daughter, 7, never says please or thank you. I’m not the only parent concerned about this. It’s one of the concerns in the broad field of robot ethics. Some parents wonder if their kids are learning manners the way they are supposed to and is there a link between manners to humans and manners with robots (called Chatbots)?

The other day there was a CBC radio broadcast on just this topic. How we interact with robots may reveal how nice we are as people. Now robots don’t have feelings the way we do, but chatbots are being designed to appear to have feelings. If we’re rude to a chatbot called Poncho, he will ask us to apologize and if we’re still rude, he’ll give the silent treatment for 24 hours. In our very near future many more chatbots are coming (to Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft), and we are going to interact with them every day to do things like pay bills and buy things. Just as it is with human interaction, we might get better service if we’re nice. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. So if someone is really unkind to their chatbot, maybe they may not be such a nice person. It’s  a bit like when my mother told me, watch how a guy treats his mother. That’s a sure indication of how he’ll treat you. So watch how you treat your chatbot coming to you soon if you don’t already use Siri. It might be an indication of how nice you really are.

During my research for this blog, I discovered so much more about Siri. We had one misunderstanding where she mispronounced my name but she fixed that for me. I had no idea she could remind me of important appointments which I sometimes miss even when they are on my wall calendar, phone calendar, and written on a small piece of scrap paper in my handbag. Maybe I’ll never miss an appointment again. For this simple thing, I’ll be eternally grateful. That’s worth a please and a thank you to Siri for sure.

Can Facebook Cause Depression

I know of a man who gets into a rage when he goes on Facebook. He screams, shouts, hits himself then curls into a ball and starts crying, lamenting that he’s failed himself and his family. He whimpers that his life is worthless and all his friends are doing well, everyone, except him. This man suffers from mental illness but studies have shown that many of us do get depressed after going on Facebook. We experience similar feelings to this man – depression, envy and a fear of missing out. The Internet is full of articles on this subject and quite a few studies have been shown that this indeed is the case. Why are we so upset when we are online using Facebook?

We’re comparing ourselves to others, feeling happier when we seem to be doing better than others, and adversely, feeling like crap when everyone else is vacationing, buying big houses, finding love and having beautiful babies. The fear of missing out is that everyone else is living the coveted life we want. Some of the articles I’ve read said perhaps we should not be online, at least not so much. I have a better solution.

Change your perception. Realize that most people put their best selves on Facebook. I’m certainly not going to put my regular face on Facebook which my daughter describes as perpetually frowning. One of my kids thought that I was unhappy with my life until my sister set us all straight and diagnosed me as having RBF. This condition is not serious and is otherwise known as Resting Bitch Face. I’m not actually a bitch. I simply look miserable, cranky and generally unhappy in repose.

When I put pictures of my cute kids (well, I think they’re cute), I won’t post that I abhor making school lunches which I discovered in 1999 when my eldest daughter was three and starting preschool. I thought this abhorrence would lessen in time, but no. Twenty years later, I can’t stand the thought of packing another lunch box.

No names will be published to protect the innocent or not so innocent, but one of my children is skillful at backchat, otherwise known as being rude and disrespectful to her elders – ME. Another is stubborn and will never admit that at her tender age of not yet twenty, she’s never wrong. And I won’t post who peed my bed (My fault. I’ve had babies in my bed since 1996 and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since), whose sulks can turn a sunny day into a rain storm and who has me wondering if I should invest in a lie detector. So when you see my  kids posted, know that half the time I’m pulling out my hair.

As for all your vacation photos, I don’t fear I’m missing out. I know I’m missing out. My advice? If you’re envious of those vacation photos, channel that energy into saving for your trip. With university and a commitment to baseball, I probably won’t be in a gondola with my hubby any time soon. But hey, I’m happy for you. If you get to Spain, have a glass of wine and some tapas; think of me and say a silent prayer that I get there one day.  

I have a good friend who posts gym pictures. When I see those pictures, I go through a range of emotions from guilt (when was the last time I saw the inside of a gym?), horror (the last time I looked like that was 2002) and despair (will I ever have the time for myself to get in shape?). But the pics are inspiring. If this is what I really want, then I need to get my butt in a gym. Her photos have motivated me to get back in shape.

Your prizes, accolades, nominations, awards, and published books, post away. We’re all in this life together. Most of the time it’s hard. A lot of the time is spent slogging away, working, cleaning up, trying to keep it together. A prize makes you smile, makes you feel like your hard work is worth it. Someone told me jealousy and ill will brings more of the same. Your negativity will give you less, not more. Hit the like button and say, “You go, girl/guy. Keep at it.”

Your reward is coming.

So when you see my posts and I’m all dressed up smiling like life is a peach, know that the morning after, I’m groaning as I get up to go to work, bleary eyed with RBF, to head into the kitchen to make those darned school lunches.

How To Make Your Dreams Come True

Sometimes, in a reflective moment, I can hardly believe that Juliet Malevolent is out there in the world. She actually exists (in a book of course, but to me, she’s as real as if she’s standing next to me as I type). I remember sitting at my kitchen table writing in my journal, the sounds of my kids playing and fighting in the background. Suddenly, like being hit by lightening, Juliet’s school vow came to me:

I promise to be naughty and annoying
Troublesome and tiresome
And to be a pest to society whenever possible
This is my evil vow.

I scrambled to find a notebook to write it in. It was only the spark of an idea. What if there were a world where bad is good and good is bad but there’s a little girl who is different in her world? I conjured up Juliet. She would look like my youngest daughter and then, like so many of my ide-as (and possible yours), Juliet remained in my notebook for years, all but forgotten. I was clutter clearing one day as I’m forever doing and I came across the notebook with the school vow. I got that feeling in my stomach: it’s an excited, anxious, slightly uncomfortable feeling where my skin feels like it’s crawling. I turn inward. The outside world no longer exists. I can’t ignore this feeling or it simply gets worse. If I ignore it for long enough, I start to feel resentment at everyone and everything that keeps me from following through with an idea. This means I’ve got to do it. I’ve got to make time, find a quiet space and write. Holding my book Juliet Malevolent in my hand brings me back to that moment when she was simply a spark.

Starting a business, a diet, a fitness plan, writing a book or doing a piece of art all start with a spark. It’s a feeling that this idea could be the idea that changes our life. Most often than not, many of us shelve our great ideas and they never come to fruition. We lack the courage, the re-sources, the money or the time. I have books inside me that have been shelved for years. The challenge then, is how to keep that spark of an idea so that it fans into a fire. It could be your business idea, your book or artwork, your story that the world needs right now. So how do you turn that great idea into reality. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

Write down your idea. I like to do a mind map. I’m a circle in the centre that represents where I am now. My idea is far away in another circle. In between are all the steps I need to bring my idea to life. This is the time to start believing in yourself. You’ll be scared of the unknown and the challenges you’ll face but this is the time to invest in yourself. I read dozens of self help books, attended self help courses and even did hypnotherapy to overcome my blocks of fair of failure. Believing in yourself is key. If you don’t, who will?

Gather your team of advisors. Do not allow doubters and naysayers into this circle. Discuss your ideas with trusted people. Someone always knows someone who knows someone who can help you. Listen to others who’ve already walked the path you’re trying to walk. Find mentors. (You can have a business mentor, a spiritual mentor, etc).

Risk is normal. Nothing great happens by staying in your comfort zone. The comfort zone feels, well, comfortable. It’s what’s kept me in my job for years but I have this image of myself at death. I’m talking to God and he’s telling me it’s the end. “Please, God,” I plead, “I didn’t do half of what I wanted to do. Give me another chance. Let me try again. Put me in another body, give me more years.” God replies, “I gave you so many chances and you doubted yourself, you doubted me. You stayed on the safe path, you dismissed your ideas as not being good enough. You never really tried, Peta-Gaye, you never really tried.”
I believe we all came here to do something really special and you know deep down what it is. Do it. Regret must be horrible at the end.

Be patient. Sometimes what we set out to achieve takes a lifetime, our lifetime. I don’t like being patient. Like a two year old, I want everything now, but that’s just not how the world works.

Learn to sell your vision and promote yourself. I couldn’t do this for years. I joined Toastmasters, a public speaking organization, to improve my confidence. I started watching inspirational talks and listening to inspirational CDs. I surrounded myself with people who believe in me. Sure it can be hard to sell yourself or your idea, but it boils down to this. if you don’t believe in yourself and what you’re selling, who will?

Time Travel

I love movies about time travel, not the sci-fi unrealistic ones, but the “real” ones where people travel back to change something important. My new favourite is About Time (Netflix) where the protagonist goes back to correct those moments in life we all wish we could erase: times of being a bumbling idiot, saying the wrong thing, not saying what you really should have said or wanted to say, especially not telling people you love them, letting great opportunities slip by because of fear, laziness, or missing the boat for whatever reason.

Hence my obsession with time travel. I wish I could go back and correct a few things. I would go back to university and study English, no matter who said I’d never be able to get a job being an artsy fartsy. I’d definitely go back and NOT lose it on my father’s old girlfriend when she asked me what I planned on doing with my life (I was twenty something, had just finished backpacking and was jobless).

I have a friend who says regrets are useless. I agree but it doesn’t stop me from wishing that I had the power (or the time machine) to go back and tweak a few things. In the movie About Time, the protagonist realizes that after marriage and children, he doesn’t need to go back as often as he once did. He got some advice from his father, also a time traveller, for happiness. Live each day over again, one more time, the second time without all the fear and tension of the first time. Those days he lived again were better: he laughed more, hugged people, noticed and smiled at all the people who served him coffee and lunch instead of giving them the perfunctory nod. As time went by, he felt the need to live only once, living as if life was a gift and loving every minute of his glorious journey.

It’s unfortunate for me that it took four kids for me to realize that the softer approach is sometimes better. Perhaps it’s because it’s my last child but I’m lighter, smile more, laugh more, tell more jokes, and I don’t have these unrealistic expectations. I remember staring grimly down at my firstborn during her swim classes. Poor thing must’ve thought life was a series of tests.

Until my time machine is built, I can’t go back. I can do what the guy in the movie did: I can try to live each day as a gift, releasing the tension I carry around with me as I navigate mornings, rush to work, cope with sickness and disappointments. I can certainly smile at all the people I come in contact with (that’s easy enough to do), small talk and compliments wouldn’t hurt either. Worrying about money is pointless. Hugging is therapy. Back rubs and storytelling are comforting. Making others feel good is a lot nicer than being grumpy, moody and selfishly consumed by my own problems which half the time aren’t problems at all. Until my time machine is built, I’ve got one chance and one chance only. I’ve got to get it right the first time around.

Legacy of Slavery

February is Black History Month. Ontario Black History Society President Nikki Clarke asked a youngster during a school presentation why we celebrate Black History Month. The youngster

said, “because we treated black people badly and we have to feel bad.” Out of the mouth of babes. Slavery happened. It was economic, brutal and a crime to humanity. But it was in the

past and we have to focus on the present. It’s all we have control over. Here’s what happened this month, February 2016 to a friend of ours.

Our friend has a 15 year old son who is a straight A student. He is Canadian with parents from the Caribbean. A teacher accused this young man of stealing someone’s lunch. The principal

got involved with the result that the teacher had to apologize to the young man. This teacher, no doubt, felt angry. The teacher saw the young man out at the mall some days after. No words

were exchanged between them. The teacher went back to school and told the principal that the boy verbally threatened her. Without investigating further, the principal called the police. In my

opinion, this was irresponsible. The police arrived at the school and had the young man not called his father so that he could be present, the boy might have been charged. He might have

gotten a record. His parents want answers as this clearly seems to be an issue of racial bias, and is the type of incident that can hinder a person’s opportunities. Now that the father wants to

pursue this through legal channels, suddenly the school wants the parents to drop the case.

This is the present.

Black History Month is not only to remember the past and to honour the black men and women who have changed our lives. It’s for us to check our biases, our racial hatred and to treat people

as individuals and not as the negative stereotypes perpetuated by the legacy of slavery. Black History Month is the month to understand that discrimination has been passed down to us from

our forefathers and like a bad habit, it’s hard to break. It’s up to us to be vigilant in our negative thoughts about other races. It is up to us to break the cycle of discrimination, one person at a

time, so that one day, the legacy of slavery no longer exists.

My Good Self

I’m going to blog every two weeks. This is not as easy as it sounds. It’s not that I don’t like blogging. In fact, I love it. What I don’t like is feeling obligated to do anything. The reason is once I have to do something, the rebellious child inside me pipes up, “No I don’t. I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it.” This childish voice is strong and it whines about freedom, telling me that I don’t have freedom to live the way I want to. Only recently I’ve realized how much this child inside me holds me back. I’ve spent so much time blaming other people, being bullied when I lived in the States, the economy, the government, etc. for any lack of success, that it blinded me to whom I should really blame: Myself!

The horrible truth that I’ve had to face is that I’m indisciplined at times and I easily lose focus even when the light at the end of the tunnel is right there blinding me. Instead, I turn from the light and run the other way, telling myself I’m not ready to face the light and I’ll get to the end of the tunnel when I’m good and ready.

The truth hurts.

“What? You mean I could have had the life I was meant to live had I shown a little more discipline and focus, a little less fear, a little more confidence in myself? Noooooo!!!” Writing is a lot like exercise (another area where I’ve been indisciplined and lost focus. I used to teach aerobics for heaven’s sake. Now I can’t walk up a flight of stairs without breathing heavily). They both take discipline. A little every day is better than nothing at all and it has nothing to do with freedom. Both take focus. Focus is deciding what it is you really want. If writing and exercise are so important to me as I say they are, then shouldn’t I focus on doing what it takes to get results? This is a no brainer. As I see my body losing its muscular tone and my novel sitting on my computer unfinished as it has been for many years, I feel like beating myself over the head with a stick. Instead of doing that though, I’m going to stop listening to that child who is immature and frankly very silly. I have to talk back to that child and say, “No-one lies on a beach all day. That’s not really freedom. Hush. I have a blog to do. And after, I’m going for a walk.”

Just like my latest children’s book Juliet Malevolent, An Evil Tale, where the cake at the launch showed a picture of the benevolent Juliet and the words “Be Your Good Self,” I’m trying to be my good self. It’s not always easy, but I have a strong feeling it’s really going to be worth it.