Last week, I wrote about a new commitment to reimagine my every day rituals to better meet my needs. One of the three pillars of this goal is my spiritual practice.
I want to say at the outset that I’m going to be very honest here, and my intention is not to complain but to normalize talking about the hard parts of parenting. My friend Hana Raftery’s amazing vulnerability in sharing her experience with mothering as a highly sensitive person opened my eyes, and my hope is that by sharing my experience, I can help empower others. If we don’t take care of ourselves and our mental health, we can’t take care of anyone else.
Becoming a mom has been the single most soul-expanding, heart-filling, incredible experience of my life. But as a highly sensitive person, the sensory overload I’ve started to feel over the past month or so has been a struggle.
I’ve found that many of the aspects of motherhood are triggers for highly sensitive people (HSP); according to the Highly Sensitive Person Test, qualities of HSPs include:
- Becoming easily overwhelmed by strong sensory input like loud noises or bright lights
- Being affected by other people’s moods
- Needing to withdraw for privacy and to avoid stimulation
- Finding it unpleasant to have a lot going on at once
- Feeling your nervous system become so rattled that you need time alone
Motherhood hasn’t been the only life phase that’s been a challenge for my sensitive nature. When I worked in an office, we had an open floor plan with literally dozens of people working at cubicles within earshot of my desk. The sounds of people on the phone, the frenetic energy, stressful deadlines and bright florescent lights made it difficult for me to concentrate and impossible to not feel overwhelmed and drained. At least once a day, I booked an empty conference room and sat alone with the lights off to just breathe, feel my feet and try to ground myself.
But the difference between my office job and motherhood is that now there are very few breaks. I can’t step away, put on headphones and turn off the lights whenever I feel overwhelmed. It’s harder to detach myself from feeling my daughter’s energy and moods as I did with coworkers, because I’m responsible for her wellbeing…and she’s literally part of me. The sound of her playing and laughing is so joyful, but the sound of her unhappy, tired, frustrated or in pain from teething hurts me in a way that’s experiential and deeply upsetting. The combination of these new stimuli plus less sleep plus giving so much of my physical and emotional energy to look after and entertain her has resulted in an emptiness in me.
Like so many things we struggle with in life, just naming it can bring healing. I’ve known I was an HSP for a decade, but I didn’t put it through the lens of motherhood until Hana started sharing her experience. Having that understanding helps me know where my feelings are coming from and explain them to my husband. So many of my friends have confided that they regularly feel a sensory overload as parents, so I know I’m not alone. Neither are you.
I’m still testing out healing spiritual practices that bring grounding, connection and insight and that work with my new lifestyle. Life my office job, I know I’ll find new ways to adapt and grow.
UPDATE: Since this post was published, I also shared a few ideas on how to make time and space for a spiritual practice as a parent that have worked for me.