Snapping me out of a dream, my eyes popped open to see the dark ceiling. I had to pee. I gently eased myself out of bed around my five week old son, careful not to roll him over and praying that I didn’t wake him. I tiptoed to the bathroom. When I was finished, I took a swig of water, set the cup down slowly and tiptoed back to bed, molding myself in the awkward position between my husband and infant, who immediately wiggled to have as much physical contact with me as possible. I let out a sigh of relief. No one else was awake.
Then the panic set in.
The panic that comes from new motherhood, when somebody needs you at all times. Needs you to feed them. Needs you to comfort them. Needs you to change them. And that’s just the infant. My husband often needed me, too – to hold space as he talked about his day, to problem solve, to help him get sleep, to help him with the baby, to remind him to pay the bill.
Plus, I still had friends – texting me, calling me, wanting advice. It felt like everyone needed me all the time, and none of my needs were getting met.
In that moment, in the dark bedroom with the white noise machine keeping my son asleep, I put an eye pillow over my face and whispered with every ounce of my mind into the darkness, Nobody needs you right now, nobody needs you right now, nobody needs you right now, until finally, I went to sleep.
Maybe you are not a mother or a father, but you are highly sensitive. And as a sensitive person, you are most often the person who your friends, family and loved ones come to in order to seek advice. To hold space for. To comfort. To give to.
Highly sensitive people are most often caregivers. We are so good – too good, perhaps – at being able to so easily identify what other people need. We are often natural empathizers. We know how to make others feel comfortable. And although we might avoid large crowds, we are fantastics hosts because we pay attention to every detail – we know just how to make others feel welcome.
Sometimes, this will bite you in the ass.
Metaphorically, of course.
Sometimes, you may feel like you are needed in every direction.
And, especially if you have been socialized as a woman, you may have learned to base your worth on caring for others. On responding to the needs of others before your own needs. You may find a sense of purpose in doing this.
Well, at least for a while.
Until you notice that your body isn’t working as well. Your health is failing. Your dreams are on hold. You’re always running in 18 different directions and none of them is forward.
Because giving to everyone else all the time without responding to your own needs is a recipe for failure. Liver failure. Heart failure. Immune system failure. Feeling like a failure. We are not meant to only give. We need to equally receive.
You must get your own needs met, too. You must figure out what it takes for you to fill up your proverbial cup, because only when it spilleth over can you actually give to others. And once you know what it takes to fill that cup, you actually have to go out and fill it.
Harder yet, if you’re in any sort of interpersonal relationship, you must really believe that you deserve to have your needs met, because you have to communicate your needs to others.
I know. Big, scary communication. I hear you.
When I was single, I could get many of my needs met on my own. But there are some needs that can’t be met on our own, like those needs for companionship, trust and value. When I married, I had to communicate with my partner about how we help each other meet those needs. It’s an ongoing conversation that has many iterations because, as we grow and change, so do our needs and how we meet those.
As a mother, it felt like my needs were the lowest priority. It felt impossible to get things done for myself. Harder yet, it created yet another layer of communication with my parter, friends and caregivers about what I needed and how I could get it. An hour alone, hiking in the woods all the sudden required strategy. A massage required extra pumping of breastmilk, hours practicing with a bottle, and someone willing to watch my son.
It felt easier to just not get my needs met.
Which is (say it with me), a recipe for failure.
Failure of my immune system. Failure of my sanity. And so although it felt easier to just stay quiet and give in to the need all around me, bravely ignoring my own, it didn’t work. Instead, I had to remember that I deserved to get my needs met, and to remember that when I was fortified and full, I would actually be prepared to give. Then, I had to pull in the courage to ask for what I needed.
It might feel easier to respond to all the need around you without giving to yourself, but that won’t work in the long run. Figure out what you need. Understand that you deserve to have your needs met. You are deserving. And then find the words. Ask for what you need. Once you get it, the pressure of being needed will melt away under the waterfall of your overflowing cup of reserves.
I can sleep at night again, because throughout the week I got fortified – solo time for exercise, time with friends, time alone at my computer, a walk with my son in the forest, a glass of wine cooking dinner while my husband plays with my son. Those were things I identified I needed. So asked. We negotiated. I received. And then I slept.