A Social Butterfly I’m Not

Queen butterfly

Queen (Danaus gillipus) (Corrections welcome if I’m wrong)

As promised, this time I’m showing you butterfly pictures from my trip to the Rio Grande Valley. And I want to talk more about something I mentioned briefly in my last post, the difficulties of traveling and making friends as a highly-sensitive person (HSP). By the way, even if you’re not one of the 15-20% of people who fall into this category, you may discover that someone you love is highly-sensitive. So reading this could help you have a better relationship with your own friends and loved ones. Understanding is always a good thing. (And besides, there are butterflies!)

As I knew it would, this trip put me in a situation where I was over-stimulated and couldn’t get enough alone time to recharge my batteries each day. This tendency to get overwhelmed easily is typical of HSPs, so I’m very familiar with it. It’s been a lifelong struggle for me to manage it, and it’s especially hard when I’m traveling with someone else who doesn’t have the same need for downtime.

Red-bordered Pixie

Red-bordered Pixie

I’d been holding a hotel reservation for my trip to Texas for several months, and could have just kept it and had ample privacy and independence. But because I’m in the middle of a divorce and feeling so lonely, I thought it would be good to push myself out of my comfort zone this time. I was going someplace I’d never been before, and I thought that I’d miss out on too much of the fun if I were on my own. So I accepted a generous invitation from three friends to share a lovely rental house. I first met these friends at the Biggest Week in American Birding in 2013 and 2014, and we’d kept in close contact through Facebook. But the truth is, we don’t know each other all that well aside from our shared love of birds and nature. They’re highly-social extroverts who have incredibly wide networks of friends, so naturally they had lots of party plans during the festival. And, whether I was ready or not, I was along for the ride.

"A member of the Comma family" is as far as I could get in identifying this one.

Some type of Comma butterfly

I want to make clear that none of this is intended to be a criticism of my friends. It’s about how my high sensitivity makes it harder for me to enjoy a busy social life. And for those who may not realize it, there are some hard-core party animals among birders. Talk about defying a stereotype! The social calendars at birding festivals are always crammed full of parties and special events, and I always end up exhausted. Imagine having to get up every day before dawn for field trips, being out in the field looking for birds until mid-afternoon, using every spare moment after that to try to connect with friends you only see a couple times a year, chasing rare birds, and then being expected to party with everyone at night. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the laughter and stories we share at the parties. I really do.

But as an HSP, my experience of a party is so much more intense and emotional than most other people. I stand in a room with dozens of conversations going on around me — people laughing, people drinking — and I soak it all up into my sponge of a brain. Because I notice so many more details and subtleties of my environment, it follows that I’ll be more easily overwhelmed when I’m in a situation where things are chaotic and new for an extended length of time. My brain wants to really think about it all, and there’s no time for that. This is exactly what happened in Texas. I was in a new place, with people who were friends and yet we hadn’t spent all that much time together before, and I was introduced to dozens and dozens of new people every day. (“That person looks familiar, should I know her?” “I don’t understand what they’re talking about.” “Why do I feel so lonely in the middle of this crowded room?” “Why am I thinking so much?!”) Combine this with the physical exhaustion from the travel and the early morning field trips and you’ve got a meltdown waiting to happen.

Zebra Heliconian, one of my favorites from my trip to Texas

Zebra Heliconian, one of my favorites from my trip to Texas

And it didn’t help that a mutual acquaintance felt it necessary to introduce me (several times!) as “Kim, who’s going through a divorce right now.” I went on this trip to get away from thinking of that painful part of my life for a few days, and here it was being thrown back in my face when I was meeting new people. It was embarrassing and certainly didn’t help put me at ease.

Monarch chrysalis! It was only about an inch long.

Monarch chrysalis! It was only about an inch long.

I made it to Friday night before I came to the limits of my social endurance, and after that we all sort of went our separate ways each day. I felt awful for my inability to have as much fun as everyone else was having. I felt ashamed of myself for needing to get away from people. And I felt afraid that my friends would decide that I was just too high-maintenance and that it wasn’t worth being friends with me anymore. We HSPs are accustomed to being judged by others for not being “normal,” and for being so…well, so sensitive. So although this is familiar to me, it never gets any easier. I wish I could be with people all the time and just enjoy it. But it’s never going to be like that for me. My energy gets drained by parties, whereas extroverts and non-HSPs get more energy from being surrounded by other people.

I think this is a Gulf Fritillary (Corrections welcome if I'm wrong)

I think this is a Gulf Fritillary

By now it won’t come as a surprise to you when I admit that I don’t have many long-term friendships. My lack of close friends has always been a sad part of my life, and that weak spot has come under a spotlight now that I’m living alone. When I was married I dreamed of having more space and more time to myself, but now that I have it — all the time — I’m surprised at how lonely I’ve been. Sometimes I worry about how I’ll get through the divorce and the coming months as I adapt to my new single life. Since I don’t work outside my home I don’t have much regular social contact with other people. And until now I’ve been mostly okay with that. But now I really need to be with people. I need to know that somebody in the world will notice if I’m not there, and that there’s somebody I can call to drive me to the doctor if I’m sick. I guess I just need to feel that I’m not so alone in the world. But then again, maybe I’m being overly dramatic.

I feel so very vulnerable admitting all my doubts and insecurities to the world. But for some reason I think it’s important to let non-HSPs see what we go through in our daily lives. I’m guessing I speak for many of my fellow sensitive souls when I say that we don’t expect you to handle us with kid-gloves or bend over backwards to accommodate our needs, but a bit of awareness and understanding would go a long way toward helping us come out and play in the world with you. We can be lots of fun, I promise!

Anyway…I’m going to start working after the holidays, but since I’ll be freelance proofreading, that won’t get me out among people. I’m also planning to get involved with some more charity work too, so that will help. But right now, in the midst of attorney meetings and trying to deal with a rollercoaster of emotions, it’s all I can do to make it from one day to the next. (Not to mention the upcoming holidays…I sure picked a bad time of year to get divorced, didn’t I? I’m dreading the next two months.)

My best guess is White Peacock on this one.

My best guess is White Peacock on this one.

In the meantime, I’m trying to learn how to be more open to new friendships. I won’t ever be a social butterfly, but it won’t hurt to put myself out there more often. I saw an article in Psychology Today recently called “5 Signs You’re Living Too Small,” and it really hit home with me, especially this part: “That’s why you wear a heavy coat of armor whenever you deal with people, whether at home, at work, or out in the world. You are eternally, exhaustingly, braced for attack.” So I think the universe is telling me something: It’s time to come out of my cocoon and seek out a good and happy life. Stay tuned….

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26 Responses to A Social Butterfly I’m Not

  1. Pingback: 5 Things on High Sensitivity #2 | SENSITIVE NEW WORLD

  2. Pingback: 5 Things on High Sensitivity #2 | Sensitive New World

  3. This was a beautiful post, Kim. Your openness, vulnerability, and gorgeous photos made it a great read. I related to so much of it and you gave me a couple of writing ideas too!

  4. Redterrain says:

    Your post resonated strongly with me Kim. There are many people out there who are just like you, and we’re all ok. I try and do as much as I am comfortable with, and I feel pretty ok when I duck out early.

  5. The butterflies are beautiful and as I age I realise I am who I am. Im not a social butterfly, I like people and places but also enjoy just being me with…well me. Im comfortable in my solitude. Do what comes naturally to you and mostly do what makes YOU feel good. Kath

  6. JMichaels says:

    Kim, I can relate to so much of your post! It took years for me to feel like I needed to come out of my shell and be more social, but as an introvert, my shell gives me comfort. It can be lonely at times, but often my loneliest times are in a crowd, among the extroverts. Going through a divorce is so difficult, especially over the holidays. Be kind to yourself, always, but especially now.

    • Josie, thank you very much for the encouraging words. I’m definitely feeling down this week as I approach Thanksgiving alone. It’s taking every ounce of strength I have just to get out of bed each day and put one foot in front of the other. I hate feeling so negative about everything, but I have to believe this is temporary and I’ll feel better as I move through the stages of grieving for my loss. Thanks for reading.

  7. changing creatively says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful post and for enlightening me on butterflies! I read your post and was sort of nodding my head in agreement to many of the HSP traits you describe! I didn’t know such a thing existed. I’ve been called ‘too sensitive’ then ‘so hard’- (as in cold I think). I always have thought there was something up with me that I feel a bit suffocated in social gatherings after a while, and I always feel the need to escape! It can be lonely at times and I guess being aware that I could be a HSP might help me be more self aware on that…also, as someone who got divorced last year, I understand the daily ‘trauma’ all the lawyers dealings bring…but can I say that it’s beautiful on the other side of that 🙂 Best of luck! X

    • Rhona, thanks for your comment! I’m always glad to know when somebody finds my writing helpful. If you think you might be a HSP, I’d suggest reading Elaine Aron’s book, The Highly-Sensitive Person. And maybe check out some of the HSP resources on my blog — https://natureismytherapy.com/hsp-resources/.

      And thanks for the encouragement about getting through the divorce. I have to hold on to the hope that it really will get better. It’s hard to believe that sometimes.

  8. Thank you for this post, Kim. I’ve thought about it a lot since I first read it yesterday. One of things that stands out to me is how each one of us needs to realize that not everyone else is wired the same as we are. I’m wondering if HSPs are more aware of this than other personality types. You could look at the situation you were in and know that your companions had a need to socialize way more than you did, but it seems like they had a hard time understanding you didn’t have the same need. Maybe I’m way off about this, but it is something I have noticed several times in my own life.

  9. When I first started blogging I received a comment from someone who suffers from HSP and she thought this sounded like me as well. I feel things so deeply that I have grown accustomed to shielding myself from the pain that I feel just watching the evening news. I had never heard of this before. It is exactly like you describe. People in general exhaust me and I think that I miss out so much from my constant need to be alone. I’m like you and also get very little contact with the outside world and it doesn’t bother me much but then again I am not going through such a rough life changing thing like a divorce. I am sorry because I am sure that it is very painful to you. I look forward to hearing about your next steps in dealing not only with your new life but also the struggle of keeping up with this fast paced world we are living in. Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Littlesundog says:

    Hello Kim! I was thinking the same thought when I read the last line of this post – about coming out of your cocoon! Not in the sense that you need to be more social, rather that you gently unfold your wings and warm up in the sun. You will decide what kind of flight feels best… the secure and safe places to go… especially finding those who are spirited as you. You are going through so many changes right now – just take your time and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I agree with other’s here that you’ll find you are stronger than you know!

  11. Gail Berner says:

    Thanks for this insightful post. I too like to do group activities -birding especially, but I have my limits. Finding and respecting our limits to being social is a very important skill.

  12. Roxanne says:

    Wonderful post, Kim! I relate completely and I am proud of you for being so brave to share your experience–many hsps, introverts, and gifted sensitive souls will be helped and validated because of you sharing this. 😀

    • Oh thank you, Roxanne, I certainly hope so. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to show other HSPs how it’s possible to get through this and live a happy, productive life. I’m on quite the journey right now….

  13. Rob Weir says:

    I have bumped into you on more nature walks at the park, than any of our other bird loving friends. Every time I see you, it always brings a smile to my face. I find you down to earth and admire the vulnerability that you show. So many of us nature lovers, seem to share so many things in common. I was voted the shyest boy in my senior high school class. Is there a pattern here? My feeling is that you are much stronger than you give yourself credit for. Looking forward to our next meeting, “on the trail” Kim.

    • Rob, thank you for the kind words. I find it hard to believe that you were shy! I find you to be very outgoing and friendly. In fact, you were the one that started our first conversation at the Nature Center at Stony Creek. And I’m very glad you did — I’m happy to call you my friend. See you in the park! (Maybe when it’s not so cold though…lol)

  14. Kim, this was an enlightening blog. I probably fall into the “other” category you talk about but absolutely know about the value of alone time and recharging the batteries. I don’t know where you are living now but if you’re in Macomb County or anywhere near I invite you to attend the Macomb Audubon Meetings. They are a great bunch of people and would make you feel totally welcome and like family. Our next meeting will be our Christmas Pot Luck Supper and Members’ Slide Program. Monday, December 1, 2014 – 6:30 P.M. at the City of Sterling Heights Senior Center located at 40200 Utica Road. Very informal, the public is always invited… Bring a dish to pass and your table setting. Entrees, salads, side dishes and desserts are all welcomed. After dinner we will have a Members’ Slide Program, so bring 20 or so of your favorite nature-inspired photos on disc or thumb drive. We’d so enjoy having you join us 🙂

    • Heather, that’s a very kind invitation, thank you. I’m in Rochester Hills and am on the board of Oakland Audubon right now, but I was a member of Macomb Audubon a few years ago when I was trying to see where I might fit into the birding community in SE Michigan. I’ve thought about coming to some MAS meetings lately — just to get myself out of the house and among people more often — so I may show up there one of these nights. I’m not sure if I can make it on December 1 but I’ll definitely keep it in mind. Thanks for reading and thanks again for the kindness!

  15. Thank you – fellow HSP – for a very hard and personal reflection on your life right now! I know well of what you speak! 1) You are not alone! There are lots of us here. and 2) I am local, so call anytime for a drive to the doc (or whatever) and 3) indeed, you just have to keep doing what you are doing. You have many friends (many of whom we have in common). You do not have to “keep up” as a “social butterfly”. They love you just because you are YOU! Nice post!!!

    • Thank you, Dr. Bob! I value your friendship and it’s good to know that other people understand what I’m going through right now. I’ll be okay eventually. And I’m learning so much about love and life and grief and myself…I’m bound to be a stronger person after all this.

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