Sensitive Girl and the Robin’s Nest

One of our resident robins in the mulberry tree, opening her beak to cool off on a hot day
One of our resident robins in the mulberry tree, opening her beak to cool off on a hot day

Note: This is a follow-up to my post on June 30 about the nesting robin, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to go back and start there. (A Robin Nesting in my Yard!)

This is one of those situations where my HSP temperament is a challenge as well as an asset. Once I discovered the nesting robin in our yard, of course I wanted to watch her progress. Now I keep my binoculars on the kitchen counter so I can look at her every time I go in there. I worry about her in bad weather, which we’ve had a lot of lately. I worry about the squirrels and blue jays that roam our yard, because they’re known to pillage nests like this one. If something happens to the nest I’m going to be heartsick. I already feel a bond with this mama robin and a bit of responsibility for her too.

Robin journal v1This deep empathy with animals is something a lot of HSPs share. It can bring us great joy and a satisfying feeling of connection. But it can also be very painful because we can easily imagine ourselves in their place. I have certain memories of animals in pain or suffering that have stayed with me for years and that can still make me tear up when I think of them. Just hearing an animal crying in pain can make my heart hurt for hours. Even knowing an animal is afraid upsets me, regardless of whether she’s actually being hurt. The vet’s office is like a war zone for me. Sometimes while I’m in the waiting room I can hear cats wailing in the back room while they’re being attended to. It’s bad enough when it’s someone else’s cat, but when it’s my own cat I just want to crawl under the table and cover my ears. Unbearable.

Robin journal v2Sometimes I think animal suffering upsets me more than human suffering. Those tv commercials that show abused animals upset me more than the ones showing starving humans. I know you might be judging me harshly for that, but I can’t help how I feel. I’m very uncomfortable admitting that to the rest of the human species, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are many of us out here who feel this way. And the thing is, I’m not exactly sure why I feel differently about them. Maybe it’s because I see the animals as so much more vulnerable and innocent. Yet I realize that lots of humans are also vulnerable and innocent. So what’s the difference?

Robin journal v3Maybe it comes back to my relationships with humans, which, for the most part, haven’t been as fulfilling and pure as the ones I’ve had with animals. For example, animals have never been spiteful or cruel to me, whereas humans have.  No animal has held a gun to my head, but a human has.

Or maybe it’s because I know that animals of all species are completely dependent upon the whims of mankind — we destroy their habitats, we trap and enslave them in prisons (zoos) for life, and we do cruel experiments on them to develop medicines for our own species. They are 100% at our mercy, with far too few legal protections.

Robin journal v4Yes, I think that’s it. I see them as intensely vulnerable, and maybe in some way that reflects on how I see myself. I feel a kinship with them that goes very deep, and I want to protect them whenever I can. So if you see me running across the yard shouting at a squirrel, don’t worry about my sanity — I’m just protecting “my” robin from a nest raider.

P.S. Don’t miss the Nesting Journal entries in the blue boxes above — there’s a surprise in there!

People Who Need People

That title is a reference to the well-known song sung by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.” The line from that song that has always resonated with me is this: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I’m a bit of a loner and an introvert, tending to spend most of my time alone or with just a couple other people. But even though I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with being this way, I still feel a bit of shame at my inability to be the outgoing, always-on-the-run, busy-busy-busy personality that is more socially acceptable in this country.

Crowded section of the Magee Marsh boardwalk
Crowded section of the Magee Marsh boardwalk

As an HSP, I have a strong aversion to crowds and noise. Some people are stimulated in a positive way by being around lots of other people, but I have the exact opposite experience. After spending time at a large social function, I usually feel very tired and emotionally drained. We HSPs take in so much more information in any given situation than most people that our brains just get overloaded with stimuli. Because of this, I’ve learned to orchestrate my life so that I have lots of quiet time for recuperation and reflection on my experiences. Knowing all of this, you might wonder why I would voluntarily go to a birding festival where the most popular birding spot is a narrow boardwalk that gets so crowded you sometimes have to push your way between people. (The photo to the left is only a medium-sized crowd — it gets much worse in spots where a really good bird is spotted!)

Birders spread out on the beach, scanning the shrub line for warblers. I much prefer this type of birding experience!
Birders spread out on the beach, scanning the shrub line for warblers. I much prefer this type of birding experience!

It’s funny though, that because of the beauty and general awesomeness of the birds, I don’t really get as tense as I would somewhere else with the same crowds. Like, for example, if the crowds were that thick at a street art festival, I’d only be able to spend short amounts of time there. But the birds make all the difference. Even though I’m surrounded by throngs of people, my mind is mostly focused on the little flying creatures in the trees.  If you saw me on the Magee boardwalk, you wouldn’t necessarily think that I was any different from anyone else. You’d probably even see me helping other people to see and identify birds; I really do love interacting with people when I can teach or show them something interesting.

This year at the Biggest Week I had a moment where I was struck by something ironic: I’ve always thought birding was a healthy and fun way to avoid people, but I found that my love of birds has begun to bring me closer to people.

My festival name badge
My festival name badge

Like the moment when a complete stranger noticed my name badge and told me she’d read my blog and liked it. Wow, talk about having your mind blown….that was great. One of the most rewarding things someone can say to me is that they read my blog and enjoy it.

There was another moment where my blog started a conversation too. I was on the boardwalk in a very crowded section, trying to catch a glimpse of some warbler (I think it was a Golden-winged…). I exchanged pleasantries with a very well-known birder who began asking me about my HSP trait, telling me she’d read my blog and was curious about it. We had a quiet conversation right in the middle of a huge crowd of people, with people jostling for better vantage points to see the bird. I was so touched by this and made sure to thank her for talking to me about it.

It may sound egotistical, but I believe it’s a core human truth: We all like to know that we’re important, that we make a difference.  This is something I’ve struggled with in recent years because I don’t usually get this kind of feedback in my regular life. I question whether I’m doing anything useful with my life. These moments of connection meant SO much to me. I thought I was okay with my quiet, relatively isolated existence. It’s not that I’m not happy — I am. But my interactions with other bird lovers in the past month have added another dimension to my life, making it richer and more meaningful.

I’m still processing what this all means to me. For example, why have I never felt this type of connection to any other group of people before? What is it about bird people that makes me feel so good? I think it may be our shared concerns for the natural world, the tie that binds all human and animal life together.  Part of me doesn’t want to over-analyze the whole experience, but I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

After all these years, is it possible I really could be one of the “People Who Need People”?