I’ve barely been out of the village for the last two and a half months and I wake up feeling excited. I have to drive up to the house I’m in the process of buying to meet a builder to get quotes for some work that will need doing. A trip out in the car, alone, feels like a gargantuan adventure after the limitations of lockdown.
It’s a ninety minute drive and a stressful one for me. Why do people insist on driving so fast? I find it terrifying! I feel a constant pressure to go faster than I’m comfortable with and spend most of the journey in a state of stress, holding my breath.
I sigh with relief when I can eventually turn off the main road onto the quieter lanes that lead to the house and for the last few miles I see no other vehicles.
Approaching closer, a smile erupts across my face. An owl is flying over the trees right ahead, just a few hundred meters from the house. I inch closer and stop the car where I’m treated to a perfect view. My heart rate slows; I can feel myself relaxing.
I’m fifteen minutes early so I walk around the tiny hamlet, taking in the place I hope I’ll soon call home. As I round a corner, two border collies lie in wait, growling softly.
I love border collies, I really do, and I don’t dislike dogs, but I’m always scared. I hate it when they run at me and I jump a foot in the air every time they bark. Luckily the owner, a future neighbour, comes out and calls them to him.
We’ve met before on a previous visit and I take the opportunity to ask more questions. He’s friendly and chatty but I can feel my awkwardness. Am I standing strangely? Is my lip shaking? Am I saying the right things?
He asks me the dreaded question, “What is it you do?” and I look up at the sky, avoiding eye contact whilst I fumble around for an answer. Why do people always ask this question? The worst question in the history of all questions. I think it was designed just to make me feel stupid.
I end up saying something flaky and will no doubt spend the rest of the day wondering why I can’t just confidently give a straight answer.
I pick up a stick one of the dogs has dropped by my feet and throw it underarm, praying that it will go forwards a reasonable distance instead of hurtling backwards as was so often the case when I threw the ball playing rounders at primary school, much to my teammates’ amusement. The stick travels in the right direction and I escape total embarrassment.
I see the builder arrive and go to meet him. He, too, is friendly and polite but I find myself half listening, half wondering whether I’m coming across as normal. Am I staring too much? Am I making too much eye contact? Am I being too nice? I am so tired of being too nice!
Afterwards I meet another will-be neighbour, a woman from the Philippines who’s lived in her house for forty one years! She lived here with her husband, until he died. She’s friendly too and excited about the prospect of having a neighbour again as the house I’m buying has been empty a while.
Finally, all the conversations over, I go for a walk on my own, where I spy two woodpeckers tapping on poles, clarifying their territory. It’s a little oasis here and there’s birdsong everywhere. I stop to say hello to a robin on a branch above my head. I’m going to like it. I hope the purchase goes through without a problem.
It’s lunchtime so I drive to the coast, which is just a few minutes away and sit and eat my sandwiches. Only one car and two cyclists pass by whilst I’m there. Bliss!
I drive home over one of the fell roads, replaying the conversations from the day and worrying about being weird. I spend so much time putting on what feels like a kind of show that sometimes I have no idea what’s really me.
There are so few people in my life with whom I really feel I can be myself. I think that’s part of the reason I find interacting with other humans so tiring; I’m constantly trying to behave like a normal human being. Also, I find that almost everyone talks more than I do. Why do other people not like being quiet?
I have to pull over several times for maniacs in a rush. We’re a world obsessed with speed. It’s spectacular up here. Spectacular, that is, apart from the extensive litter that lines the sides of the road, which makes me so sad to see. I only recently learned that littering is threatening the UK red squirrel population. The litter, especially litter with remnants of food, encourages red squirrels to gather, which increases the spread of squirrel pox.
Here we are on this impossibly beautiful planet, miraculously held in a balance so perfect it gives rise to life, and we show our gratitude by dumping our rubbish at the sides of the roads. I make a promise to myself to come here with my litter picker and a bag as soon as I can.
By the time I get home I feel frazzled. After giving my parents a detailed account of my trip, I escape to my room where I can finally unwind from the day.
I need this sanctuary. I need time to process, recalibrate and find my centre. I sit on my bed, close my eyes and feel inwards. Tears come as I think about the Filipino lady whose husband died. The tears help me release the energy of the day.
Ultimately, I know I’m not weird. I just happen to be a highly sensitive human who feels the world pretty intensely. No, I’m not weird. But I’m not a majority either. But there are others like me. You’re probably one of them. And I think we’re pretty cool.
Love and courage,