Why I Wear Sunglasses In Wal-Mart, And Perhaps You Should Too

Indications of Sensory Sensitivity

It just happened. We were looking at pictures of the Nebraska State Fair in anticipation of visiting soon when Grant screeched with glee, right in my ear. I don’t know how to describe how disturbing it is for me when loud, sharp noises upset my internal equilibrium. I went from being at complete peace to feeling inner turmoil in an instant. An INSTANT.

This, my friends, is not a an emotional problem. It is not a relational problem. I am not screwed up and neither is my son. It is not a spiritual problem, though I believe everything is spiritual in one way or another. No, this mood-altering screech was a direct hit to my nervous system. It is physical. I am extremely sensitive to sound.

I don’t think I really noticed it before I had kids. Perhaps something happened in childbirth that impacted my nerves in ways that left me more sensitive to sensory stimulation than I was before. (Check out my series on Childbirth and Postpartum Depression by clicking here) I’ve done a lot of personal research on the matter and I absolutely believe that sensory sensitivity is a thing. A real thing. The sounds of chaotic play, startling “bangs” and screeching children can throw me into instantaneous sobs. INSTANTLY.

shadesMaybe I’m Not Crazy

I avoid our local Wal-Mart* as much as I can unless I feel lazy or desperate. I’ve heard of many reasons why different people avoid it but I have one: It makes me crazy.

I am well aquainted with my tendency to become irritable as I shop there but the other day I courageously stepped into the door with both kids and a short mission. I wondered how long I had before I would start to feel overwhelmed. It took all of five minutes. Aware of how bright lights also bother me, I took note of the fact I was squinting as I pushed the cart down the asile of dishes I ducked into a moment before. So I put on my sunglasses.

Instant relief. INSTANT.

The muscles around my eyes relaxed and nothing felt as urgent. I wore the glasses for a few minutes before I felt really awkward and tucked them back in my purse while I rushed through collecting our remaining necessities. As we checked out I looked around and saw narry a smile. I wondered how many of the employees who work there day after day are also sensitive to the harsh light bouncing off of the blue walls, white fixtures and shiny floors? How many people leave this store believing they hate it, not really knowing why?

How Do I Know & What Do I Do?

Friends, many of us are sensitive to sensory stimulation and just think we’re irritable people. Many of your children are and don’t know how to tell you. So let ME tell you.

If you prefer to work with the lights dimmed…

If you think more clearly when music with a strong beat is playing…

If you cut out the tags in your clothes or find comfort in twirling your hair…

You may be sensitive.

If your infant relaxes when listening to loud heart-beat sounds (as described in this article: click here)…

If your daughter likes to wear tight clothing that presses securely on her skin…

If your son refuses to eat foods with strange textures…

Your child may be sensitive.

There is much more to say on this matter, including the power of sensitivity. I will likely be writing about it for years to come. But for now, know this. If you or your child is sensitive to sight, sound, taste, touch or smell, do three things:

  1. Be Aware. Watch for it. Take note of moments when you feel or your child feels irritable or overwhelmed and consider how your environment may be making you uncomfortable. Plan ahead for next time.
  2. Increase Your Buffer. Intentionally stay in your super-comfort zone at times so that other times you can take courageous steps into an overstimulating environment.
  3. Rest. And above all, get sleep! Sleep makes a world of difference.

Are you sensitive? Do you think of yourself as an irritable person at times, perhaps especially after having kids? What steps do you want to take to help yourself or your child?

Maybe we could all just wear sunglasses in Walmart so no one feels awkward!

*I do not intend to ever bash anyone or anything and that is not the purpose of this article. If you know someone who has a voice with Wal-Mart, please forward them this post so they are aware of this issue that negatively effects their company, completely unrelated to their business practices. Thank you.

Subscribe for weekly email updates that include special content for subscribers, links to new blog posts and information about upcoming events, including the release of my new book in late fall.

Not So Great Expectations

How do you deal with others’ expectations?  I know that some people are better at meeting expectations when there is a threat of shame. Not me. I would rather run away. Put pressure on me and I avoid you and your task. Ugh. Not the most healthy option…

So I have to think of other ways to deal with expectations. This week my post is an article I wrote for Her View From Home. In it I explain how I’ve learned to deal with expectations. It’s not about people pleasing and it’s not about running away. I hope you’ll take a minute and click to read more here:

When You Feel Trapped… Andrea Joy Wenburg at Her View From Home



Photo by Amelia Wenburg

Photo by Amelia Wenburg

Your New Superpower

Apparently, I have a new superpower.

My daughter has been sad a lot lately. She is entering that delicate tension between child and teen, running toward independence while simultaneously mourning the loss of naiveté. I rejoice with her and hurt for her. This is, what seems to be, the second in a series of transitions into what we eventually come to know as “real life.”

I don’t blame her for having a difficult time with it all. Everyone was in awe with her when she was little. Two tiny pigtails atop her head and words like they came from an adult, she had everything a two year old needed to get all kinds of ooo’s and ah’s and wow’s. It’s hard when a little girl’s years catch up with her cuteness. Precious as she is now, she also has a lot more responsibility. It will never be the same. I totally get it.

I know she’s sad because she gets angry. The kids love each other so intensely that they drive each other crazy with the expectation to be honored and loved and considered. It’s hard for kids to do all that for each other. It’s hard for any of us to do that for each other, regardless of how much we want it for ourselves. So several times a day they are offended and angry – especially after 4:00 in the afternoon. And in those times it is hard for them to do anything but scrutinize my favor.

You NEVER make Grant…You ALWAYS let Grant…He got more…Oh of COURSE he gets that!

I stopped rationalizing with her in these moments a long time ago. It doesn’t matter if she’s right or wrong, it matters that she isn’t feeling loved. We have no intention of changing her consequence or our decisions; but when this happens, the girl needs help.

One night a couple of weeks ago I realized that my little gal needed some extra sweet love – the kind that reaches the sadness under her anger. Right after an angrily offended outburst I followed her to her bed…

Hey babe. Look at me. Right here – look at me.

Her eyes wandered over for a brief second and met my adoring whole-face, gentle smile.

I love you, Amelia.

She immediately turned her head and hid the smile she couldn’t keep off of her own face. I didn’t joke this time. No arguing. No giving in. I just told her I loved her and I said it with my entire being. And I’ve been doing it periodically ever since. Then last night it happened again.

“How do you do that?”

Do what, honey?

“Make people smile.”

I don’t know. I guess it’s just my new superpower.

…a superpower we all have when we put on our super-deep goggles to see past surface-anger and find deep-pain. There’s no need to be afraid – no need to rationalize it away. Just meet it with deep-love.

You Are Loved

When The Walls Close In

This weekend I made a poor decision: I went to the department store Sunday morning. My daughter had a birthday party to attend after church and needed a gift. We were up early and in need of a few staples, so I grabbed my bags and we headed out so I could cross one of the jobs off my list. Sometimes it feels good to get a head start on the day.

Sometimes it’s just foolish. Our little mother-daughter shopping date turned into a race against time – a race I knew I was going to lose by the time we hit the self-checkout. Frantic-mommy whispers escaped as my sweet daughter tried to help.

Just stay BACK! Stop doing that! Move! I HATE coming here!

She looked at me and backed off. I can only imagine what was going through her head: “What happened to the kind mommy who held my hand as we walked in?”

I carried that irritable energy with me through most of the day. When I had a few quiet moments, I took a step back and recalled something I said in my talk to a mom’s group last week.

I didn’t realize I was depressed because for two years I covered my sadness with irritability. Sadness was under all of that frustration.

I’m not depressed right now, but I certainly have my irritable days. I don’t want them to multiply and become the norm for me again, so I intentionally work to discern irritability’s cause.

In this quiet moment I asked: What is sad about this situation?

I felt the walls of the store closing in on me. I felt pressure. The competing pressures to be on time and accomplish my tasks pressed in on me in the store. I generally seem to be able to handle one without the other, but when there is a time crunch on my to-do list, I feel trapped.

That’s the thing about pressure. Unless there are actual walls closing in on me, pressure is an illusion – just like this picture. There was no real danger.

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

The objective reality was that I mismanaged my time and there were going to be natural consequences for that. I was going to be the reason we would walk into church late. None of us like being late and I don’t like to miss any music at the beginning of the service. I felt like I was letting my family down. And that was sad to me.

But I wasn’t going to change the sad consequence at the self-checkout, so what did I do? I redistributed the pressure I felt and placed it on Amelia. Brilliant.

Managing time is not my forte. I’m going to mess up again. But I hope next time I will take a breath and choose to reject the perception of pressure, accept the consequences that follow and live with kindness in the moment.

Because finding sadness under my irritability can relieve pressure and release me to love.

For more on my experience with depression, check out my series: 

When I Should Feel Joy & 11 Tips for Preventing and Fighting Depression

If you would like to be notified of new blog posts, I would love to have you sign up for email updates on this website and follow me via the social media links provided at the side or bottom of your screen.  Thanks!

What YOU can do Today – for your Sweet Hearts

She was upset. Really upset.

I was calm. This time, I was calm.

Earlier that day I determined to start a heatwave to offer Warmth for Cold Hearts around me and so I was focused and ready for this little tantrum. This was one cold heart that I’d been concerned about for a while. And the tantrum was an opportunity to warm it up.

What are you upset about, sweetheart? What has made you so sad that you feel you have to yell at me? I can’t stay in the room while you are yelling, but when you’re ready to talk about what you’re sad about, let me know.

After a few minutes she was ready. There were tears. And indeed, she was really and understandably tangled up inside. The conversation went on for quite a while – way past my usual “I have to leave the room at 8:00” time. I didn’t get the laundry put away that night (OK…the laundry still isn’t put away three days later!) but I’ll tell you what DID get done. Thaw. The cold hard heart before me warmed quite a bit after I explained why people speak harshly (because they’re actually sad or hurting) and why some people are sad and hurting a lot (because they think they need to do something or be something to be more valuable).

Why can’t you just tell them that?” she asked.

Through my many, many tears and while she gently rubbed my back I said:

I can try to live it. And I can write and teach about it. But I can’t promise that anyone will take what I say and apply it to themselves. So we pray and we treat people with respect and love even when they are harsh with us.* We see tears where there are harsh words or actions and we remember there is sad or pain under that anger. We offer Love whether it is accepted or not.

Friends, I ask you: How might this apply to you?Ignite

  • Is there a sweet heart that is longing for you to hear that you can cry in front of them instead of treat them harshly?
  • Does some sweet heart feel torn and anxious when you worry about how much you are worth to the world – to them?
  • Who is angry around you and really just needs someone to see underneath the anger – to breathe LIFE and LOVE to the deep places inside of them?

Today. Do it today. Don’t let another day go by without offering warmth to a cold heart. You might be amazed at the fire that ignites inside of you.

If you find this post helpful to you, would you consider following this blog via email? Find the “Follow” button to the right or at the bottom of this post. Thank you! 

*Sometimes loving and respecting someone else means we must withdraw from their presence so we do not feed their hunger to dominate and control. Just as I left the room when my sweetheart was directing her tantrum at me, sometimes we need to leave the “room” when others direct their anger toward us. I do not intend to suggest that anyone stay in an abusive situation. There may be a time to come back and listen, but sometimes we need to leave to let the other find out how sad they really are.

Links to more posts on this topic:

Warmth For Cold Hearts

The Thrill Of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

My husband informed me yesterday that this is the best weekend of sports for the entire winter, (IHHO). Playoffs and Championships – the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat! Living rooms and sports bars across the country will be filled with anticipation as beloved favorites lay it all on the line. There will be wings, nachos, brats, beer, high fives, manly hugs, tears…and a lot of profanity thrown at TV’s.

(Well…in our house there will be vegetables, Spark, stationary bike-riding and replaying to analyze injuries over and over, but that’s beside the point!)

There’s nothing quite like the drama of football.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Unless it’s having a baby.  

Yep. I’m comparing the two. Why? Because I said something pretty audacious in “When I Should Feel Joy #2: Post Partum Depression”:  Sad is under angry. I have not yet come across an exception. I was definitely angry, but I put anger on top of my sadness. I chose it over tears. I don’t have to choose anger. You don’t, either.

Sad is under angry. I have not yet come across an exception. I was definitely angry, but I put anger on top of my sadness. I chose it over tears. I don’t have to choose anger. You don’t, either.

If there’s ever a good reason to be angry it’s when a ref makes game-changing call in error…against MY team…in the playoffs!

Am I right?!

I have no intention of telling fans to not be angry. But I will say this: sad is still under that anger. I’m totally bummed when my team loses the chance at an epic Super Bowl win. When the ref makes that call, I lose my chance to feel the thrill of victory I so passionately craved. Bummed. Sad. Ticked.

What I’m saying is that when that call is made, I can feel angry and display that anger in ways that hurt others and my relationship with them, OR I can choose relationship over my reaction.

I can choose relationship over my reaction.

It would be hurtful to carry the anger past the end of the game and into the hours or days ahead – then look for vengeance wherever I can find it: beer, food, slamming doors, cutting remarks. Anger seeps out into the way we interact with others and can actually hurt relationships. Generally, people don’t want to be around angry people. This creates distance.

It would be helpful to recognize that it sucks to have my team lose like that and admit I’m disappointed – then look for potential wherever I can find it: make a plan toward a goal, think of creative solutions to the problem, look at the situation from other people’s perspectives. Disappointment without anger is sadness and can actually help relationships. Generally, people want to comfort sad people. This creates a stronger bond.

So, my Friend, do you really want to hurt others and your relationships with them? You don’t have to. When you feel the volcano about to explode…or even after you popped your top, try this:

Breathe 3 big breaths and ask yourself, “What is sad about this situation?”

Choose relationship over your reaction. Deflate the intensity of your anger by recognizing your own disappointment/pain.

And may the best team actually win!

When I Should Feel Joy #2: Post-Partum Depression

…One nurse caught me in a weak, tearful moment and gruffly asked, “Are you depressed?!” I pulled it together enough to sternly pronounce, “No. I am a counselor. I would know if I were depressed.”

She backed off.

And I backed into my shell…

An excerpt from my previous post: When I Should Feel Joy #1: Unprepared.  

When one clams up, whatever is inside will find its way out, one way or another.

At first my insides came out as tears. They weren’t tears of joy or tears of sadness or tears of sentiment. They were tears of pain. I tried not to think about my time in the hospital when I felt helpless and invisible. But inevitably one thing or another would catch me off guard and I would be right back in the pain and embarrassment of giving birth. My mind and body’s natural inclination was to cave in on itself when this would happen. I couldn’t always curl up in a fetal position to protect myself from the outside world, but I wanted to. Nothing I did could really fend off the feeling of pain. And other than my averted eyes and the occasional admission that I was having a tough time adjusting to having two kids, most people had no indication I was suffering.

And then I started fighting.

I got better at preparing for the certain reminders of my helplessness and invisibility by scanning my environment for threats. That’s when I took up verbal boxing. After throwing a couple of punches, I realized boxing felt WAY better than laying down and taking hits. Adrenaline-anger made me strong. And anger kept people away – especially my family, the most likely people to touch the black and blue inside of me. I’m not typically a mean person, but blame allowed me to validate my anger. I began to believe that I was the center of a deep conspiracy: Everyone – do everything you can to make life hard for Andrea. It didn’t make sense, but it didn’t have to make sense. It just had to be a reason to thrust me out of helpless tears into powerful anger.

My internal equilibrium was incredibly fragile, so anything unexpected threw me off. Anyone asking something of me felt like a jab I had to dodge.

Baby waking.

Supper burning.

Milk spilling.

How DARE they ask anything of me! I can’t take it. Make it STOP!  And so I would verbally jab back:

PLEASE go back to sleep!

I’m sorry I’m such a horrible cook!

Stupid dog!

I hate thinking about it. I loved my husband and kids, but the joy I expected to feel after having a second baby felt like a pipe-dream. It’s not supposed to be like this!

If you only saw me in the boxing ring, you would have no idea that the only reason I was fighting was in order to access a strength that pushed back on the hits that threatened to knock me out. It was all I had.

It certainly felt that way.

Praying you might tuck these in your heart today:

  1. (from When I Should…#1) Joy is what I felt I should feel after giving birth, so I hid my pain. But honestly, most women struggle. My expectations for what “I should feel” made it harder to accept the pain and sadness I experienced.
  2. Clamming up did not help me, my kids or my husband because: When one clams up, whatever is inside will find its way out, one way or another. And usually someone gets hurt.
  1. Every loud sound and every sudden movement felt like an attack on my entire being. I felt every tear my babies cried and every posture of confused defeat when my husband came close. That’s why it seemed like a conspiracy. I was completely overwhelmed and fragile. I had no buffer to absorb the blows that threw me off. I have come to know this fragility as sensitivity. Do you ever feel that way? (I have much more to say on this topic. Please come back for more.)
  1. I didn’t feel better when I was angry, but the adrenaline that pumped gave me energy. I have since come to believe that: SAD IS UNDER ANGRY. I have not yet come across an exception. I was definitely angry, but I put anger on top of my sadness. I chose it over tears. I don’t have to choose anger. You don’t, either. There is Comfort to be found but it is not found while boxing…unless you come across a beautiful soul who will let you beat on their chest until you collapse into their arms. I believe God does that. Probably a better choice than taking the fight to the people we love.

Clam Up

This picture is my wink-nudge-nudge. Know where I took it?!

When I Should Feel Joy #1: Unprepared

When I Should Feel Joy #2: Postpartum Depression

When I Should Feel Joy #3: Shame

When I Should Feel Joy #4: True Love

When I Should Feel Joy #5: Deeper Joy

11 Steps to Prevent and Fight Depression