Dani Shapiro
June 1, 2010

On Over-stimulation

What is a sensitive person to do when she finds herself in a state of over-stimulation?  I woke up yesterday morning shaking–literally shaking.  Faint with exhaustion, teary in anticipation of just how many miles I had to travel that day.  I had been away from home–away from my husband and son– for longer than is comfortable for me.  In the previous five days, I had spoken at events in New York City, Wilmington, Delaware, Los Angeles, and Sun Valley, Idaho.  I had been in trains, cars, big planes and little ones.  And finally I was feeling it.  The well was empty.  In today’s New York Times there is an interesting piece on vital exhaustion, which may be the new term for nervous breakdown.  We are not machines — though sometimes we (okay, I) treat ourselves as if we are.  As if there is no breaking point.  No point at which our bodies, our minds, our very souls sit up, trembling, and say: enough.

It occurs to me that we writers–who spend most of our time alone in our rooms, thinking, staring into space,  occasionally putting words on the page–are among the least equipped to be out there in the world doing what needs to be done for our books.  Don’t get me wrong–I am one of the writers who really enjoys this aspect of things.  Not all of us do.  I’ve come to like speaking and reading to audiences, even as my heart flutters, even as I wonder and marvel that they’ve come out to hear what I have to say.  But we all need to know how to take care of ourselves, and what that means.  For some of us, it means not traveling at all (though these days I’m not sure how anyone sells books without it).  For others, it means careful monitoring of sleep, food, drink.  For me, yoga and meditation are my best tools for centering myself.  Last night, on the flight back east from LA, I bought myself one of those little neck pillows at the airport store.  As we waited in line for take-off, I leaned my head back.  Closed my eyes.  That small gesture of self-care made a huge difference–not necessarily because of the pillow itself, but because it meant that I was noticing that I needed comfort.  I silently repeated the Metta phrases: may I be safe, may I be happy, may I be strong, may I live with ease. As the plane flew into the night, I felt myself slowly calm.  I read a beautiful novel instead of the piles of juicy tabloids.  I began to come back to myself.