Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On NOT Packing the Pea

As I pack for yet another journey – this time from one end of the country to the other for the GreenSpirit Annual Gathering – I fine myself once again struggling with the twin impulses to:

(a) take with me everything that I could possibly need over thee next few days, 'just in case', and–

(b) travel light and feel wonderfully free and unencumbered.

Before every trip, those two impulses wage war back and forth across the battlefield of my psyche for hours (sometimes days) on end. The result? I usually finish up somewhere in the middle; regretting the absence of something I really wish I had brought and yet feeling somewhat disappointed and overburdened by luggage that is heavier than I would like it to be. A very unsatisfying situation all round.

On our latest trip, since we were heading towards a warmer and sunnier place, I left my slippers at home. But the first couple of days the weather was slightly cooler than I expected and I ended up shuffling around on a cold, tiled floor in my socks and feeling grumpy about it because I hate the feeling of walking in socks. A couple of years ago, packing for a conference in one of those large and ancient English 'stately homes' that are almost always cold and draughty, I packed my sheepskin boots, only to find the central heating turned up so high that my feet got unbearably hot and I had to take the boots off and walk around barefoot.

As what's known in pop psychology as an 'HSP' (a 'highly sensitive person'), I find it enormously difficult to tune out any personal discomfort such as scratchy labels, tight clothing, restricting shoes or being too hot or too cold and not being able to fix it. Being physically uncomfortable in my clothes seems to addle my brain, somehow. Even if I wear jeans and trainers to go out, the instant I get home I change into sweatpants and slippers so that I can relax, breathe freely and think.

All HSPs know this feeling. Everything has to feel just right or we cannot function properly. Other people might think we are fussy or mad, but we who know the reality of living in a body that reacts to every tiny stimulus as though it were a thunderclap also know that we simply cannot help being the way we are. We are born like that. It is, as Elaine Aaron and others have pointed out, simply another version of normal (15-20% of the population are HSPs). And we owe it to ourselves to honour that aspect of ourselves and arrange our lives accordingly.

So when I pack to go somewhere else, whether it is for a few days or a few weeks, I have to make sure I get the balance right. The obvious answer, of course, is to plan for all eventualities. But then I finish up taking more than is necessary and having to cope with the discomfort of dragging a heavy bag around and feeling not only overloaded but disappointed in myself for not achieving my ideal of travelling light.

Arrgghhhhh !!!


Anonymous said...

Preferring to live a simple life, surrounded by nature and profoundly aware of the beauty in the smallest of things, I feel my "highly-sensitive" nature is a product of this. Living a peaceful, simple life habituates me to this and so I am unable to cope with the chaos and noises of modern living. But what comes first?? My peace loving simple nature or a "high sensitive persona"?? I think I prefer to see myself as a peace-loving person than highly sensitive. Highly sensitive seems to suggest something wrong or that needs fixing!!! Creating psychological disorders and problems of something that is natural to me. I think the world would be a better place if there were more HSP :)

willow said...

I understand the packing problem though I usually go for option b myself - traveling light - just for the feeling of paring down what I need to the essentials.
Thanks for the link, its nice to know that others are sometimes overwhelmed by the details, I fall into that category as does one of our sons though my husband struggles to understand this.

Anonymous said...

Your description of HSP really interested me - a term I hadn't heard before.
I'm definitely not sensitive in this way, but your post has led me to think about why I am almost proud of my ability to tune out personal discomfort. It's like a mixture of macho posturing and not caring enough about myself to care.
So thank you for giving me (not for the first time) something new to think about.
Hope the trip is wonderful.

Kay Dennison said...

I tend to pack too much and pay for it dearly with too heavy luggage! Schlepping said item around airports puts me crazy. I'm currently planning a trip and trying to as light as possible.

Rain Trueax said...

I struggle with the same impulses when packing and it's not even the weight but just having a difficulty of finding what I want. I had never heard that term HSP but I must be one also as I cut out all labels from tops and prefer my clothes as you said-- light or loose or both

Audrey said...

Well, I'm relieved to learn that there's a name for it -- HSP! My husband and others think I'm just being difficult or "too particular" whenever I complain about scratchy labels and such. We must be a vocal bunch, though, have you noticed how many tee-shirt makers have started printing label information inside the shirt itself rather than attaching a label to scratch and stick out?

Elderwoman said...

No, I hadn't noticed that, Audrey, but I am delighted to hear it. It's about time! It's so fiddly to get those labels off. (And I end up doing my partner's as well because when he does it he gets impatient and finishes up making holes in new tee-shirts).