Travelling is rarely fun at the best of times, but it can become pure torture for a Highly Sensitive Person with Misophonia. There are loads of reasons for this (perhaps too many to mention here), so I will provide a brief taster of what it is like when I travel, and why being around so many people, for so long, can leave me jabbering away in the nearest corner.
1. Space Invaders: When travelling, especially on budget airlines, you are forced into the very close proximity of strangers. This sends my highly sensitive personality into a tailspin of abject terror. On both legs of my flight, I sat next to a man (not the same one – I don’t have a stalker); and both times, they sat with their legs wide open. Yes, guys. I get there’s a reason why you can’t close your legs completely, but do you have to sit with them so far apart? Is it some kind of macho, non-verbal communication? We are talking small kiwis, not huge melons, so let’s get some perspective and quit with the wide leg gape. Their chivalry was extended to space hogging, too. They kindly sprawled their arms over the mutual arm rest, and never budged. Touching the flesh of a stranger is pretty tough going for a HSP, and I was left with no alternative but to twist my body into contortions a Russian gymnast would be proud of, just to avoid physical contact. On my return journey, I got brave (scratch that, I got so pissed off that he was so seemingly unaware of how cramped I was) that at one point, when he moved his arm to itch his chin, I flung my arm on the arm rest, thinking that he would get the hint, and relinquish the spot to me for a while. Sadly, he was quite oblivious, and pushed his arm back into the coveted spot. I scrunched up my eyes, took a deep breath, and began to battle it out. I lasted all of 30 seconds before bailing. Just couldn’t take it any longer. Strange, inconsiderate man: 1, odd, frustrated HSP lady: 0.
On my bus journey home, the woman beside me suddenly leant right across me. I wouldn’t have been any more startled or bristly if she’d jabbed me with a pitchfork. She wanted to take a picture of the view. Yes, it was pretty, and yes, I get her eagerness and excitement. But rule number one for a HSP: never get closer than you have to. If you do have to (or would like to take a picture), always politely ask first. It’s not hard. It’s respectful.
2. You are forced to listen to people: People with Misophonia are very sensitive to noise, sometimes any kind of noise, although it is often specific to the sufferer. My worst trigger is people eating loud food, such as crisps or apples. However, I am also very sensitive to people’s voices. I am from the north of England, and we have some lovely, melodious accents; but we also have some ear-splitting dialects that leave me begging for mercy. The cabin crew on my flight yesterday loved the sound of their own voices, but one had a Blackburn accent that was enough to make your eyes water (if you have no idea what it sounds like, Google it). I was sitting at the back of the aircraft like I always do (I am scared of flying, and feel safer right at the back – despite my 9 year old gleefully told me that I am more likely to die if sit there), and on what was obviously a quiet day, I was forced to endure a voice that was like nails down a chalkboard. I am now lucky enough to know more of her life history than her mum does. Like how she has three kids, her eldest is just about to start secondary school and needs to catch a bus there. She’s a bit concerned about that, but you know, she’ll soon settle in. Her husband is a great help, but well, if he doesn’t go to work he doesn’t get paid, and she once spent a whole day ironing clothes (she now hires someone to do it, and it costs £30). She’s been to the Maldives: lovely place – she could walk around her island in 20 minutes, but it wasn’t too quiet, just perfect. And on, and on, she went. Thankfully, the flight was only and hour and thirty minutes, otherwise I might have been flinging myself out of the emergency exit. On the outbound journey we were serenaded by a member of the cabin crew that sang the same line of a song, over and over again. Badly. Very badly indeed.
3. Checking: No, I don’t mean “check-in”, I mean checking. As in checking everything five million times. This is another highly sensitive trait, but I also think I have certain OCD tendencies. I had a bus journey that spanned only ten minutes, and in that duration, I jumped three times in fright wondering where my suitcase was. It was in the hold, where I’d handed it to the driver. All three times. I checked for the whereabouts of my passport every two minutes, with military precision, just in case it had fallen out of my tightly zipped bag. Could have done. You never know. The writing on my boarding card became almost illegible, due to how many times I had taken it out of my bag to scrutinise it; just in case I had missed something the first hundred occasions I’d looked at it. During my time in the UK, I went a bit overboard with the shopping, and now have the arms of a navvy, due to the fact that I repeatedly picked up my suitcase trying to judge how heavy it was (panicking that I might be charged excess baggage).
4. The increased possibility of looking foolish: A highly sensitive person does everything they can to avoid being the centre of attention in public, especially if that attention is perceived as negative. I live in fear of falling over (which almost never happens, probably because I am so careful to ensure it stays that way), or doing something that makes me look like an idiot. Being in unfamiliar territory, and experiencing situations that are not every day, dramatically increases the likelihood. Before doing something, I weigh up the odds like a bookmaker, watching carefully to see someone else do it first. For example, taking a luggage trolley. Now, you might be wondering how hard that could be, but at the airport they had a new-fangled system where you put a coin in a machine, and it releases a trolley. Normally, I would stand and assess the situation, and watch someone else take one. But I was obviously feeling confident and blazed in. Now, there were two lanes, and for some reason, I thought the red light signified it was the lane I should use. Because, of course red signals GO, doesn’t it? After tugging, and pulling, and increasingly aware that I was becoming the centre of attention, I looked frantically around for someone who could help me. Thankfully, a man did come to my painful rescue (albeit somewhat reluctantly, and with ill-disguised smugness as he pointed out the green light in the other lane). It made me cringe. It made me want to curl up in a ball. It made me feel like clod-hopping, idiotic buffoon. A slight over-reaction, wouldn’t you say? After all, it could happen to anyone. And I would absolutely agree. Welcome to the world of a HSP.
5. You worry. All the time: I planned every inch of my trip with mathematical precision, even down to studying the menus of restaurants I would be visiting. I was particularly anxious about finding space for my luggage during my two hour train journey (it is notoriously limited). So much so, that I’d reserved seats nearby luggage holds. However, this didn’t ease my panic. In fact, it probably heightened it, because I was worried that someone else would be sitting in my reserved seat, and I would have a fight to get them to move. Oh, my imagination knows no bounds. I was forced to put my large suitcase on a shelf where it was over-hanging slightly. Utterly convinced it would fall off in transit, I badgered two innocent young Americans into putting their smaller bag on top of mine. I didn’t ask them; I ordered them. I developed a case of repetitive strain injury due to the amount of times I turned my head to see if the case had fallen off (it never moved an inch), and the woman behind me must have thought I was spying on her, because every time I looked back, she caught my eye.
I’d managed to jump on an earlier train, but this meant that I didn’t have time to weigh up everything, and doubted that it was the right train. I’d accosted an elderly couple: “Is this train going to York? Are you sure? Definitely going to York? Where are you getting off? Oh, it must definitely be going to York then”. Yes, it was going to York, which is what they’d said when I first asked.
6. You have to conform: As a HSP I live a quite controlled life, and I guess by default, this can mean that I have the ability to be controlling, and a need to be in control. This, I have realised, is just a way for me to stay on an even keel; if I know what is going to happen, it doesn’t jerk so much. I am also very set in my ways, and although I enjoy the company of family and friends, this can only be for limited periods, dependant on the person. So, when you travel and stay with people, you are often dragged kicking and screaming from your comfort zone. You have to do what others want to do. I don’t like it. I spent a lot of time during my week away almost apologising for who I am, despite the fact that I promised myself I wouldn’t. This year has been a huge awakening for me, with hard-hitting realisations, and dawning truths about who I am, and why I do the things I do. It’s brought relief and acceptance that it is okay for me to be just me, odd little foibles and all. But I have never been more conscious of being in the minority (only 20% of people are HSP) during my travels this time. It made me sad, scared and happy, all rolled up together. As a HSP, I am always second guessing myself, and why make a quick decision when you can spend hours analysing every little detail, eh? You can’t do that when you are out for a meal (even if the choice of menu is overwhelming, even to a “normal” person), so, being forced to stray away from what makes me comfortable is never easy.
Phew! It’s a wonder I go anywhere!
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick / Free DigitalPhotos.net