Family Vacations and The Most Fundamental Need of HSPs


 Two months ago, InwardMarvels grew quiet. This was based on a conscious and unannounced decision: I was in my very last few weeks of thesis writing. There was a vacation coming up in Norway in mid-June, and I wanted to be done before that. Imagine handing in your project and then taking off on a plane! What a moment!

At that point, I was not only facing an intensely occupying phase of finishing up something I have been working toward for a year. More than that, handing in a stack of neatly printed copies of my paper baby meant that something would end, and that something was not just my labor-intensive hours in the library: it was my current life. All I knew was that beyond that deadline, there is only insecurity. I would no longer be what I used to be for the past seven years (a part-time working student with no weekends and no money). But there was and is no clear version of what will come after that old me.

As a Highly Sensitive Person, that last phase demanded all of my attention — emotionally. Apart from neglecting my creative outlets, such as InwardMarvels, I found myself blocking out most social get-togethers — not because I didn’t have the time! In fact, the last few weeks of writing were not actually stressful in terms of my schedule. I was an entire month early! Not a single energy-drink loaded night was spent bent over my keyboard in a frantic attempt to finish things on time. None of that. I left the library at seven. Always. And after that, my evenings were wonderful bubbles of tasty homemade dinners, soothing hours of reclining on the couch with a glass of wine or tea. Always. I was doing well, but only because I let myself protect this easily disturbed little ball of me.

As an HSP, emotionally demanding phases of my life ask for complete and utter silence. I need as little social interaction as possible, and I can only give what I have left to give, which — in these phases — is often close to nothing.

Part of becoming your own best friend as someone who works perhaps a little bit different than the average means to learn not to beat yourself up over it. To in fact protect yourself in it, whether others can relate or not. To understand that you do not have to justify. So you feel like you cannot see one more friend over coffee right now, even if that’s considered fun by most. Sometimes, we simply have nothing left to give. That is a very natural condition, and all it takes is a tad of kindness and self-care. To listen to that moment is to value your needs at the same level as you value others. And that is a good thing!

But silence is not abundantly available in our society. We have to create it for ourselves.

Others may not understand it, may even criticize you for it, but it is your own job to keep your heart and mind balanced. Only you can do it.

What To Do When Silence Is Hard To Come By?

Giving yourself that space may be seen as anything from weird to anti-social. It is the good old struggle between extrovert vs. introvert perception. When — after the thesis delivery– I fled into my gigantic pile of books during what turned out to be a completely over-socialized and thus gravely overwhelming vacation in Scandinavia, this protective mechanism was questioned with the sentence: “Poor Marvelline, are you that bored here?” After all, I had raced through four books in about 10 days. It was a genuine question and, I could sense it, not meant to be a hidden critique. People were honestly wondering what was ‘wrong’ with me. It showed that others often cannot relate to the excessive degree of silence I need.

Norway took me to my extreme in all aspects of HSPness. The trip made me realize once again quite physically just how different I am from others, and how there is nothing I can do to change it. The vacation meant that I was leaving my natural habitat. As such, I had little room to create the silence that I still so very much needed. This brought me to tears on several occasions — behind closed doors, of course. My days were almost entirely in the hands of my husband’s family and friends. Loving, warmhearted, wonderful people! Technically, there is no reason for me to want to disengage from them. They have been nothing but supporting, welcoming, and generous. Always! But they thrive on board games, having several common meals a day, and then some interspersed family coffee breaks, or a few days of everyone huddled together in a remote family hut without internet and cell phone reception (yep, that happened). There was moreover a wedding — a gorgeous wedding! — and of course we met up with all of the friends my husband wanted to finally see again. Lastly, there was a delayed Christmas present trip to an island for grandmother. All of these things are technically wonderful! But! In the first week of vacation, I counted approximately two hours of just me. Two hours! And those two hours only happened because I excused myself for a nap, when really I locked myself up to sit… in silence.

And that is only the social part of the HSP problem. In addition, we had covered more than a thousand kilometers in two weeks. We had spent the night in seven different places, leaving approximately two nights in each location. There was a lot of constant change, a lot of first impressions, and a lot of images to process. Most conversations are now happening in Norwegian, which still takes a lot of effort for me to understand seamlessly. Not to mention that I was still getting used to making sure my dietary needs with regards to my insulin resistance are met while traveling. This is a task that proves tiring, because almost all meals are all cooked by others. I spilled my first experiences with traveling and pre-diabetes into this post, and this time it was only slightly better. People made surprise rhubarb crumbles and home-baked bread. I saw embarrassment and slight disappointment when I had to reject their lovingly made food. It takes some getting used to.

There is a point of oversocialization and overstimulation at which the Dalai Lama could appear in front of me and I would feel nothing but the intense wish for him to go away. This was that point. At times I felt like I could not physically take one more round of coffee. One more chit chat with an aunt that I still hadn’t met. One more minute in the presence of these amazing, lovely, kind people. The Dalai-Lama-point feels like I am suffocating, quite physically. I grow shaky, weary of everything, I cry. My breathing is flat. It feels as if someone is pressing my face into a wonderful chocolate cake.

An HSP-compatible Family Vacation?

Luckily, my husband understands who I am and how I work — I am blessed with someone who never makes me feel as though I am inadequate in any way. But I still felt like I was being inadequate, because

how can all these wonderful things make me want to lock myself up in a room and not talk to anyone for at least three consecutive days?

Ultimately, this question is irrelevant. I know how — I am an HSP! There is nothing to discuss. The label is a label, but it helps me understand why I am the way I am. This is how I work. I cannot change it. It is inborn, and it isn’t trainable. If it were, I’d be an extrovert by now! Vacation is a difficult balancing act when you live abroad and visiting home is your annual chance to spend some decent family-time. And yet if I am to emerge from these journeys undamaged, I will have to learn to create my silence despite concerned family members. I don’t know yet how, but repeating the experience is scarcely an option. On our last day, we talked. We tried to figure out how things could be better for me and, in the end, for the both of us. We had both seen that this was simply too much. It is a reality that I don’t like, but I’ll have to face it anyway. This is who I am. For now, we resolved that our next trip back home — to either of our homes — would be less kilometers. Less people. Fewer changes of location. But above all, and this simply takes courage,

a lot more silence.