Since I can remember, I have always had anxiety, and travel brought it out in full force when it came to packing for a trip. Until recently, my control freak process always involved pulling out my suitcase a week in advance, building a check off list with quantities, and planning out two times the number of outfits that I actually needed on the trip. This process made me feel safe.
My anxiety and packing paranoia was coming from my emotional baggage that I wasn't dealing with.
The thought of packing the night before gave my hives and if after all of that, I arrived at my destination without something I needed, my whole world would crumble around me. Instead of letting it go and telling myself I can buy it there or that I didn't really need it, I would get angry with myself. What I didn't realize was that my anxiety about packing and preparing for a trip (whether it be for business or pleasure), was the result of something much bigger than just the fear of forgetting something.
Breaking Free Abroad
Before I dive deeper into my packing idiosyncrasy and what it really means, I want to highlight my obsession with travel and what it has taught me. Travel has always been my escape, and over the years, it has revealed my hidden inner strength, inspired my writing and taught me important life skills. After I graduated from college, I ran away and moved to Taipei, Taiwan. It was 2004, Bush was president, I wasn't ready to be a broke writer living in New York City yet and I wanted an adventure. I left the country with one suitcase and a backpack. I felt free. I didn't know the language (Mandarin), I didn't have a job (I figured it was better to apply for a teaching job upon my arrival) and I didn't have a place to live other than renting a room at a sketchy hostel.
You would think this whole situation would have made me insanely anxious, but I was actually quite calm throughout the process and it all ended up working out in the end. I got the job I wanted within about three weeks, rented a pretty cool rooftop apartment and I was quickly making friends, many of whom I still talk to today. After two years, I had become a happy expat who had created a new life for herself with almost nothing. Looking back now, I don't think I really understood the significance, but now I do. I had taught myself a lesson about packing light and EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE.
Packing And Unpacking Emotions
My anxiety and packing paranoia was coming from my emotional baggage that I wasn't dealing with. The act of "leaving my life" behind in the U.S. to live in Taiwan was liberating, but when I got home, the baggage and unresolved issues were still there. Blocking my emotions (which I am such an expert at!) manifested in various ways that created chaos in multiple parts of my life. It took me 10 years after returning home from Taiwan to realize that my anxiety was a result of being a survivor of child sexual abuse. Once the suppressed memories started to reveal themselves to me while I raised my daughter, my recurring dreams of packing and unpacking my suitcase started. My control freak nature began to make sense. I needed to release my emotions (unpack them) and feel safe to do so.
What I didn't realize was that my anxiety about packing and preparing for a trip (whether it be for business or pleasure), was the result of something much bigger than just the fear of forgetting something.
What has helped me do this? Releasing my self-judgment and being more patient with myself. Telling myself it is okay if I make a mistake or forget something. The world won't come to an end if I forget to pack my toothbrush or if I only brought two pairs of shoes for my kids instead of three. I won't lie and say it has been easy and that my anxiety is gone. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing because it helps me problem solve. Because of my therapy sessions, supportive husband, journaling and taking Artful Body founder Meg Berry's MomCore class, I have an ongoing support system. And if you are wondering, I have been practicing packing only three days before instead of seven. Baby steps!
This article was originally published September 21, 2019.
WRITTEN BYNubia DuVall Wilson