“Let’s be chill.” Or, how to maximize stress on a one-night trip.

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“I’m trying to relax.”

“This can be a chill trip.”

“It’s only one night.”

When I heard myself say these words last weekend, an alarm sounded in the back of my mind. I tried to ignore it.

After all, it was only one night. We would leave Saturday morning to visit out-of-town relatives and return Sunday afternoon. Not even thirty-six hours. Hardly any time to miss anything I might forget. And how much could I possibly need in the first place?

I always say — I may even say officially in Order from Chaos — I can’t do a chill trip. I always travel with a full inventory of every item I’ve brought with me.

Except when I decide I want to “relax.”

I should know better. The road to hell is paved with attempts to be casual and pack without a list.

Can’t we just be normal?

The thing is, sometimes I get tired. Tired of taking time to assemble a detailed packing list for thirty hours away from home with only my backpack. Tired of needing pencil and paper to work out an itinerary when my husband says, “I’d like to leave around the same time we do for school, but if we’re ready earlier that would be great.”

Tired of everything requiring so much work. I see other people tossing a few things in a backpack and getting out of the house as early as they can and it looks so casual, so spontaneous. So easy. Sometimes I want to be casual and spontaneous. 

I want to feel like a normal person doing a normal thing.

Trying to be like everyone else only hurts me in the end.

This illusion crumbled before we even left the house. My family wanted to treat this like a normal morning, but they leave the house on a deadline every weekday. I don’t. I run interference and absorb the cost of any delays. Then I use the time after they leave at 7:45 to finish my morning routine: drink my coffee, dry my hair, clear my breakfast dishes from the table. Most of the time I sit down at my desk by 8:15.

Because I have no concept of time, I had no idea how to adjust my morning routine to exit the house between 7:45 and 8:00. I would’ve needed to work the whole thing out on paper.

I didn’t work it out on paper because I wanted to appear chill and relaxed.

I don’t do relaxed departures.

As time crept forward, I began to panic. My husband wanted to leave “as early as we can with everyone working steadily to get out of the house.” This doesn’t work as a goal for me. I think he intended it to sound both focused and low-pressure. Instead, I constantly feared the next moment would be a tipping point, after which we’d be leaving too late. “Working steadily” felt too subjective. How would I know if I’d succeeded or failed?

My husband didn’t put this pressure on me. I had no reason to fear his reactions or judgements. But I’ve lived a lot of my life, from a very young age, feeling taken off guard by others’ anger. Growing up with undiagnosed ADHD, I tried to stay out of trouble. Sometimes I succeeded, but I also failed often and seemingly arbitrarily. 

Despite this particular morning’s challenges, I managed to get out of the house feeling flustered and stressed, but not in a complete meltdown. I poured my coffee into a Yeti mug and mindlessly scrolled through my phone while my nerves settled. So engrossed was I in this semi-therapeutic scrolling, I didn’t notice my husband had started driving. He accelerated onto the main road and my coffee mug, which I’d set on the dashboard while I waited for us to get going, flew straight at me and flung coffee all over the place.

Not great for someone who startles easily, or who was already on the brink of a meltdown.

But we all survived, and I thought the worst was over.

I don’t do travel without a list.

Later that night, I realized I’d forgotten my Apple Watch charger and went into another spiral. Health trackers are a slippery slope for me. I obsess over completeness and accuracy. Apple’s Fitness app calculates trends on a bunch of different stats using six months of data. Not only would a full day of zeroes throw off my weekly average, it would impact my trends’ accuracy through next May. It would break the Stand streak I’d maintained for over a year. Until November 2022, my watch would tell me I’d closed my Stand ring 364 out of the past 365 days.

Logically, I knew this didn’t matter. One day of bad data would fade over time. I don’t look at my Stand stats that often. But once my hyperfocus locks onto something and decides this cannot be the way it is, I have trouble thinking about anything else.

Right about then I decided, never again. Maybe I need to create a special packing list for bare-bones trips to avoid creating a new one for one-nighters. Maybe I need to make peace with my reality. Definitely that. But I can’t scrap my list in the name of “relaxing” or being “casual.”

Was I masking?

As I paced and ruminated over my lack of watch charger, I wondered: was this resistance to using my packing list a form of masking? Certainly I wanted to avoid the effort of making a list, but that didn’t fully explain my behavior. While I did mention not wanting to spend time making a list once or twice, I repeatedly used the words “relax,” “casual,” and “no big deal.”

All words others have used toward me in the past.

Even after years of work, I occasionally fall victim to a desire to blend in. To appear laid back and spontaneous and low maintenance.

The kind of person who can grab a backpack and zip off on an overnight with no list and very little planning.

The kind of person I fear others want me to be.

But that’s not who I am.

I need a detailed packing list and specific time to get out the door. Tossing some things in a bag and leaving “as soon as we can” always ends in anxiety and regret for me. No matter how hard I try to pretend otherwise, I will never learn to see this approach as fun or chill. I will never change who I am.

We have to do what’s right for us (even if it’s weird, or “a lot”).

Many of us are about to travel for Thanksgiving. We’ll encounter family members with all sorts of opinions about how we should manage ourselves. After almost two years of stress and upheaval, we owe it to ourselves to draw new boundaries. In other words, learn to ignore others’ judgements and do what works for us.

In Order from Chaos I talk a lot about getting to know yourself and divesting from your “shoulds.” Four years after writing those words, I still need my own advice sometimes. I still get caught up in the idea of how I “should” be. How I “should” embody others’ idea of a reasonable person.

Forget that. Next time I travel somewhere, I’m doing my own thing. I’m making the lists and notes I need, even if other people view them as “too much.” And when I do that, I’m going to have a far more chill, fun, and reasonable trip. Something I could truly call a vacation.

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