On my 10th birthday my grandparents presented me with a gift that I found offensive even though it uncannily captured one my exasperating personality traits. Picture this. A tiny bed with 4 tiny mattresses and underneath the mattresses is a pea; tucked into this bed is a tiny doll with a tiny pillow and a tiny blanket with “Joanna” delicately embroidered onto it. How insulting, thought my 10 year old self, where is the humor in this? Could they really insinuate that I was the Princess and the Pea? As the years have passed, I have come to appreciate the symbolism of this offering and refer to it nostalgically (it still resides in my San Diego bedroom).
If you suffer from the Princess (or Prince) and the Pea syndrome you know that there is no choice in the matter. No amount of immersion therapy, psychotherapy or fancy medications can eradicate the feeling of discomfort when there is a pea on the bottom of your mattress (or a speck of sand in your shoe, or a tag in your shirt, or an ill fitting sock). It becomes all encompassing and there is no way to block it out. Seriously, I cannot understand how you can NOT feel it. My life has often been defined by this affliction in unpredictable ways.
The discomfort of airplane seats causing my sensitive fanny to twinge in protest (prompting me to carry along a seat cushion) is terrible; however the most prescient manifestation of this syndrome is clothing choice. Wool sweaters dwell on the bottom of the ladder while cashmere occupies the top rung. Anything directly on the body must fit just right, not too loose and not too tight. Tucking in shirts is never acceptable – lumps in the pants is reason enough to stay home and put on flannel pajamas which don’t wrinkle and lay flat. As an athlete, the syndrome can become an obsession. Unfriendly seams often exist in bike shorts, running shoes, and bathing suits which in turn can ruin an otherwise pleasant ride, cause blisters and leave scars. This lack of attention to detail motivated me to design my own race kits years ago when a sponsor kept sending outfits that left me squirming in pain. How is one supposed to concentrate on a race when there is chafe?
For most, years of riding are spent honing skills and increasing speed. My years as a rider have culminated in one singular purpose, finding the Holy Grail of saddles. I have tested them all: long, wide, narrow, lots of padding, no padding, cut out, women’s specific, triathlon specific, roadie specific. That is a lot investigating in just one season. Anyone who rides a bike knows the bane of saddle sores and other saddle induced maladies. Saddle woes are the topic of much discussion and the argument of who has it worse, men or women, is still disputed. My saddle quest finally ended a few years ago with the perfect combination of a proper bike fit and a suitable saddle. This discovery occurred a few days too late though. Just prior to the saddle revelation I was on a ride when sitting became so unbearable I was forced into riding standing up. When my quads finally seized up and I could no longer pedal I put in an SOS call to my husband to come fetch me. How embarrassing.
I leave you Princess (or Prince) and the Pea sufferers with this bit of advice. Don’t settle for discomfort. The right solution is always out there and with enough patience you will unearth it. In the meantime, keep your complaints to yourself and nobody will be the wiser to your burden.