The first time I should’ve experienced jet lag would’ve been in October of 1990, when I moved to the United States. However, that month was so full of firsts that I don’t quite remember what it was like to adjust to American Eastern time. Thus, the first memory of jet lag comes from when I returned to the US from my German Exchange trip in high school. I remember the second or third day back, my brother invited me to go to his friend’s basement punk rock show. I knew I wasn’t quite on US time but thought I could make it through. After all, it was a punk rock show. So I went. The show ended early, but it was an early summer’s night so people remained to hangout after. I made it through the show and was feeling a little tired so I thought I’d rest on a couch for just a minute. The moment I felt those soft cushions under me, I couldn’t fight it. I passed out in a foggy bliss. I remember hearing a conversation between my brother and his friend, but being completely unable to wake and respond. The conversation went like this:
Brother’s Friend: Dude what’s wrong with your sister? She just passed out on that couch in the middle of the party.
My brother: She’s just jet lagged dude. She got back from Germany just two days ago.
Brother’s Friend: Damn dude that looks intense.
The thing about a jet lagged slumber is that when you finally give in to your body’s unrelenting desire to sleep, there is nothing not an earthquake or a punk rock band that can stir you enough to even be embarrassed. The next two memories of jet lag were adjusting to Indian Standard Time and then when I returned back to Eastern Time. If you ever want a lesson in humility, travel east and adjust to Indian Standard Time whilst immersed in the culture. The shit is hard. What I learned about those two journeys was that it takes between 5-7 days to get your internal clock to run on Indian time. The fog that settles when jet lagged in India is only comparable to a concussion. You walk through the first few days with relatives eating, talking, pretending to be normal. However, it isn’t until the fog lifts that you realize that everything that happened in those first few days were so blurry that the events didn’t even make it into your short term memory.
In 2007 as my gift to myself for finishing my first year as a teacher, I saved up enough money to travel to London and visit my cousin who was living there at the time. I remember the first two days of jet lag extremely well. It went like this:
Cousin: Let’s go walk around Hyde Park
Me: I’m so jet lagged; let’s go back and take a nap
Cousin: No you have to fight it or it’ll take much longer to adjust.
Me: Fuck it, take me home I need sleep.
Cousin: Here let’s get you some coffee.
Me: Fine, but then take me home.
I’ve never been one to fight jet lag. Some call me weaker for it. Sometimes I call myself weaker for not warding it off with chemicals. Maybe I do have a slightly more sensitive body than others to that internal clock versus external clock. Regardless of what it makes me, the fact remains: I give into jet lag and allow it, unless forced by others, to run its course. This is what I was proud of when I planned my trip to India this year. I planned it so that N and I were going to be in a resort town whilst adjusting to my country’s time. I even told N several times, we’ll probably be sleeping in Goa most of the time cause it takes about a week to get on Indian time. Yet upon arrival in Mumbai, half way through day one the guilt seeped in. You know it. That you are in your country of origin and you have your husband with you and you are laying in bed. Get out and see the place you paid thousands of dollars to visit. For a few days I let the guilt dictate our agenda and then on the fourth morning, I woke at 4:28 am still jet lagged. After returning from the bathroom, I got in bed fast to snuggle up to N and was hit with the brakes that declared: “slow down or vomit”. Vertigo. I couldn’t even bend over to get my clothes out of my suitcase without feeling dizzy or like the ground beneath had suddenly turned to liquid. It was day four and I still had between 3-4 more days before my body would adjust completely. I had two choices: rest or live in a foggy, spinning, nauseous state moving slower than my ninety year old grandpa. While lounging around in Goa instead of daily sightseeing makes me feel lesser than as a traveler, letting my body heal and get back to normal makes me see that I made progress as an adult. No more am I living by other people’s standards of what my vacation should look like. No more am I living by my unrealistic expectations for it either. And no more am I living in a foggy haze just to say I did it.