When I'm not traveling for my work as an ethnographer, I'm traveling for fun! Luckily, traveling for work is sometimes fun too, so I have the best of both worlds. My home base is Belmont Shore in Long Beach, California where I slow down, recharge and plan the next adventure.
May 25, 2012
I fully intended to get to the gym today, my first day back at home. I really, really, REALLY did. Alas, it was not to be.
Here’s what I had to do today:
- Pick up my car from the dealership, which is an hour away from my home. Yay, new transmission! Boo, half a day gone.
- Sort through my 18 inch stack of mail (not counting the Yeti Bobblehead I put on top and the beautiful scarf my mom sent me from Italy, which I opened right away) and pick out important stuff that MUST be handled before the long weekend. Handle it.
- Go to the bank and deposit the checks that have been sitting in my mailbox for two weeks. I really wish my clients would use electronic transfer, but they don’t.
- Pay bills. Make sure nothing is going to bounce since my checks have been sitting in my mailbox rather than in my bank account because there was nobody here to deposit them.
- Get groceries, since the wine and strawberries my house-sitting friend kindly left for me are pretty much my only current food options. And a few onions. Since onion and strawberry soup sounds disgusting – even with wine – I need to hit the store. Soon.
- Go to Target. Buy a new microwave and basics like toilet paper and shampoo, which are both running dangerously low.
- Go to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. Again, this is one of those things that’s tricky due to my travel schedule. My insurance will only allow a refill to be processed a few days before I’m out of meds, and my pharmacy will only hold the prescription for 10 days after it’s filled. Which means that if I’m traveling for more than a week, I have a very tight window to pick it up before running out. This time, I have two days. Luckily, it’s not a critical prescription and I will not die if I don’t get it in time (or ever, really.) But still. It’s a pain.
So. No gym. At the end of the day, I do have food, toilet paper, a running vehicle, and money in the bank. Plus a beautiful Italian scarf from my mom. So that’s a good day. But no gym.
I also had a conversation with my house-sitting friend today about why I do these crazy trekking adventures. It’s a valid question, especially since one thing that I haven’t shared yet is that I have a weird sleep disorder. It’s a circadian rhythm disorder called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. What that means is that I’m constantly jet-lagged, even when I’m not traveling. My body’s circadian rhythms – sleep, digestion, peak performance (both physical and cognitive) – are delayed by 3-4 hours each day, compared to what is considered socially normal. My normal sleep time is 1-2am to 9-10am, which is medically considered a moderate delay, and is significant given that most work days begin just as I am waking up.
I also have a very hard time adjusting to different time zones – especially moving east, and especially if it’s just a few hours. I find it easier to adjust to the other side of the world, as I can just stay up longer which is much easier than trying to get my body to fall asleep and wake up earlier. Still, it’s a challenge. I use various combinations of melatonin, light therapy, and behavioral coping strategies to maintain a relatively normal life. Many people with this condition have a greater delay than I do and are not able to maintain anything close to a normal social rhythm. There’s also a related condition known as N-24, which involves a longer circadian rhythm and sleep that rotates around the clock. These conditions can be disabling. The nausea upon waking that we call a “sleep hangover” is only one of many daily challenges. I am one of the lucky ones, as I can fight the delay for short periods of time as long as I have rest time to catch up afterward. Still, it’s hard. Living with a circadian rhythm disorder can be compared to someone with a normal rhythm having to wake up at 1 or 2am every single day for the rest of their life. I know this would suck because I hear all of you complain when the time changes by a single hour! Imagine that feeling multiplied by three or four, always. Every day. Forever. I have no sympathy when Daylight Saving Time rolls around. None.
So why do I travel and make it even harder? Why do I want to haul myself out of a sleeping bag at Oh Dark Thirty for weeks on end, for fun?
To be honest, the answer is that it’s not just for fun. I trek up mountains in challenging conditions because it helps me deal with my DSPS on an everyday basis. It has taught me to keep moving when I’m sure I’m going to collapse. I’ve learned that even when my body screams “NO MORE!,” I can still find a little bit more. I’ve learned that when a porter is at the tent door with hot water and tea at 4:30am, I might be so exhausted that I greet him in tears, but I can, in fact, will myself to unzip the tent door and still find the energy to thank him. The goals that I set for myself on the trail – “I’m not stopping to rest until I get to that rock,” – have given me the courage to set goals in my everyday life. “I can get through that 8am conference call, then I can go back to sleep.” My brain doesn’t work very well before noon. I’ve learned to accept my limitations and structure my days in a way that the heavy lifting of my job can often be done during the hours where I’m sharpest and my mind is clear. Trekking has helped me get through the times when that can’t be done. I’ve pushed through physical pain and discomfort before, and I know I can do it again.
Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually I will be standing at the top.
Just keep moving Post-Its off the to-do list on the wall and eventually I will get to 2pm and the nausea will go away and my brain will kick in.
That said, I want to acknowledge again that my delay is moderate and under the right circumstances, I can shift it by an hour or two for very limited periods of time. Many people with circadian rhythm disruptions are not able to will themselves out of bed or unzip a tent in the early morning hours or conduct an 8am conference call no matter how much they want to, how hard they try, or how many treks they attempt. I am grateful every day that with difficulty and a lot of hard work, I can manage to function in “normal” time on a short-term basis. I am one of the lucky ones.
Waking up is still the hardest thing I do each day. Adventure travel – and trekking in particular – has taught me to deal with adversity and to keep moving forward through the pain and discomfort. That’s why I do it. Well that, the breathtaking views, and the porters who bring me hot tea. It’s complex. And worth every painful step.