Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Jet Lag: Disease, or Disconnect?

White: Saturday in New York

Last night, at approximately 2 a.m., I awoke to a sudden and sharp state of alertness. This morning, at approximately 10 a.m., I shuddered from the waves of a deep and nauseating state of exhaustion. Diagnosis: Jet lag.

Some people travel a lot for work. I travel a lot because my life -- and loved ones -- straddle two continents. Thus, I frequently suffer from the physical and cultural effects of lurching too quickly from one state of mind and being to another.

Last night, as I was lying relentlessly awake, I remembered a line from a Laurie Colwin short story called "Passion and Affect." Jet lag is the true disease of the late twentieth century. There are the physical manifestations of the screwed-up body clock, of course, but then there is also the strange emotional disconnect brought on by traveling too quickly through time and space.

On Saturday, I was trudging through snow and eating cajun chicken wings in a sports bar inhabited by hockey-mad New Yorkers. By the next day, I was inhaling the unmistakable whiff of damp English spring and roasting chicken and the only sound was the faint chirr-churping of birds. I'm sure that I would have been happy to be home -- if only I hadn't felt quite so ill.

In the days before the miracle of airplanes, when would-be travelers made their slow and stately progression across the Atlantic by ship, there was no such disease as jet lag. I assume that the long watery passage became the link -- the substantial segue -- between two disparate modes of being. The traveler was thus prepared by the long delivery and the gradually changing sky.

Modern travel is both too quick and too slow. No matter where I go, it seems to take about 19 hours from English door to American door. The flight time is somewhat irrelevant to the transit time as a whole as delays, queues and dead bits of time are an unavoidable part of the process. For instance, the 45 minutes spent on the Toronto runway, waiting for the plane's wings to be de-iced while we choked inside in the suffocatingly hot air, seemed interminable. Skin cells die on double-time in that oxygen-deprived shuttle. But on the other hand, what is 24 hours when it can catapult you suddenly from winter to spring? Or summer, for that matter. (Most of the Canadian planes seemed to be heading south to Mexico.)

If jet lag is the disease, then water is the only cure I've found. You have to drink it, scrub up with it, and perform the kind of ceremonial cleansings made possible with a washing machine. I don't know why, but I can never successfully transition until every stitch of clothing has been washed, dried, ironed and put away. I perform these chores and wait for my emotions (always a little slow on the uptake) to catch up.

My skin is still looking a bit gray, but at least I can feast my eyes on this green deliciousness. It is/will be good to be home.

Green: Tuesday in England


Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

There was a novel, the name of which I can't remember right now (thanks, menopause mind), that suggested that jet lag resulted because your body sped through the air and your soul hadn't caught up quite yet. Sounds plausible to me. Welcome back!

Debski Beat said...

Good to see you arrived home, very much it seems to the delights of an early spring.

I suffer from jet lag terribly and have worked out I possibly lose 2 months per year due to jet lag, the fact that I have bothered to calculate this proves I am probably in some sort of lag now.

Given that there is no past and no future and only 'the now' perhaps jet lag is just another manifestation of 'the now', I believe it is only accomplished with air travel (willing to be corrected), maybe it has more to do with a different level/style of oxygen, maybe just gazing at clouds for hours or, maybe the effect of microwaved food eaten on styrofoam.

Why is it we can have a very bad nights sleep and feel extremely tired but not jet lagged, maybe the clue is in the name ... you need a jet to be so lagged ??

Off now to catch up on sleep Bee, try to do the same.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE THAT ... my body and soul have not caught up yet, thats marvalous, I'll think of it always in that light (no soul pun intended), I think it will make air travel so much more calming. Thank you M A-K

Debski Beat said...

Thats me being jet lagged, its Debsk Beat not anon.

A Woman Of No Importance said...

Bee, very interesting tips on water to combat jet lag - I don't know how you manage all that travelling, but understand you must... Take care.

Anne said...

Welcome back! (It looks like your garden is saying "welcome back," too!)

If jet lag is the disease, then water is the only cure I've found. You have to drink it, scrub up with it, and perform the kind of ceremonial cleansings made possible with a washing machine. I don't know why, but I can never successfully transition until every stitch of clothing has been washed, dried, ironed and put away.

Yes! Everything--including my body--feels "planed" after air travel, and ablutions must be performed. A shower takes precedence over nearly everything else, including sleep. The laundry can wait until the next day, but the shower is indispensable. I can't stand getting into bed still feeling planed.

I'm usually one for drinking a lot of water throughout the day, especially when traveling, but the annoyance of getting up to walk those cramped (sometimes lurching) aisles to relieve oneself in the tiny lavatory has led to my not drinking nearly enough water when I fly. That said, I drink a ton (of water) when I get off the plane, and for a few days afterward.

Anonymous said...

Bee, Glad you made it back safe and sound. I only returned yesterday and feel unable to converse coherently. Must try the water method. I too embarked upon a baking fest as we have guests tonight. Only hope I do not fall asleep in my mango salad and stay awake to enjoy the amaretti and chocolate cheesecake.
No green shoots waiting for me here. My plants died and the cats shed!

Beth said...

I find the return trip always seems so much longer – you’ve had the adventure and the fun – now all you want is the comfort of home.
(And, yes, sitting through a de-icing is awful.)
Glad you’re back!

JaneyV said...

Welcome home! I hope that the skiiing hasn't left you too achey. I too suffer from jet lag. I find flying eastwards ten times more difficult than going west. My husband appears to be able to adjust to any time zone immediately. He's quite amazing. I find I go around in a fog for days and days waiting for my brain to catch up with my body.

On the upside, the spring is definitely springing here and I think the low energy of winter is finally starting to lift. I hope that you feel better soon. It's lovely to have you home.

willow said...

Welcome back to the bloggyhood. You were missed! Hope your trip was enjoyable and you quickly recoup from that pesky jet lag!

Lisa said...

Welcome back home to the green. I've only traveled internationally one time and I do remember that odd jet lag feeling. It seemed worse going than coming home.

And pardon my informality, but thank you. Something formal to follow.

♥ bfs~"Mimi" ♥ said...

I ♥ this post!!! And your photographs are so wonderful, crisp, gorgeous. I could not travel as you do and survive it all. So I will admire you and cheer you on.

Cheer...isn't that a laundry soap?? I understand what you mean about washing clothes, then feeling like you're home!

Maggie May said...

i totally hear you about the washing, ironing, folding an waiting for your emotions to catch up. yes.

Fantastic Forrest said...

I remember the first time we traveled to Europe. All four of us were so disoriented. Jet lag coupled with the knowledge that we had sold our house and were in a strange country with no clue where we would live and that we knew only...hmm, let's see...NO people whatsoever there.

I LOVE your post. And your photos.

Wouldn't it be fun to take a slow boat trip to journey back and forth to your loved ones? I imagine there must be some cruise lines that offer a US to UK trip, but I'll bet it's prohibitively expensive. Dang.

Amy@Bitchin'WivesClub said...

I know people say the weather in England stinks, but it HAS to be better that the kind we get in Wisconsin. Those shoots of green make me positively ache for springtime.

A Modern Mother said...

Welcome back. I hate stradling two worlds, and they really are two dfferent worlds, aren't they?

Bee said...

Meri - If you think of the book, please let me know! When I was lying awake, I kept thinking of the movie "Lost in Translation." Have you seen it? The Scarlett Johannsen character and the Bill Murray character keep waking at odd times -- and their sense of dislocation is compounded by being in Japan.

Debski - there is something much more profound in jet laggedness than just being tired. I always feel it as an acute disorientation of the body . . . and somehow the mind, too. It is always so weird to think that the landscape you only recently inhabited has become almost imaginary/mythical.

A Woman of no Importance - Yes, the traveling is a dilemma, for many reasons (environmental and personal). As I get older, the traveling bit makes me more and more anxious -- and then I am becoming such a homebody, too.

Anne - I find it somewhat disturbing that a plane journey can make a person feel so grubby and unwell. Ceremonial and practical cleansing is a must!

Bon Bon - We need to compare notes. You have guests on the night after you arrive back? And I thought it was bad to have window removers!

Beth - I thought of you when I was being de-iced! Our arrival day in Toronto was blue, sunny and blessed; our departure day was snowy, windy and full of delays. The travel woes compounded the end-of-vacation melancholia.

JaneyV - Isn't it weird that it is just SO MUCH EASIER to fly west. I always find that overnight flight back to England to be a killer. Thank goodness the daffs are coming out, though. That always cheers me up.

Willow - I'm just coming by for a visit. ;) It was a bit strange to be so completely unplugged from my computer . . .

Lisa - Even though I do an international flight at least 3 times a year, I'm still always shocked by how grueling it is. (I'll check in with you soon.)

bfs Mimi -- Yes, Cheer is a laundry soap . . . but I use Ecover. It doesn't have quite the same greeting flavor, does it?

Maggie May - The washing thing is weird, especially since I am no slave to housework as a general rule. But the dirty clothes have to go straight from the suitcase to the washing machine . . .

FF - Yes, I have done the Int'l flight with no home to arrive to or return to -- and I've done it several times. It is deeply disorienting.

I wonder how long the sea journey takes these days? It just seems like a more civilized way to travel -- if one has oodles of time, of course.

Amy - One of the BEST bits about England is that spring arrives really early here. It makes up for a lot. I have some early irises, snowdrops and daffodils about to burst . . . and it isn't even March!

A Modern Mother - This morning I woke up and felt something much closer to normal. Thank goodness.

Braja said...

I also straddle a few continents, and jetlag is the bain of my life...ah well...

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Howdy, girl! Glad you're back :-) Hope you get over that jet lag soon.

Love your photos and missed you, friend. XO

Tom Atkins said...

"Modern travel is both too quick and too slow."

Hmmm, that sounds like a good line for a poem.... I may steal it (and I totally agree!)

Tom Atkins said...

"Modern travel is both too quick and too slow."

Hmmm, that sounds like a good line for a poem.... I may steal it (and I totally agree!)

Peggy said...

Love the stark contrast of the pictures, Bee. How well that seems to mirror our states of being when we travel like that! Welcome home.

Sarah Laurence said...

What a contrast between those two images. My landscape looks like the top one. It was a cheery break to see the tulips on your blog. Will we get some details of your trip?

Jet lag is bad but sea sickness is worse. I agree that water helps. A nap? Or just curl up with a good book and slow down. Welcome home!

Dick said...

Welcome home, Bee. May all your constituent parts soon be in alignment.

Reya Mellicker said...

So glad you're home safe and sound.

Jet lag makes me feel ill, too. Our bodies were not made to travel through so many times zones in one day.

There's a homeopathic remedy that counteracts the physical effects, but it has no impact on that weird mental state, so I no longer use it.

Anonymous said...

I wish I knew how I handle jet lag or if I would even have it. Considering that I'm not as young as I used to be (who is?) I'm sure it would hit me like a brick wall.

From the sound of it (NY vs. England) you had some culture shock too! Anything NOT Florida is so completely different from my everyday experiences. Even when I just go home to Louisiana I'm usually trying to adjust to the change the whole time I'm there.

I'm craving for NOT Florida right now.

Lucy said...

After a month's stay in NZ and Aus in September a year or two ago, I honestly think I didn't really recover until Christmas. Going was fine, coming back was awful. The direction of the earth's rotation, and the reelative smooth running of the schedules one way but not the other, accounted for some of this but not all. Yet my Aussie brother, in his business travelling days, managed it pretty well on a regular basis. I'm sure there is a large emotional component to it, and some people just seem better equipped to cope. I wouldn't readily do such a trip again.

Still, we can't really complain about something which is really a symptom of our affluence and mobility, can we? Sorry, that sounds rather priggish, but as with so much, we wouldn't be without it now, like the cars and electricity cables!

julochka said...

call me strange, but i actually kinda like jetlag...especially when i go east and it causes me to be up throughout the wee hours of the morning. there's a silence and sense of waiting that i love.

but, i agree that you disconnect when you fly and it takes awhile to catch up to yourself, which is why i also love to take the train.

Bee said...

Braja - There is always a drawback, just as there is always a silver lining!

JAPRA - I think that I'm okay now. It is probably better that we had to dive straight back in to things.

Tom - Steal away! I'd like to see your finished poem, though. (Thanks for visiting!)

Peggy - Thank you. :)

Sarah - Details of the trip? I don't know . . . a new adventure has overtaken us.

Dick - A nice turn of phrase, that. Thanks.

Reya - Yes, it is good to be home safe and sound. I usually take that bit for granted, but all of the plane crashes recently are a bit unnerving.

Trying to remember it all - Florida sounds good to me right now! Are you having a heatwave? My mom in Texas mentioned yesterday that they are having such unseasonably hot weather right now.

Lucy - No, not priggish at all. I'll happily take the jet lag as trade-off for the pleasure of seeing my friends and family.

We almost moved to Australia a few years ago, but didn't because my husband couldn't cope with the thought of all of those long flights. I do think that some people cope with jet lag better than others, but I think that it probably takes a bigger physical toll on us than we realize.

Bee said...

Julochka - Well, I do think you are strange . . . in the nicest, most interesting possible way of course. I'm still stuck on the fact that you think you will die in a plane -- and yet still love to fly! I get more and more anxious about flying with each passing year. Three crashes in three weeks doesn't help much, either. That crash in Buffalo, NY was very near where we were, and all week long people were attending funerals. It made it seem very personal and very real.

Pete said...

Gorgeous photo of the snow and I can't believe how green your garden is. Loved your description of jet lag and the water ritual. Glad to see you back safe and sound.

Bee said...

Thanks, Pete. I will visit soon, I promise! I'm having a rough week.

Tessa said...

There is an old African saying which could be applied to jet lag 'The spirit cannot move faster than a camel.' Therein lies the problem, methinks!

Bee said...

Tessa - I'm sure you are right! It is very unnatural to move ourselves through space and time and cultural landscape so quickly.

Anonymous said...