The worst has happened: I can’t sleep.
What’s the big deal? You might ask. While insomnia may seem like no big thing, especially in the recent wake of a nine-hour time change, it is a huge deal for me.
I can sleep anywhere, anytime. On a bus or a plane, or at a party… It’s one of my most useful skills. Along with being able to read on long car journeys without getting sick, its part of what makes me a good traveler.
Even the worst jet lag has never overpowered my innate ability to sleep. But things seem to have changed – for the worse. As of late, once I turn off the lights and close my eyes, by mind starts racing.
Endless lists of things I need to do appear in my mind: email language school, buy sponges, finish travel story… Worries creep in and I feel myself breaking into a sweat: am I ever going to learn French? Are the Englishman and I doomed, if after all these years we’re still in different countries? Am I writing enough? Will I ever have a real job again? Did I pay my mortgage this month?
It’s like a spigot of stress has been opened and I can’t turn it off. I’ll just lay there in the dark, willing myself to fall asleep. I’ve tried everything; I’ve given up my beloved morning pot of coffee, attempted to go to bed early, and stay up late. I’ve tried reading, or listening to a boring podcast, or an episode of Arrested Development long since committed to memory. I kid you not I’ve even tried counting sheep!
But try as I might, I end up wide awake, watching as the minutes and hours tick by on my little red alarm clock: 2:00 am, 3:30, 4:00 and then the sun is up and it all starts again. I can’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t get to sleep. So what on earth is going on? I thought I was living the dream over here. Sea and sand and the simple elegance of life in France – acute insomnia was never part of the plan.
With all of the buzz surrounding the Mega Million lottery in the past couple of weeks, everyone has been thinking about the big question: would you quit your job if you won? And the bigger question of course: what do you really want out of life? If everything else fell away, all the obligations, and stresses, and constrictions, what would you do?
Well I did it. I broke the 9-5 shackles and relocated to the dreamy, slow paced, sun drenched place. So why am up all night, racked with stress?
I guess it’s in my nature to worry, to obsess about things, and create pressure where there doesn’t need to be any. Before I left Portland, I was having lunch with my friend Jordan. I was telling him how I needed to set some goals for my return to France and map out what I wanted to get out of the experience.
When I stopped talking, he looked at me and said: “you are thinking way to hard about this.” At the time I kind of brushed it off, but now that I’m here, I think he was right. I am getting so caught up in what I should be doing, or could be doing, and its kind of ruining things for me.
I remember when I first moved to DC, I had just moved across the country, away from everything I knew. I didn’t have a job, I hadn’t started my internship with the BBC yet, I just decided to go, and there I was. I had the same feeling then that I have now: this floating feeling. I would catch myself every so often and think: “what the hell am I doing here? How did I get here?”
Things are a bit different now of course. I am not fresh out of college. In fact I am inching ever nearer to my 30th Birthday. But I keep reminding myself, that I’ve done this before and survived. Eventually things worked out for me in DC. Over time, I managed to get past the feeling of being lost in space. I met people and bit by bit carved out a little life for myself and even found relative success.
What I’ve realized is that I need to change my mindset, take Jordan’s advice and stop thinking so hard about everything.
So in at attempt to push the endless list of stress out if my mind, I poured a glass of cheap rose and took it out to the balcony. Which, after all, is what you are supposed to do in the south of France right?
As I sat down, I looked up at the blue sky punctuated with soft cottony white clouds. Just as I looked up, and saw a seagull swooping down from its perch on one rooftop to one across the road. And just as its feet touched the roof, a pigeon took off from it and glided to the roof across the street. And when it touched down there, another pigeon took off crossing back to a building on the other side. Like rocks skipping on the water’s surface.
And beyond the shingled roofs, I saw the stacked ochre buildings of the historic district in the distance and the green hillside beyond. Maybe the wine was going to my head, but it was a gorgeous moment.
There is no denying it is difficult to be alone, and to have to start from scratch. Even the gorgeous surroundings don’t change that. But I have done this thing. I’m here now, so I am determined to enjoy it.
If the wine doesn’t help lull me to sleep tonight, I will try listening to audio books next. Any recommendations?