The Hypervigilance Rollercoaster, or, Sleeping 10 Hours a Night
August 3, 2017
A few days ago, I was sitting in the new teacher orientation at Green School, the environmental school where Tali is now teaching 7th grade. Though I'm not a new teacher, the school was kind enough to invite all the partners (read: stay-at-home husbands), and we all showed up dutifully. One of the school's blissfully down-to-earth guidance counselors was leading a session on Transitions, with a capitol T. As in, how do people handle the transitions that come with a new school, a new job, a new country, a new culture. It was a session she runs for students, but also new teachers—this whole thing is brand new to us, too, of course.
"One of the more difficult parts of transitioning to a new country is that the things you used to do thoughtlessly—like, walk to buy groceries, or call a friend, or even enter your neighbor's house—now take thought," she said. "The things you knew how to do at home you don't know here. Literally, every part of your day has to be a thought. Where am I going? Do I take my shoes off? How much should this cost? And that, I promise, will be exhausting."
It was like a light went off in my coffee-addled brain.
Oh! Maybe that's why we've been sleeping for 10 hours a night!
It's a phenomenon called hypervigilance, and it's not universal to all travel. Go to a resort, and all you've got to do is show up—you're drink is already on it's way, in a coconut. But when you move to a brand new country, your mind switches out of 'vacation mode' and straight into 'new life' mode. Every fruit market you walk buy makes an imprint in your brain ("Papayas are only 50,000 rupiah a kilo here! I'm making a note in my phone!"); you try to keep track of the most efficient jungle trails to take into town; you attempt to hold on to the basic phrases people teach you in the new language of your new country (so far, I've got 'Good morning!' down, and I say it well into the afternoon).
It can feel a bit like your mind is a train station—and you're telling everyone to stop moving so you can count them.
For Tali and I, hypervigilance has been a delirious, but entertaining, part of our transition to life in Bali.
We landed in Bali after one of the most disorienting days of travel I've ever experienced. We left Philadelphia in the morning looking like this...
... then landed in Qatar in the next morning. We left Qatar in the morning and landed in Jakarta at night. We squatted outside the domestic terminal on a bench until 3am, Tali sleeping with her head in my lap, her body totally covered with a scarf (she is a very small human). Then we flew to Bali that morning, got a ride to Ubud and dropped our bags at a guesthouse where our room wasn't yet ready—so we went out for breakfast. Which was dinner, in our minds at least. 48 hours of travel on the calendar; 36 on the clock. Our very first Balinese coffee (appropriate no matter what time it is) certainly helped.
And so began a few days of tropical jetlag—were we awake because of the frogs and roosters that started singing at 4am, or because of the time difference? As we cruised around the center of Ubud, it was hard to focus on any one thing—the town's crowded central area is overflowing with coffee shops and vegetarian restaurants, yoga studios, shops, art galleries, tour guides, assorted stores selling Hindu and Buddhist garb, and temples. So many temples. Honestly, downtown Ubud is no longer a real town—it's a fantasyland for anyone who has ever fancied themselves a yogi, meditator, or all-together 'healthy person.' And while we knew, from the first second, that we wouldn't want to live in the center, our brains were practically exploding.
More than that, I immediately dove into price-checking. Everything. Coffees. Bananas. T-shirts. Yoga classes. Liters of gas, though we didn't even have a vehicle. Were we on our honeymoon, as so many Bali tourists are, those comparisons wouldn't matter. But with a hypervigilant mind repeating the classic mantra "(This is your new h)Om" ad nauseum, I might as well have been walking around with a notepad.
After 4 days, we moved into a gorgeous apartment just south of the tourist-heavy Ubud—subletted, naturally, from an Israeli expat who gleefully told us that he was the only one of his kind in the village. Jews tend to find each other without even trying, it seems. We've got this place for a month, and in the past few weeks our hypervigilance has begun, thankfully, to subside into a slower, more island-paced existence. We are yet to find a long-term home, but we're confident we will. We're still sleeping a ton, but who can complain about that? Especially when your bed looks like this:
Being hypervigilant turns you into a human sponge. And while it is exhausting, I'm happy to say I am tip-toeing slowly towards being a bit less fresh off the boat. Every morning we wake up to the view you saw at the top of this post. Not to get all motivational-speaker on you, but in these very first days—as Tali gets acquainted with school and I set myself up to work remotely—every morning feels like a blessing. We have no idea what's going to come each day, but it's going to feel new, and weird, and fresh. In the following posts, I'll write about, you know, what Bali is *like* (teaser: it is awesome). But for now, I hope this peak inside our hypervigilant minds will do.