Tomorrow morning, I leave for a vacation on the Maine coast. We have planned a packed schedule of bouncing from town to town, finally landing in a campsite in Acadia for three nights. We have been preparing, making reservations and talking about this trip for months. It will be my first visit to Maine, and everyone I talk to makes effusive promises about how much I’m going to love it. But for my part, I’m doing my best not to get excited. Not to make plans beyond the basics of where we’re staying each night. Not to place any unnecessary expectations on this trip.
I do this because I know what happens when I get my hopes up about a “once in a lifetime” thing like this. I can’t sleep. In retrospect, it’s no surprise that my Big Insomnia Adventure started four years ago during a vacation in Cape Cod — even though it was bewildering at the time, to experience crippling anxiety and insomnia during a blissful vacation by a New England lake. But since then I’ve learned that vacation is a trigger for me, only because I love it so much. The expectations of how much fun it is going to be, and the fear that it won’t be perfect, are a recipe for nights of heart-pounding wakefulness. Also not helping are the unfamiliar rooms, sharing sleeping quarters with the whole family, lack of guest bedroom to escape to and the inability to carry one of my most trusted sleep aids on an airplane.
So, before I leave on this trip, I want to remind myself of a few things:
I do recognize how crazy it is to be so intense and fearful about something as simple as sleeping. Most people don’t feel the need to protect and hoard sleep like it is money or diamonds. Some people even happily give up sleep to do things they enjoy and just don’t worry about it. Some people don’t worry about where they’re going to sleep each night, and feel the need to make a sort of escape plan for where they will go and what they will do if sleep doesn’t come. I have turned what is a relatively small, not-at-all dangerous problem into something that feels to me like a threat on the level of a nuclear Holocaust. At least I can see this now — and that perspective does help.