Exhausto-Day

To say I have a really screwed up work schedule is putting it mildly. Part of the week I work swing shift, and then, to make life interesting, I switch over to day shift. That means that there’s one day where I only get about 5 hours of sleep between shifts. Needless to say, by the time I get off work after that quick turnaround, I’m completely worthless. All I want to do is lie around and gaze stupidly at the ceiling.

I’ve had this schedule for 3 ½ years, and I’ve learned a great deal from it. First of all, it’s best if I don’t make any major purchases on exhausto-day. More often than not, I’ll regret them. I also shouldn’t get into Facebook debates. They will only end in tears. (For someone.)

The blog posts I write on that day tend to have a little less meat on the bone, too. And it’s not a good day to reflect upon my past, present, or future, but that’s a challenge since I am a navel-gazer by nature. And if you tell me something important during that time frame, make sure I write it down, or I guarantee I’ll forget.

I’ve also learned that sleep is a luxury that one should never fail to take advantage of. I have no set sleep schedule. Some nights I’m up until 3 am, while other nights I’m already snoring at 6 pm. The most important thing is that when my body says it’s time to sleep, I need to listen.

I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that my quality control fluctuates from one day to the next. Exhausto-Barb is not nearly as efficient and level-headed as the Barb one encounters during the rest of the week. And that’s understandable. Once I finally stopped beating myself up for this ebb and flow, life became a great deal more tolerable.

One nice thing about my schedule is that my “weekends” (which don’t coincide with the rest of the planet’s, of course,) are 72 hours long. That almost makes the exhaustion worth it. Almost.

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The Art of Artificial Living

For much of the past 13 years I’ve worked graveyard shifts. Have I gotten used to it? No. It’s an unnatural state, and I hate it. All sorts of studies have proven that people who work graveyard shifts have a whole host of health issues and a much higher divorce rate. I read somewhere that we also have a 40% higher rate of traffic accidents as well. I know my cognition vastly improves when I get the opportunity to sleep at night like a normal person. Most of the time I’m in a mental fog, and my whole life revolves around the desperate pursuit of sleep.

So how have I survived this long? By living in a completely artificial world. To wake up, I need caffeine. To sleep, I often need Melatonin, although it gives me psychedelic dreams. In the heat of Florida, I rely on air conditioning and black out curtains. I rarely see the sun. My social life is almost entirely on line.

I try not to closely examine the prepared food that I often rely on, because I know if I ask myself when its ingredients were still alive, even the vegetables, I wouldn’t be able to say. That’s really scary if you think about it.

One day a week I work 16 hours. I have my regular Midnight to 8 am shift, then I go home and try to cram in 5 hours of sleep before going back to work from 4pm to midnight. I half expect to pass myself on the highway, rolling along in my metal and plastic and rubberized car that’s powered by a series of tiny explosions.

The day in question requires advanced planning, because I know I will be incapable of thought when it arrives. I lay out my clothes ahead of time so I can roll out of bed and right into them. I leave a huge note on my backpack that says, “Don’t forget your lunch!” because I don’t have time to eat at home, and if I forget to bring food to the drawbridge it isn’t as if I can run off on a lunch break. Heavily loaded barges might have a problem with that. I have to time my caffeine intake just perfectly so as to keep me awake when I need to be, while not preventing me from sleeping when I can. Even so, when hell day is finally over, I usually can’t sleep.

The beauty of working that day is I get the illusion of 3 days off in a row each week. Granted, it takes one of those days just to recover, but I get to sleep when it’s dark outside. What a luxury! But those days never fall on a weekend. I can’t remember the last time I had a weekend off. I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself. If someone were trying to test me for a concussion and asked me what day it was, I’d fail miserably.

My life is so weird it could be transported to a space station and I probably wouldn’t know the difference. Artificial food, artificial air, artificial days, artificial nights. I find that extremely sad.

But maybe it makes me appreciate the things that the rest of you humans take for granted. The passage of time. Routine. Normalcy. Sunshine. Friends. Graveyard shift isn’t for sissies. But I have to admit the sunrises are spectacular.

Night shift

[Image credit: pinterest.com]