Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Baby Nuthouse: fatigue makes grouches of us all

“Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” General George Patton (and later, Vince Lombardi) made a good point, but cowardice barely scratches the surface of what happens when fatigue hits.
I’m not fighting in a war or even playing a football game, so being a coward doesn’t bother me. The real problem is, fatigue makes me grouchy, emotional, short-tempered, and stupid. I become Ruth, the Monster Mom.

I’m not talking about being tired. I am usually tired. I realized a long time ago that staying up late is the only way I will ever get anything done. But fatigue is something else altogether. Fatigue comes from staying up until 4:00 a.m. organizing the storage room. Or three sick kids crying “MAMA!” throughout the night, three nights in a row. Fatigue has many causes, but it all boils down to severe sleep-deprivation.
I can tell when I have crossed the line from mere tiredness to the dreaded fatigue. My brain seems to be short-circuiting. I start doing things that don’t make any sense, and failing to do important things, such as pay bills. Advertisements and children’s books make me tear up. I’m on an emotional roller coaster—one minute I am growling at my children because they are acting like children, and the next I’m bawling because they’re growing up so quickly. My muscles ache, I feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin, I feel hopeless about life, and each time I open my mouth to speak, I regret it.

I’d like to think that I could turn over a new leaf, start getting myself to bed at a decent hour, and never reach the point of fatigue again. Unfortunately, I doubt that is possible, since I’m a lifelong insomniac and night owl. Back when I was in grade school my mom tried to give me ideas to help me fall asleep. I remember counting and counting, as high as I could, in hopes I would bore myself to sleep. I tried imagining good things that could happen, but this only kept me awake. My mind simply would not shut down. This must have frustrated my mother, who would try to read in bed and inevitably fall asleep after one page. I tried reading in bed one night, hoping to become tired. Next thing I knew, dawn was breaking, and I was wrapping up King of the Wind.
In college, my days would quickly fill up with classes, meals, intramural sports and hours and hours of just hanging out with friends. (Nowadays, having hours to just hang out is hard to fathom, but I swear this is what we did.) So, by 11:00 at night I was just getting started on research papers, homework and assigned readings from my accounting textbook. (Finally, a book that could put me to sleep, and now I was trying to stay awake!)
Even post-college/pre-kids, when my life would have easily permitted me to get a full night’s sleep every night, journal entries from this time period reveal that I was staying up late anyway. There are never enough hours in the day for all the things I want to do, and I usually have to force myself to go to bed at all.

Of course, I’ve always realized I would benefit from more sleep. About five or six times a year, and of course every January 1st, I set a bedtime for myself and decide that I will absolutely stick to the new schedule, no matter whether I feel tired or not.
This lasts anywhere from zero to two nights before something interferes with the new bedtime. But that’s okay, because even a few good nights of sleep will help to keep Ruth, the Monster Mom from rearing her ugly head.

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