Camen Design

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The following was written by my wife Eve and republished here due to Posterous shutting down.

Happiness Is a Smooth Bedsheet

Right, so once again I am working crazy hours just to scrape up the little bit of extra cash to bring my overdraft down. In theory this means less free time for me and about £40 net extra (o_O it suddenly doesn’t sound that much worth it any more facepalm), in practice it means sleep deprivation and my daily routine messed up for the next week.

I have done a lot of thinking about night work and sleep patterns and the overall effect this has on the person’s health. This is not my first night job — I used to do nights for two years a while back and the only way to cope with these that I have found was to do exclusively nights and refuse any day work offered. Even so, the effect on my life was massive. Forget office hours, those were spent sleeping. Forget weekends or days off, those were also partially spent sleeping. Goodbye social life. Farewell sunshine, hello white and nerdy (Ok, not nerdy but still pasty white).

I now know that working night shifts is unnatural. The body craves the sunlight. It wants to be awake during the day and naturally asleep at night. Why else would the sunrise alarm clocks be so popular? I know I am mucking up my body’s circadian rhythms and likely increasing my risk of cancer and shortening my lifespan. I know I am going against nature and making my body stressed around food. I am still doing it because I have not found anything better in terms of job-patterns. One day, I will be my own boss and I will work as much as I want and when I want. Until then…

I hadn’t been prepared for night work the first time round and the two years slowly ground me down. I knew I had to go back to day work but it was hard — try to be coherent at a job interview after eleven hours of hard physical work and endless cups of tea. Even worse, my work would end at 8am and the interviews would typically be at 10am or 2pm or some other crazy time that qualified as the middle of my night.

Eventually, I did get a day job but again, no one prepared me for the fact that it would take over eight months before I felt truly acclimatized to being awake during the day and sleeping at night. And even then, on my days off, I'd stay up till dawn reading a book or watching telly. ‘Self-discipline’ doesn’t exist in my vocabulary.

I have worked out that I like being awake at night and sleeping during the day (the latter, in all honesty, just that little bit too much). And knowing what it’s like to have a night job, I was a lot better prepared for this time round. Also, it wasn’t much of a change as I just seamlessly swapped the day shifts at my current work for night ones back in October.

As much as I love my job, it can be really difficult at times. Forget the overdoses, the suicidal ideations, the anxiety attacks, the building security issues and all the other crap from my (often substance affected and extremely unwell) clients — one of the toughest things to do sometimes is just to stay awake. I have found myself really struggling several times and I have learned that at these times, you just have to listen to your body and go with what it is asking of you.

This is a really important lesson for me — I am a perfectionist, a self-proclaimed stickler for work and super-pedantic on top. I hate handing over work to the person who comes to work the next shift after mine. Sometimes handing over is more hassle than just doing the job myself. Sometimes you hand over to a worker who hasn’t been in for two months and you cannot expect them to take everything in at once. Sometimes you just want to finish the task you have started. I had to learn that when my body says it’s too tired to do whatever I want it to do, I have to be kind and let it rest. This was really hard for me to accept but the safety of my clients comes before paperwork, before rent accounting, and before spreadsheets. If my brain is too tired to work with spreadsheets, sometimes the best thing is just to sit down with a cuppa and watch the cameras. The first time this happened to me, I found myself repeatedly opening the spreadsheet and almost starting the task, then closing it, then opening it again, like a neurotic puppet stuck in a loop. I am much better now and have managed to transfer this new skill to a lot of areas of my life, basically just going with the flow of my natural patterns and not fighting my body, trying to beat it into submission. And it has been a wonderful discovery that with a peaceful acceptance, the body and mind will start co-operating more and I will get the things done that need doing.

Right now, it is one of those moments. I am writing this at work — having recognized that after three hours of sleep between the end of my night shift and the start of my late shift, I have every right to be tired. I still got all my important work done and the not-so-important tasks can wait until my next night shift. Me writing this is creating the balance between intense concentration on work-related problems and rest.

I know I have asked for this extra shift to bring in some much-needed cash. I know someone else would have taken the shift, had I not volunteered first. I know no one forced me into this. But right now, the height of my happiness would be a crisp, smooth bedsheet and my soft, cloud-like duvet. And a nice tall glass of ice cold alkaline water.

I am definitely not hard to please…