Confessions from the Graveyard Shift

There is a story associated with the origin of the phrase “Graveyard Shift”. In the 16th century, there was a preponderance of misjudgment with regards to what constituted dead, resulting in the burying of people who were in fact not dead. To ensure the safety of those sadly mistaken for dead, caskets were provided with bells attached to strings, so that if the body of a buried undead woke, it only needed to pull the string attached to their wrist to ring the bell, prompting one of the graveyard workers, on duty solely for this purpose, to spring into action and dig them out. The phrase is said to have originated in the 19th century, which is why it’s connection with the story seems to have no basis in fact.

I was a graveyard shift worker for ten years. Graveyard shift is actually a perfect way to describe working through the hours when the sane are sleeping. Those who work through the night often look like the living dead, and from personal experience, the physical effects of extreme sleep deprivation bring death to mind. I remember the constant feeling of numbness and nausea, forgetfulness, loss of control.

The problem I’ve always had with sleep is that it seems like a colossal waste of time. One third of your life spent sleeping? I don’t have that kind of time, to lay around in bed when the list isn’t going to do itself. Third shift is a mind set. You can talk yourself into anything. I laughed in the face of exhaustion: I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I sleep on my drive home. Working these hours is great, it only interferes with my health. I said all that, and more. There are those who would never willingly even try working those hour for fear of screwing up their body clock, and there are those who love it because for some reason it works for them. It seemed to work for me when my children were little.

I’d leave my house around 7pm and roll back in around 6:30am. I did that so that I could be there after school to do my kids homework, drive them to their after school activities, and make sure they had dinner. When I got home at 6:30am, I’d make sure the kids were up and on the bus. If I was lucky, I’d then sleep for six hours, shower, and start over. 

The pre-school years were much more difficult. I’d take my son to school, sleep for two hours, pick him up, take him home, put a video on, sleep on the sofa with one eye open for a couple of hours, then start driving the girls around to their after school activities before heading back to get ready for work. Those were the hardest years of my life. I can’t believe I did that to myself, and to him, and that I lived to tell about it.

A co-worker of mine one morning exhaustedly drove to a house she’d moved out of ten years before, and only realized where she was when the key wouldn’t work. That sounds like a Robert Downy Jr bender doesn’t it? 

Extreme sleep depravation often felt like intoxication. There would come a point in the night when my co-workers and I would laugh at anything. Side splitting hysteria over nonsense. Then there were the “angry drunks”. The crabby sleep deprived workers who you wanted to avoid.

I was on an uncharacteristic short fuse for a time. I remember unleashing my wrath on some telemarketers who relentlessly called me, interrupting my sleep over the span of three weeks, until they finally put me on the do not call list. I couldn’t turn off my phone, because I needed to be accessible incase something happened at school.

There comes a point when your body won’t participate and the head bobs commence. I remember nodding off mid sentence, almost falling off my seat, and almost falling over while standing. Common sense would tell a clear thinking individual that if standing or sitting are a challenge, driving should not be attempted. 

This is another link to the graveyard. I came close to joining the demographic of the diseased on a few of my forty five minute drives home from work. Driving into the glare of the rising sun during rush hour traffic when focussing is difficult even if you are rested. I hallucinated obstacles in front of my car, I had a few near misses swerving either into on coming traffic, or into the gutter.

For those of you considering this at home, I’ve since learned that there are serious legal ramifications to driving in this impaired condition. The laws that protect the public from intoxicated drivers apply here as well.

After one such near miss, I bought an accidental death insurance policy to protect my children. Why not just switch to days? Childcare costs for three children is my only excuse.

What made me finally stop my graveyard shift madness? Clarity. There were severe cut backs at work, and I had no choice. I had to work days. I experienced what normal felt like. It felt good. I started working out again. I saw all the things that were wrong in my life, and started to change them.  

I’ve had the option of returning to those hours and declined. I miss those friends, but there is something to be said for sleeping at night, and I have been known to sleep eight hours straight. I love my bed. It is decadent with its heated mattress pad and the ceiling fan overhead. I love my six pillows.  I no longer feel sleep is a waste of time. I deserve a good nights sleep.


The Daily Post, May 18, 2015, Daily Prompt

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream~ Sleep is one-third of our lives: write a post about it. Do you love naps? Have trouble falling alseep? Wish you could remember your dreams? Remember something especially vivid? Snuggle under a blanket, or throw the windows wide open? Meditate on sleep.<a href=”“>To Sleep, Perchance to Dream</a><a href=”“>To Sleep, Perchance to Dream</a>

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