I used to use that line years ago, “I’ll sleep when I’m Dead!” It’s not very original, I know, and it’s not the most subtle of statements, but it gets the point across, I suppose. The thing is, I never really realized what exhaustion and being functional in a daze really was until the last ten months.
The closest I can come is years ago, when my wife, Andrea, was still alive. We’d faced a lot of challenges, not the least of which was the fact that Andrea really didn’t like what she was doing for a living. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, being a reporter wasn’t what she wanted simply because it didn’t pay enough right off the top. Like many journeyman jobs, being a journalist requires a lot of work for a bunch of hours for little fulfillment and even less pay in the beginning. What you get in return is a wealth of experience, repetition so you learn from your errors, and friendships that are very strong and can even (in our case) bond you for life. I fell in love with the woman who was the reporter and realized it wasn’t the reporter I loved, it was the person who made her a reporter.
So just a year into our marriage my wife decided to go into Pharmacy and thought it was a brilliant idea because it helped people, paid well, and she had the influence of my father to help her through any academic issues. What she hadn’t really thought through was the fact that she still needed several prerequisites (Television doesn’t lend itself to Organic Chemistry, you see) and post-graduate schooling that at the time was NOT payable through federal loans. In fact, we had to pay all her tuition and costs of living. That means, school, food, baby formula (and Abbi, my oldest, was allergic to everything so that she needed special formula) and all were coming out of our pockets.
I, at the time, was working for an insurance company. I had taken the position because they said that they wanted to start a production house and wanted to see how the production went. In reality, they used SVHS cameras and tape, a horrid and difficult format; a Newtek Video Toaster for the production switcher and editing, an industrial video type setup, and put me as their “talent” and writer. I had to wear a suit every day, even when schlepping around a camera, tripod, cables and decks. It wasn’t all bad, I met an amazing graphic artist who is now a published author, screenwriter and friend. But the job was awful, cooped in a room separated from the rest of the insurance folks. Knowing that they put profits before health, to the point where “death benefits are far cheaper than paying for preventive care for everyone” when it came to Cancer policies and the like. I couldn’t take it.
The point to my story: I went back into journalism, part-time. The job I’d begun in television – the first gig I had as a photographer/reporter/director came open again, but only at 20 hours a week. I couldn’t stay in insurance, it was slowly eating my soul away. So I took the job at the television station, part-time, and then I started delivering newspapers – I kid you not – at 2am every day to make up the difference. I took our car, filled the entire back seat with newspapers rolled up or sealed in plastic bags, and delivered them to the areas of town that had an older population and somewhat richer. Some people were nice, others, very bitchy and deserving of the paper getting soggy in the sprinkler. However, when that happened, they didn’t pay, I did, so it wasn’t worth it.
My problem in this 2-year period was the fact that while my wife loved being in school again, she hated the fact that I wasn’t paying as much attention to her. Sure, I was young, stupid, even naive to think I could survive at this pace. My parents worried about me, buying me sweatshirts and coats to withstand the bitter Nebraska cold when I delivered these papers in the middle of the winter nights. I had constant bags under my eyes. I was falling asleep at 9 at night only to be nudged awake by my annoyed wife because she wanted to have conversation after finishing her homework, which took her all my waking hours to finish.
I supplemented this with gigs as a musician. My brother and I had a band and I booked as much as I could. some weeks we had groceries just because of the music. One weekend I over-booked and had a Wednesday-Saturday gig. I worked the TV station, showered, ate, went to the bar, set up, played the gig, broke down, went home, changed, headed to the newspapers, delivered them, got home showered, ate, wen to the day job, worked my 5-6 hours, got home, ate, showered to stay awake, went to the bar, set up, played, and broke down the gear. My brother was worried about me being up for so long with no sleep and came with me. He fell asleep after about an hour or two. I was so tired I started seeing people in their bathrobes in the driveway and they weren’t really there. I was exhausted. By the time I’d finished the route, the sun was coming up and I had 20 or more papers still in the car. I didn’t care, I went home and passed out.
I lasted nearly two whole years, resigned in a huff after getting overtime work at my TV station, only to get an overnight shooter/editor job at the NBC affiliate in Omaha a month later. Another 8 months of exhaustion.
I’m more tired now.
I don’t say that as a complaint. There it was just from the number of hours. Now, it’s because I’m older, out of shape, and having to constantly worry about my children, worry about making ends meet, and worry that they don’t have the help that they should have from their mother. I start between 5 and 6am, getting to bed around 12 or 1am. It’s not a complaint, but it’s something I hadn’t considered when this all happened. The amount of work that one of the pair of you does each day is amazing. When you get sick, there’s nobody to pick up the slack. You have to double your efforts when you’re up and around again.
I miss my wife more and more every day. It’s not the exhaustion that causes me to miss her, though. It’s my heart. My soul. The exhaustion highlights it. I had so many angry moments, so many arguments in those days when I worked so hard, but I wish that I’d told her why . . . I wish that instead of getting angry that I was so tired I’d said out loud that I did all this because I loved her. I did it all because I trusted her, that I knew she was brilliant, beautiful and talented enough to do all of this, and that she’d save lives and help people. She did research for Alzheimer’s drugs. She got an award for her research. She was always so worried she’d fill a prescription wrong she implemented policies to ensure people got the right bottles and drugs.
She was brilliant and I only complained I was tired . . . over and over again.
So my lesson now? I’m not going to complain to my kids. The price for seeing my daughter’s play, my son in the “math bowl” and the artwork my daughter draw is that I pick up, do the laundry and cook for them. I never see that as “work”. It’s life. I know others see it as so much drudgery, but when I do it with them, I’m with the kids. I only get just over a year with my oldest before she heads to college.
It all leads back to that line above. I’m tired, sure, near exhaustion, but if I sleep I’ll miss what time I have with them. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. Now I have too much to do before I die!