It’s been an outrageously long time since I last wrote something here – over a year, in fact. And ironically, one of the last posts I published was called I’m So Tired.
I say “ironically” because the reason I haven’t been updating is because I’ve been too… well, tired.
Aside from work and menial tasks, I’ve been lazy, lacking in concentration and frittering away time sitting on the sofa watching Netflix with the ever-permeating justification: “I’m exhausted and I deserve some downtime.”
And, to be fair, I’ve had a lot on. Since I last posted, I’ve become a bride-to-be, bought a house and started a podcast. And through all that, I did actually start compiling a few posts – but they ended up mummified in my drafts folder, going from waiting in the wings of my consciousness to begrudgingly getting under a cranial dust sheet and staying there.
Being tired is often the excuse we give ourselves for not starting or indeed finishing the things we’d like to do and achieve. But how often do we think seriously about our tiredness and the impact it has on our lives?
It’s something I found myself thinking about a lot last week when I took annual leave without booking to go away anywhere. I just stayed at home on my own and found myself genuinely surprised at how different I felt and looked after just a few days off the hamster wheel and not having to wake up to an alarm. I had zero anxiety, my skin looked brighter and when I left a load of Christmas shopping in the Co-op I didn’t burst into tears. There absolutely would have been hysterics if I’d done that after a 7am start, followed by a commute on the Central Line.
I had a long list of achievements I wanted to tick off during my time off but I did very little of it. And honestly, I don’t regret it. Instead of keeping myself busy, I decided to enjoy simply feeling like myself without the murky miasma of tiredness shrouding me. And I think it did me far more good than wrapping presents or making that extra lunch date would have done.
Being tired is a bit like being drugged. Your brain isn’t quite as quick as you’d like it to be and you’re not showing a true representation of who you really are.
But also, if you’re used to being tired all the time, simply not being tired is quite a high. The clarity, the focus, the lack of heaviness both physically and mentally – it’s akin to the sharpness the world takes on when an alcoholic goes sober.
When I’ve gone some time without a break, my brain starts feeling like a two-year-old iPhone. No matter how many times I recharge it, it runs out way too quickly, so I spend most my the time attached to the mains, waiting for the life to flash back.
By this point, charging all weekend isn’t going to make much difference. Yet having a week off doing nothing is the equivalent of treating yourself to a brand new Android.
So when did getting to this point of fatigue become the norm? Why do so many of us just accept being completely knackered as a part of everyday life?
I work in daytime TV with a news background and pretty much everyone is sleep-deprived, most of the time. Some people I know in the industry have done night shifts or gotten up well before sunrise most days of the week for years and honestly, I don’t know how they keep doing it.
These days, my alarm goes off at 5.15am which isn’t all that bad, compared to some. At my old job I often had to get up around 3.45am. Considering I’m a night owl who finds it very hard to nod off before 11pm, I’ve accordingly learnt to “get by” on very few hours’ sleep.
When I first started doing early shifts I remember being taken aback at just how much getting up at that time affects everything – your complexion, your appetite, your emotions, your relationship with your partner (special shout out to the “separate beds” crew).
Back then, when a new starter I was training was about to embark on their first early shift, I’d warn them that it was perfectly normal to find yourself having a bit of a cry after. Also that second breakfasts go from being a cute Hobbit reference to a very real need and entire evenings can be wiped out when you lie down for a half-hour nap.
But although I’d moan about the lack of sleep, the job was fun and exciting, so I never really resented it. In fact, some of the standout memories of my career are reminisced through the haze of being half-delirious from being up all night. A strange sort of buzz and comradeship just keeps you going, even when you know your brain and body will pay for it later on.
For us media types, the burn has really ramped up since the EU referendum. Along with the lack of sleep there’s the relentless mental drain of what the country’s politics has become. True, it is an extraordinary time to be a journalist – but it can be hard to turn off when you’re at home, to look away from the endless torrent of high emotion being spewed on social media.
Now it’s got to the point where I often find myself thinking, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” throughout the week, before “wasting” half a Saturday in bed.
Which brings me to address those of you who’ll be tutting and rolling your eyes as you read this. Yes, I know how lucky I am to be able to have weekend lie-ins and lazy days off to myself.
Parents, I do salute you.
And when you tell us non-breeders that we don’t know what tired is, as much as it makes you sound like a bit of a knob, I know you’re probably right.
I hear stories of endless broken nights followed by long, lonely days without a moment to even eat or shower properly and I find myself genuinely wondering how someone can keep another little human being alive, let alone themselves, while feeling like the living dead.
Doctors, teachers, NHS workers, carers and insomniacs, I salute you too. But when did our tiredness become such a competition, or a badge of honour, even? Who’s really counting the rings around everyone else’s eyes?
Our tiredness is our own very real and very personal burden and it’s time we took it seriously.
That is why I’m starting to realise that someone in my position, who has at least some choice over how much sleep they get, should just take control of it and put down the bloody phone before bed. And from now on, I’m going to tell myself it’s absolutely alright to do nothing if I can, for the sake of my mental health.
The beauty of this is that since I’ve put less pressure on myself, the TV’s been on a fraction of the time it was before and I’ve finally updated this blog.
Last week, I thought I was going to achieve so much. Complete all my Christmas shopping, finish organising my wedding, see every friend I haven’t been able to catch up with, exercise every single day, write and write. Instead I did just a tiny bit of all the above and spent the rest of the time just being.
I couldn’t recommend that more.