There’s no controlling it. At some point, your zombie switch just flips. Your body wants to sleep, you’re never sure if your brain is asleep or awake, and in general it starts to feel like you’re on some sort of unpleasant drug. Actually, there is a drug involved: Caffeine. You’ve been sucking it down since dinner, and on every break, because it’s closing in on 3 AM – which makes it the seventh hour of a ten-hour shift – and you can’t help but think of that warm, wonderful bed you have back home that you should be in!
Hell, thy name is night shift.
One of the strangest things about working a night shift is how many people you meet who don’t believe they’re talking to someone who works a night shift. Sure, they’ve heard of such a concept, but it seemed so faraway and alien that they quickly disregarded it as the make-believe of JK Rowling or George RR Martin. To meet someone who has to work this mythological concept is the equivalent of receiving an Owl Post acceptance letter from Hogwarts. There’s no possible way this could exist. Night shift! Didn’t those things go extinct when the governor of Peoria passed the work act of 1569 or something like that?
Well, they’re there. And for awhile, I worked on one. It wasn’t something I was looking to specifically do, but my transportation circumstances resulted in my asking for the night shift over the day shift. I’m not sure my body has been able to forgive me just yet. I know every night shift worker acts according to this idea that your body will adjust to working on the night shift, but for me that just didn’t happen. Then again, most of the people who told me about adjusting my body weren’t factoring in the schedule I was working. See, not only was I working a night shift, but that night shift happened to be a 4-10 shift: Ten hours per shift, four nights a week. And when we factor in my commute – which was two and a half hours for one way – I was basically working a 60-hour week which was crammed into four days.
I rode the bus and overshot my stop more than once because I caught myself sleeping. That was the primary issue with me: I was that kind of person who read about how Navy Seals in training go through Hell Week – a week in which trainees get four hours of sleep, total – and thought to myself, “Four hours a week. Must be nice.” My sleep on weeknights was nothing more than a series of extended naps, then travel naps while riding the bus back and forth. At one point, I took to buying coffee for the bus ride home to be awake enough to not overshoot my stop, but that never kept me from falling asleep. Once, I spilled coffee on myself because I could’t stay awake and keep my hand upright long enough to make the trip back home.
Being up and at ’em all night has a weird effect: It doesn’t seem to stop or alter the onset of night aches. The only difference between night shift and bed in this regard is that night shifters get some extra pain in their feet because they have to spend the night running around in a frozen warehouse. (Well, I did. That’s where I was working.) By the time I was let out of my shift, I usually felt like I was one of the damned, doomed to walk for all eternity.
My days went like this: While your own lazy ass is just rolling out of bed in the early AM – I mean about 8:30 here, just so there’s no confusion – I was unlocking the front door of my sublet from the outside. See, it was at that time that I was just getting back home from a hard night in the pits. So I would walk in, maybe head upstairs to the kitchen for a ludicrously light breakfast, shower, and be in bed between 9 and 9:30 AM. Up again somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 PM for a quick workout, then two or three hours of free time before heading off to my next shift. Now, I had to leave early because of the way the public transit runs, and factor in a walk of about a half hour to the first bus stop I need. Bus came, I got on, and rode close to another half hour before getting off for a five-to-ten-minute wait for an altogether lesser bus ride to my NEXT bus stop. This one was the biggie: Almost an hour to get to the next county. Get off, wait a few more minutes for, YES! ANOTHER BUS! That one was a short ride to the sport where I got off and walked another three blocks.
At work, I quenched my hunger with a light dinner which was take out-bought more often than I prefer to admit. I didn’t want to get too loaded up because there was still a ten-hour monster in front of me that I didn’t want to tackle with a full stomach. I clocked in and started work. After the first hour and a half, there was a short break so I could get some of the free coffee generously provided by the corporation. Then came three hours of more work, followed by lunch, two and a half more hours and a break, and finally punch out after a three-hour final leg. My feet were throbbing by then, so walking the three blocks back to the bus stop was never exactly comfortable. At the transit center, I would try to grab a coffee and maybe a light breakfast – usually something from Specialty’s, but I made the switch to Blazing Bagels after Specialty’s apparently got tired of never being quite prepared for their opening with an oder I was looking for. The ride home wasn’t quite as trying as the ride in, because there was a more direct route home available. This was my nightly routine for four nights a week.
It’s easy to go crazy trying to keep a routine like that up. This was something I doubt I would have been able to pull in my 20’s, let alone right now. Fortunately, there was always that extra weekend day there to rescue my sanity. The extra sleep alone made me appreciate sleep more than ever before, and three days of doing whatever I wanted may have kept me from the sauce – if, that is, I had had time to get on it.
The great irony of this was that this job wasn’t a bad one, and the corporation is generally in excellent standing with the people who work for it. I was a temp while working there, which is how at least half the people who work permanently for the corporation are hired. I applied for conversion, and all my co-workers and supervisors expected me to be a shoe-in. My only complaint – besides the insane hours – was that I wasn’t included in the task rotation nearly as often as I should have been. And that’s a serious complaint, so when, on my last night, I was told by one of my supervisors that the corporate offices had waffled for so long about conversion that my contract simply ran out, I felt a bit of relief.