As any former gulag prisoner or parents of a newborn will tell you, sleep deprivation is pure torture. After an extended period of sleeplessness, you are willing to do or say anything for a few hours of uninterrupted shut-eye. Until then, you are in constant pain and begin to do some very odd things.
While attending the School for Ministry for the diaconate, I had this bright idea of working the night shift at the local Big Box Store. Coordinating my classes with my daytime work schedule was next to impossible, and I thought working from 10 PM to 7 AM would solve the problem.
The fact that I worked through the weekend – the same block of time as my classes – did not phase my decision one bit. I told myself, “I am Ironman. I can do this once a month.”
So I applied for the night shift, management approved it, and my schedule was as follows once a month:
I was up all day Friday, went to class at 6 PM, left at 9 PM, and clocked-in at work at 10 PM.
I clocked-out at 7 AM Saturday morning, C picked me up and dropped me off at my Saturday classes by 8 AM. She spent the day with her parents until she picked me back up at 4 PM.
We went home and I took a nap, then clocked-in at work at 10 PM. C picked me up at 7 AM the next morning and we went to church, arriving back home about noon.
That is when I went to bed and slept until about 9 PM, got up, had breakfast, and went off to work.
This went on once a month for 14 months straight.
My behavior became increasingly bizarre during this period of self-abuse. On more than one occasion I nearly cracked my head on the desktop when I fell forward in class, asleep. At work, I would disappear into the men’s toilet and sit in one of the stalls, leaning against the kiosk wall as I cat-napped for 10 minutes. The loss of sleep was physically painful – I felt like I had gone three rounds with a professional wrestler and lost every round.
Kenny, one of my night shift colleagues, was on break one night and discovered that he could not get up from his chair. We called the ambulance for him and he disappeared for a few days. I ran across him in the store some days later, and he told me “After 11 years on night shift, suddenly my body just shut down. It said, ‘We’re done here, buddy!’, and it wouldn’t let me get back up out of the chair…” Fortunately, Big Box let Kenny transfer to day shift.
Another night shift zombie friend talked about driving in his van while sleep-deprived. He heard someone drumming on his car and it woke him from a sound sleep: he discovered that he had driven onto a corn field and the ears of corn were pounding away on his windshield as he mowed down row after row of sweet corn at 45 mph.
I had my come-to-Jesus moment about sleep when I was driving home. It was the end of my “week” and I was on the backroad highway near Windy Hill when I realized that my eyes were closed. I opened them in time to see that I was on the shoulder of the road, on the wrong side of the road, and I was barreling down on a neighbor’s mailbox. I tried not to panic, but slowly pulled back to my side of the highway and made it home safely. It was only when I got out of the pickup and tried to calm down that I discovered a little red flag that’s attached to the sides of mailboxes now flying proudly in the grillwork of my truck. Apparently, I had run down someone else’s mailbox some time before, and I was unaware of it.
Ironman was defeated. I realized it was time for a new job. Oh, the stupid things we do to get where we want to go.