On Soul-Destroying Fatigue

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I wanted to write about fatigue. I’m writing about fatigue instead of writing the other posts that have been floating through my head. Posts tentatively titled things like:

  • How Do You “Decompress” When You Hate Your Life?
  • I Don’t Know Why I Bother To Write When I Know I Will Inevitably Piss Someone Off
  • I’m Smarter Than All The Dumb People, and Most People Are Dumb
  • Maybe My Kids Will Be Serial Killers After All

These are post titles from the dark side. The dark side of fatigue. I don’t know how I get there, but I know when I am there: I’ve crossed over from “Tired but ok” and “We just had a bad night” to “If I glare at you hard enough for asking about how I’m feeling, you will die from my eye stabbing.” Were you renting Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked on Amazon Instant Video at 5:15 yesterday morning to keep your children from screaming? Were you up today at 4 am googling pinworm symptoms? No? Then I am violently disinterested in your perspective on life. I’m on night 6 of…. week 5 of… oh, who am I kidding? I’m on year 4 of bad nights. The books say “Your child will learn to sleep through the night,” “Your child will learn to self-sooth.” Websites offer the sage knowledge that when kids go through a developmental leap or growth spurt, sleep suffers. These are called sleep regressions. My children have been in them since birth. In fact, periods of decent rest are so rare that instead of referring to anything as a sleep regression, I rejoice in the fleeting days or weeks of sleep progression: nights with regularity, nights with consistent and multiple hours of rest. It’s a blue moon type of thing in my life.

4 am July 2010

When my youngest daughter, Holly, was born, our oldest was not quite 2 years old, and still waking at night. Robin is an intense and sensitive child and hates changes in routine; unsurprisingly, a baby in the house threw her for a huge loop and she made it clear how displeased she was with the new arrangement. For four months, I staggered from “my” room, our office-slash-guest-room, to the bedroom where my husband tried and failed to keep Robin happy all night long. On more than once occasion, I tearfully told him that if I couldn’t nap at some point during that day, I wouldn’t feel safe driving our car. This happened over and over again. Things are better than that now, mostly, but I’m always walking the line between functional and life-imperiling when it comes to sleep. It’s amazing how quickly I can go from rested and competent to exhausted and undone. The switch seems to happen somewhere around the third consecutively bad night. The fix OUGHT to be easy: catch a few Zs! But my life has little room for napping and my office doesn’t have a couch.

I wanted to use some images from an old Berenstain Bears book I had to communicate the difference between regular life and the Dark Side. It’s the “Learn About Strangers” one, where Sister learns that sometimes bad people will try to hurt you. She walks around the same park before and after learning this lesson: before, it’s a sunny day, people smiling, birds feeding adorable chicks in their nests, everyone happy on this glorious day. After she learns about bad people, the same park is suddenly menacing. The sky a blackish purple, passers-by glare at her, squirrels angrily vie for the same acorn, and the bird babies scream at their beleaguered Mom. That’s exactly what the dark side feels like to me: I’m in the same world, but my perception is completely negative. I pretty much hate everyone because they’re sleeping and I’m not: I hate you, I hate your children because they’re not horrible sleepers like mine, I hate my students, I hate my childless friends, I hate my own kids for ruining my life, and most of all I hate my husband, who snores through all of this and then wakes up after 8 refreshing hours of sleep only to complain about how tired he is. (He or you may have a legitimate claim to exhaustion. Whatever. I still hate you.)

 Before I had babies, I knew you spent a lot of time being tired as a parent, but no one told me how soul-destroying it can be. No one told me that when you are chronically fatigued, it is impossible to have hope or see the upside or generate solutions to the simplest of problems. Tasks like getting two children dressed and into the car will make you cry. Running out of checks becomes a crisis of epic proportions. There is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, and I imagine it must also be used to train assassins or soldiers, because exhaustion dulls your capacity for empathy. Maybe it’s some primal link to self-preservation: fatigue often comes from putting others’ needs before your own, and to recover from it you have to start prioritizing yourself, and that means you have to care less about the people you’ve been caring more about, if only temporarily. I am a short-tempered and unfeeling mother when I’m extremely tired: I just don’t care. I don’t care about breakfast, arguments, finding the right shoes, or following through on anything that requires effort. I become preoccupied with my own desires and wishes, and irritated at anything that detracts or distracts from them.

And the worst part is that it is so very boring. Being constantly tired means you don’t do anything interesting or even think interesting thoughts. You become a terrible conversationalist and a worse writer, because you have nothing new to say and words come to your mind slowly through the fog. Come up with a clever conclusion to a blog post about fatigue? Pretty much impossible.


8 responses to “On Soul-Destroying Fatigue


  2. Mmm, yes, we are in year 5 of terrible sleep. My youngest (of 3) turns one next week so I am hoping that a year from now things will be looking up. I do get insanely exhausted (last night I was probably up 8 times) but somehow after a quart of coffee I always perk up and make it through the day–well enough to stay up too late the following night. And repeat. Not that it’s much consolation, but I like to think of this decade as the decade of baby-making, and the coming decade as the decade of great sleep. Please?

    • My 4yo sleeps pretty consistently well after awful sleep as a baby and toddler, so I am hoping my youngest takes a turn in that direction fairly soon. I remember this age with Robin (the spring after turning 2) was particularly awful, so maybe this is the last bad stage. Fatigue is the #2 reason I probably won’t have more kids, even though I love babies (#1 is all the puking I do when I’m pregnant). Bah humbug! And get me more coffee! 🙂

  3. Puja Master Turner

    OH MY GOD!!! Is it sad that I love that you hate everyone and everything that you normally love?!?!? Because, that’s EXACTLY how I feel when fatigued. Hopeless, terrified, mortified that this has become my life… Then, I get a good night’s rest, and everything’s roses again. I know that I shouldn’t compare my kids to others their age, but if that lady tells me ONE MORE TIME that her kids have been sleeping through the night since (insert bullshit time period), I will cut her. And I’m almost positive that I am on the “no more babies” train, because it’s hard enough dealing with a baby/babies mood swings, but with no significant sleep it is downright tortuous. I’m all for it, however, if I can get TWO full-time nannies to answer to their every demand. So never. All done. Finished.

    • Puja,
      I was thinking about you when I wrote this. I think some kids must just genetically/structurally suck at sleeping and ours happen to be these kinds of children. I used to think it was something I’d done but now I really believe that in some cases, THERE IS NO SOLUTION to the problem other than waiting. I was thinking that there needs to be some account for that kind of scenario, because otherwise, we just feel totally alone and isolated and our stories aren’t recognized (because most articles/essays on sleep are about brief phases or want to give you a solution, or blame you for sucking).

      Too bad, because we are awesome moms and should probably have a ton of kids.


      • Puja Master Turner

        So true! Well, it sounds like you’re in a really rough place right now; things will look up soon.

      • Things are marginally better; Holly is at least resting more soundly and getting up closer to 5:30. I’ll take it.

  4. Pingback: Having a Baby as a Life Organizing Strategy | mama nervosa

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