I am watching the last 3.5 hours of my last night at work creep around the clock. After seven years I am finally–finally–getting off of the night shift. The nature of working in I.T. (information technology) is you have to work weird hours and odd shifts. When I started this job I was working four days on, three days off. Two eight-hour nights followed by two 12 hour nights. That lasted for two years. That time is a blur to me. What little I remember from it is how the first of the three days off were spent unconscious, more dead than alive.
I have worked in I.T. nearly 35 years and most of it was during hours when most of the world was sound asleep. I’m not really complaining about it. Writing satisfies my creative urges but working the graveyard shift pays the bills. I never understood why it was called that. Now I know. I feel that all these years working all these nights have put me closer to death.
Nobody made me try to sleep when the rest of the world is awake. That was my choice and I tried to adapt to my weird schedule. I used blackout blinds and heavy curtains to affect a reasonable imitation of darkness. I tried working out before going to bed. I’ve tried several brands of sleeping pills. Whatever it takes to try to get some rest while the rest of the world is busy, I’ve tried. The problem is when the neighbors want to cut their grass or the city wants to tear up the concrete for a new sewer line or the contractors are banging on the side of house at 7:30 a.m. and you just got off work at 7:00, it sometimes seems as if the entire damn world is conspiring against a guy getting a not-so-good morning’s rest.
In my rational mind I know there is no conspiracy. The world does not give a shit how much sleep I get or don’t get. Nobody did this to me. I did it to myself.
I chose to disrupt the natural rhythms of my body. I chose to lose track of days and forget birthdays, holidays, and special events. I chose to make myself unhealthily, crazier, and one hot mess of a human being. It was 34 years ago I walked into the operations center a bank and voluntarily chose to spend over half of my life working while the world slept.
These are the Vampire Hours. There’s no bloodsuckers, just plenty of bloodshot eyes. You don’t lie in a coffin to escape the sunlight but you do lie in a bed staring up at the ceiling. Insomnia is bad in the dark, but it’s no better in the light.
And damn if I’m not happy it’s over. To sleep, perchance to dream? Yeah, but first you have to get to sleep and sleep deprivation is the merciless foe of the shift worker. We consciously make a devil’s bargain to give up a good night’s rest for money. I don’t know if I’d do it again.
It’s been a while since I went to bed when it was dark and woke when it was light. I only did so two nights out of seven. My wife didn’t much care for it. She got used to sleeping alone at night, but she never liked it. It’s not good for a marriage, even a strong one like ours.
So I found another job. It’s still an I.T. position, but during 1st shift hours. That’s the good part. The bad part is while the hourly pay is a little better, the overall result is a noticeable pay cut as I am losing both my shift differential and weekend pay.
Better hours. Worse pay. You do what you gotta do. What I gotta do is get off nights before it kills me.
I cleaned out my locker three days ago and all I kept was some toothpaste and a couple of grape Crystal Light packets. Everything else went into the trash can or recycle bin. Even after all these years I never developed a taste for coffee. I got my caffeine fix from slamming Diet Mountain Dew. Liquid crack in a bottle is what I called it. It didn’t always work, but it was better than nothing.
I deleted everything in my e-mail account. Everything in inbox, outbox, saved mails, deleted mails was eradicated. Everything. I blew away any pictures, downloads, or music files I had saved. Can’t take it with me. Didn’t want to leave it behind.
My last official act was to scan the time clock, turn in my access badge and parking pass and on my way out the door toss my old lunch bag in the dumpster. I wasn’t being defiant. I wasn’t mad at anyone. I didn’t need it any more. Could have taken it with me. Didn’t want to.
I cleaned up the few outstanding issues on my desk, shook the hands of the people whose hands I wanted to shake, handed out a business card or two to a couple of guys I wanted to stay in touch with and that was that. There was no going-away gift. No last “thanks” for seven years of work. Nobody seemed to care all that much. Then again, I would have been a fool to expect a special good-bye.
This is 2014 and there’s no place in the modern workplace for sentimentality. They paid me fairly well and in full. The checks always cleared and an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work is all you can ask (or should expect) from an employer in 2014. It’s all you’re going to get.
Nobody’s invaluable. Everybody’s replaceable. If I wanted loyalty, I’d buy a dog.
More than just seven years of work have come and gone. It takes a certain sort of special mindset to hack working the graveyard shift. I don’t have it anymore. Whatever it was, it’s gone and I don’t want it back.
I am going to have to relearn how to sleep at night. I have screwed with my body clock and it is not going to be an easy adjustment getting back to normal. Those sleeping pills that helped me make it through the days will now have to help me make it through the night. We’ll have to see if they do.
Working nights is hell on the sleep cycle. I don’t remember the last time I slept eight straight hours. Usually sleeping is something I do between living life which means there have been many days when I barely or don’t sleep at all.
It’s time for a change. Time for a new job. Time to try to be a normal human being doing all the normal human being things when normal human beings do them.
I don’t know if I can. I’m dreaming big, but I’m starting small with modest goals. Sleeping straight through the night would be an excellent place to begin.