Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Graveyard Wife

When my husband and I got married 16 years ago I knew that he worked night shift.  I was pretty sure I understood what that meant too, since I'd had plenty of experience as a kid whenever my mom would take an overtime day on the weekends, and it happened to be the graveyard shift.  I even went to work with her a few times, which was kind of exciting for a 10 year old kid.  Staying up ALL night? You bet, I'm in!  Of course I never actually stayed awake until her shift was over but that's not the point.  She worked a lot of those shifts when I was a kid and we still had a normal family with a normal routine.  Sure, I knew all about night shift.

Or, so I thought.

Turns out, I knew absolutely nothing about night shift, or what it means to work a rotating one (two weeks of nights, two weeks of days), or what it means to live that was as an adult, with a family, or when you have to drive 40 minutes each way to work then home again.  No, I knew nothing, but I soon began finding out.  Even though I'm not the one working that shift, in a very real sense I am also on the same shift as him, since our home life changes quite radically when he's on nights.  I'm pretty sure I've written about this before in some detail, but I'm too lazy to go find it.

The fact is, most human beings aren't wired to work this shift.  Some can, and some can adjust quite well. Likewise, some wives can adjust quite well too and my hat is off to them because for them, it works.  I dig it when things work so that makes me happy for them.

I've read numerous studies over the years about the affects of midnight shift on those who work it, their spouses, their marriages, their children, etc.  For the vast majority of people, the results are not good.  Higher physical and mental health related issues, higher rates of divorce/adultery, rotten relationships with their kids, more inclined to engage in risky behaviors and the list goes on and on. You don't sleep well, you don't eat right, you don't think straight, you're more irritable, easily upset, etc. so forth and so on.  Oddly enough, that isn't just the person who works the shift, that is quite often the spouse as well, and that is in fact the case with hubby and me.  The bottom line is, it's just not a good scenario and for many many people, it doesn't end well.

My husband and I know this, so we do everything humanly possible to make sure we're never a statistic in a study down the road.  We've developed these little things we do to stay connected and stay grounded even more when he's on this shift than when he's on days.  We pray together before he leaves for work, specifically for his safety traveling, alertness through the night, and the same for traveling home after a 12 hour shift.  We have always eaten dinner as a family, at the table, and that doesn't change when he's on this shift, we just eat a little earlier (so yes, I'm in the kitchen fixing dinner at 3:30, dinner on the table by 4:30).  There are other things we do as well but we are very mindful to not let Midnight Shift get the better of us.  Most of the time.

Last month, hubby did a co-worker a favor who needed to be on days, and agreed to switch his days for the co-workers.  What that meant for us, is that he would be on midnights for 6 straight weeks, instead of his normal 2.  When he told me this, I'm pretty sure I mentally reacted like what's her face from the shower scene from Psycho.  The older I get, the harder these shifts are on me and by the end of the two weeks I'm just praising the Lord it's almost over because... sigh... sleep, glorious, beautiful blessed sleep.  At least for his 2 weeks of days, anyway.  When I heard 2 weeks would be extended to 6, I was pretty certain I'd be checked into a looney bin before that.

Well, today (or tonight, I should say) ends the 6 weeks.  I could not be more grateful than I am.  I can honestly say I've been a complete and utter creep for the last 3 of them.  Hubby wouldn't say that and the kids wouldn't say it but I will.  I haven't done it by choice of course, it just comes naturally as a result of lack of normal.  Oh I've prayed about it and repented when I lost my temper and everyone still loves me (I think?) but the fact is, it just brings out the absolute worst in people.  No, not all people, just most.

I've been told by a few people that they know a lady who's husband is on a similar shift they manage to do this, and that, and all this other stuff and it works well for them.  THAT'S AWESOME.  I'd love to be that lady, or that other lady, or the other graveyard wife that manages it with such grace and poise.  But, I'm not her, and neither are most people according to all the studies.

Most are like me (and most hate it about themselves as much as I do).  They forget things (important things too) like dental appointments and school events and eating and waking the kids up in time for school.  They don't sleep well at all, if they do sleep.  They are highly agitated by the dumbest things, like leaving a bag of groceries in the car, or forgetting to buy an onion for a recipe, or dropping a clean sock in the dog water dish.  Those things can make it feel like you're the biggest failure on the planet.  They cry at even dumber things like a kitten video or soggy french fries.  They're highly (as in, irrationally) irritated when too many people are talking at once, or don't turn on their turn signal, or stand in the middle of the aisle at the store. Or when the kitten yaks up a fur ball on the carpet (THAT'S IT, sell the house!!)  There's all these things, and so much more.  Everything seems on a heightened sense of WHY IS THIS HAPPENING even though you know rationally, it's just another Tuesday and none of it is really that big of deal (except that Middle Aisle person, that one's sort of huge for me on any given day).

So for me, this extended Midnight Shift Meltdown is over as of tomorrow.  Really, the only reason I wanted to post this is because

a.) I'm thankful no one called the looney bin people on me and everyone still likes me and
b.) if you're also a graveyard wife who goes through this, please know you're not the only one.

It often feels like a very isolated thing but I know there are other women out there going through the exact same irrational, forgetful, overly-emotional, highly agitated days due to lack of normal.  I can completely understand why for those who do not pray, do not trust the Lord to bring them through and keep their marriages solid and on track, why they become the stats that I read about in those reports.  God is faithful and even though I tend to go off the rails here and there, He keeps bringing us through.

Now, I have to go clean up cat-puke. Then cry about it.