Saturday, June 07, 2008

The 7 Stages of Fatigue

When I was in college, I was an idiot.

Well, more of an idiot than I am now, let us say.

During one summer off, I worked full time on third shift (11 p.m. to 7 a.m.) as a night auditor for a motel franchise in Kansas City, Missouri. When school started up again that autumn, I decided I liked the money a 40-hour a week job brought in, so I kept the night job while, at the same time, carrying a full load of classes. Bad choice. Baaaaaad choice.

I would, quite literally, get up on Sunday, enjoy the day, then go to work Sunday night. Due to my class and extracurricular activity schedule, I would not go back to bed until Tuesday morning. I'd get up Tuesday evening, and with work and school and social activity, not go back to bed until Friday morning. Then I would generally sleep pretty much until Sunday morning.

Idiocy in Action. These choices led to a catastrophic semester for me. My grade point average dropped from an A- to a C+ in just four months. That Christmas, I quit the job and focused on school.

This past week has reminded me of that time in my life. I have my hand in a lot of pies and during the past seven days they've all needed baking. I've had meetings before work, then a 10-hour day at work due to overtime issues, then a meeting after work. Then I'd stumble home, get ready for the next day's meetings, write the post, clear up some email issues, look in on the baseball world, and finally fall into bed between 2 and 3 a.m., get back up at 6:00 in the morning and do it all over again.

All of which has led me to the conclusion that there are seven stages of fatigue, which I should be quick to point out has no basis in actual science, they are simply my empirical observations based on my own idiotic choices.

Stage 1 - "Good Tired"
You've heard that expression, right? "I'm tired, but it's a good tired." This is the fatigue you feel after a long day where you've accomplished much and are feeling good about yourself and your work/project/home repair/whatever. It's a fatigue born of productivity and actually enhances your self-esteem.

Stage 2 - "Plumb Tuckered Out"
This is when you've worked a little too long past the stage where you should have stopped. You don't feel like cooking or going out or doing anything with friends. You pretty much just want to sit there and let your body recover. A good massage or foot rub is recommended. And then a decent night's sleep.

Stage 3 - "Bone Weary"
At this point, you just can't stop yawning. A headache is often your constant companion. You are barely productive and God help you if you have to do something or watch something that is boring. You'll barely be able to keep your eyes open.

Stage 4 - "Punchy"
Here fatigue actually seems to help a little. You're so tired your mind has cast off many of the restrictions and inhibitions you normally place upon it. You find yourself thinking in ways you probably haven't thought before and you can get quite creative. You're also funnier because you can no longer stop yourself from saying those witty little bon mots you normally keep to yourself. The danger is that you can no longer stop yourself from saying little sarcastic things, either, and words might slip out of your mouth that you later had wish you'd never said at all. Things that happen in the normal routine of your day now strike you as funny, and you find yourself laughing at things for no reason. This stage is somewhat akin to having drunk too much. You're running pretty much entirely on caffeine and adrenaline. At some point - usually in the mid-afternoon - you "hit the wall" and either have to get yourself to bed or move into the next stage.

Stage 5 - "Crunchy"
Things no longer strike you as funny. In fact, little stuff that normally doesn't bother you now annoys the snot out of you. You're still saying things you normally wouldn't say, but now they're not helpful or witty at all, they're just mean. You're irritable and often angry, and you can't really say why. This is not a fun stage to be in at all. For most things, you just don't care. You just want to get through the day/hour/minute and be done with it. Make no major decisions while in this stage.

Stage 6 - "Zombie"
You are now the walking dead. Not only should you not make any major decisions, you probably shouldn't even be driving. Your mind wanders away from the task at hand and very often cannot find its way back. This stage is characterized by long periods of simply staring into space. Be careful you don't drool.

Stage 7 - "Catatonic"
Go to bed. Now. Not only does your brain just shut down, so do most major motor functions. Your body is so tired and helpless at this point that one random germ from someone sneezing a block away could make you sick. It could very well come down to this: sleep or die.

So there you have it. I like to tell people that the secret to my success is understanding that sleep is optional. But that is only because I have made a personal study of this whole idea of fatigue (as you can tell), and I know my own limitations. Still, there are times when I drive myself beyond the bounds of good and common sense.

As the final bit to this post, let me share this story: My family enjoys eating out at Chinese restaurants. And we have a little ritual before we open the fortune cookies at the end of a meal. We pick a topic that the fortune will be about.

Well, yesterday I had lunch at the local Chinese buffet near my workplace. Before I cracked open my cookie, I picked the topic: What are my chances of getting some sleep? My fortune read, "Focus on your goals. You will succeed next year."

Hoo, boy. Could be a long summer.

No comments: