Writing and running in Austin, TX.
Pardon this interlude from the world’s longest race report, but if I know one thing about writing, it’s that you should never* fight the urge when it hits you.
*-Obviously there are practical exceptions to this rule. Operating heavy machinery, childbirth, or career-defining presentations are all examples of times when it really is more important to be in the moment than documenting it.
So right now I have the urge to admit publicly that I have a problem. A sleeping problem.
I don’t know exactly how this started, but I’m pretty sure I can link it to a particularly crazy time at work. We had a big deadline approaching, I was working all hours of the day and night, and doing anything but work made me feel guilty.
Under those circumstances, it made sense to skip a workout or two here and there in favor of sleep. If you work until 2am, getting up at 4:30 to meet the girls for an 8-miler IS actually more detrimental to your health than hitting snooze and re-setting your alarm for 7. I know this because a few times I did drag myself to a run on 2 hours of sleep. Twice this lead to me falling asleep at breakfast, which is really unfortunate when breakfast is oatmeal. Even just a quick 20-minute nap on the dining table and that stuff is perma-stuck to the bowl. And maybe your hair.
The day I really scared myself though was the one where I was driving home from a workout and literally chewing on my bottom lip to stay awake. It was like being in an after-lunch meeting with the lights out – the kind where you debate whether it would be more of a CLM to stand up like a weirdo or go through the “No really, I’m not asleep” head-bobbing routine. Except I wasn’t at a conference table. I was on the overpass between I35 and 183. NOT GOOD.
People wiser than me assured me this feeling would pass. Extreme fatigue is a classic burnout symptom, and it was easy for anyone who heard about my work schedule to pat me on the head, nod wisely and say, “Well of course you’re tired. Run along now.”
Okay, no one actually patted me on the head. But overly-sympathetic expressions can feel equally as patronizing.
Eventually, our deadline passed. We got everything done (more-or-less), and the last couple weeks have been back in the eminently more reasonable 40-hour range. Compared to before, it feels downright lazy. I actually look around guiltily when I leave work at 5:30, convinced that my coworkers are judging me and my lazy ways.
Unfortunately, my fatigue has not passed. When my alarm goes off in the morning, figuring out what’s going on feels like trying to surface in sludge-filled water. Most of the time I hit snooze and spend another 30 minutes in that not-restful place where you don’t feel “asleep” but somehow still manage to unconsciously hit that button 3 more times than you planned.
If I do actually manage to drag myself out of the bed, I often end up in the bathroom, with all the lights on and me sitting with my eyes closed and my head resting on the towel rack. Who sleeps on a towel rack??? I have a problem, people!
And like most of the chronically fatigued, this feeling lasts roughly until it’s time to go to bed, at which point I read to exhaustion, then toss and turn, trying to convince myself that “resting” is as good as sleeping. I recently took a meditation class, so sometimes I’ll try focused breathing, focused muscle-relaxing, or even single-object meditation. (That last one doesn’t really work in the dark.)
I’ve even tried mantras. I’m not Catholic, but my family is, so last night I spent an hour or so dissecting “Our Father” because when it comes to mantras I truly know by heart, it was that or the “Pledge of Allegiance”.
Worst of all, this whole experience is really messing with my identity. In my running group, I was always the reliable one. The one who NEVER bailed on a workout. I might not be fast, or strong, or even particularly talkative, but my friends valued the knowledge that I would be there.
Now even I’m not sure when I’ll make it and when I won’t. After sleeping through yesterday’s group run, I made myself go out alone at 2pm as punishment. (It’s June in Texas. At 2pm it’s 95 degrees.)
But then, this morning, it happened again. I set my alarm for 4:30. I heard it go off, and knew I had to get up. I’d just hit snooze one time.
When I looked at the clock again, it was 5:26. I can get up, dressed, and downtown in 15 minutes, but not in 4. Even if I leapt out of bed right then, the girls would either be long gone or stewing in rage at my inability to get my sh*t together.
So I sent a text of shame and reset the alarm for 6:30, only to wake up and realize I have a meeting at 8, leaving me no time for the planned 6 miles.
And now I’m here, about to make myself late to my 8 o’clock and confessing my problems to all of you. I don’t usually do the whole “end on a question” thing – it always seems like people are just fishing for comments – but this question is genuine:
Has anyone else ever been through this? And if so, how did you get out??
I look forward to being up all night reading your thoughts…