Me to my friend, “I’m so tired. I haven’t gotten more than three consecutive hours of sleep in 13 months.”
Random person (who was totally eavesdropping), “Oh, I know how you feel! I haven’t slept for more than 30 seconds in 375 months.”
And so begins the “who has it worse” game that isn’t a game. On good days it becomes a jovial back-and-forth of the outrageous ways our brains are drained like your phone when you let your big kid play Minecraft or Pokemon Go. Other days it’s difficult not to get sucked into the urge to prove our exhaustion in measurable ways.
It can be hilarious, and sometimes we laugh so we don’t cry. Who hasn’t put the remote in the freezer or fallen asleep on the toilet? I’m going to assume I’m not the only one who frequently finds her underwear are on inside out. There was the time I wore two completely different shoes to work, or the time I forgot a long-term coworker’s name – twice in one day. I referred to her as “the one who used to have brown hair but now it’s blonde.”
It doesn’t help that we’re all comparing ourselves to everyone else’s Facebook personas. Jane from down the street has five children under the age of three, and she just posted about the awesome sushi making night they had. What does she have that I don’t?
What Jane has is a plastic Dora cup full of sake clutched in her shaking hands as she huddles in a corner and watches the dog eat rice off the baby. We don’t see that the mom from our natural birth class who only posts updates of her baby with wooden toys has had three panic attacks today, and would sell her freeze-dried placenta for two hours of sleep.
Now that I am finally emerging from the other side of it (after 458 days, but who’s counting?), I can see more clearly just how scary it can be. How scary it was. I can laugh about the time I forgot to wash the conditioner out of my hair, or the showers I just didn’t bother to take. I can joke-cry about falling asleep at my desk, or 8pm bedtimes – I can’t joke about the times I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel, the unrelenting anxiety, or the days when I wondered how I would make it to the next.
My “normal” became so screwed up that I couldn’t truly see how tired I was, how barely I was functioning. I just wondered why I couldn’t keep my house clean like I used to, or why I wanted to cry all the time. After 445 days of sleep deprivation I had hit my limit. It may not be a contest, but I wanted a fucking cookie, served to me with a side of sleep meds by hotel room service. I was lucky enough to make that happen, and it gave me the clarity I needed to make a few changes to improve the situation.
I told my husband that he would need to start taking over two nights a week, now that we knew the baby was able to go all night without nursing. Just being theoretically “off duty” wasn’t enough, I actually went and slept in my daughter’s top bunk. Of course, the life of a mother being what it is, the baby slept through the night for the first time on my husband’s second night, but at least I slept too.
So by all means, make whatever jokes you have to so that you can hold on to your last thread of sanity. And then, once you hit your wall (or preferably before), try to think of ways over it. Look for your village to throw you a rope, and sleep.
It’ll be amazing, I promise.