‘I’m miles from where you are,
I lay down on the cold ground
I, I pray that something picks me up
And sets me down in your warm arms’
– Snow Patrol, Set Fire to the Third Bar
Night shifts produce their own kind of weird exhaustion. It’s not the sleep deprivation – I’m a night owl and prefer to sleep in the day so I generally get much more sleep after a night shift. It’s also not because of the hours as I work much harder during similar length day shifts and am never this tired.
It’s because there’s something not quite normal about being up and alert throughout the night. It’s indescribably exhausting to be making decisions, having difficult conversations and keeping to my self-imposed professional standards when my whole self is telling me that I should be sleeping, recharging, curled up away from the world. Once the day team arrive and these responsibilities are lifted from my shoulders, I visibly wilt; stumbling through the last few hours and needing as much energy to stay upright as I am to hold a coherent conversation. I don’t just feel like I’ve worked a full day, I feel like I’ve been up all night as well. I’m dirty and crumpled, exhaustion smudged across my face. I am not at my best.
My housemate doesn’t understand why he does it. Why does he come over so much when you’re on nights? Why does he come over when you’re not here and spend the night in your bed when you’re not in it, just so he can see you for maybe an hour when you get back before you go to sleep? Doesn’t he want to wait to see you properly when you’re actually awake? Isn’t it a waste of his time?
She doesn’t understand.
I never thought that I was the type of person who needed someone but, sometimes, I need to be in his arms. I need to stagger home, using up that last thread of consciousness to drive safely back, and get lost in his all encompassing warmth, relaxing beyond just being asleep. I’m OK without him there, but I am just so much better when he is. I can melt into him, feeling the strength of his arms around me and the soft kisses on the back of my neck. Every twist of tension vanishes, every stale argument with every equally fractious and exhausted colleague fades away until I am myself again. I am safe, I am whole.
And I adore that he knows; that he’s there. Even if he’s gone when I wake again.