Monday, 19 January 2009

All clear

I don't have kids, I don't have pets, I don't have a garden and I don't play golf. This doesn't mean I don't have demands on my time, I just want to establish a few basics. I'm also suggesting that you don't need any of these things to understand what I'm about to describe.

There's a level of tiredness (for me, at least) that is almost unnoticeable. It settles silently on my perceptions like dust. It's so subtle that I only notice when I look back at affected periods. Memories of days, afternoons or evenings while under the influence of this fatigue are not quite like others. I'm still capable. I can make decisions and my ability to interact socially or professionally is relatively unaffected. In fact, it's amazing how productive you can be. But sometimes, I look back, for instance, at parts of yesterday, and they're vague. They're misty and foggy and seem so much further away than just 24 hours ago.

I suppose the best example (that you might relate to) is the lost journey to work. Have you ever driven to work and been unable to remember passing a particular familiar landmark or a certain stretch of the route? It's like a waking sleepwalk - like you haven't quite experienced something but you know you did it.

I resent looking back at any time in my life through a mist of fatigue. If you imagine an average life expectancy to be 75 years, this equates to just 27,375 days. As a 37 year old, I've already used 13,170 of them. That's nearly half way there and who knows if I'll reach 75? (If you who wish to check my arithmetic, by all means let me know of any errors, but I hope you get the point.)

These days are precious. They are all I have. When they are gone, so am I. Everything else is trivial. Everything. And for this reason, I hate experiencing any of them in a half-living, out of body, automaton-like state.

I blame Work. Okay, roll your eyes as I aim my meagre guns at the old enemy, but I'm serious. It's that bloody Work God again - the one that keeps taking my precious days like they're in endless supply. A 45 year career, working 5 days a week with around 4 weeks holiday a year adds up to 10,800 days. 10,800! Out of 27,375! What kind of arrangement is that?

When the first industrial towns began to develop in the late 1700s, workers had to adopt a whole new discipline of time. Workers were woken at a fixed time by the 'knocker-upper' and they clocked in when they arrived at the factory. This is where our association/obsession with time and money began. The new bosses wanted their money's worth. The agricultural work these workers had come from was hard and long, but the tyranny of the Work God's ticking clock is a characteristic of the industrial age.

These early workers often worked 6 or even 7 days a week - and 12/14/16 hour shifts. God knows what fatigue they were dealing with but from these beginnings, it really looks like progress when average weeks reduced from 7 to 6 and then from 6 to 5 days. But why didn't it continue to reduce to 4? Why did progress stop? Is 5 days out of 7 fair?

And don't confuse work with purpose. I don't just want to lie-in on my 3 day weekend. I want to be productive and useful.

I have two phases of my adult life that were clear and crisp and all the better for it. The first was my time at university from 95-98. These were not idle times but I admit I got ample sleep. The second fog-free period was when I took part in a jobshare scheme and worked just 17.5 hours a week. I was able to manage my time, house-keep, read, write, play guitar, sleep, socialise, work and do all the things I rarely get time to do. It was economically unsustainable but fantastic. The spectre of fatigue was banished. My head was clear and my memories were fresh.

I don't believe it's fair to expect people to bring up families, have hobbies, have social lives, have relationships, be in for the plumber, visit the doctor, go to dentists, fix the roof, prepare healthy food, exercise regularly, enjoy travel, experience other cultures and hold down a full time job. We all try and manage our time around our jobs by making tweaks here and there. Combining some things but predominantly dropping the things we love. We rarely acknowledge the effing great big elephant in the room that takes up all the space - Work.

So is Work an enabler or a disabler? I don't have an answer. Unless you're very lucky, you'll have the same problem. But it's no coincidence that the working classes (and by this I mean those that work full time) are not responsible for the world's greatest works of art, music, science and literature. It's also no coincidence that professional sport has emerged from so-called working class sports - the history of Rugby League and its split with Rugby Union was about exactly this. But theoretically speaking, imagine the talent out there. Imagine where art, music, science and literature could be if they had the masses contributing to it.

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a doctor talk about sleep deprivation. He was responding to some research that suggested lack of sleep makes people more susceptible to cancer. Amongst other things, he advised against exercise after 6pm because adrenalin and endorphins keep you awake. So if you want to work 9-5 and sleep soundly, when are you supposed to exercise? I suppose my whole problem with fatigue-fog could be solved if I went to bed early every night, but I have stuff to do. A life to lead - that's exactly the problem.

Of course, the doctor should've advised reduced working hours and improved work/life balance. Part-time hours and job share schemes for all. It could be the future, but of course, it won't be. Instead, we'll have to carry on living with that effing great big elephant and vague memories of yesterday - or was it the day before?

1 comment:

Philip Wynn said...

I hear ya brother!