If you are in a relationship, and especially if you have children, you have probably had the argument of who’s the most tired. Even if you don’t actually verbalise it, there’s a good chance you have internally scoffed at your partner’s claim that they are tired, immediately visualising your own more exhausting day. If this is expressed, the endless loop begins that can either, at best, escalate quickly into another tedious squabble, or at worst, create a prolonged resentful tension that can sometimes reach a point of no return. To avoid this, I think it’s healthy to look at tiredness in a more open and empathic way.
Other than our kids, much of our exhaustion is linked to our jobs, and I’ve made a living in many different ways. Before having any kind of ‘career’, I worked in various kitchens, cafés, and bars, a backpacker hostel, a tea factory, a bakery (which may not count as I was sacked after an hour), hotels, shops (both very busy ones and deathly quiet ones), a couple of days on removals and a week as a painter and decorator. Ok that last one was work experience, but I still did it.
I then went on to become a carer, for people with disabilities and later in a couple of homes for the elderly, which I loved and which taught me rather a lot about life, death and appreciation for others (stay with me, I’m getting to something).
After all this, I ran away to join the circus (don’t we all) and became a juggler, street performer and magician. Much of my working life is now spent in the office, with the odd jaunt out in the world to actually interact with, train, coach or entertain people. On top of that (nearly there), I’ve renovated four houses, each taking about a year, which I also loved (I didn’t). Oh, and I’ve had a good few killer hangovers, which, though not a job, you’ll see has some relevance to the following.
I know that this is beginning to sound like the boring first bit of an autobiography, but the point, finally, is that I, like all of us, have experienced lots of different kinds of tiredness. None of them are any less valid, important or undeserving than the others (well, maybe the hangover one).
Importantly, tiredness and exhaustion can be caused by a whole host of factors: pleasurable activities, hard work, lack of sleep, lack of stimulation, and of course drugs (such as alcohol, caffeine and a bit of the other). Though there are many different ways to feel knackered, knackered you will still feel and rest, or maybe stimulation, you will still need.
We all know this, as we’ve been human for quite some time, but for some reason we can sometimes treat tiredness as some weird competition, where we need to take turns, and If it’s not your turn, it’s not fair! Riddle me this…if someone gets home from a hard day’s work to someone who has been with the kids, and therefore done a hard day’s work, who gets to have a nice sit down? …aaaand fight!
Before having children I rather liked the idea of spending time at home and not having anything else to worry about, but, though often wonderful, this was a huge challenge for me. I remember the endless days of desperately trying to find something to stimulate my kids, and me, as some of my hardest. Previously hated chores became a release and visits to the supermarket, with my kids, became more frequent (when it rained, it was just somewhere to go). I distinctly remember being at the swimming pool, with my then three year old daughter, and submerging myself underwater, just to enjoy a few seconds of peace and solitude, a few moments of just ‘me’. I longed for the odd day without my kids, and when I did get those days, through work, I would miss them terribly and feel rather lost (the grass being a rather duller shade of green than one would have hoped).
Conversely, when renovating houses, I would sometimes spend 10 hours (or more) in the throes of manual labour, and of course at the end of the day I would be exhausted, not really being built for such things (it’s the dust, I can’t stand the fucking dust). But it was a different kind of tiredness to the numbness I felt after watching CBeebies for hours and trying to convince my kids that video games were fun. At the end of the day’s grafting, my rest felt physically earned. I despise most aspects of house maintenance (evidence of this being provided by the current state of my house), but, for me this has been the easiest work I have done on account of it being completely stress-free. I can shut off and listen to endless podcasts and audio books without any kind of performance anxiety or concern for anything other than the task at hand. I also kid myself that it counts as exercise.
So having done the endless hours of working in quiet shops, spending time with the kids, long shifts in busy care homes, tedious drives after very little sleep and hours of physical labour, the most ‘tired’ I have ever felt has definitely been due to lack of stimulation, but the most physically and mentally exhausted I have ever felt was as a street performer.
Street performers need to gather and entertain a crowd, to the extent that their audiences happily volunteer their hard earned cash. Starting his career busking in Covent Garden, Eddie Izzard, who has incidentally run countless marathons back to back, says that this is the hardest work he has ever done, and with this I concur.
The summer shows were easier and, though still tiring, just great fun, but in the middle of winter, when you had one shot to earn your money between rainy days, it was a very different matter. Walking out to an empty pitch, spending up to 20 minutes just building your audience (sometimes one by one) and then making them laugh, clap, cheer and pay, was the hardest thing I have ever, and will ever do. For a while I had a reputation of being able to get an audience on the quietest of days, and I can so clearly remember sitting at the back of Covent Garden’s West Piazza after a tough February slot, half naked after my 40 minute escapology show and holding my hat full of pound coins and fivers, not being able to move. There was just nothing left. It felt like I had purged everything I had for that short time and sometimes it was a great feeling, especially when it had worked and paying my mortgage for another month started looking like a possibility. But it could be heartbreaking too. After 40 minutes of throwing everything I had at a patient group of tourists, I would sometimes have to quit (can or bail) and walk off without finishing the show. For someone who gets up in front of people, this was the best lesson in resilience I could have had. Either way, the tiredness, and sometimes coldness would sometimes take hours to shake off. And this was after 40 minutes of work. You can see how that statement would’ve gone down with my then wife, who was a teacher in an incredibly demanding school.
The point is that for those not in your situation, it can make little sense, but it can’t really be argued with. There’s not really much point in inventing tiredness or making it up as there’s no real outcome. Stuff still has to be done. When someone tells you that they are tired, they probably are, whether they’ve been doing something enjoyable and active, or mundane and unstimulating. It’s all tiring. Life is tiring. So if someone says they are tired, maybe make them a nice drink and let them recharge their batteries. If you’re both tired, sit down and have a nice cuddle. And if you haven’t got time, I suggest trying to talk about how you feel and then have a cuddle. There’s always time for a cuddle.