Lighten up, Francis

Andrew Harvey

Yes, I quoted Stripes. And?

Yesterday I talked about sleep deprivation, its ill effects, and offered a couple of steps toward better sleep. Today I want to dive deeper. Let’s talk mood swings.

So, do you have wild mood swings? Is your temper on a hair trigger? Are you impatient, snappish, or short? Do you overreact to small irritations? Congratulations, you’re human, not Vulcan.

None of us are Mr. Spock. We all have moods and we all have mood swings. Accepting that the problem isn’t preventing mood swings (that’s not possible) lets us focus on more solvable problems;

  • How do I minimize mood swings?
  • How do I mitigate the effects of mood swings?

Personally, I find these two questions to be far more important.

I’ve got three boys, all in grade school. The house is messy, noisy, chaotic and confused. You know what Engineers generally like? Quiet, order, rules and procedures. You can take it to the bank that my home life quite a bit different from the office. I might wish it weren’t so, but it is, and we live in the realm of the possible, not the ideal.

So, what is possible? Is it possible those three little boys are going to become tidy, orderly and quiet? Ehhh, no. Okay, is it possible to learn to deal with “this is,” rather than lose one’s temper in search of “this ought to be?” Well, given the first is a resounding NO, then the second is all that is left.

There was a time, not too long ago, that I didn’t deal well with my messy, chaotic, noisy little boys. And my difficulties were amplified by the mood swings that came with sleep deprivation.

The sleep deprivation wasn’t always my fault. Crying babies do wake up mommy and daddy. The trouble is that once you’ve solved their problems, they fall right back to sleep, but you may not. I rarely did and I would be dragging ass the next day as because of it.

So, I would then drink too many cups of coffee to make it through the day. Then be too tired and jacked up on caffeine to go to the gym, and I still have too much caffeine floating around my bloodstream to get to sleep. Then the little goober would wake up for his 3 am feeding and the cycle would begin anew.

I would come home to the mess, and the noise, and the chaos, just wanting a little peace and quiet, but the boys wanted Daddy. To my shame, I found myself snappish and short with those wonderful little boys. Wonderful little boys who very much did not deserve it.

And I thought about conversations I had previously had with my wife. Conversations about friends whose husbands didn’t seem to want to spend any time with their kids. Conversations where I would say, “Why did they have kids, if they didn’t want to raise them?” But, ummm, I was doing the same thing.

So I looked inward. Why was I snappish and short? Why was I moody? Why was I impatient? Because I was stressed out and exhausted. Okay, Andrew, you’re stressed out, exhausted and sleep deprived. So what are you going to do about it? Keep on barking at your children because of your crap? Or fix it?

My shame was that I got myself into that mess. My pride, my joy, is that I got out of it. But how? By breaking the stress/sleep deprivation cycle.

Andrew’s steps to better sleep.

  • Get to bed on time, every time. Skip the late hockey game. Put down the book.
  • Turn off the damned phone.
  • If you can’t turn off the phone, don’t even take it into the bedroom.
  • Better still, NO screens in the bedroom. None. Zero.
  • No caffeine after lunch.
  • Get to the gym. Regularly. NOT if and when you feel like it, SCHEDULE it. And GO.
  • Leave the office AT THE OFFICE. Home is not a place you should be stressing about work, especially when there are epic Uno games to be played.

I’ll tell you, the first couple of weeks of this was tough. I had a few rough mid afternoon meetings. One yoga class I fell asleep ½ way through. Seriously, I lay down for the floor sequence (it starts at the midpoint of a Bikram class) and the next thing I knew Rory was waking me up for the final breathing exercise.

But those rough weeks were worth it. I got back to regular yoga, got my hard exercise, got my “90 minute moving meditation,” got destressed. I busted up the cortisol, exhausted my body, and got better sleep. I tamed the mood swings, learned patience most of all, I learn to love my boys for who and what they are, not some idea of what they ought to be.

Along the way I got better. I got better at marriage, I got better at work, I got better at yoga, I even got better at hockey. Most of all, in the end I became a better daddy, a daddy that my little boys deserve. And, maybe, hopefully, a daddy who deserves the little boys who bless his life.

Cross posted at standupright.ca.

Andrew Harvey

Written by

Father, husband, engineer. Just a guy trying to navigate the rocks and shoals of the middle years. Standupright.ca.

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