I am not a normal person, but I am often mistaken for one. That either means that I am an excellent actor, or that I generally come across as a fairly intelligent member of society who has her shit together.. While I don’t make any claims to normalcy, I am a contributing member of society, I can hold my own in many tiers of social interaction, and I could probably blend into polite society if I had any idea what the word “polite” meant. Every now and then, however, a little detail will peek through my well-adjusted persona that betrays my secret life as a Night Shift worker, largely deprived of consistent human interaction and Vitamin D. I can carry a delightful conversation with a group of peers all day until I try to relate casually by talking about the hair on my chin, or the popcorn shard that’s been stuck in my teeth all week, or something my cat told me the other day, and everyone stops talking for just a beat too long. Or when I look around in wonder as I walk around outside during the day, saying to myself, “Oh, so THIS is what daytime looks like! It’s so…bright!” The questioning looks on my peers’ faces make me feel like I’m an alien who has failed to fully blend in with human life. I mentally replay whatever I just did to cause the look, saying, “That was a complete English sentence, yes? I didn’t do the thing where I speak a thought fragment without realizing it? Shit, am I wearing pants?!”
I had a few of these moments a few weeks ago during a job interview. First of all, a Night Shift person going to an interview, or, really, doing anything that requires mental clarity, at 9am on a weekday is a recipe for disaster. I have a couple of other daytime interviews I went on as a Night Shifter under my belt to prove it, too. In one interview I spent a dizzying amount of time diagnosing the office dog with 3 different eye disorders and recommending an over the counter allergy medicine. In the car on the way home I realized I had large pit stains, probably because I wore a long sleeve shirt to an interview in a building with no air conditioner when it was 102 outside. Cut me some slack, people, a morning interview for a Night Shifter is like one of you Day Shifters getting up and going to a job interview at 2:30am, and the future of your career and your mental health is at stake, and oh by the way you’re night blind, but you have to get yourself there on time anyway, and you had no idea that strange people hang around outside at night and you don’t know how you’re supposed to interact with them because most of them don’t have teeth, don’t use toilets, and smell like a gym bag full of rotten oranges. It feels like that for me, but with the opposite of all the things I just said. I don’t think I need to tell you that I did not get that job. The interview a couple weeks ago, however, seemed to go much better, despite my inner Night Shifter trying hard to show itself.
My alarm was set for 7am for the interview, which was pointless because as soon as I tried to fall asleep when it was dark outside, my body said, “What! We don’t sleep now, are you insane?” I declined to answer that question, I just did my best impression of someone for whom night slumber is normal. I got up in the morning and put on my best imitation of a “nice” professional looking interview outfit, long sleeves to cover the tattoos, black dress pants, makeup, blow dried and styled hair, and black shoes. The pearls might have been a bit much. Also the pants were 2 sizes too big and I don’t own a belt. And the black shoes had a hole in the bottom that my toe peeked out of just slightly. My fingernails, a few of them anyway, also still had scratched remnants of metallic blue nail polish on them, and I do not own nail polish remover. I noticed all of these things slowly and painfully, one by one, as I pulled up to the interview location. Then I saw that my only copy of my resume now had a hole in it because it slipped to the floor under my scrappy black shoes and I stepped on it. Good thing I wasn’t interviewing for a position organizing homes for senior citizens where attention to detail is next to godliness and professionalism is imperative.
Except that it was a position organizing homes for senior citizens where attention to detail and professionalism are critically important. On the bright side, there’s nothing senior citizens love and respect more than tattoos, blue nail polish, and cleavage shirts – did I forget to mention I chose a cleavage shirt? What was I thinking, trying to pretend I was a normal adult? My Night Shift was showing all over the holes in my shoes, 5 year old quality manicure, and the cleavage my giant pearls (pearls!?) were drawing attention to. In my defense, the last 10 years of my professional life have required little more presentation than rolling out of bed and into a pair of scrubs (wrinkles optional), so I suddenly felt way out of my league. I was an alien Night Shifter in the Day Shifter world, trying to play by the rules and trying to sell myself as an asset to this professional environment.
I read a book once where a character stole something valuable and hid it in her pocket. She was coached to never look at her pocket when she talked to people, and to draw attention anywhere but the pocket. That was my strategy for the interview: Don’t look at your nails or talk with hand gestures. Don’t look at your feet Remember, my eyes are up HERE. I walked confidently (with just a slight limp…shoe hole) into that interview for a Day Shift job I felt I would be very good at. I played up my strengths while taking risks by forgoing the formulaic, expected answers to questions. I kept the focus on the most important things I have learned from past jobs and the reasons why I wanted this particular job. This time I was actually not the person who brought up animal diseases in the conversation, which is almost never the case, and while I attempted a joke about the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders that I ended up having to explain, the interview conversation was very organic and positive. It turned out that this person, like me, has no use (innate talent?) for subtlety, and she was forthright about things she liked about me and also my potential weaknesses. I would work well for someone like that.
The interview ended on a positive note, and I walked away with pride, and some astonishment at what I had just pulled off. Whatever adrenaline helped me get through that interview during a time that my body thought it should be asleep wore off within 30 seconds of sitting in my car to drive home. I was tired and I wanted ice cream. I soon started to think there might not have been any adrenaline involved at all. That was the real me during that interview, holy shoes and all; I just had to use strategy and skills I haven’t used in a long time. Like atrophied muscles after their first workout, I was exhausted. I was exhausted from sitting at a table and talking for an hour, but having a rottweiler soak my pant leg with blood, puke on me, then corner me in a kennel while trying to tear out my jugular is a common occurrence that doesn’t make me bat an eye. While potentially moving to a day shift could actually save my life by giving me a structure, routine, and social life again, it would be culture shock. Yes, I will finally know when to eat breakfast again, but my body will have to re-learn the whole sleeping at night thing. It will take months, and I’m not going to pretend like I’m not going to talk about my chin hair or my dog’s cataracts with some old lady whose pantry I’m organizing during the adjustment period. I will slip up, I am only human. Wait, strike that, I am almost human, but I’m getting there. I’ll be there just as soon as I can keep my Night Shift from showing too much.