It’s good to have an indicator for when you get really tired. Not “sleepy” tired, but fatigued, in the way that can compromise thinking, decision-making, and all the rest. Lately, I have that indicator.

When Anke and Dave were on the boat last year, I wasn’t getting much sleep. I’m not that good at sleeping anyway, and then we did, after all, sail through the night. At some point along the way Anke observed: “Shemaya, you really jump around between whatever things you are doing.” I had noticed this before, myself, that sometimes I tended to jump to whatever caught my attention and work on that, until the next thing caught my attention, often partway through whatever I had just been in the middle of. Eventually I decided that this wasn’t the end of the world, that six different things all got finished in the end, but that it was funny that I was completing them in so many disjointed parts. The advantage of doing this on a small boat is that you are never very far from being reminded of the tasks that you’ve wandered away from! Anyway, after Anke made that observation I started to pay more attention.

Which brings me to Mummy. My mom had a lot of issues, and a life with some really substantial difficulties. She was prescribed a broad array of psychiatric drugs, and endured a number of horrendous procedures that were considered “treatments.” Some of these things she found helpful, and others not. After one of them, her ability to stay on a particular task really deteriorated. Visiting at her apartment, in my 20s, she would suggest that she would make some coffee, which sounded good. 45 minutes later, that process would be somewhat underway. By the time she was getting older, there were folks who were coming to help with things like getting out of the house to go to appointments. One of them told me that taking a morning shower took about four hours, from start to finish. It was a long project, to get out of her apartment!

So once I got my own “jumping among tasks” clearly in view, I started to pay more attention to what was going on. For my mom, it was brain injury that caused this issue (never mind that it was an intentional surgery, and that she actually felt good about the results, and was willing to put up with the other effects.) With me, I started to pick up on the connection between lack of rest and task-jumping. It could be lack of sleep, or it could be the fatigue that comes with strenuous effort, both physical and mental. For example, sailing in big conditions with lots of factors to keep on top of, like tide, current, and tricky navigation with serious consequences for goof-ups. And doing heavy emotional work can contribute to the same effect.

It’s handy to have a quick shorthand for recognizing that level of fatigue. Nowadays, when I notice myself jumping between tasks, I say “oh look, I’m channeling Mummy.” Then I can both remind myself to follow one task through to completion before changing (probably a good pratice from a safety perspective), and to get some rest. Bonus, I get to think of my mom, in all her complexity. To embrace that I was able to say “oh, would you like me to help make the coffee?” And that she said yes.

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Eileen Fahnestock Miller