I don't think I've ever been this exhausted. Ever.
I think being tired has just become a part of my personality now. Once you become so overly exhausted, you kind of become numb to it and just live with it. It's just something that kind of hovers in the background, you feel it all the time but learn to ignore it.
Once again I would have to lose a lot of sleep to do another behavior run. This last run of monitors was by far the most difficult, but it started out relatively well. After doing a few 24 hour runs, you start to get used to it and it becomes easier. The night of my third 24 hour run, I was able to stay up the whole time with few to no problems (partially thanks to the release of this). Being up that late isn't so bad. It's quiet and calm, and there is no one around usually so you can have some time to yourself to get things done without any distractions. Sometimes the stars are out and I go stargazing. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of those nights, but it still wasn't all bad. You just have to make it to sunrise.
Thankfully sunrise finally came and helped to keep me awake, and so I continued my day as I normally would during these runs: monitoring. All day I monitored, growing more and more exhausted as time passed. By the time night rolled around, I was pretty far gone. Lately for these behavior monitors, we have done 72 hours total where you do continuous for 24 hours and then continue to do continuous hourly monitors after that until you can no longer stomach it, and then check three times at night. I don't use caffeine at all due to its effects on the body, so normally to get by the second and third night I take a little nap before I have to go out again, but this time I was swamped with work and someone at the station was very sick and needed some help, so I stayed up until the 3:00 am monitor.
At this point my body decided it was done and I began to grow delirious. I had never had this happen before, so it was a bit of a terrifying experience. I knew something was wrong, but I felt too cloudy to deal with it. I could barely stand up straight, I felt myself actively falling asleep outside of my control, and I felt like I was hallucinating. I felt like I was dreaming very bizarre dreams but my eyes were open and I was still moving from tank to tank. You feel like things are happening completely outside of your control and there is very little you can do to solve it, but you also just feel too out of it to really engage the idea that something is actually happening. You feel everything in this kind of a haze, and part of you understands what is going on and part of you doesn't. This was a bad run. There are portions of it that I don't even remember. In my stupor I was still determined to finish the run, and I managed to do so mostly. A few data points were missing, however, and much of the data looked like a small child wrote it, but I had done it. Even in some kind of "out of body" state, I was still determined to do what I had to do.
When you go for long periods without or with very little sleep, you kind of feel like you are in survival mode. You have to use everything you have in you to keep yourself awake, to distract yourself and hold yourself together. I felt myself losing control a little bit and it scared me because feeling like I am not in control of myself is one of my worst fears, but part of me felt very in control and very, very determined. I was going to survive.
As bizarre as it may sound, there is a small bit about doing these that is actually a little exciting. Something about fighting to stay awake and that sense of surviving kind of feels like an adventure. You kind of have to think about it like that to keep yourself going. It's just an adventure that you are going through and in the end, you will be able to say that you did it. Telling yourself that you've made it through 42+ hours on 2 hours of sleep with few breaks is really, really empowering. Telling yourself you've made it through 72+ hours with only 5ish (maybe) hours of sleep in total and few breaks is even more empowering. I had little time to eat (some meals I just had to skip), to breathe, to do anything but monitor, but I pushed and pushed and pushed onward. That's what you do. You have to. And now, I can do anything. Nothing scares me off anymore (well, except all the math that my project mentor dished out on me). I did it. I survived.
You would think I would hate the experience of this exhausting run. No one would think bad of me for hating it. But, I don't hate it, because as miserable and exhausting as it was, I pulled through. I learned a lot, about science, about myself, about perseverance and the power of encouragement from people who care about you. Something like this could have the potential to scare me or anyone else off forever, but I'm not done with biology just yet. Just because something is difficult doesn't mean it isn't good or beneficial. Just because something isn't your "cup of tea" doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. Sure, maybe I didn't have as much control over this project or choosing what I wanted to do as I would have liked (I was given a list of things that the station was currently looking at and what was doable, so since I am fascinated by animal behavior, I went that route. I created the proposal, though, and made it my own), but it's been such a learning experience. But, I also know what kinds of research questions and what kind of behavioral studies fascinate me and which ones just peak it a little. That's a good thing to know; it's valuable information when you are just starting out. As a biologist, there are a million different routes you can take, so it can be a little overwhelming even for people like me who know what they want to do. Being able to see firsthand and experience your different options allows you to get a better feel and a better sense of direction for where you want to go in the future, but it also gives you experience across different platforms. That's a valuable learning experience.
Since I have to stay up forever all the time and recently learned how to photograph long exposure, I figured I'd give star trails a try. They are a bit of pain to photograph. You have to find somewhere dark enough to be able to capture the stars, and then you have to leave the camera to sit for 15-20+ minutes and hope that no one comes by or turns on a light or that clouds don't roll in. Sometimes you get great shots, and sometimes they are too dark or someone does turn on a light and it blows out the whole shot. It requires a great deal of patience and time to learn, and I am still trying to get the hang of them. Unfortunately the weather decided to be uncooperative and was cloudy the whole time during my hardest run, but the one before that I was able to play around and get a few shots.
Just like my research runs, star trail photos require patience, time, and endurance. You keep going because the end result is so dear and worth everything you put into it. Sure. maybe sometimes things don't go so well (you get a little delirious or your shot is blown out), but for all the issues, the end results make it all worthwhile. You keep moving forward. Always.