A lifetime ago, I was walking across a field with a gnarly old SEAL senior enlisted on a deployment in some dusty corner of Africa when he turned to me and said something I’ve never forgotten.
“This is the best way to feel when you need to kick in a door. Dead tired. Hollow.”
It sounded strange but I felt exactly like what he said. We’d been up for three days straight. We’d wandered into an uncharted creek trying to find a place to fix one of our boats and stirred up a hornets nest of smugglers. We ended up on a two night chase down the coast until we finally had them cornered. I remember being too damn tired to be scared. Or worried. I just wanted to nail it down and fall asleep in my gear; which I did. It was a warrior’s sleep. Deep. Dreamless.
There’s a funny thing about that kind of fatigue. It doesn’t feel bad. It’s not exactly pleasurable either. It’s something closer to satisfying. There’s something to the mental connection to productivity that allows us to celebrate the suck. That life taught me a thing or two about fatigue. Being a special needs father years later taught it to me all over again.
The only thing that has ever pushed me to the mental brink the way being on a special operations mission did is being right in the middle of a bad spell with my son. When special needs kids get sick, it’s 10X the problem that other kids have. When they have sleep problems, no one sleeps. And sometimes, they just get out of sorts, which can last for days, weeks or even months, no one gets a second of peace. It wears you down to the nub. The secret to holding it together is crossing the mental bridge in your head to seeing the work the way I saw a mission. You have to see yourself in the care you’re providing to them. And to find satisfaction in facing it. If you see it as something just to get through, something tedious or unfair, something you ought not have to do, it will deplete you and erode more than just your physical energy. It will deplete your soul. But if you see at is an opportunity to serve, it has the opposite effect.
It’s the sort of thing you have to say before you believe it. And believe it long before you see it. But once you cross that bridge, you become something close to unconquerable. We are special needs fathers. We do things because they must be done. The world does not care if we are worn out. It does not care if we were up all night and have to make a 7AM deadline at work. The work is there. And we love it. Because we need to. And when it’s done, we’ll drift off into that warrior’s sleep. And wake up to do it all again.