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Understanding and controlling the winter blues

I caught a rather severe case of the winter blues this year.

I caught a rather severe case of the winter blues this year.

I had feelings of irritability, a craving for comfort foods, loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities, poor concentration and loss of energy.

After the high of the Christmas season, feeling a little down in January has become part of the normal seasonal work cycle for me. By the end of January, I am normally in the groove of a new year and the bluesy feeling has passed. But not this year.

This year the feeling of simply being tired is clinging to me. That feeling of fatigue aggravates the normal daily irritations I face on the road each day often blowing them out of proportion. So I had to face the question: What has changed?

I spent more time on the road in 2009 than what I would consider normal and that trend continues to the present day.

This revelation comes as no surprise; it is a direct result of the downturn in the economy. As I investigated this line of thought, I realized that the quality of my time on the road has also changed dramatically.

It is the quality and not the quantity of time I am spending on the job that has a far greater effect on my state of mind.

My last trip to Michigan is a good example of this. It was short but not sweet.

I left my home terminal in Ayr, Ont. at 8:00 p.m. It was a simple, straightforward load. I was switching trailers in Kalamazoo, Mich. then heading up to Grand Rapids for a load that was ready the following evening. Simple. No time issues or hours-of-service issues to deal with.

I planned to be in Grand Rapids by 2:30 the following morning, get a good night’s sleep, then kill the balance of the day before hooking on to the load that evening and making the five-hour trip back to Ayr. The problem was that 25 kms after leaving the terminal in Ayr, I got a Check Engine light and then -bingo -the engine derated. I contacted dispatch, flipped around and headed back to the terminal.

Luckily there was another highway tractor in the yard. I slid my gear into it, while dispatch modified the Customs documents. Then I was off again; but now it was almost midnight.

The Kalamazoo load had to be delivered by eight in the morning. At this point I had plenty of time -but not plenty of energy. I crossed the border, grabbed a 90-minute nap at the first rest area and had the trailer in the dock in Kalamazoo by 7:45. I grabbed an empty trailer out of the yard in Kalamazoo and made it up to Grand Rapids well within my 14-hour window.

It was 9:45 in the morning. My load was scheduled for eight or nine that evening.

You would think after having been up most of the night, sleeping wouldn’t be a problem. But that short nap in the middle of the night combined with the bright sun, warm spring weather, and the hustle and bustle of a busy day taking place around me made sleeping difficult.

It was 9 p.m. when I started rolling out of Grand Rapids. By the time I arrived at the port of entry in Sarnia, I had been fighting off the waves of fatigue for over an hour.

Ironic isn’t it? You can operate well within the hours-of-service rules and still not be fit to be on the road. This is a circumstance that is more common than any of us like to admit. It goes to show that longer trips do not equate with more fatigue. It’s all about the quality of time we spend within each and every day.

I have come to understand over the last couple of weeks that I’m not suffering from the winter blues. I’m dealing with a type of shift work sleep disorder. According to the National Sleep Foundation I have most of the symptoms: Insomnia; disrupted sleep schedules; irritability; reduced performance; and excessive sleepiness.

Understanding this makes me feel a little better but I still have to cope with it.

I can’t lay the blame for this situation at the feet of my employer or anyone else for that matter.

In fact my employer has bent over backwards to keep us all moving out here and financially I had a good year last year. Obviously it has come at a price though.

It goes to show that despite all the procedural issues and regulatory changes we are facing in this industry each and every one of us is responsible for making the decisions that affect our individual health and well-being. That will never change.

-Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at

and you can follow him on Twitter at

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