Running On Empty
Let me set the scene for you.
It’s 8: 35 PM on a Sunday evening and I am sitting in a pink smart car stranded in the middle of a busy intersection. My car had shuddered to a stop, vehicles around me are beeping angrily, and my phone dies the second I pick it up to call for help.
Why did my car decide to take a nap on me in the middle of my drive towards Trader Joe’s? It was on empty.
Okay so back to the scene.
I had enough sense to put my hazard lights on, but was totally panicking on what to do next. My car would not move, I was slap bang in the middle of this busy intersection, and I was frantically shaking my dead phone thinking this would somehow resurrect it. My heart rate was increasing rapidly and I could feel myself going into full blown panic mode. Thankfully a police officer was patrolling the area and pulled up behind me, I rolled down the window of the hot pink chick mobile and explained that my car had run out of gas. The police officer said he could call the tow company to tow me to a gas station, but they would need $100 cash to do so. Unsurprisingly I did not have any cash on me, but I was hoping my lovely roommates would be willing to bail me out. I managed to get my phone to turn back on (it’s broken and dies at random points in time even with a full battery- thanks Apple!) so I called my roommates hoping they could come do me a solid. My roommate picked up and I got out “Hey I need your help my-” before the phone died again. The police officer said I could run to the gas station so I grabbed my debit card and booked it the 1/4 mile to the gas station to buy a canister and fill it up. I ran the 1/4 mile back to the car, only for the police officer to tell me I was missing the nozzle attachment that I needed to get the gas into the actual car. At this point my legendary roommates showed up after having driven around our town trying to find me, and drove me back to the gas station to get the nozzle attachment. Once we got back to the car the towing company was there and had filled it up, and charged me $100 for coming out. As frustrating as this was due to the fact that we had now gotten the nozzle and could have done it ourselves, the police officer made it clear I was required to pay it or my car would get towed to an impound lot. As the cop pulls away he says “Don’t drive with your car on empty”
If you ever want to feel like a complete idiot, stand next to a pink smart car with a unicorn bumper sticker stranded in the middle of a busy intersection with a cop telling you not to drive your fucking car on empty.
Filling your car is a no-brainer, and yet all I could think about on the way home was how I got myself into this mess and had neglected to do such a basic task. I got back to my house and jumped into the shower to wash the stench of gasoline and shame off of my body, and I began retracing my steps to figure out how I ended up sprinting down main avenue with a gas canister in hand at 8:35 PM on a Sunday.
The truth is, my car did not hit empty that night. Honestly it did not even hit empty that same day. The fateful orange E light turned on in my car the night before at 1 AM. I had been working a wedding about 90 minutes away from home, and was driving back after a long day of folding napkins, lighting candles, and writing all the good DJ songs down on my clipboard so I could remember to add them to my workout playlist. When the dreaded light flashed on I was a few miles from home and was completely exhausted, so I figured it could wait until tomorrow. I knew I would have to be up at 6 AM for work which would only give me 5 hours of sleep if I got home right at 1, and I wanted every minute of that precious sleep I could get.
The next morning I slept in a few minutes later than intended due to the post-wedding exhaustion and therefore had to rush to get ready for work, so I drove the 3 miles to work and told myself I would get gas on the way home. I didn’t have time for breakfast so I started my 4 hour shift with a rumbly belly but a big smile on my face (I get to run around with kids all day, it rocks). I ended up staying at work longer than expected as I wanted to get some emails done after the shift, and then remembered I had to drop off the wedding linen bags at the Staples UPS drop off on the way home. I drove to the store and carried in 4 big sacks of napkins and tablecloths from the night before, stained with red wine and smelling like pesto. At this point I was starving and super tired so I grabbed lunch from a drive thru and headed home to eat and sleep, vowing that I would get gas on the way to grocery shop tonight.
My intended 40 minute nap turned into almost 3 hours, so I scrambled to write down all the ingredients I would need to meal prep for the week and hopped into my cute little car to drive to Trader Joe’s before they closed at 9 PM. It was already 8:30 PM and I could feel my grocery window closing and my beloved salt and pepper pistachios drifting further and further away, so I promised myself I would get gas as soon as I left Trader Joe’s with my groceries in tow. You can guess what happened next.
Something as simple as putting gas in my car became such an ordeal because I didn’t feel I had the time to do it, so I kept pushing and pushing my poor little car on empty because I had so much stuff I needed to do and not enough time to do it. The cost of those tasks? $100, my roommates’ Game of Thrones viewing, and my pride.
The truth of the matter is that I got really lucky. The police officer was really nice and did his best to help me, and no other vehicles bumped into my stalled car in the process. I was about 30 seconds away from turning onto the highway when my car came to a stop, so this story could have ended very differently had I made it onto that busy highway. I don’t know what the exact effects of a regular sized vehicle moving 60+ mph on the highway slamming into a 2 person stationary smart car is, but I know it doesn’t end well for me or the car. Even though I got lucky and made it home in one piece, the lesson was not lost on me- this is what happens when you run on empty.
I treat my car the same exact way I treat my body- I push it as far as it can possibly go with very little time to refuel. I expect my car to just suck it up because I’ve got shit to do, just like I tell my rumbling stomach and throbbing headache when I haven’t eaten or slept because I have Etsy orders to finish, shifts to work, emails to answer, bills to pay, and kids to coach.
The thing I learned tonight is that you can push and push and push, but eventually you’re going to run out of gas and have to pay the price. Tonight it resulted in my car shuddering to a halt at a intersection, last week it was me hiding in my closet during a panic attack episode.
I have been pushing myself on empty for far longer than I have my poor car, but tonight I really got to see firsthand the effects of not taking care of the small things when trying to accomplish the big ones. When it comes to myself and my mental health it can seem like this abstract thing that I can overlook, but nothing makes it more clear than a car breaking down because you neglected to do the most basic thing- fill it up.
I am seeing both a therapist and a mindfulness coach in an attempt to improve my mental health, but tonight was a good reminder that my work-first-survive-later lifestyle is still a beast that needs to be tamed, and that I should check myself more often to make sure I am not undoing all of the hard work I have put in so far. It doesn’t matter how many times you have filled your car up before, it just takes one time of not filling it up (or one weekend of working way too many hours) to knock you back quite a few steps.
Sometimes it takes a cop telling you to put gas into your car to remind you that you need to take care of yourself first.