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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Plane Grounded: Low on Fuel

Dear Mom,

I'm grounded!

Seriously -- it's like being in high school. It's as if the universe is punishing me for irresponsible behavior!

I went to the podiatrist yesterday morning, and he confirmed what I'd suspected about my foot: I messed it up by trotting all over the city wearing silly, unsupportive sandals. And, this definitely qualifies as an "uptown problem" -- or, as I like to call 'em "white lady woes" -- I couldn't get on my flight to Colorado until Wednesday.

He wrapped up my foot with some tape -- I'm not sure how much it will help, versus being sort of a thank you present for stopping by...
 So, I'll just sit here and enjoy my little view...and write you another letter.
The upside is I suddenly got two days with nothing to do but chill out. I'm not supposed to walk. Again, it's like I've been grounded!

And, after the emotional whirlwind of this summer, perhaps that's not such a bad thing. Sometimes it takes ye olde mind a while to digest and process things. A friend of mine who used to travel for the CIA reminded me to take it easy, to be gentle with myself: "A trip like your trip to Africa can take a while to recover from! You saw and experienced a lot. It takes weeks to get over something like that."

We'll call it a case of emotional jet lag. And sure, there are some external factors most people know about. But there's also some internal stuff. Which is the point of this post:

You never know what's going on in somebody else's head. 

Now, to some extent, I've known I was running out of gas for a while. And I found it almost...intriguing. Sort of a risk indicator. Because it made me think of when I used to drive a car. (Not having to drive is one of the things I love most about living in Manhattan.)

And I, like most people, would sometimes push it...

And once, when I was in high school, and really stupid and inexperienced, I pushed it so hard that Clint and Darla Weber literally had to push it!

For some reason, Darla isn't in this shot, but here Clint and I are in my Volkswagen Cabriolet in 1994, the year I graduated from high school, when I drove them to and from school. Mr. Glenn and Miss Vivian paid me $5 a day, or $2.50 each way. That was good money back then!

Unfortunately, $5 a day apparently wasn't enough money to make me keep my tank filled up (which is beyond ridiculous, as I'm fairly certain this was still in the day of Bo Beane's full-service filling station, when I could roll up and say, "Charge it to my daddy's account, please!").

So, one day we coasted into that Suwanee Swifty store on Highway 90 on fumes. Darla recalls that the three of us had to push just a little bit through the parking lot to the fuel pump (did we make Clint push or let him steer? he was so little back then!), but it wasn't too bad. We all laughed about it, and we still laugh about it.

Meanwhile...while we're on the are two more photos of that little car! I loved it so much. Gosh, sometimes you don't realize how privileged you were until you can look back on it. Let's give TBS a shout-out: What a sweet, sweet ride for a teenage girl to tool around in! It was my dream car. We decorated it one year for Homecoming...

Here Amanda and I are headed to Panama City for Spring Break, where I demonstrated my ability to execute a lightning-quick U-turn in heavy traffic on The Strip to tail a carload of cute Yankee boys. (Most people do not know that "How to Tailgate Cute Boys" was an elective course you offered to a very select pool of female students.)
Anyway, back to the point.

On some level, I knew I was running out of gas a few weeks ago, and I got curious about whether it's a sort of unofficial way to assess one's risk tolerance. My theory was...people who are bold and tend to take more risks would push the limits, while those who are risk-averse -- the 'fraidy cats of the world -- would never get below half a tank.

So, I did what anyone does when they want to take a poll these days: I put it on Facebook.

Well, silly me! That little theory didn't last long. People loved this question! I got more than 100 responses!

Angus submitted his answer with a visual.

And while -- in general -- it seemed there was a slight correlation of husbands being more willing to "push it," with wives being more in the "safety first" bucket -- especially if they have little kids, sick kids or elderly parents -- people's answers were all over the place. There was no rhyme or reason! Some women like knowing they can push it because their husbands will always take care of them. A lot of people fill up as a way to honor one of Dad's trusty life lessons. Others push it -- and know their fathers would wring their necks -- because they like to feel like the black sheep.

And then there was my friend Elyse, who chimed in with this:

I push it. Every time. Once ran out of gas on the Golden Gate Bridge. They have tow trucks permanently parked at the end with gas. It was actually so convenient that, if it wasn't for the embarrassment factor, I'd make a habit of it! I think it does reflect personality. I am not so much a risk taker as have an "it will all work out!" mentality. And, it usually does! Well, except when it doesn't. Lol.

Funny enough, I didn't know this story when I asked Elyse to drive me along the gorgeous California coast from San Francisco to Big Sur last September. What a perfect day we had!

We stopped for lunch at Nepenthe.

It was just breathtaking! She'd been a few times but said she'd never seen the sky so blue and clear. Sometimes the fog just won't lift.  
We had so much fun that I do suspect even running out of gas wouldn't have rained on our parade! We would have just made some new friends.

Because sometimes -- that's what happens. You let yourself run out of gas...and you end up with a new friend or a funny story.

That was Uncle Bob's take. I think Alfreida Lee was what he called that old VW bug that stayed in the family so long? You know...this one?

He wrote: Ran out of gas in Alfreida Lee with Susie Snider while out selling yearbook ads on our way back from Havana. Pretty sure she thought it was a set up.

Come to think of it, I ran the Ford combine slam dry one summer. Your father had me up on top wrapping my lips around the filler pipe and blowing while he bled the injectors down below! Pleasant farm memories!

It's so funny -- I posted that question sensing I was "running low on gas" from an emotional level. It was as if I'd been able to absorb everything that had been thrown at me for so long -- your illness and death, Dad's stroke, my knowledge that I "had to do something" to reignite my creativity -- and then BOOM!!

I just ran out of gas.

And it happened really, really quickly. There were a few other things going on, and it was all just more than I could handle. Fortunately, a couple of sweet, loyal friends saw the signs and connected the dots, and they just gently and lovingly told me I needed to cry "uncle." With everything I was managing, there was no reason for me not to be getting some professional help. And I knew they were right.

The reason I think it's worth writing about is because it taught me something:
If you wait too long, if you let yourself run out of gas, it can be really, really hard to jump through the hoops to get the resources you need.

Or -- in other words -- if you go for too many miles doing everything you can to keep the wheels on the bus -- without stopping for a tune-up -- the wheels will, indeed, come off the bus.

Now...that might not be such a bad thing. I mean, sometimes you are just on the wrong bus! Maybe another, better bus will come along while you're hanging out by the side of the road.

Nevertheless, figuring out the mental health system -- getting a good therapist, finding doctors who won't just write a prescription and tell you to pop a pill, figuring out what you can afford and what's covered by your insurance, finding someone who isn't located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn -- is NOT for the mentally faint. But that's the beauty of having good friends. People will help you if you let them.

Let me repeat: people will help you if you let them.

Okay, again, I think it's that last part we really need to zone in on: if you let them. 

We'll circle back to this theme another day, as the way this lesson played out when you were sick  needs its own post. (And it shall be titled Getting Help, a nod to Kathryn Stockett's wonderful 2009 novel.)

But it's sorta sad and sorta funny the way we all walk around sometimes pretending nothing's wrong. The day I felt like I might come unglued, I made sure to wear a really good outfit to work! I have this fantastic new red sheath, and I wore it with a turquoise necklace that really pops. And perhaps I could have made a more effective sympathy case to my boss if I had walked in looking like absolute hell. But I have too much pride, too much of that Mimi/Lota "look good...feel good" nonsense.

Why do we do that? I sent Dr. Howell a note and asked him if he's ever thought about having Pajama Day at church!

I mean, honestly -- if we want people to believe that the church truly is a "hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints," shouldn't we make it easier for people to show up like this?
When was the last time anybody laughed their ass off in a Saint John suit or an Armani tie?! There's something to be said for the way "the inner and the outer" are connected -- or disconnected.

Clothes make the man! 
Dress for the job you want...not the job you have. 
Today was a total waste of make-up. 
A smile is just a frown turned upside down.

And we could go off on a whole tangent about the way Facebook promotes this sort of "keeping up appearances," and how we tend to blast out the good news and cover up the bad stuff. Weddings are a trumpet and divorces are a whisper. Some of that is healthy and natural, but when we're doing it from a place of fear or shame, that's really not okay.

When bad stuff happens in Quincy, it tends to get gossiped about all over town, which can be really awful and embarrassing when it's your stuff -- but I think the upside of it is -- as you might say, "Well, hell, at least you don't have to tell the same story a million times. Everybody hears it anyway." Julia Sugarbaker put it:

Here's the bumper sticker version:

I mean, honestly, isn't there something rather delightful about being able to sit down with a friend and say, "Are your people as crazy as my people? 'Cause BOY -- do we have some stories!"

Anyhoo, in the interest of not becoming a family legend, as sometimes breakdowns take a few years to become comic, rather than tragic (and some are too awful ever to be anything other than forever tragic), I took myself a little much-needed mental health break the week before I resigned. And it kinda sucked to admit I couldn't do it all. I wanted to keep working through the end of August. But I just couldn't do it. I was exhausted. Out of gas.

I learned some new things about myself. And mostly...I remembered how to take care of myself. Because even if you have a partner or a spouse who helps out at times, the person who is responsible for taking care of you is, ultimately, you.

And I had a really cool conversation about that concept over happy hour with a colleague on Thursday night, one of those boozy chats you might not have if you weren't enjoying a few cocktails on a summer night. He said, "As long as there's someone else who sees you as their responsibility, you don't really feel like you have to be responsible for yourself." We talked about the pride he had from knowing he'd buried his father well, with honor and dignity. That it is, in a sense, an accomplishment, a sort of final rite of passage into adulthood. The torch has been passed.

That's why I could say goodbye to you in December -- knowing it was bittersweet as hell -- because it wasn't just bitter, there was a whole lot of sweetness. Literally -- warm pound cake, butter rolls, apple cake, the list goes on and on!

But more than that, there was a sense it was okay, your legacy was complete, you'd lived a rich, unique, wild and wonderful life, and you'd trained your girls to do exactly what you raised us to do: live our own rich, unique, wild and wonderful lives.

Because I'm a big girl who oughta know when she needs to put herself on restrictions! And if I don't...well, that's what friends are for.

And if they miss the hints...well, there's always our crazy relatives for back up!



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