The Consequences of Letting My Tank Run Dry

Have you ever let your gas tank run so low you could run out of gas at any moment, like the middle of nowhere or the middle of a ridiculously busy highway? Have you ever run low on cash or time, and tried to get away with just $5 or $10 in your gas tank to tie you over? Picture this. It’s nearing end of the month and you’re low on gas budget, so you put $10 in your tank to get you by. But the gas doesn’t get you to the end of the month like you thought it would, so you put in another $5 in hopes THAT will get you to the end of the month. But that $5 doesn’t quite do it either, so you put in ANOTHER $5. Finally, you made it to the end of the month! Phew! This method doesn’t work very well, does it? If you never fill your tank completely, you just keep running out of gas.

Yes, I’m ashamed to report that I’ve experienced these things first hand. I’m the person who tends to run low on gas. I’m the person who’s been stranded on the side of the road twice in the past five years. I’m the person who runs and goes and does until I’ve run myself near dry. I’m unhappy to report that this summer, I’ve run my tank the driest it’s been in a long, long time.

My tank started running dry on May 10, the day after my youngest child’s last day of preschool. Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. I love my baby girl. But the truth is, she’s a busy extrovert and loves being at preschool. I love my writing, photography editing, and catch all days at home while ALL three kids are in school. I refuse to believe this makes me a “bad mom.” It makes me a real mom, a mom who knows what her kids need for optimal functioning, a woman who loves her kids dearly, but also knows what she needs for optimal functioning.

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Knowing summer was coming and it would be impossible to find writing time of any significance, I stopped working on my books at the end of April. I pushed out four blog posts in June and four blog posts in July, but only published one post in August prior to this one. I worked out once the week of July 4th, and once the week of July 11th. I haven’t worked out since. We’ve made it to some Sunday church services this summer, but not nearly as many as we do during the school year. I’ve been home full-time with three children for 10 weeks, and my youngest was home full-time four weeks before that. Needless to say, my alone time has been lacking. Let me remind you, I’m an introvert. I need a certain amount of time by myself to function properly.

If you know me personally, you know I’m sturdy and steady. My dad used to tell me to “get more excited.” My sister has mentioned that sometimes it annoys her that I’m so calm under pressure, that nothing seems to phase me. The truth is, while I might be sturdy and steady on the outside, I’m taking in EVERY. LITTLE. THING. on the inside. I’m highly sensitive. I notice everything. I feel everything. I internalize EVERYTHING. And I over process EVERYTHING in this wild and crazy brain of mine. If I don’t get time to do what I love on a regular basis- writing, photography, exercise, quiet time with God – I fizzle out. My tank starts emptying.

Unfortunately, this summer, my tank went dry right before my eyes. My tank ran SO DRY that it resulted in public meltdowns not once, but FOUR times over the course of one month.

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June 25: Public Meltdown #1

We were at an out-of-town baseball tournament for my son, staying at a hotel for two nights, with baseball games running across three days. Lots of people. Lots of kids. Lots of socializing. Lots of noise. Lots of money being spent. Lots of games in the super hot sun. Lots of STUFF to haul everywhere. It all came crashing down when I made the trek back to the car because my son ran out of water and needed more. When I brought fresh, cold water bottles to my son, he didn’t thank me. In fact, he barely even acknowledged me. Coach noticed Cooper didn’t say thank you and prompted him to do so. I (quietly) lost it. Tears welled up. A few spilled out. Coach noticed my response and asked “Are you okay? I’m worried about you. Do we need to get you a hotel room and let you be by yourself for the night?” “I just need some time by myself,” I replied, “Thank you, though. It’s very kind of you to notice.” I powered up and watched the game. Later when we returned to the hotel room, my husband watched the kids for a couple hours so I could rest and gather myself. I’d crossed the line and there was no turning back until I filled up my tank a bit. Unfortunately, the emptying happened while we were at a hotel and weekend-long baseball tournament. Fortunately, those two hours filled me up enough to make it through the rest of the night. The next day was better, and the boys won first place in the tournament!

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July 11: Public Meltdown #2

I had a “public” meltdown in front of my parents and my youngest child when there was a massive thunderstorm and the golf tournament in honor of my dad and his upcoming lung transplant was postponed. For some reason, the thunderstorms and postponement TRIGGERED deep emotion; I was mad at God more than I’d ever been in my life. No need to hash over the details; if you want to read about this totally out-of-character response, I blogged about it in this post. Perhaps I should have kept the experience private. I’m still not sure about that day OR the blog post, but one thing’s for sure. My tank was near empty AND I was overwhelmed with a flood of emotions stored up from many years. Not a good combination.

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July 18: Public Meltdown #3

July 18th was the rescheduled golf tournament in honor of my dad. It was sunny and beautiful, the perfectly pleasant weather we expected the week prior. I brought my three kids to my parents’ house for Sunday afternoon, Monday and Tuesday so we’d be free to “do” the tournament in full fashion – every element, every aspect, all the socializing, helping and planning, executing and wrapping up we ever wanted to do. The only problem was that my tank was STILL near dry. I had no capacity to recognize that fact until I was 20 minutes into the golf tournament and realized my husband wasn’t along to support me. We decided he’d stay home and go into work, as he’d already taken the prior Monday off and had a boatload of work to get done. Truth was, I needed him at the tournament that day, and it never once occurred to me until it was too late. The tournament started at 1:00 p.m., just in time for my four year old to become weary and crabby. I was DAUGHTER of the golf tournament’s beneficiary, and was also the official PHOTOGRAPHER for the event, a role I volunteered for excitedly and whole-heartedly. But I was ALSO acting as a “single” mom of three that day….at a big event…at a golf course…where people expect there to be a certain level of peace and quiet. Let’s just say that by the time lunch came around at 3:00 p.m., I was already frazzled and overstimulated. The kids needed this and that, and I barely finished my plate of food. I’ve blanked out the finest of details, but basically I melted down right there at the table in the very busy clubhouse with my mom, my three kids, my mom’s long-time friend, and my parents’ lifelong friends. OVERSTIMULATED was the word. Simply TOO MUCH. Mom and friends sent me away to get a moment by myself. I took my youngest with me because why would I ever expect my mom to watch all three of my kids when she’s wife of the beneficiary and had plenty of guests with whom to connect?

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July 18: Public Meltdown #4

I thought I made it through the worst of that golf tournament, but a couple hours later, I found my tank near empty all over again. This time, it happened on the porch of the clubhouse. A few sets of my parents’ married couple friends were at the tournament, a couple sets I hadn’t seen in a long time. At one point, it was just me, my 4-year-old daughter who was melting down and being uncooperative, and one set of my parents’ friends. I hadn’t seen them in 5, maybe 10 years. They were super nice and super friendly and trying to carry on a reasonable conversation, but I was supposed to be going out on a golf cart to relieve my uncle from hole 11 as he’d been there for hours without a bathroom break and without any lunch, and I was also responsible for my three kids. I hadn’t seen my dad in a long time. And yes, did I mention the lovely parents’ friends who just wanted to have a nice conversation with me, and they hadn’t a clue about the uncle who needed to be relieved or the three children who needed tending or the photography I was supposed to be taking or the meltdown I’d had earlier or the husband who wasn’t here to help me through. And yes, my youngest was freaking out and melting down right there on the porch in the middle of all of this. It was embarrassing and humiliating and made me feel like a fool, but I melted down too. Yep, that’s how low my tank was. They recognized it in a second. I tried to explain what must’ve seemed like the most ridiculous of reasons why I was acting like a blubbery mess, and they said “GO, go, we’ll take care of her. You go, cry if you need to, do what you need to do, but just go for a while.” I was an utter fool. Two meltdowns in one day. Honestly, I didn’t know I needed my husband there until it was way too late.

When your tank is EMPTY or NEAR EMPTY, you need to make every effort to conserve the fuel you have. You need to make every effort to fill that tank back up. You might be able to do it yourself AND you might need some help. It’s easy to think you might be going insane, that you’re finally LOSING IT once and for all. But remember you’re NOT going insane, you’re NOT losing it. Your tank is empty. You need a FILL. Period.

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On July 19th, the day AFTER the fundraising golf tournament, my dad was placed on the national lung transplant registry. He was called with new lungs on July 22nd, had lung transplant surgery on July 23rd, and was discharged from the hospital at noon on August 6th. A series of unfortunate events led to an ambulance ride back to the hospital the morning of August 7th. Dad was admitted to the ICU, and finally discharged on August 14th.

So here I am.

With the exception of hitting a wall one week ago and having to hide in my room for three hours by myself that night, I haven’t had any significant public meltdowns for a month. Wahoo!

But this week, I’ve found myself breathing deeply and intentionally more than once. My tank isn’t empty, but it’s not terribly full either. If I had to estimate my tank’s fullness level, I’d say it’s hovering around 30-40%. Three days ago, I asked my husband to come home early and I went out for a few hours to grab a quick 20-minute dinner followed by a movie. Dinner was rushed and just okay. The movie was GLORIOUS. Absolutely GLORIOUS. My tank filled. A little more than it was before.

Yet the next afternoon, I felt my fuel level dropping again, so I told my near 14-year-old son he needed to watch his sister for a while because I needed a little break. I baked myself four tiny oatmeal cookies and drank iced watermelon Kool-Aid. I wrote for 90 minutes, then we went to the bank and got back-to-school haircuts for the girls. With a little time out and self-care, I made it out and through!

By the grace of God, I’ve kept enough gas in my tank to sustain me ONE DAY AT A TIME this month. Small things fill me and sustain me – a church service, a night at writing group, a few hours by myself, help with child care while I was at the hospital, three meals brought by three very thoughtful friends, a night of good sleep, a healthier choice at mealtime, a bottle of water, a cup of hot tea before bed, planning next steps for my children’s books, scheduling photo shoots, taking a deep breath. ONE DAY AT A TIME is all we really need if we’re honest with ourselves.

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“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” – Matthew 6:34

This, too, shall pass. Tomorrow, we’ll be with family at my near 96-year-old grandpa’s auction sale. Next week, we’re taking a couple days to do a family staycation. In 2 1/2 weeks, my two oldest will be back to school, and I’m going to resume my regular workouts. A couple weeks after that, my youngest will be starting preschool three days a week, and I’ll be able to resume a semi-regular writing schedule. My parents are near and will be needing back-up care for my dad for at least another 2 1/2 months. But with school starting soon, there will be a lot more space, a lot more room to breathe.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. He will work ALL things together for our good. Empty tanks. Filled tanks. And everything in between.

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