Guest Writers

Running on Empty: A #LessonLearned by El Farris

Howdy pardner.

One of the greatest blessings to have happened to me this year has been the discovery of my writing partner, El Farris, of Running from Hell with El.

In January, El and I concocted our plans to write our novels together and provide each other with weekly pages and honest feedback, and it is amazing how just a few months later we have crossed over from blogging friends to real life friends.

We talk to each other almost daily, and our conversations do not have a start or stop. They simply continue. El is a pantser, and I’m a plotter. El writes fast and furious and says things like: “I’ll go back and fix that in the next draft,” where I can’t move forward until I feel I’ve connected all the dots. We work well together. If we were on the color wheel, we would surely be the other’s complement.

There is much to admire about El, and I’m so happy to have her here during my blogoversary month. Folks can find El on Facebook — there’s a reason she has over 6,000 fans — and you can follow her on Twitter at @runningfromhell.

Click on the teacher lady’s stick to see others who have written posts in this series.

• • •

Running on Empty

Have you ever felt like this?

I’ve learned a lot of important driving lessons over the years. Some of them might seem pretty obvious, but I have a history of learning the hard way. For example, I realized I made a poor decision driving my Subaru for the first time (before I received my driver’s permit) when I drove the car into the front yard. A few months later, I found out how important it is to yank up the parking brake when coming to a stop at the top of a steep hill when the same black Subaru slammed into Dad’s beloved cherry tree. And finally, I learned to ignore the man-child thwacking the rear window with a cherry Twizzler only after the out-of-town police car flashed his lights and handed me my hundredth speeding ticket. That was the last ticket I received. I think.

As slow as I have been on the uptake while behind the wheel of a vehicle, I am even slower at learning how to navigate the churning waters of social media. I have spent a lot of time developing my online persona via Facebook and Twitter; Once my book is published, I hope that social media will help me to sell my book. For the moment, however, social media wraps a web around me that sometimes makes it hard for me to breathe.

How is this so?  We’re talking about a virtual world right? Well, yes, and no. For each comment or request that someone makes to or about me on Facebook, Twitter or on my blog, a real human being stands behind and is represented by the words he or she types.  And I care about each human being. I care very much.  Maybe too much.

One of the Facebook groups I help administer is dedicated to suicide prevention. Even though we are not officially a crisis hotline, the fact is that once in a while, someone is in dire straits and I am part of the last line of defense. Either as a member of a team or all alone, I grasp hold of a lifeline and extend it to someone who has swallowed or is about to swallow their last pill, and most of the time, I would not have it any other way.  I would prefer to lose a few hours of sleep than to lose the man or woman holding that line.

The other night, however, it got to be too much. I was tired. I had pushed my body to its breaking point by running more than 100 miles in 10 days.  I craved sleep. I needed a break from needs and commitments and pressures and even friends.

But instead of taking a break, I jumped into a Facebook conversation with an acquaintance who lives in another country. I do not need to describe the particulars of our conversation. Let’s just say it took about 60 seconds to determine that “Lin” needed to get herself to a hospital. I follow a set of guidelines when speaking with someone who is suicidal.  I ascertain whether they are safe; determine how present the risk of self-harm is; tell them I care about them and, more than anything else, I keep them talking until they promise to get professional help.

This story is not about preventing suicide.

It’s about taking care of my needs and my family’s needs.

Too much, too much!

The night Lin was in crisis, I sat glued to the computer. I skipped dinner and hardly spoke to my husband. When my children interrupted me too many times, I grabbed my Smartphone and went for a walk under a darkening sky while I continued what really felt more like hostage negotiations than a talk with a friend. I walked and talked and typed as fast as I could for well over an hour and, when my phone ran out of batteries, I dashed inside and continued working with Lin.

At one point, my middle son tiptoed into my bedroom, where I sat typing on my iMac and asked for a kiss. I held up my hand and started to snap, “Not now,” but I caught myself and gave him a brief, cursory hug.

Later, my youngest clambered into my leather office chair and refused to leave until I answered his long list of nighttime questions. Annoyance gave way to guilt. I turned away from my work only after Lin promised to go to a mental health center and allowed myself to spend a few minutes of quality time with my children.

I did not, nor do I, resent helping Lin. It is my honor and my duty to throw a lifeline to a human being who needs assistance. But providing that kind of assistance takes a toll on me and my family. The next day, I wandered around my house like a ghost.  I remained quiet and worried. I received updates from Lin. She was safe, but I found it impossible to ignore her private messages. She seemed to need me, and I felt compelled to respond.

In retrospect, I learned a lesson from all of this that I keep forgetting. My own needs must come first. Too often, I overextend myself and this leaves me feeling as if I am running on empty.  It’s okay to drive around and pick up desperate stragglers, but I am the driver of my own life.  And I must leave enough gas in my tank to get me to my next destination.

How do you keep from overextending yourself? And what do you do to keep your tank full?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

50 thoughts on “Running on Empty: A #LessonLearned by El Farris

  1. Wow. Just … wow.

    For those of us who are in the caregiving business (however one defines that), it seems that we are not especially good at self-care. I am not good at this and continually struggle with finding ways to carve out sacred time in order to recharge.

    1. Sarah: aye. In some ways, taking care of others invigorates me and gives meaning to my life, but at a certain point, when I don’t take good enough care of myself, I am of no use to anyone else . . . sound familiar? Thank you so much for your comment!

  2. Once my book is published, I hope that social media will help me to sell my book. For the moment, however, social media wraps a web around me that sometimes makes it hard for me to breathe.
    These are breathtaking words for me on so many levels. Oh, how I understand them!

    I’m not involved in suicide prevention efforts, but I’ve had evenings like this over things I’d call less important but that felt ABSOLUTELY PRESSING at the time. (Caps lock, bold and italics necessary for mirroring the feeling of these moments.) I’ll hear my son’s snores after he falls asleep and realized I missed out making on a whole slough of memories with him. Realizations like this have helped me make it a few months without such an evening, but I wouldn’t say I’m out of the woods yet. It’s still an internal struggle sometimes.

    Gorgeous piece, El.

    1. Thank you so much Deb. And it is a daily struggle. Just this morning, I missed (for the first time ever) walking my children to the bus stop because . . . get this (chuckling). I was struggling (almost in tears) with WordPress. It kept sending out blank posts and the seconds ticked past. In rushing, I made MORE mistakes with the post and ended up running outside barefoot (I never go barefoot) and waving, with a forlorn sigh, at the bus as it drove past my house. Which is my long-winded way of saying: I hear you!

        1. I have a few unplugged friends, too. I was one until I met all of you guys! 😉

          The other day my phone died and I actually felt weird. What the heck was THAT about? Ridiculous! I refuse to be like that. But I can see how the connectedness can become an addiction.

  3. El, you saved a life. You saw a priority situation and adjusted your life accordingly. I think you are awesome and your kids are well loved and balanced and I’ll bet you make up for it tonight. Sometimes, we all need to unplug from this virtual world and take some time with the real people in our lives. It is so much easier said than done. I am also a caregiver as the commenter above and it sometimes just seems harder to take care of myself because then I have to make all the arrangements for everyone else while I am away. It’s just easier to do it ourselves than let others handle the situation. So, yea…I stay on empty too much. Thanks for your thoughtful and wonderful post.

    1. Carol,

      Thank you so, so much for your kind comments above. And it is funny (ironic funny) that we caretakers have such a hard time carving out time for ourselves. My husband asked me to go away for a three day vacation with him and he requested that we go “unplugged” so that we could reconnect. There is humor in this but it also made me shake my head in self-realization: how much my online commitments have been taking away from our family time?

      And yet, gosh, yes, I do feel as if my work is important and I think that my children understand (to an extent).

      Have a wonderful weekend!!


  4. I dealt with this very same issue several months ago almost to the t. Love you, El. Call me when you have time. I have some things important to share on this. Xo, beautiful! <3

  5. El! Thank you for being here today! You know that I admire you for all the work you do at GRIPS (and for a million other reasons, too). It’s so hard for us writers/bloggers/Facebookers/Twitterers, etc. to unplug. Recently, I left my iPhone at home, and I kind of freaked out.

    I used to drive around without any phone at all. I wondered when that change happened. That feeling of disconnection.

    The earth didn’t shatter. There were no emergencies. I made it through. And it was nice and quiet for a few hours.

    But it was only for a few hours. I spend waaaay too much time with my face in a screen.

    1. Hello my friend, and thank you so much for hosting me at your virtual home! It is a joy to be connected to you and to my other friends via social media. Overall, I am thankful for it. BUT, wow, it overwhelms me sometimes (like this morning when WordPress turned into an evil ghoul, LOL). Sometimes I am so relieved when I forget my phone or run out of battery power. After I get over the initial sense of panic!!

        1. Big smile back at you. Kristin called me today (missed her because I was at Mother’s Day Tea) based on “Renee’s recommendation.”

          And Travis says BlogHer ’12 is a GO!!! So yep, I am in! But he said you’re in charge. I have no sense. Smirk. Giggle. Adverb.

          1. Yay and yay! Let’s talk about BlogHer’12 before it fills up! Holy crap! I am not a good trip planner.

            Read: Aruba was my idea. 😉 LOL.

            Might need you on the phone to help me push the button.

          2. Well Hell, of course you’re going to call and OMG, have I ever told you how I plan trips? Hahahahaha!! I make NO plans!! I abhor plans. I just go! Remember pardner–I am a panster!!

  6. A couple thoughts. First, you saw a priority and you worked things around it–and I think you did the right thing. Some stuff–like counseling a suicidal person– is so important that yes, even things like family can slide while you help in that crisis, and that’s okay. Can you sort of-explain to your kids what’s going on? Without going into detail of course, but tell them that X is so sad and crying and needs Mommy to help them talk because she’s too far away to hug, or that X is trying to do something dangerous and you’re trying to help her not do it because it could hurt her very much. They’re not too young to understand that there are bigger problems in the world. It wasn’t quite the same situation, but there have been times when I’ve had to take care of crises with family or friends long-distance, and I’ve given the Maiden a very, very mild version of what I was doing and why. Children are naturally empathetic and understand better than we imagine.

    That being said, compassion and empathy and wonderful, wonderful traits, but sometimes they can suck you pretty dry if you don’t take care of yourself, can’t they? Yet how can you turn away from someone who’s suffering? Maybe you’re the type of person who *needs* to recharge without a connection, because otherwise you’re sort of always “on call.” Can you schedule that in for yourself? I say schedule it, because if you’re like me, it won’t happen otherwise.

    You did good work and I know it took a lot out of you. xoxo and enjoy your family this weekend.

    1. The Twisting Kaleidoscope:

      Thank you so much, my friend, for your kind thoughts. And yes, this was important, but to be honest, I tend to get wrapped up–so wrapped up–taking care of so many people and tending to too many responsibilities. This is why, I imagine, Travis has asked me to leave my phone home when we go off on a three-day vacation (alone, just the two of us) in a few weeks. As he said, we need to connect, even reconnect. Sigh. This makes me happy and sad (that I have been spending not enough time with him lately). I hope you have a wonderful weekend!!



      1. Don’t feel guilty. Life catches up with us sometimes and that’s why we need to take that time away, to reconnect. That’s kind of how it felt when we got away for a couple days last month–like oh yeah, we can actually enjoy ourselves as people instead of as business partners (like the business of running a house). Sounds like your husband knows you well!

        1. Thank you so much, my friend. And I remember your vacation last month, and how you missed the Maiden but also enjoyed the time away. That’s exactly how I always feel when we take a few days off from my darlings. Yup–he does know me well!

  7. What a wonderful Lessons Learned post, El. I didn’t know that about the suicide prevention group on FB; that is extremely admirable. But I really appreciate your willingness to admit how important it is to also take care of yourself and your own needs. I try my best to get everything ‘done’ that I need to before dinnertime, so that I can relax and spend time with my family at night. Sometimes I fear I give myself TOO much leisure time, and should be using that time to write, network, clean house, etc. But, what can I say? Cheap champagne, dinner and an episode of “The New Girl” with my little family keep my tank full. 🙂

    1. Aw Jules, thank you so much hun. And I love how you have achieved balance in your own life. I am giggling about the “cheap champagne, dinner and an episode of “The New Girl” prescription for R&R! Thank you for swinging by my virtual home for the day!

  8. Love this. Taking care of our needs first is something so many find selfish. But my view is if something is threating my sobriety, how in the hell can I help somebody else? Sometimes you gotta let go and walk over the bodies. It’s reality. You do your best, and then you detach with love. It’s all a learning process and it gets easier because you become more in control of yourself and what you can handle. Well done El and Renee!

    1. And I love your response Katy. It is so true. Sometimes it is okay to be selfish (and not in a cruel or callous way), but as you said, often our welfare (and yes, absolutely, our sobriety) requires that we walk away. This becomes all the more true once we have children. One of my friends is a minister and she read this post and called me. Very gently, she reminded me to always put my children first (or at least above the demands acquaintances and strangers place on me). Thank you so much!

    2. “Sometimes you gotta let go and walk over the bodies.”

      Oooh! Katy. THAT is soooo hard. As an educator, I know that it is implied — expected even — that some kids are going to fall through the cracks. But it doesn’t make it easy to watch them slip through. I don’t know that I’ve mastered the art of putting myself first, but with the help of El as my accountability partner, I do have faith that these books are going to get written. Because we are writing them, and we are making our words a priority. Even if others don’t get it right now.

  9. My only caregiving is for my 95 year-old mother, and what I do for her is not all that time-consuming. So I don’t have your issue of making time for myself. My social media concerns are much more self-centered.

    In addition to being totally clueless whenever any bit of new technology comes out or a new social media venue is introduced, I apparently haven’t learned to use the ones I’m familiar with. After a year of blogging, my subscribers barely number three digits.

    I could probably improve that by looking into Stumbleupon or Pinterest or other such things, but I get sweats just thinking about the learning curve. I’m just barely comfortable with Triberr – and I don’t know if I use it very effectively or not.

    Anyway, thanks for your post, and I admire your caregiving. I also admire the lady who hosting you today, El.

    1. Hello David!

      It is so good to meet you and so kind of you to stop by and comment. I chuckled when I read what you wrote above about “being totally clueless whenever any bit of new technology comes out . . . ” since I too am struggling to master the complexities, for example, of Twitter.

      And having tried Pinterest, I can affirm your fears. That place is a zoo and the copyright issues that come with using it bother me. I used to practice law and my not-so-dormant lawyer brain groans at the possibility that I might violate someone’s copyright while messing with photos. Sigh!

      And I too admire the host. I consider her a very good friend and one fantastic writing partner. Thanks again!


    2. David is one of the most kind and gentle men I have ever almost-kinda but not really met. I just adore him. I secretly hope to meet him one day. Maybe next year at DFW, David. Will it be a date? Assuming your wife and my husband are okay with us meeting with thousands of other people thronging around us? 😉

  10. I’ve had to work hard at resting and unplugging. Though I still feel like a WIP in this regard, I’ve come a long way. Learning to say “no,” giving myself a work curfew and mini vacations seem to help a ton. I also stopped taking job offers I’d have done only for the money. More time for what’s important is priceless.

    1. August: El left a comment for you. It just landed in the wrong slot. If you’d like to bop over and see what it says. I keep telling myself “Once I finish my first book, I’ll be more relaxed.” I wonder if that is the great lie.

        1. Ha, El! I hear you there. And Renee, I definitely go into hyper-manic-book-writing mode on occasion—usually when I’m under deadline (even those I’ve set!). I crash for a day or 3, then get back to a better rhythm. I heard Simon Cowell say he functions similarly. Should that freak me out?

  11. August,

    Good–it sounds like you’re further along with your work than I am! Learning to say “no” is hard but I am learning (gah!) and the mini vacations are an awesome idea. My husband is taking me to the mountains (without the kids) for a few days at the end of May and his only caveat was that we could not bring any electronic devices. “But,” he added, “You can blog about it.” But in all seriousness, more time for what matters is so important. And on the job front, the only thing I liked about my last employer (I was a firm lawyer) was the pay. I am so much happier now–doing what I love. Thank you so much for dropping by!


  12. I just love your posts…so full of heartfelt honesty! It’s hard to disconnect for sure and hard to work from home. You’re also leading by example to your kids in many ways, ways in which you should be proud!!

    And “HI” Renee!! 🙂

  13. Wow, El. A fabulous post. Two years ago I broke down literally (first physically, then mentally) because I failed to put myself in any equation.

    Thanks for an important reminder, and for doing what you do.

    1. And thank you so much Leanne! And I am so sorry for what you went through a couple of years ago. It is so, so hard when the children are young (I don’t have twins but I bore three children in less than three years). As much as I loved their first few years, I struggled with it as well because there was so little space in the equation (as you put it) for me. I hope you are having a relaxing weekend! We just got back from a hike in the woods.

  14. Wow, do I relate. When I taught high school I was on phone calls (not life-threatening, but crises nonetheless) all the time that caused me to ignore my kids and household responsibilities. So, so hard to make the call. That’s one reason why I don’t teach high school anymore. I get all sucked in. Could I teach and not care? Um, I don’t think so. *sigh*

  15. Wow–yes, our social media presence sometimes becomes all encompassing. At least in this case it was because were helping someone in need and not because you were self-promoting. You know what I mean? There IS a huge difference. That said, it’s still so important to safe-guard our constantly depleting from moments so we’re not always glancing at the computer, phone, etc.

    You are so giving–I no it’s hard to turn away.

    This kind of reminds of when Renee stepped into the eating disorder situation on Twitter . . .

  16. It’s very difficult not to overextend yourself, I think this is especially true for women entrepreneurs (whether still working a day job or not). If your business is suited for it, I recommend assembling a team of trusted pros in the field to whom you can outsource overflow work. I’ve built my team from me to a total of five and we’re going to have to add some additional writers next month.

    Regarding your upcoming book and social media as a promotional platform for your book — it’s essential, critical, muy importante. If done right, it WILL rock your book!

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