Running on Empty: A #LessonLearned by El Farris
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.
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Running on Empty
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.
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?
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