In auto racing, flags rule everything. A green flag signals to drivers to go. A black and white checkered flag ends the race. And a vehicle that breaks a rule or that presents a physical threat to itself or other drivers is shown the black flag. This signals that the driver is to get off the track and take their car to the garage or pit.
A number of things can cause a black flag: something has come off the car, like a spoiler or a tire; the car is incapable of maintaining the track minimum speed, resulting in the car becoming a hazard on the track. If it’s just a physical problem and not a huge rule violation, the driver is usually allowed back on track once the offending issue has been corrected. If your car isn’t running correctly, or you’re not running it safely, you can get black flagged.
This Old Car
I have this old car. It’s a one-of-a-kind 1985 model that has aged remarkably well, but it doesn’t run like it used to. It needs a little body work, and a ton of help under the hood. It could definitely be something really powerful when I put some time and effort into it.
The damn thing it idles way too fast. It’s especially bad in the mornings. Even sitting in neutral, it idles at almost twice as many RPMs as it should and the whole body shakes. Not only does the shaking look bad, but I worry that it puts stress on other parts and that it could rattle something else loose. Or break a seal and spill something gnarly.
It has trouble shifting too, especially on cold mornings. You have to fight to get it out of neutral and into first gear, and you have to push it into second. Good luck getting it to go any higher. It’s slow to accelerate in any gear, and it stalls out if it drives too fast for too long. How long is too long? It varies each time. So does the gear in which it stalls. It’s incredibly unpredictable, so you’re better off just leaving it in the garage all day.
Fuel consumption is irregular, too. I think there is problem with the fuel pump. Sometimes it feels like it can go forever on a single tank, and sometimes it needs little refills. It also runs out of fuel all the time, sputtering and lurching to an embarrassing, ungraceful stop.
It could use a little chemical help too, maybe a fuel additive of some sort to clean out the gunk in the engine and help it run cleaner. I’d like to stay away from these kind of things, but they can help. You just have to be really careful with them.
This car should be taken to a mechanic, or it’s gonna be shown the black flag. As much as I’d like to think I can do all this work on my own—I am certainly stubborn enough—I need to acknowledge that this is a large, long-term project. I can’t do all that work on my own, no matter how much I convince myself I can. It’s important to me that I feel like I am in control of things like this.
You know what really complicates maintaining this car?
I am the car.
The issue with the idling is anxiety. My heart “idles” way too fast. Most of my day I feel as though I’m running as fast as I can and getting nowhere, like my body stuck is in neutral but my mind is flooring it. I shake, too: sometimes it’s just my hands, sometimes it’s my whole body. The littlest things stress me out and increase my heart rate: late MUNI buses, being outside of my house, being in a crowd, earthquakes, seeing a crowd, or knowing that I have something to do at any time in the future. Also, crowds.
Transmission problems are like depression. Your brain is a super powerful engine. It consumes fuel to generate power for your vehicle, but the power has to pass through other systems to work right. If something goes wrong in these systems, you’re not going to get enough power to go anywhere. Maybe it’s the clutch or transmission. Maybe it’s serotonin, or norepinephrine. It’s okay to stall every once in a while, but you need find out why it’s happening and fix it.
My fuel is food and sleep. I spent most of 2015 sleeping from 3am until 1 or 2pm. It takes hours and lots of Benadryl to finally sleep at night. Naps aren’t something I used to do regularly, but I’ve taken a nap most days this year. It seems like I can never get enough sleep, but at the same time l sleep too much. Nor can I seem to eat correctly: some days I can forget to eat and be fine all day, others I go four hours without eating and have a hypoglycemic melt down. I’ve had a few of those lately.
So I took steps to make everything run better. I took her to the shop; I started by making a doctor’s appointment in late July and now I work with a great doctor (or mechanic, if you will). That first phone call was incredibly hard to make, but I couldn’t have kept running without it. My mechanic has a big team of people that are helping me out—my own pit crew! I started taking a medication that should help alleviate the symptoms of my anxiety and depression while I go to therapy address the issues causing them. Going to therapy is like taking driving lessons, and everyone cold learn to drive better.
I was very scared about asking for help at first. I didn’t think I deserved it, but I do. You do too. Your car is good enough. You are good enough. I worried that by taking a medication I’d lose control, but that’s not the case. I’m still driving, and I’m still in charge; I just have a team—spotters, a crew chief, mechanics—to help me along the way. Some journeys require a good team, not just a car and a driver. Get yourself a good team, and get cool jackets made. Everyone loves being on a team that gets a jacket.
It’s Okay and You’re Okay
It’s pretty normal for me to be depressed, and this current manifestation isn’t that bad. The lows aren’t very low or as scary as in the past, but everything is very numb and faded. Especially the highs, or happy moments. Turn your radio or speakers on to your usual level, then walk in the other room and shut the door. Can you still hear the radio, faintly but just enough to recognize the song? That’s how it feels when I’m happy. I can almost make out what I know I recognize as happiness, but I can’t completely feel it.
The same goes for lows, which actually helped me endure what I thought was going to be a devastating playoffs loss by the Habs. It wasn’t actually that bad. But I barely cried when my beloved great-grandfather died. I struggled to sound empathetic as I comforted my dad when he called to deliver the news.
I’m okay with the fact that this is probably not my last round of depression. I’ve accepted that I’m afraid of going to Target or making friends. I’ve learned that it gets better after it gets bad, and each time I get depressed I learn how to get through it better the next time. It doesn’t mean I’m broken or defective. These kinds of illnesses are just that: illness. There is no need to be ashamed of being sick.
Take your car to the shop.