Idling at 59: When Balance Isn’t an Option

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Idling at 59: When Balance Isn’t an Option



In one of her books, Anne Lamott talks about an explosive confrontation with her then teenage son. Of course it seemed to stem from something minor—an adolescent attitude, say—but she was pushed over the edge into the ugly space in a manner of moments.

Let me pause for a moment to get my mom’s in a close circle. We all have our own ugly spaces, don’t we? That place we cringe about later—maybe a day later, but sometimes seconds later—that isn’t, as Oprah would say, our best selves.

It’s the place where some of us scream, some of us swear, some of us spank, some of us run to our rooms and slam doors, some of us growl, some of us eat, drink, or smoke, and some of us cry. All for the viewing pleasure of our children and sometimes, if we’re real lucky, our spouses or the general public.

Anne describes the monstrous scene and the nuclear fallout aftermath in hilarious detail. The pouting and silent treatment on behalf of her and her son as they were at the end of the road, the dirty log Anne plopped herself on in fortified standoff.

It was in those post-explosive moments that she replayed the incident in her mind and realized it wasn’t this singular scene with her son and his attitude that caused her to fly off the handle. She didn’t go zero-to-60, as so many people like to put it. Not at all.

She had been idling at 59.

For days, weeks even. Maybe months… or more.

She had been suck in that place of in-boxing everything that had been going on around her and within her and the engines were revved, the tank was full, and she was—unconsciously—waiting for the “go” signal to let ‘er rip.

I reflect on this story often, and try to share the concept of idling at 59 with anyone who will listen. It’s occurred to me in the last couple of days that, not only have I been idling at 59 for about a year, or so, but in many ways I’ve been idling at 59 since I was a kid.

This is not the same thing as being uptight; I know loads of uptight folks who aren’t idling at 59. This also isn’t quite a rage problem, because it doesn’t necessarily always come out as anger. For instance, preceding the beginning of this blog post, I was a puddle of tears in bed for about an hour and a half with my husband tiredly consoling me. A fun treat at midnight for a couple of folks who get up for the day before 6:00AM.

Those of us who idle at 59 can sometimes seem uptight, like if we recognize we’re idling at a high RPM and try to tamp it down; and we can seem explosive if we ignore the signs and bite someone’s head off.

But mostly, we’re out of balance. We’re Type A’s and empaths and over achievers and people-pleasers. I am not all of these things all the time, and very rarely all at once, but all of these things play into the brewing storm.

I can’t let every emotion out all the time because then I’d be a damn mess; but I can’t keep them in all the time either because I’d be a damn mess. So, I idle. I wait for the right moment to break down and it never comes.

Because there’s never a convenient time to have a mental breakdown, no matter how big or small.

Looking back at the last year of my life, it’s so clear that I’ve been idling because there’s been no “zero.” There’s been no swath of freshly tilled, warm, soft, easy going ground. There hasn’t been in quite some time. Since 2007, maybe?

My “zero” was a decade ago, and green flags are dropping everywhere these days: I’ve lost 3 grandparents in 2 years, I got married for the second time, had surgery, won a local election, bought a house, our beloved dog died, was disowned by family, gained some weight, and the list really does go on.

I haven’t been able to come up for air and restore order no matter how many mommy blogs I read on the importance of balance, time management, and prioritizing. I haven’t been able to syphon off stretches of peace and joy promised by the Christian mommy blogs, either.

No. Balance hasn’t been an option these last couple of years. I’ve idled at 59 and my physical and emotional health have suffered as a result. Maybe I need to revisit these blogs, pray more, stretch more, or get more sleep instead of writing a blog post at 1:00AM. (But, hey, it’s the most words I’ve written in months.)

Maybe, maybe, maybe. Maybe’s and should’s fill the spaces in everything written above, and just serve to rev the engine more so when my husband and I have a miscommunication about $5 I end up crying 2 hours later for half an hour.

But, I have a hunch that all I can do in this moment is to recognize and accept that I’ve idled at 59 for so long. I can also recognize that if I don’t do something proactive to change this pattern soon, the breakdowns will come closer together and last longer until getting out of bed is tantamount to running a marathon.

I have no desire to go back there, either.

Maybe I can also ask you out there if you find yourself idling at 59. If you find yourself on heightened alert and think you’re the only one. Or, maybe you used to and you’ve somehow figured it out—discovered the big “how to” that you’d like to share.

But, mostly, I just needed to write this. And, now, I need to sleep.




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