Filling the Gas Tank

Originally published as a TinyLetter


The world feels like it’s gone to hell lately, doesn’t it?

In my news feed last night, there was Charlottesville, Pyongyang, Barcelona. The president of the United States won’t condemn actual Nazis and could very well Tweet us into nuclear war. People are willfully driving cars into their fellow human beings. To quote Kathleen Norris, “Only ideology can hate that thoroughly.”

It’s hard to understand how someone could possibly act that way, and even harder to figure out what to say or do. It’s nearly impossible when we’re running ourselves so ragged that we don’t have the bandwidth to engage with the world around us.

These days I’m so exhausted and stressed out that I put off looking at the news, sometimes for days. I simply cannot muster the energy. I realize that white privilege allows me to shield myself from the headlines. I can hide from reality because I’m not at much risk of becoming a headline myself — at a traffic stop, a park, or a convenience store.

Yesterday the gas tank in my car dipped to nearly empty. My office is right next door to a Shell station, but when I’m rushing from home to day care to work and then back again, I think, “I’ll fill up at lunchtime,” which becomes “before I leave work,” which becomes “tomorrow,” and I don’t fill up until there are seven miles left before the gas runs out. I treat my body the same way, putting off tending to its basic needs until it starts screaming at me that I’m dehydrated, ravenous, or am about to pee my pants.

My friend Charbel’s excellent new podcast gave me a word for what I’m experiencing: burnout. Signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment and cynicism, and self-focus. It’s why I feel like I don’t have the headspace to engage with the news, much less do anything about it, or treat my toddler with compassion when he’s demanding chicken nuggets.

We need to fill up our gas tanks before we can drive anywhere. We are of no use to anyone when we are running on empty. Taking care of ourselves is not selfish; it’s what allows us to be good stewards and allies, effective parents and workers. If we don’t do it for our own sake, we must do it for the people who are counting on us.

In true “like I always say” fashion, I’m not entirely sure how to take my own advice. It’s one thing to know the best thing to do — especially when it comes to self-care — and a totally different thing to do it.

Here are a few ways to start. I can listen to my body’s signals and take care of my basic needs as soon as they present themselves. I can stop swiping away the daily reminders I get from my Headspace app and take 10 minutes to meditate. I can take note each day of the ways I’m able to help other people when my own gas tank is full, because I’ve opened up the room to notice and address their needs.

And on that note…

what’s fueling me


Malala is going to Oxford (and The Onion is on it)

An 84-year-old woman recovered her long-lost engagement ring when her daughter found it on a carrot on the family farm (h/t Laverne Dicker)

My kids are starting to play together as the baby grows, and she just adores her older brother

Jason Isbell’s newest album, The Nashville Sound, speaks to my soul right now. If you haven’t yet, you need to listen to “Hope the High Road“:

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again

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