A sensor in my car’s engine is broken. This particular sensor is supposed to measure the oil pressure in the engine. In the event that the pressure falls too low for the engine to operate properly this sensor sends out an alert to make the driver aware of the situation. This alert consists of an alarm, a series of short relentless chimes played out from the dashboard of the car and a written warning telling the driver to stop the engine. I was turning on to our street the first time the sensor went into crisis mode and alerted me to the predicated impending engine doom. I of course panicked myself and quickly shut off the engine. The car was set for maintenance in a few days anyway, so I left it sitting in the driveway until I could get it to our mechanic.
Turns out nothing is actually seriously wrong with the engine. It is just the sensor that is shot and no longer able to correctly assess the oil pressure situation. It’s a four hundred dollar fix on an older car so we figured we’d just live with it as is for a few months. After all, it had only gone off once or twice, car is totally drivable.
That first assessment of the issue took place about a month ago. Now I am about ready to drive my car into a tree every time the freaking “OIL PRESSURE LOW STOP ENGINE!!!!” alarm sounds. Our mechanic has a waiting list three weeks long for an appointment. This wait list has afforded me plenty of time to pay attention to what may be causing my car this sense of sure catastrophe. I spent a few weeks trying to figure out a rhyme or reason to the alerts, what action actually set off the sensor? At first I thought maybe it was worse when I went over a certain speed. Nope, could be going 10mph could be going 70mph. I thought maybe it was worse when I accelerated. Nope. Worse when going uphill or downhill? Nope, sensor does not seem to discriminate. Worse when letting the car glide, not accelerating? Still no dice. Some days the sensor goes off twice. Others it goes off about fifty thousand times. Sometimes it goes off for two seconds, other times it goes off for about thirty seconds. It can be fifteen minutes in between alerts or a fraction of a minute. THERE IS NO CONSISTENCY AT ALL. The only time I know the sensor will not trigger the alert is when the car is idle. When it sits perfectly still neither accelerating or decelerating. Just in limbo.
I have anxiety. Much like the alarm now plaguing my car it is a constant in my life. There is no real rhyme or reason to the alerts that the sensors in my brain send out. Sometimes I suffer full blown panic attacks because I have too little to do. This stupidity happened last week. Things had finally seemed to settle after a school year filled with constant stress and not enough of me to go around. So of course my brain’s response is to panic. I mean obviously something must be very wrong if my stress levels actually decrease. Thanks subconscious for sending out false alarms! With your help I was able to bulk up my stress level to what (I guess) is, at this point in my life, the new normal!
Sometimes I panic because my stress level hits an absolutely overwhelming point. To me this makes much more sense. My brain recognizes my inability to fully complete the tasks I put upon myself. Failure and rejection are my biggest fears. The alarms in my head makes me acutely aware of the possible consequences that would accompany an inability to achieve the results I expect from myself. This panic creates not only a mental but also physical overload and shut down. Maybe it’s my body’s way of creating an out. After all we aren’t allowed to use emotional instability as an excuse in the real world. Physical signs of weakness and illness are universally accepted as reasons to give yourself a break. Mental health isn’t contagious, the flu is.
The alarm in my car will be an easy, albeit costly fix. The sensor will be removed and replaced. The new one will understand that there is not a problem with the engine. The oil pressure fluctuating slightly will not be a reason to send an alert. My brain isn’t as simple. No matter what I pay I can’t remove the sensors that are setting off the alarms. I can try to confuse them and numb them with prescriptions and wine, but the thing is under that numbness they never really dissipate. I can only ever dull the feeling of anxiety. When the high wears off the torture of living in a constant state of fear becomes unbearable. I attempt the holistic approach, I exercise, I take time to enjoy nature, I loose myself in books and writing but in the back of my mind I am still always waiting for the world to come crashing down. And right there is the problem behind it all. Much like the sensor in my car I am in a constant state of waiting for everything to implode. I am waiting for that inevitable moment when the engine combusts ending in a twisted fiery crash. Why do I live in this vigilant state of alarm? It’s what I was taught, that no matter what the bottom will always drop out.
While I am desperate for contentment and joy in my life, actually experiencing those things is terrifying for me. I find it hard to admit that I enjoy the world around me or show thanks for the good things that come my way. This isn’t because I am ungrateful. I have a deep seeded fear that if I make obvious the things I hold dear they will be ripped away from me. I am in constant fear of the bully of life poised at the ready to snatch away my lunch money and rub dirt all over my brand new dress.
What I want more than anything is to idle. Just for a moment find that spot where the engine isn’t moving. The limbo where the slight fluctuation in oil pressure isn’t causing a sensor to malfunction. I need to just stay still and breathe, without the fear that the breath will be knocked out of me at any second. Every once in a while I find a flicker of that calm. I’ll be taking in the vast openness of an ocean and marvel over the great extensiveness of this world. I’ll find a sense of calm. I’ll understand that my trivial concerns matter so much less than I regularly believe. Maybe if I’m lucky I’ll retire one day in a place where I can find this peace. Driving down open roads I’ll gaze at the wonders of nature. If I’m really lucky my car will also find peace on open roads surrounded by the sea or mountain ranges. Both of us having found escape from the spike of anxiety dealt out by “STOP ENGINE OIL PRESSURE LOW!!!”