♫♪ Running on Empty… ♪♫

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I’m constantly getting my English idioms and colloquial expressions mixed up – much to my husband’s delight. He teases me about it constantly. So you’d think I’d stop using them, right?

No. Not so much.

Just the other day I said, “I feel like I’m waiting for that ‘feather that broke the camel’s neck‘ to drop!

My husband struggled to choke back his laughter and managed to wheeze out, “Honey, I think that is ‘straw that broke the camel’s back‘ and ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop‘. Honestly, it’s a wonder I ever know what you mean!

Yes, dear. Shut up.

But he’s a good listener so without any further colloquial expressions, I tried to explain why I’m “running on empty“, “circling the drain“, … See? I CAN’T FREAKING HELP MYSELF! 🙂

Running on Empty

I was born in the mid-60’s, which means I’m a child of the 70’s. Do you remember Jackson Browne’s song, “Running on Empty”? If you need a reminder:

I have to tell you, I’m there. You don’t have to have invisible disabilities, or chronic illness to find yourself SPENT.

Used up.



Some of us take on more than we should. It can be hard to say, “No“. Really we need to learn to say that. It’s a little word. Why is it so hard to say? Perhaps we don’t want to disappoint people. Maybe we strive too hard to be indispensable, needed, and purposeful.

The picture at the top of this post is one of my favorite places: Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I like to go during the off-season because frankly? Large groups of school-aged children on field trips is not my idea of a good day. I love the quiet. I love the sounds of nature amidst what you think at first is – quiet. I’m yearning for some reflection time at Harper’s Ferry. I asked Siri if I had any time in my calendar.

First time I’ve ever heard her laugh.


Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome explains how we may respond to life stresses. The first stage is ALARM and in it we are motivated to action. Men may experience “fight or flight”. Women default to “tend and befriend” (we reach out). For me, this meant getting help.

The second stage is RESISTANCE in which we cope as best we can. We may actually do OK for awhile too. If the stress doesn’t dissipate, however, we enter the last stage. EXHAUSTION. It can be really hard to bounce back from this stage. It is more than catching up on sleep.

The key is to recognize the stages while you are going through them and experiencing stress. Stress isn’t going to stop. I’ve looked for the stress stop button and it doesn’t exist. But… you click on the HELP button. Help may come in the form of friends or significant others. It may come in the form of faith. At times, for ME it comes in the form of getting alone and refueling. I know…

The price of gas is so high. Who can afford to refuel?

Maybe the better question is “Who can afford to NOT stop and refuel?

Think about that. Deciding when you’ve had enough and something has to give can only be determined by YOU.

Disability and Independence

I work so hard to be independent. But being independent doesn’t mean you refuse to ask for help. I grudgingly accept help from others who extend it without my asking for it. I’m trying to get better about graciously accepting it. I’m discovering that I can be independent and still need help. That sounds contradictory, doesn’t it?

I can do all I can to work independently, interact with others independently, and take care of my needs independently. However, when I dropped a baggie of paper clips on the floor in my classroom, far away from any desk, wall or chair that I could use for support, I had to ask for help. My service dog, Chloe, can pick up small things but should she swallow one in her exuberance to help, I consider the potential consequences too high.

So I asked for help. Within 30 seconds every paperclip was picked up and “paper clip picker-uppers” all thanked. It was painless. By doing so I did not undermine my efforts to be independent.

One of the lines of Browne’s song is, “Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive”. Don’t confuse the need to ask for help with losing your independence. We all need help. It is how we survive. Are you running on empty?

Refuel. That means different things for different folks. You have to do so! Your trip isn’t over…

Denise Portis

© 2013 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

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