Today I totaled my car and learned a lot of life lessons

By Lena Potts

This morning I drove directly into the back of another car at 30–40mph on the freeway. Not on purpose (trust me, this is hugely inconvenient for me), but also it’s 100% my fault. No mitigation here.

I got into a car accident because I was distracted. I was distracted because I don’t take care of myself well enough.

Last night I was texting a friend about how my anxiety, and the whole mess of symptoms that come with it, had been pretty bad lately. I’m a workaholic, and gladly take on a lot of projects and challenges, partially to keep myself busy (I’m useless if I’m bored), and partially because I like to have been able to do the impossible. I’m crazy that way.

These are actual (redacted, to avoid embarrassment beyond me telling the story of how I completely fucked up my car, could have hurt another person and myself) texts about my mental health I sent last night.

Even in the texts I sound scattered, unfocused, and off-kilter. There’s a random text in the middle about Ed Sheeran, which my phone corrected to Ed Sheehan, because that’s how my head was working. That’s how it’s been working.

I’ve had an anxiety disorder and depression for 10 years. Mostly I manage alright, and I am generally a very high-functioning person. Lately, though, I’ve been like a montage in a teen movie where the protagonist gets all out of character and starts doing ~crazy things~ they never do, and moves a mile a minute and smiles a lot, and it all ends in an overdose or car accident where they learn to be true to themselves and do better and bond with an older family member.

This morning on my commute I tried to plan out my day very precisely. There are a few projects I’ve gotten behind on, partially because I could have managed them better, and partially because they’re extremely difficult to manage. I left work last night incredibly stressed, feeling like I was very sincerely failing, and sent my friend those texts as I considered some self-care. But then, despite agreeing that I’d go home and stretch and sleep, I didn’t. I posted some pretty good tweets and read some news instead, basically distracting myself rather than really calming myself. I got up, got ready for work, and didn’t do the first thing on my to-do list- so I basically woke up already messing up, and really deeply feeling that I was stuck in this failure mode. And I started my 25 mile commute.

While driving, I started planning out how I’d get everything done, how’d I’d make this all work and get myself out of my little hole, and then it’d all be better once I caught up. I ignored that my problematic, anxious responses are less about the stimulus, i.e. really normal work stress, and more about the fact that my own mental illness has never really allowed me to deal with those stimuli in a healthy way. Somewhere on this bullshit fix it train I snapped back into reality, right behind traffic that was way wayyyyyy slowed down, and I sure as shit wasn’t. I wasn’t even scared while I was braking, so much as I angrily thought to myself, “are you serious Lena, you got us into this accident.” And then wham.

Luckily, everyone is physically okay. But I can’t move past this trying to pretend that I’m really okay. I’ve always acted like just because I can make it through the day and get everything done well, that I’m doing well. But today my mental health and the ways I deal with it, or really don’t deal with it, had very real consequences, consequences that could have been much worse.

Messing up as seriously as I did today does really teach you things, even if I’m not crying on a front porch with my grandfather (so that the next episode I can be totally fine and we’ll never talk about it again like there are no long-term, red-tapey reprecussions to a car accident, like, ya know, the insurance claims process and getting another car so that you can go to work. Like really though WTF TV you didn’t prepare me for being a person).

Not me right now

So even though its obnoxious, here are the actual things I’ve walked away with from completely fucking up 9 hours ago.

  1. If you see symptoms of your mental health concerns, address them. I did not make things better by trying to just push through it. Now I don’t have a car to commute to my job to, so the very thing that was stressing me out is in fact more stressful.
  2. Read everything, and don’t just assume you’ll figure it out when you need to. Is it embarrassing to say that I didn’t know the details of my insurance policy before right now? Yes. Is it true? Yes. Do I tell embarrassing truths on the internet in the hopes that someone will be less dumb than me? Yes.
  3. Customer service people get a bad rap. Sure, people have bad experiences, but everyone I’ve talked to today has been super nice and incredibly helpful. Shout out to Josh at Esurance for being a real one and answering every stupid ass question I had. Shout out to the hot cop for calling me back ASAP when I had a question about my accident report. Shout out to my mom for explaining shit I should definitely already know.
  4. Recognize your progress. If this accident happened two years ago I probably would be hospitalized right now on a psych hold (not a joke). I’ve done a lot to get better, and I am a lot better for it.
  5. Make lists long before bed. One of the best things my therapist taught me was to just accept that I’ll think of everything that needs to be done in a panicked flurry. So, schedule time for your panicked flurry. Don’t avoid it forever and then have it hit you when you’re trying to sleep, or trying to drive, that you have 60 million things to do. Take 30 minutes before dinner every day (or whatever time works for you), sit down, make a list of everything that you forgot that day, or that’s pressing, or that’s stressing you out, and figure out when you’re going to tackle it.
  6. Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’m still not caught up. It’s my bad. I just have to accept that. That doesn’t mean I’m not incredibly good at my job, and it doesn’t discount the really stellar contributions I’ve made in the last two years. It just means I fell short this time, and we’ll all have to buck up and move on. Despite what this kind of anxiety makes you feel, I have to tell myself that everyone will not hate me now that I’m a bad driver who missed a deadline.
  7. When you say you have a car accident, everyone will go “you got hit?!” and being like “nah fam actually I hit someone” sucks. No more commentary, it just sucks.
  8. Stock images for “car accident” are horrifying.