Many years ago, while going through a particularly bumpy time, I came to a very unfortunate, abrupt stop outside my block of flats.
I’d had a horrid few days and needed to cheer myself up a bit. So I'd jumped into my new Mini (my first ever brand spanking new car) and headed to get a takeaway pizza and some DVDs. I’d not slept for a few days and I’d been stuffing my face with Haagen-Dazs the night before, while having a good sob, so my eyes were pretty swollen and itchy. In fact, they were so puffy that I worried I looked like I had pink eye(s) – a thought that was essentially confirmed as people stepped away from me in public and pulled their small children along.
As I got back in my car, the brilliant scent of fresh pizza wafted into every space, filling my senses with much anticipatory (though temporary) delight, and steaming up the widows a little. Though I was feeling truly rubbish, I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon of eating my feelings and watching some feel-better comedies (not a sustainable feel-better approach, to be honest). I turned into my road, a road I’d turned into close to a thousand times before, and then pulled into my main entrance and slowed down slightly. Now, my flats’ block had a large solid gate, manned by a security guard – a gate that had been there as long as I had (3 years), And I had a residents’ fob to let myself through this gate – a fob I’d used almost a thousand times before.
Somehow, on this occasion, instead of pushing my foot on the brake, opening the window and scanning myself in, I started opening the window without slowing down and slammed right into the gate. There was an awful screeching noise for a moment and then my car stopped entirely with a sudden jerk. The security guard came running out of his hut, waving his hands in the air, shouting “stop stop!”. I considered this for a moment and then replied “Yup, I think I’m stopped.” He then inspected the front of my car and made some impressive clicking sounds that didn’t look positive paired with his shaking head and stunned expression. He walked back to my window and asked the most obvious of questions: “How did you not see the gate, the big gate, the one that’s there every day?”
It was a fair question. To this day I have no idea how I slammed into a gate, the big gate, the one that was there every day. I was beyond exhausted, my eyes were swollen and my car was a bit misted up, but I knew that routine like I knew brushing my teeth. In that moment, there was only one thing I could do. I started to cry. I was so angry with myself and frustrated by my own stupidity. Luckily the guard had let out a few tuts and had walked away before my face had started leaking. He was now was very much involved in the process of pulling the gate off its tracks so he could allow me (and other people) in. He was saving the day, after I had broken it.
I drove gingerly into the complex in my maimed Mini, having a full existential-crisis-hate-myself sob. It was at that moment that I realised I had an audience – a group of about 8 guys were having a braai (BBQ) on the lawn in front of me. They had been watching my whole ordeal with much curiosity. As I drove past them they clapped and cheered. Red faced, snotty-nosed and swollen-eyed, I gave them a little nod as though I’d just completed an impressive performance – and then the unexpected happened, I started to laugh.
Sure, I’d just invested in a new bumper for the front of my car. And sure, I’d just made a public spectacle of myself. But in that moment, I realised something really useful – humour is a magical coping tool and most situations are kind of funny in some way. There was nothing I could do about my insurance fees to come, or the gate-mending invoice, but I could stop myself from beating myself up for a stupid, unintentional accident.
Mistakes happen – and that’s ok – particularly if we learn from them. From that accident I learnt to slow down; I learnt to think about my emotional state before venturing out. I also learnt that money will come and go but looking after my mental health and giving myself a break is worth more than a small(ish) dent in my bank account.
Over the past few months of rollercoaster-style ups and downs I’ve often been up at 3am thinking about all the things I’ve done wrong, or could have done (or said) differently. Obviously, these thoughts have added nothing to my life beyond heightened exhaustion and lowered efficiency. One of the things I’m working on is finding the moments of fun in the simple moments of my day. In allowing myself to laugh off the things I can’t change I can help myself feel a whole lot better, while taking power away from my fears. I wonder what others have been trying?