Apologies for the absence. I have to tell you, I've been rather down & out as of late... I hadn't even realized how down or out of it until recently. It's already July!? Where did June go?
It all started with the birthdays (end of May). Yobo's birthday is the day before mine. We started our own tradition a number of years ago where we would both take off a couple of days and have a birthday mini-vacation. A couple of years ago, it turned into an annual trip to Seward to visit the Alaska Sealife Center (an awesome aquarium and wildlife rescue center) a couple of years ago. We didn't get to go last year, but we were going this year and this year was going to be better than ever because THIS year, we have the Moose! And she's just over 2, so she's FUN and could ENJOY the experience! It's about a 3-hour drive to Seward.
That morning was overcast & hot, and my eyes were getting rather itchy, the thought appears (now) to be adult-onset pollen allergies. Anyhoo, the Sealife Center was AMAZING. The Moose & I chilled with the marine birds for quite some time. At one point, a puffin from the other side of the exhibit came flying straight toward us; I thought for sure we would collide. Then, with maybe a second left until impact, he dove down into the edge of the water, a mere foot away from us. We both gasped & then laughed thankfully and in awe of this fantastic animal! There were tons of fish, a really cool salmon exhibit, sharks, seals, a ginormous sea lion, and a whole bunch of other marine animals. We touched starfish and saw teeny, tiny baby octopi!
So we have this wonderful day and now it's time to go home. We're driving down the highway, a fat bunch of ominous-looking mountains to the right and a nice drop straight down into the mudflats / inlet on the left, and the weather hasn't changed at all. And then we're going through the pass and that means just static on the radio. I remember a momentary thought, "man, I'm getting kind of tired..." The next thing I remember, Yobo yells out something that, when written politely, reads like "WHAT THE @#$% ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!" I snapped back to reality, also known as the AWAKE stage, and realized what happened - I had fallen ASLEEP. Somehow, I stopped the car from 70mph to a dead stop in what felt like a moment or a century. Somehow, we stopped, in the middle of the road, perpendicular to the lanes. Somehow, the car behind us managed to stop themselves, too, and not smash into us. Somehow, there were no other vehicles on that stretch of road at that particular moment. Somehow, no one was (physically) hurt. And, somehow, I managed to drive the car to a pull off before opening the door, falling out of the car, and breaking down crying on the ground. Thankfully, Yobo & the Moose did not have total breakdowns; I was the only one who lost sanity. Yobo was amazing; somehow, he kept his composure. He was angry and frustrated, but he did not yell or throw anything. He calmly drove us home, making a LOT of pit stops and having EVERYONE get out of the car to move around during said pit stops. I was angry about the pit stops at first, but after the first couple, it was clear they were rightly needed. My stomach was flip-flopping the entire way and every acceleration had me white-knuckled, bracing for impact. I can't even imagine how much more stressful that would have been if we had driven for 2 more hours straight. Happy birthday, Yobo.
The next morning, I woke up because my celly was ringing. I missed the call, but caught the message - it was my biggest little sister wishing me a happy birthday, which I ignored, instead focusing on the fact that she works at a tire shop and it was a Thursday. I called her back & explained the super basics of what happened; she scheduled me an appointment for that morning. Somehow, I was going to drive there. Yobo offered to go with me, but I knew this was something I had to do alone. I am the primary driver in our household and we only have the one car. I needed to be able to drive and I wouldn't be able to focus if I had passengers; people whose lives were in my hands, people I'd almost killed the day before, MY people, the only people that REALLY matter anymore. I'd started seeing a counselor at my college's psych department a couple of months ago to help with anxiety & an attempt to "learn" mindfulness. This was my 2nd phone call and, thankfully, I was able to get an appointment that afternoon.
I managed to get around OK, it was kind of surreal. I stopped my mema's cafe. My little little sister works there & I knew I could score some free birthday coffee and I needed all the help I could get. As she was making my coffee, I just blurted out, jokingly, that I'd almost killed everyone in the car and gave a very strange, brief description of the event. It must've been something about it being the first time I'd said it out loud in person to someone who wasn't there - it was weird. She just kind of looked at me funny and said "oh." After I left her, I went to the tire shop. This time, I cried and wasn't as weird relaying the story. I didn't completely break down, thankfully, and I didn't have to repeat myself, so I must've been doing OK. There were lots of hugs :) They checked my tires and my sissy came back to tell me that I'd be borrowing her truck for the day so they could replace my tires. The front driver tire was mere miles away from splitting in two and the front passenger tire wasn't too far behind it. Apparently, the quick stop wore through some tread... A bit later, when I got to the counselor's office, I was doing OK. I was a bit surprised at my calmness, but I was alright! I walked into her office and as soon as the door closed, I broke down bawling. It came out of nowhere, but there I was, all blubbery and snotty. Somehow, I got the entire story out and even the counselor started tearing up & crying a little.
The next day, I went to visit mema and I told her what happened. She looked at me quizzically and said "you did that?" I confirmed. She simply said "oh", turned away, and continued eating.
When I went to the counselor again, she asked how people had been reacting. I told her everything above - she asked "what about the people who aren't family?" I said I didn't know, I hadn't told anyone else, you're not supposed to talk about that kind of stuff with other people; it's kind of a big no-no. She promised that telling other people would make it easier to deal with... so in a year of braving new emotional / potentially embarrassing grounds, I tried it out. Oh my gawd. I started by telling coworker-friends and almost all of them had the same response: "Oh my gosh! How scary! I've fallen asleep while driving before, too." So then, floating in a bubble of support and starting to notice a pattern, I just blurted it out to other friendlies and acquaintances. Almost all of them had the same response, with varying degrees of sleepiness. Now I do feel a lot better because of all the sympathy / empathy and knowing it's not only me, but I'm also a little more freaked out that all of these people have apparently fallen asleep while driving! And most of them were on highways. One of them even called it being hypnotized by the road.
We found out later there was some work to be done on the car. Apparently, my momentual stop wore quite a ways through my front brake pads and the squeaking I'd been hearing was shards of pad being thrown around. The other stuff may or may not have been related, but one spark plug was worn to a nub and 2 of 3 belts under the hood were cracked, not far from splitting apart. Awesome.
Since this... incident, I have changed a few things about the way I drive. There is no longer any silence or static or only talk radio or anything else that I might associate with sleepy time. There has to be MUSIC, sweet music, preferably the kind I can sing along to in the comfort of my own car with the windows rolled up as to not cause distraction accidents. Also, even if the drive's an hour and a half, EVERY hour on the road = a 10 minute break. It is all good to pull over, get out, stretch your legs, and breathe some air that's not being funneled through your window or sky/moon roof at 70mph. If you need to, and sometimes I do, it's also totally cool if you just pull off your shoes and feel the cool earth under your feet. Yup, let your toes get tickled by the blades of grass or feel the sand pour between them or let them be warmed by the asphalt. USE THE BATHROOM. Eat something. Smack everyone else in the car to ensure they're all awake since you have to stay awake and it's just plain not fair to have everyone else in the car snoozing while you're attempting to remain alert.
What I learned: Take your time & all that jazz. Yay for learning life lessons, right? Really though, for me, this turned out to be an experiment in sharing feelings and experiences. Growing up, I thought our family was rather close-knit... little did I know that just because we were aware of what other members in the family were DOING, though we rarely did things TOGETHER, and we never talked about how we were FEELING, we were not really that close. Mema's reaction was pretty typical of her - if it's not flying off the handle in anger, it's almost dismissive (which I'm sure many of you know hurts a lot more & is more easily misconstrued). Even though, when all is said and done, I didn't actually do anything wrong, I feel like I wronged my family. I felt dishonor and shame and, while wallowing in those feelings, allowed them to overwhelm me. Talking with other people did help overall, though it also had the opposite effect of scaring the beejesus out of me knowing how many people around me are falling asleep, even for a fraction of a second, on the road. But, I can't just quit driving, can I? Have you ever been hypnotized by the road? Are you able to share these kinds of scary moments with other people? What was it like the first time you did? Or have you always shared openly with others?