Monday, 1 September 2014

Driving in sixth gear.

I’m not what you would really call a car person, and am certainly no car expert. My dad and one of my brothers quite like cars, and are very handy at fixing what goes wrong under the bonnet. They’re always talking about what cars they want to test drive or buy next, and they’ve owned a good range of cars between them. Growing up with them means I’ve had to learn to hold my own in a car-related conversation (and how to check and change tyres, oil, water, batteries and lights). I have also developed a list of cars I’d like to own before I die. It includes:
  •  an old MG in British racing green (from the 1960s or 1970s)
  • an old Jaguar (again, from the 1960s or 1970s, not the ugly new ones)
  • an old VW Beetle (a proper solid one from the 1960s, not a new one with a lame vase attached to the dashboard)
  • a red Ford Laser KE GL hatch circa 1989–1990 (I like the shape of its boot).

Generally though, I don’t really care too much for cars, their colour, number of cylinders, rims or bodywork (although, the television programme “Pimp my ride” can be surprisingly addictive, especially when it’s the only English language programme, other than the news, on TV in a foreign country). To me, cars are just a means to an end. They are vehicles that transport you to where you need and want to be safely, comfortably, fairly quickly, and ideally with a good soundtrack. Of course, for your car to do this, you need to take care of it, including by regularly servicing it, giving it good fuel, and not pushing it beyond its means.

I’ve not always been the most responsible car owner or driver. I blew more than one head gasket in my old four-speed Corolla by driving it faster than the speed it was comfortable doing (i.e. more than 70 kilometres an hour), and had to get the radiator repaired as a result of it. Soon after I got my license, I braked too late, too hard, in the wet, and hit the back of another car. Twice within a few months. I don’t always (ever) check the spare tyre pressure, which caught me out when a nail pierced a front tyre recently. And I’ve had a couple of speeding tickets… a couple of times. But I like to think I’m a somewhat better driver than I was when I first started driving.

Not that long ago, I was driving somewhere, late again. I was on a main road, coasting along downhill, approaching the speed limit and already in fifth gear. I put my foot on the clutch and reached for the gear stick. I moved the gear stick out of fifth gear and tried to put my little Nissan Pulsar into sixth gear.


Now, even I know that Pulsars only have five gears, not including reverse. There was nowhere for the gear stick to go, so I quickly put it back into fifth and kept driving. Then took a deep breath and asked myself what I was doing.

Looking for a non-existent gear in my car wasn’t something I’d normally do. But it made me slow down and think.

Some people believe that cars represent your body or life. At the time, I was working full time, studying almost full time, arranging renovations at home and planning a wedding, plus doing the other day-to-day stuff everyone has to do. I was more than a little busy (and stressed). I was constantly rushing to get as much done as possible, to free up time to do more. I was always late, tired and irritable. I wasn’t much fun. I was pushing my body and mind as far as I could, and clearly it still wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. I wanted to do more, have more time to do more, and do it all faster. I wanted a sixth gear.

Some cars, like racing cars and fancy, expensive German autos that drive on European highways without speed limits, do have a sixth – or higher – gear. These cars are designed for speed. They have high-quality engines that demand high-quality fuel. They need to be kept in tip top condition to cope with the strain such high speeds place on their systems. And I imagine that despite this special care, they still wear out more quickly than my little Pulsar because of this strain.

Similarly, elite athletes are amazing creatures who either through nature or nuture or both are designed for speed and performance. They maintain their bodies with good food, exercise and rest. But there is only so much a body and mind can take when they are under intense strain. Eventually most elite athletes’ bodies start to wear out – often at a much younger age than less athletic, though still fit, bodies.

My bingo wings attest to the fact that I am no elite athlete, but we all have periods in our lives when we are under immense physical, mental and emotional stress. Times when we could use a sixth gear. Even with good food, exercise and medicinal support, our bodies will eventually tire and get sick if they are pushed too far for too long. And the more pressure we put ourselves and our bodies under, the longer it takes to recover – presuming no permanent damage has been done. Stress is not a sustainable state for the long-term, and it contributes to many diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and infertility.

Like my little five-speed Pulsar, I respond well to, and will hopefully last, with good care, good fuel, movement and rest. I try to eat well, meditate, exercise, practice gratitude, rest and spend time with family, friends and myself – though not always successfully and certainly not enough. If my life is out of balance, if I push myself too hard, I get tired and worn out, and then sick or sad. When this happens to me, I do what I can do to rebalance it, visit a naturopath, kinesiologist or masseur (or all three), go on a date with my boy, and/or book a holiday or something else fun to look forward to.

It’s important to try to recognise the signs that we need to slow down, when our lives are out of balance and we need a little TLC. The signs might be as forgiving as a persistent cold or rash, as blatant as a heart attack, or as abstract as reaching for a non-existent sixth gear. The earlier we recognise the signs, the more we can do to support ourselves through the stressful period and recovery from it, and reinstate a sense of balance in our lives to limit stress and its negative effects. If not, we could all end up with blown gaskets and leaky radiators. And they're not that cheap, easy or fun to fix.

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