I don't know about you, but I hate, absolutely hate, when a red emergency light suddenly appears in my car dashboard.
It recently happened when I was in a rush to get to a special event when I was in serious need of what I considered a mini-vacation day.
Food and wine is a casual hobby and I occasionally have the opportunity to be part of a team that puts on high-end outdoor events that feature both.
Flipping rapid-fire through car diagnostics and doing checks and balances to see if the glaring red brake light would turn off, the final verdict according to the manufacturer was to call a tow truck and get the car immediately serviced.
Knowing there was little traffic on the country road route to my destination, in a split-second decision and with a deep breath to anchor in self-control, I decided to very carefully continue on. If I made it there okay, I'd call my mechanic for advice later.
A Day to Remember
I did make it. The rest of the day unfolded with –
• hours of strenuous movement in hot temps with intense sun
• mindfully drinking lots of liquid to stay hydrated
• inability to reach my mechanic or a family member
• sketching out a mental plan for getting the car (and myself) home safely
• a sudden freak accident at the event that involved a lot of guests and EMS vehicles swarming the site
• maintaining calm to help relieve the stress of uninjured guests
• continuing on with the event once it was determined there were no deaths or serious injuries
– until, towards the end of the event, I just had to sit down.
An Odd Experience
My body reacts to pain with rapid heart rate. Although I wasn't in any pain, I'd taken an aspirin earlier to see if that would alleviate the alarming feeling. It didn't.
Team leaders suggested I sit down and hydrate with Gatorade and more water, which I did. It didn't help. Then my body started shaking. As the night-time temps started to cool the air, I was given a blanket. The thought of driving the car home with the red emergency light on added to the anxiety that I was feeling.
Everyone was deeply affected by the pandemonium that happened as a result of the accident and reacted differently behind their "game day" faces. The team leader suggested it contributed to what I was physically experiencing.
As it turned dark and the event set-up was broken down, I continued to sit, drink water and did what I could to self-control breathing between numerous trips to a portable restroom. The shakes continued.
I googled heat exhaustion on my cell phone and found out rapid heart rate could be a factor, so at least I could put a label on what was happening.
Will I Make it Home?
After most of the crew had left the site, I walked a distance with two team members back to the parking lot in the moonlight, backpack on, determined to drive my car home very slowly with emergency flashers on. I knew the roads were desolate at eleven o'clock at night, so probably wouldn't have to engage the brakes very much unless I encountered deer.
My heart rate was still rapid, despite drinking and eliminating tons of water. Luckily my cell phone was charged in the event cell service was available and 911 was needed. I focused on calming my breathing as the miles ticked by, headlights reaching through fog that had settled over meadows of rolling terrain.
As each segment of travel brought me closer to home (mixed with "I can do this" when I started getting lightheaded), I felt a degree of stress lift. I was ready to kiss the ground when the car was finally back in the driveway.
Sleep was disrupted by monster thirst and continuing to hydrate and eliminate. Rapid heart rate and new chest pressure continued into the next day. The shakes mercifully stopped. It helped to debrief recalling the events in a phone call to my mom later in the morning.
Solving a Mystery
While I don't typically spend ten hours straight in the heat and sun while in strenuous motion, I'm in very good condition. What I'd experienced, and was continuing to experience to a lesser degree, was odd and didn't make sense.
Trying to put the puzzle pieces together, I remembered toward the end of the day I'd grabbed unfamiliar cans of what I thought was a cold, carbonated herbal drink that I'd grabbed from a cooler that was on hand for staff.
Doing some detective work, I checked the ingredients online. Turns out this stuff was an exotic energy drink loaded with caffeine and sugar.
When I emailed the team leaders to let them know I made it home okay, I let them know that I felt it was the energy drink that may have been the culprit. I'd learned years ago that my body is sensitive to them in general.
With a thoughtful response, one of the leaders mentioned she had a sensitivity to these drinks as well and that they'd warn people about the potency. It was her belief that since everyone had been impacted by what had happened at the event, it may have been a combination of everything. I agree.
Where the Rubber Hits the Road
Although I've written an SOS Toolkit about how to take care of yourself in challenging situations that's based on personal experience, it's easy to write about experiences in retrospect from a desk.
It's quite another to experience a concentrated series of events that push your limits while remembering to apply the self-care tools you've written about to help others.
The bottom line was to respond with self-control and remain as calm as possible from the emergency light in the car to the events of that day to the disturbing physical reactions I was experiencing.
It's very satisfying to know that just because things go sideways, we can all learn to find that space within ourselves to dig deep and maintain as needed, when needed.
Your comments are welcome.
PS: My SOS Need it Now! Emotional Feel Better Toolkit – Your Workbook Guide to Emotional Well-Being During Challenging Times – will soon be available as an on-demand online course.
To learn more and pre-register, please send an email for details.
Photo: James Wheeler
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