What the Mechanic Taught Me About Mental Health

I went in for an oil change and came out with replaced: gasket, spark plugs, transmission fluid, brake rotors, and brake pads. The mechanics first laughed in disbelief of how dirty my transmission fluid was. Then they basically pulled me aside and told me I was tempting fate as they pointed out everything that had to be fixed and told me that a fire could start any moment because of the oil leaking near the spark plugs or because my brake rotors and pads were practically running metal-on-metal.

“Didn’t you notice?” one mechanic asked.

“No,” I said.

“I’m surprised nothing’s happened yet.”

Yeah, me too. Well, God, message received. I’m pretty sure it was His Spirit that insisted I drop in for an oil change on that random day, just as it was His protection that has kept me safe ’till that day.

The way I take care of my car is the way a lot of people take care of their mental health. I notice the obvious things like my CD player and air conditioner stopped working. There’s an ugly brown stain in the backseat from when food spilled on it. My tires are a little flat. I also know how to fix the common things, like how to put air in the tires, when to get an oil change, and how to change the light bulbs of my head and brake lights. But beyond that…nada.

I don’t know. I don’t notice. I forget. Under the hood, I’m lost. I don’t know how to spot signs of wear and tear. It’s hard to remember how often parts or fluids need to be changed. As long as my car takes me from A to B, I assume everything is okay. I neglect car maintenance because they’re super expensive, time consuming, falls into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, and because I’m just not interested. But none of those are valid reasons or excuses.

Cars are heavy machinery we take for granted. Have you ever been in a major car accident? I once spun 180 degrees on California’s notorious Hwy 17. It’s pretty scary to be trapped inside a case of steel, gas, and electricity you have no control over. When I spun out, I saw the face of the driver behind me. It was only for a couple of seconds, but I could never forget seeing the horror on her face. She looked at me like I was dead already. The mechanics looked at me in almost the same way, like they couldn’t believe I wasn’t dead already. I realized that when I ignore car maintenance, I’m putting my life in serious risk.

Most people don’t pay much attention to their mental health until it’s hard to ignore or wave away the symptoms, or until it’s too late. It’s easier to see what’s wrong with our physical bodies. We know when to take a shower. We know when to start exercising. We know when to adjust our diets or sleep schedules.

It’s harder to figure out mental health. We can’t look at our own brains and point out where we’ve stressed it out. It takes intention to observe the symptoms and figure out what they’re saying. We might need someone else to point out what’s going on deep inside us, like friends who can see you burning out or, better yet, a therapist or counselor, who can give you the tools to stay mentally healthy.

We can’t just assume everything is okay because we’re moving from A to B. Ignoring our mental health puts our lives in serious risk. And just as I also put my passengers at risk by not taking care of my car, we’re putting other people at risk by not taking care of our mental health.

Car maintenance needs to be regularly scheduled, like annual doctor check-ups, or going to the dentist every six months. Mental health needs to be regularly scheduled, as well. Be consistent in listening to your body, giving your mind a break, and taking time to take care of your whole self.

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