When Your Emotional Tank Is Empty

Yesterday I crashed hard. I thought I was going to be able to work throughout the afternoon and evening. I thought that after my day job, I was going to come home, go to my wife’s music school, and help finish the renovation.

Instead, I barely made it through my meetings. As I looked at someone who I really respect, my vision blurred in and out of focus. I was in the meeting, but barely. I came home afterward and moped about like a zombie. Moving in slow motion, I realized I was trying to move at full speed, but there was no move in me left.

I had run out of gas. My son and daughter played with my wife, and I laid down for a nap.


I felt ashamed. There was so much to do last night, and there was no time to waste. I didn’t have time to run out of gas. What was wrong with me that I ran out of gas? Why couldn’t I keep going?

Then the epiphany: there is nothing wrong with a car that runs out of gas. The problem is being out of gas. It needs to get filled up, and until it is, it is not going anywhere.

I don’t normally take the time to fill my car or emotional tanks to the brim, either. I normally stop by the station, put a couple bucks in, and then see how far I can go. I fail to rest enough. I feel a little better then press forward again until there is nothing left.

No matter what you are going through now, if you are reading this post, it is likely because you have additional stressors that empty your tank. I have my own mental health needs, my business and my wife’s, and life as a husband and father, etc. Those things are great, but they also drain my tank to empty in a hurry. Then I need to fill it by resting enough, finding value in my work, laughing harder and more often.

More than anything though, I need to remember that there is nothing wrong with me when I run out of gas. It is not a me problem. I am not a dysfunctional person. I am in a really stressful situation that requires filling up. Shame does not help at all.

Especially when working with disabilities, mental illness, or other chronic issues, you never get a break. Those things grind on you and me everyday. We have to fill ourselves up, even when we feel we cannot. Fill up how you can, as creatively as possible, especially when your time is at a premium. And remember that when you feel like you’re running out of gas, nothing is wrong with you.

Brandon Appelhans is the Executive Director of My Quiet Cave, a nonprofit located in Denver, Colorado, creating spaces of faith and mental health by helping educate faith leaders and lead faith based groups for people with mental illness and their families. For more information visit myquietcave.org or email brandon@myquietcave.org.