Interactions of the Slow Decay of Physical Objects and Stress-induced Depression

Months ago, during the cold rainy late winter/early spring, my driver’s side window stopped going up just after I had gotten to work and shown the guard my badge. Having no time to deal with it on a cold rainy morning, I covered the window with a handy piece of cardboard and went to work.

That evening after work I drove my car over to my dad’s house, where he helped me with the initial diagnosis: the window switch for the power windows. I bolted the window closed, left the inside door panel off because I figured I’d put it all back once I had the part, and drove it that way for a couple of days.

But when the switch arrived, it turned out to not be the faulty part. Nope, it was the motor and regulator. Once more to search online for a cheap replacement, and another few days driving my car with the guts of the door exposed until the motor showed up.

But at the time I was going through a wearying game of not being able to pay my rent, and fighting with my landlord about it, and all my mental energy went towards two things: trying to keep my job so I’d at least have some money, and hoping I could land a better paying job so I could keep the apartment I had lived in for 19 years. I had no more energy for fixing a functional but decaying car.

I limped by with the window still bolted in place for another couple of weeks. The car’s state matched my mental state: just holding on but clearly falling apart. I couldn’t roll down the window, and with the inside door panel still not replaced, I had to pull a lever to open the door. But it was OK for now. And I thought I was OK for the moment, too.

Weeks later I did get the motor installed, and for now, the window went up and down. I was dismayed to find out, however, that the window still got stuck sometimes about halfway closed. I had to pull at it, or push it up from underneath, to get it to close completely sometimes. Not always, but often enough that I just stopped rolling down my window unless I absolutely had to.

I stopped rolling down the window when it was nice out; I’d just run the a/c. I didn’t roll it down for the security guards at work; just pressed my badge against the window. At gas stations, I’d open the door to give my credit card to the attendant unless I felt really lucky. I noticed that the window got jammed less frequently on warmer days, more on colder or wetter days.

But my stress and depression kept increasing, which led to me taking at least a day off every week, which meant I didn’t get paid (I’d long since used up my paid sick time), which meant it was harder and harder to pay my rent. A classic downward spiral.

Letters from lawyers began to arrive, and I had to do something, so I admitted defeat, packed up most of my stuff, and found a room with family I could stay in temporarily until I could find cheaper living quarters.

One day, I was getting out of my car, and the metal rod that opened the door got caught on a pocket of my pants. It tore my pants and snapped the rod out of place. I tried to see how it went back in but was too frustrated to really try.

Again, rather than fixing the mechanical problem, I just adapted to the new normal. I’d roll my window down to reach outside and unlatch the door that way. But I wouldn’t roll it all the way down; just to the point where it wouldn’t jam. And even then, sometimes the window needed a little push or pull to go all the way back up.

There I was, driving around with the guts of my door in my peripheral vision. It reminded me every time I drove that I was failing. Was my mental state causing me to give up? Or was I giving up and causing things to fail? I knew that the window jamming in the channels was causing strain on the motor, and it would all eventually fail. But for now…

It all worked… just barely. I could live with it. I had to work on finding a more permanent place to live. I had to keep my job. I had to focus on other things.

This past week, the window stopped going up and down again.  It made nasty grinding sounds. It happened when I was on my way to a drug test I had to pass to get a potential raise at work (long story made short: I would still be a contractor but there would be one less middleman taking a cut of my pay). I climbed over the center console and out the passenger door and realized I had let things slide too far.

I told no one about this until Saturday morning. I knew I had to repair this car. And I had the mental energy to do it because I had gotten the raise. I was fixing my financial life. I could fix my transportation, too.

I texted my friend Ken to ask him if he had any time soon to help me fix the window and the door latch and put it all back together. I needed help.

His reply:

Bring it over.

No questions asked. Just bring it over. I knew he had his kids this weekend and he loves his kids very much. I felt a bit of panic. Right now?! I asked him if I was interrupting any plans he had.

Meh. It’s fine. I miss my friend and need some normal interaction time.

I drove it over there and we disassembled the window again and found the broken part. A drive out to the U-Pull-It junkyard on a pleasant summer day, a hunt for the part, and then back to his garage. When we got it assembled, I pointed out it still was slow or sluggish at the same point and felt resigned to defeat.

Ken messed with the window a bit and pointed out that there was a way to adjust how the regulator was angled, and just like that, the window went up and down as smooth as butter.

Then he dug around in the door and got the metal rod back in place to open the door from the inside. All I had to do was replace the inside door panel, and it would be back to the normal level of old car, and not Millennium Falcon level of open panels and exposed wiring. I didn’t do that there, at Ken’s house, because the parts were all back at my house. But I instantly felt better.

Tonight, I got the door panel back on and took the car for a little spin before bedtime. I actually enjoyed driving it, instead of the dread and regret I felt for having neglected it for so long. It’s working now just as designed.

Did I fix my car because I am fixing my life? Or is fixing my life helping me get the things around me fixed, too? I had to ask Ken for help, something that has been very difficult for me, and I assumed he wouldn’t be able to. He, however, like most of my friends and family, was immediately ready to assist.

I didn’t have the capacity to ask for help these last several months; in fact, none of my friends even knew my car wasn’t working right. But now, knowing I’m getting paid more for the same work, I could ask.

Which part is cause, and which, effect?