What color is your engine check light?

I’ve been ambling along, telling myself that I’m OK, I’ve got a plan to get through all this, I’m fine, go away, leave me alone, I’ve got work to do. Maybe I’ve been wrong, though. Maybe I’m just really good at burying my worries. Then I ran into this simple illustration that brought my situation into focus.

I’m looking at my dashboard, and seeing that my engine status is not a solid green at all. It’s more like a solid yellow that occasionally flutters orange as my engine stutters sporadically. If I were a car, I’d be saying we ought to get this thing into the shop to be checked out (and honestly, if I were a car, I’d more likely be saying that we can coax a few more miles out of it and put off the bother of maintenance a little longer.)

I’m also thinking that there are just two things preventing me from crashing into the red.

  • The election was not totally disastrous. If the orange disaster had been re-elected, I’d be panicking that the starboard engine was on fire and the hydraulics have been cut and there’s no way to lower the landing gear — we’re going in for a belly landing in rugged terrain (yes, I’m aware that my metaphor has become airborne, but that’s to make the catastrophe more clear). Putting Biden in office just means I can sputter along in the yellow, not that everything is fixed.
  • The nature of my job is such that I have semesters of overwork separated by longish breaks. Everything is coming to a head in my classes right now, but by next weekend I’ll have the grading all done and can unwind with a lab full of spiders for a month and a half. It’s not quite enough to push my status into the green, because another semester looms beyond that, but it will help stabilize me in the yellow. I don’t think the surges in stress are the best way to teach or the best way to learn, but it’s the system we’ve got.

It does not escape my notice that yellow is not a good condition to be in.

What about you? Is your engine purring, grinding, or bursting into flames?


  1. Rich Woods says

    Engine purring, green across the board. But then I’ve never had any problems with spending time on my own and I’m fortunate enough to have no obligations to anyone and to have enough money in the bank for the duration. I’m catching up on a lot of reading and that in itself is very calming and satisfying.

  2. chigau (違う) says

    Somewhere between yellow and orange. But I have no place to go and nothing to do so it doesn’t really matter.

  3. tommynottimmy says

    I’m usually in the orange. It doesn’t help that a year ago, that is in the before time, I was probably in the yellow. The city I live and where I work an “essential” job interacting with the public is steadily approaching a 20% positive testing rate. And nothing is being done to stop it. So yeah, not doing great.

  4. Rob Grigjanis says

    Mostly green, thanks to my stationary bike. Without it, I’d be at yellow with occasional forays into orange.

  5. Paul K says

    I spent most of my childhood, and a good portion of my life as a young adult, somewhere between yellow and orange, with periodic peaks in the red. I’d say that now, at the age of 60, I spend most of my time in green, with occasional slips into yellow. The pandemic has definitely pushed me into the yellow more often, but the ‘helpful’ lessons learned in my past have taught me how to cope.

    But that’s just me. I have the luxury of being able to (mostly) stay protected, both from the pandemic, and from economic collapse, so far. When I do slip into the yellow, it’s because of what I see happening all around me: folks in need, and other folks not caring. That’s not new, but it sure is stark right now.

  6. says

    I was deep in the red zone before I sought help in August. I was having daily panic attacks and breakdowns. I had to quit my job because if I kept going I was sure I was going to die. I’m getting better.

  7. says

    Fluctuating between yellow and orange, with accents of red, but that’s been the case for years. The current situation hasn’t really changed much in my life. Unfortunately my normal state seems to be becoming ubiquitous, which cannot be a good thing.

  8. sc_262299b298126f9a3cc21fb87cce79da says

    I’m solid green, with the caveat that my “normal” sleep patterns have never been great. I sometimes feel a bit guilty for being such a happy hermit.

  9. npsimons says

    “There’s more to living than only surviving, maybe I’m not there, but I’m still trying.”

    I was a sold green at the start of the quarantines, because I’m a loner by nature. But between the hellscape that is politics in the US and just my own underlying issues, I’ve definitely spent a good chunk of time in yellow, with some forays into orange and even bits of red still linger (I’ve withdrawn from most relationships, and I don’t really feel “lonely”, I just feel like I should be more bothered by it than I am).

    For me, work is a salve. It keeps my mind busy, and not in a numbing way. I’ve also cut back on the alcohol, which is good, but I still fall asleep every night to stuff like TNG. Maybe it’s just escapism to a fiction where people mostly act rationally, and not the numbing that I fear it is.

    The exercise helps. I should definitely get back on a daily schedule, and I’ve got everything I need at home.

  10. maireaine46 says

    Thanks for posting this chart. I was dealing with recurrent depression and anxiety before the pandemic, and neither that or the evil Trump have helped. I still fluctuate between yellow and orange, a bit of red on the worse days, but like you, the election of Biden did help, although it is not a panacea. If Trump had won I would have been deep in the red.My husband and I are retired which takes job pressure off but there is still plenty to worry about, I am very prone to despair and worry but try to keep going. I so envy those in the “thriving” range.

  11. PaulBC says

    Green-Yellow. “Inconsistent performance” has been a lifelong norm for me. I have become more confident over time that productivity spikes will occur as needed.

    A different election outcome would definitely have thrown me into a panic, though.

  12. mnb0 says

    Mostly green, regarding sleep yellow. That has been the case for more than 15 years though. A sober view on the last American presidential elections helped; I never needed to promote and defend the conservative JoeB to sooth my unease. In case somebody points out that I’m not an American: the party I naturally vote for, Green Left, is also led by an authoritarian. He’s much smarter than Donald the Clown.

  13. says

    I felt like I “unclenched” somewhat after the election and felt worse for a bit.

    All of this is complicated by the fact that I’m trying to change my social map and dispositions more than normal. The nextdoor political board for example. It takes a lot to absorb a new social arena and I have other social complications skewing things. There are more red question marks on my map than normal.

  14. says

    Jumping all over the place. I still do my job well, there are things I really enjoy, but there’s definitely panic attacks and sleep issues and I’m exhausted like fuck.

  15. nomuse says

    I did decades as a designer and builder for live theatre. That meant stress, panic, and lack of sleep for up to six weeks…followed by exhaustion and mild depression and an overwhelming need to turn off the lights, ignore phone calls and huddle with a good book for a couple of weeks.

    And this was normal.

    Now I’ve got a day job and even when the wheels on the flaming dumpster turned and it started rolling down hill towards a cliff I’ve been staying somewhere between lime and mint. I’d really rather not be having to pour in fluids to keep the light out of the red…I’ve seen it, and a bit too closely, too.

  16. chesapeake says

    I’m pretty much solid green, though I the colors were much brighter for a year after my wife of 40 years died in 2017. Since then I’ve found a girlfriend who I lived with for 9 months at her house ,and in June we moved to my house for what appears to be the duration. Two weeks ago she moved her piano in.
    The horror of Trump didn’t/doesn’t really affect my functioning though I was much relieved after the election. The virus hasn’t affected our lives very much. We’re happy together in our country home. And we zoom a couple of book clubs each month.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    FYI the world’s best soccer player has died. Diego Maradona was
    overweight and had a previous drug problem, but what finally did him in
    was 2020.

  18. brightmoon says

    This entire last 4 years I was bouncing back and forth between orange and yellow . Because I’m a scientifically literate Black woman a lot of that was due to trump and his crazy asshole antics. Feeling like you’ve got a target on your back because of race and/or sex and/or level of education isn’t fun. This virus made up the rest of the stress as I’m a New Yorker. The relief when trump lost was so extreme that I collapsed for about 2 days.

  19. says

    This is a useful graphic, thank you. It made me stop and think and realize I am 70% red and the rest yellow leaning red. I think I need some outside assistance pronto and have to make that happen.

  20. says

    Yellow flicking orange and on a few occasions dark, stark red.

    The pandemic knocked away nearly all my mental health support, then this last month has been triple-plus stressful because of renovating and moving.

  21. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    I’m orange during work times and yellow most of the rest of the time. I expect to get some much-needed relaxation time in this week, as The Boyfriend is driving for Thanksgiving with his family and I am not.

    I know that quitting the job would put me back into yellow-to-green. But I took the job (at the 211 info center) in April, from a sense of needing to do something to contribute during the pandemic. That feels like hard work that’s worth doing, and not everyone can do it so I need to step up at a time like this. I have stayed with the temporary crew so that when the emergency is done I can become a civilian again. So I’m just waiting it out. Right now my job is funded through January, and I would be fine with it ending then. But it probably won’t until we get vaccine distribution widely underway, late next year.

  22. Anton Mates says

    Mostly yellow-orange, with occasional half-day bouts of red. High school math teachers tend to live in the yellow even in a good year, and distance learning doesn’t help. Spent this month lining up mental health supports, though, and I’m hoping next month will be better. And it’s always inspiring to see my students being much better and more responsible people than I was at their age!

  23. hackerguitar says

    I feel mostly yellow-orange with occasional forays into the red zone, with work adding crippling doubt. The pandemic has left a leadership vacuum at work, and competence-robbing assignments without any context keep getting dropped on my plate.

    To an outside observer, it probably looks green – we’re financially stable and have an income, we’ve been healthy, etc.

    But it’s so not green.

  24. springa73 says

    I’ve had strong Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for most of my life, so Yellow is where I am usually at, with forays into orange and sometimes red. The pandemic and politics only made anxiety levels slightly higher for me, because they didn’t change my life that much. I was already unemployed before the pandemic hit. I still have some money saved up, but financial and employment concerns are slowly increasing. With politics, relief at the results of the election has been somewhat countered by the sobering reminder that some 45% of the voting population still supports Trump and what he stands for. On the other hand, being a straight white guy living in a liberal part of the country with state health insurance, the feeling of anxiety is more abstract and less immediate and personal than it is for a lot of people. Sometimes I’ve though that I should feel worse than I do about the political situation than I do, but my OCD gives me plenty to feel miserable about, and I am not eager to take on other loads of anxiety.

    On the positive side, I see a therapist online every 2 weeks for my OCD, and that has definitely been helping.

  25. says

    Somewhere between yellow and orange, tends to fluctuate by the hour. Feeling burnt out by the pandemic and politics. Talk therapy 1x/week is helping, which is nice, and very much helpful. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the green.

  26. Kevin Karplus says

    Solid yellow.
    The grading is ramping up (I have about 20–30 hours of grading to do this weekend with about another 30 hours coming in over the next 3 weeks). After I get the grades in on Dec 23, I’ll have until Jan 4 to get my syllabus together. Well, that is when classes start—I should have the syllabus out 2 weeks before class, so Dec 21 (before grades are due). We have an even-shorter-than-usual winter break this year (less than 2 weeks for faculty) and still have a short spring break (less than a week for faculty).

  27. square101 says

    I’ll go with a good solid orange as long as you wrap up the 1st point in a thick, hard casing of cynicism like the chitinous carapace around the thorax of some fantastical giant arachnid. I’m pretty scared for December, “Canadian Thanksgiving” basically doubled their COVID cases and I can’t help but expect that the US will do our Thanksgiving worse then they did. My folks live in a deep red state and my brother is in med school there too. Plus even if this admin actually does a transition they are clearly going to be burning everything down behind them as much as they can in the next month.

  28. John Morales says

    Life has its ups and downs, but existential angst is not a thing that bothers me.

    So… green.

  29. jrkrideau says

    Canadian Thanksgiving” basically doubled their COVID cases

    I don’t think that our thanksgiving was responsible for a huge amount of that increase—though definitely a good bit—as, in Canada, Thanksgiving is a pretty minor holiday. For example, just about no one is going to fly from Vancouver to Toronto for the holiday. Drive an hour or two for a family dinner, sure.

    I suspect, on no evidence, we got hit by Thanksgiving, Halloween and the onset of cold weather plus a bit of over-confidence.

  30. John Morales says

    [“Canadian Thanksgiving”]

    Huh. It’s a thing, apparently. Live and learn.

    Quoth Wikipedia:

    On January 31, 1957, the Governor General of Canada Vincent Massey issued a proclamation stating: “A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed – to be observed on the second Monday in October.” […]

    I guess another public holiday is not a bad thing.

  31. wzrd1 says

    Hit solid red for a bit this afternoon. Emergency alert system lit off on the phone announcing hospitals reaching capacity due to the damned pandemic. Delaware County hospitals nearing emergency capacity, Philadelphia County hospitals can no longer accept patients.
    And dumb fucks still planning Thanksgiving meals with family and friends.
    Oh well, expect mass graves for Christmas.

  32. says

    I’m trans, pre-HRT, and have just watched all chances of seeing social acceptance and equality in this country in my lifetime go down in flames with the Barrett landing a SCOTUS seat. Solid orange here.

  33. says

    wzrd1@37 – yeah, I got that alert, too. Braced to see US mortality figures climb into the neighborhood of 500k by the time Biden is inaugurated. We still have a hell of a rough road ahead.

  34. PaulBC says

    I seriously can’t figure out why people are going through with Thanksgiving plans. We weren’t traveling anyway, but the only change I expect to make is to add a face shield to my shopping attire. We had them for a while but didn’t start using them. Things are obviously worse now.

  35. Kagehi says

    Hmm. Green, with a bit of wabble into yellow. I have never been someone to be happy with people changing plans on me in the middle of shit, and this has bothered me for 14 years I have been at the job I have. But, my main thing is that I am finding it way easier to waste time watching people play games on youtube, or play some myself, than sit down and “do” things, even when I previously would have enjoyed them. Though, this is also.. minorish, since its mostly, “Yeah, I would enjoy this, but it would also be a task, and take time, and thinking, so.. I wonder what Captainsparklez and that Xeen dude are doing in the latest minecraft mod they decided to drive themselves nuts with?” lol Mind, I love semi-engineering stuff, its just, I don’t get to do it at work, like at all, the job is mindless+irritating instead, and when I get home, I just want to forget the job, the politics of the idiots I work with, the customers, etc.

    It was a bit more yellow, while the election was going, and every time I found out another stupid thing Trump had done… :p