When I’m tired, the sentences I speak don’t always make sense. The process of thought can take a while to catch up with the action of speaking, and I find myself ending a sentence in a completely different direction to how I started it … because I was too fatigued to structure the sentence fully in my mind, before it left my mouth.
This phenomenon is not restricted to speech. One day, driving at speed on a rural highway on the hour-long commute home after a hard day of work, I was tail-gated: the car behind me dropped back till I could “view at least two (car spaces’ worth)”, then sped up and came so close I couldn’t even see its numberplate. After a couple of minutes it dropped back, then sped up again and came dangerously close.
Halfway through my commute, I pulled over to the side of the road and had a stretch inside my car. It gave me a break from the intense concentration of driving, stimulated my blood-flow and – I thought – gave the car behind me a chance to overtake: I knew I was doing 20 kph less than the 100 kph speed limit, as that was the fastest speed I felt safe to drive at, given my level of tiredness on the day.
To my surprise, when I stopped my stretch and turned my car keys in the ignition, I saw the tail-gater in my rearview mirror: he had also stopped! I was out of the car and heading towards the male driver before my reasoning caught up with my actions: I had thought, “I’ll just tell him he can pass me because I’ll be going slow” and this had spurred my body into action. Beyond the safety of my car as a potential security barrier I suddenly realised I was exposed, and if the driver had deliberately stopped behind me – after playing chicken with me at high speed – he was probably not a person to reason with! Luckily, as this was dawning on me (as slowly as honey drips from a knife and I was still walking in his direction) the car sped away, spinning gravel behind its wheels, and I didn’t see it again.
I continued on my way, spooked not only by the stranger’s behaviour but by my own reactions. It could’ve turned out very differently to how it did; despite being 5 pm and in broad daylight we two were the only two people around …
It reminded me of a car-trip in Canada years before, when I saw the cutest little brown bear cub come out of the woods and gambol by the side of the road. I had removed my seat belt and was half out of the car when my husband yelled at me, reminding me of the Number 1 Wildlife Rule prominently displayed in every ranger’s office we’d visited: “Where there’s a baby, a mother will follow; never get between a mother and her cubs”. Sheepishly, I slid back into the car, my husband’s fear at the potential consequences coming out in anger at my stupidity …
Be mindful of your actions – and reactions – and be aware of what individual states make you personally vulnerable … in addition to the external factors beyond your control.