One of the worst things about the holidays for me, is how distracting the whole experience can be. I don’t live close to my family — in more ways than one. I have a very technical career that is nothing like what the teachers and preachers and caregivers in my family pursue. I also live in an area that is more affluent than theirs, and I have very different values and priorities than when I was younger and living at home.
And in the course of my normal everyday life, that’s fine. I am aligned with my own values and I am on my own track and path. I have my plans and my desired direction, and I stick with it. I have my daily routine. I have my priorities clear. And I take definite steps in the direction of my choosing.
But during the holidays, all that changes. It begins with Halloween, when my regular schedule is up-ended by the sudden appearance of “seasonal” distractions — in grocery stores, things get moved around, candy starts to appear, all sorts of new items appear on the shelves, and I have to adjust my usual course through the store to find what I want — as well as block out the distractions of Halloween items which just take more time to think about and parse.
Thanksgiving isn’t much better. If anything, it’s worse, because there’s travel to families involved, and usually in the aftermath, I get sick. And I stay sick for the month of December, which frankly really sucks and makes it harder to just live my life. Also dealing with my family, even though I do love them and enjoy being around them, is a huge time and energy sink. Plus, when I am around my family, my focus gets diluted, I start to think about how things were with me when I was younger, and my values and priorities shift a little bit to be more like they used to be — as in, I start to think more about writing that novel, and less about honing my technical skills. I start to think in broader, more abstract ways, rather than in specific, concrete ways. My family is a very heady bunch of people, with very strong beliefs that I used to agree with and relate to. Being away from them and their way of life, it is relatively easy to focus on my own priorities and tend to the things that matter most to me. Being out of my element, in their midst, throws me off – as little else can.
Family is really important… at the same time, it can be a real hindrance. Especially when everyone in your family thinks of you in a certain way — and that way only. They don’t think about me as a person who has to get more sleep than most. They don’t think of me as a person who is easily fatigued and overwhelmed. They don’t think of me as someone who needs a little extra time to cover all my cognitive bases when I am making decisions or doing something new. And they don’t think of me as someone who needs to make adjustments in my work, because the way I think and feel and relate to the world requires that I make those adjustments to take care of myself.
My mother can’t wrap her head around me needing naps in the afternoon while I’m at work. My father doesn’t get why I work such long hours and stay so late, to avoid traffic. My siblings all seem to think that I live this charmed life of affluence and ease, because I have no kids. I haven’t told everyone about my TBIs — just my parents and one sibling. But the ones I’ve told still aren’t getting it. They’ve made it clear that they’re not going to even make the effort, and that’s that.
So, I do the best I can with what I have with these folks. I love my family and I love spending time with them. At the same time, though, their way of life and their philosophies and their orientation to, well, just about everything, is sharply different from my own — and many of the differences have to do with the accommodations I have to make for myself, and the lack of energy I have to go “bounding about” doing mental gymnastics about things that I don’t believe anyone truly understands, anyway. Maybe my life is simpler, because I’ve let go of a lot of devotion to holding specific opinions and wanting to figure everything out. Come to think of it, I’m sure it is.
It’s having to deal with my family’s devotion to being “Right” and figuring things out, that is so exhausting for me. ‘Cause then I have to re-orient myself to myself and my own beliefs and priorities, all over again after the holidays.
I realized, over this past weekend, how much Thanksgiving threw me off, when I went down to visit my family. It’s like getting pulled back in time… and then having to extract myself from the sticky goo of my past. In a way, it was good that I traveled, after I got back from Thanksgiving, because it gave me time to reset my mental compass. But now I’m sick, and I’m looking ahead to another trip down to my family, and it’s starting to get on my nerves.
Ah, well — so go the holidays. And at least I’m aware of how much my family re-calibrates my thinking when I am with them… so when I get back from the Christmas trip, I can dig in again and work on my job skills, rather than thinking about that novel I was going to write, that I was so sure would be a best-seller. Cripes, but there’s a lot swirling in my head that I need to manage.
And it’s pretty much stress-related. I find that when I am really stressed, I turn to writing fiction for relief. I start writing novels. Or short stories. It calms me. It gives me another place to “go”. But it also distracts me from doing what I need to do. The rush I get from starting something new is a powerful opiate for me. It dulls the pain and gets me thinking about all the new possibilities in life. But after the newness wears off, it’s just another thing I have to do — and it just drags me down.
So, enough of the novel-writing. At least for the next six months. If I’m ever in a position to just kick back and spend hours on end doing nothing, and my job situation is secure and stable, and I don’t have pressing financial needs, I’ll turn to writing fiction. But until that time, I need to keep steady in what I have been planning and working on for the past months — beefing up my technical skills, focusing on certain specific areas where I feel I can really contribute and make a positive difference, and worrying about a decent paycheck, not whether to write in first or second or third person.
One thing I know for sure, that is giving me a great deal of comfort — I would much rather be an individual contributor and work with numbers and code, than deal with people each and every day. I don’t want to be a manager. I want to make things, create things, invent things, render things. I want to interact with machines that will just tell me yes/no… instead of the endless dancing around all the issues and the nuances of human interaction. It’s just too stressful for me. It’s just no fun. It might look more impressive to the rest of the world, but it’s not what I want to do with myself.
I DO know what I want to do with myself. And that is a huge comfort. Especially on days like today, when everybody is clamoring for some sort of overdue thing, they’re getting snotty and irate because it’s closing down on year-end and they haven’t met all their goals, and I feel like I’m going to fall over and/or throw up.
I DO know that I’m outa there in the spring. I will have my skills in place adequately to do just that. I DO know where I’m going to focus my attention, and I DO know how important it is to not lose my train of thought again. I’m also aware — more than ever — of how distracting my family is for me, when it comes to living my life. I have to sorta kinda guard myself from their well-intentioned “guidance” and fend off their “caring” interference. They mean well. I know that. But they just don’t help, when it comes to making decisions about where I need to go next in my life.
Maybe it all boils down to possibility and opportunity. I know I live in a much wider world than they do, and I am much more hooked into what else is possible for me. I need to keep that in mind, as I move forward.
And so I shall. The last big trip of the holidays is coming up, and I’ll be seeing a lot of family — both sides, actually — on the road. My spouse’s family is much more supportive of my career than my birth family, so that will be a relief to be with them. I will need to create some sort of reminder for myself about what truly matters, over the coming months, and I will need to be careful to keep on track, so I don’t get pulled off the rails too much — or at the very least, I can get back on track after the trip is over. I’ll have to think about how to do that… it may be a real challenge. But then, real challenges are usually easier for me to handle than the “easy-peasy” ones. So, my task is clear.