Christmas and Change

tree covered in snow with forest in distanceI hope everyone who celebrated yesterday had a really great Christmas. For many of us, it’s a lonely time, if we can’t be with the ones we love — or the ones we love don’t love us back, or we’re just so misunderstood by the people we need to understand us the best.

I had a rough morning, with some upset that seemed to come out of nowhere. I just felt so terrible. But after I got moving, taking care of Christmas day things, I felt better. It helps if I get moving. If I “sit” in my misery, it just amplifies it.

So, it’s best to not sit in it. Have faith that my life is worthwhile, and just keep going. Get the focus off me, pay attention to others. Get moving. In a positive direction.

And the day turned out fine.  Between cooking and getting the house in order, there was a lot of activity. The good thing was, it completely wore me out, and I fell asleep on the couch for an hour before going to bed. I woke up at 2 a.m. drenched in sweat (even though I had the heat turned down), and I had to change my sheets, they were so wet. But then I fell back into bed and actually slept till 7 a.m., which is a recent record for me.

So, it’s all good. And since I don’t need to be at work for another week, I’m seeing all kinds of opportunity for the next 7 days. Opportunity to get my home in order, organize, clean up, take care of the chores that I typically put off, because I’m so tired at the end of every day.

I’ve already done a lot of organizing of my home office, which feels great. It’s more than just a holding pen for my files and books, now. It’s an actual work space, which I need. I also need to straighten up the living room, after the Christmas gift-opening extravaganza. Every year, my spouse and I get each other “more gifts than we need”, but in truth, this time of year is just about the only time of the year we splurge on luxuries like soft “house socks” with anti-slip nubs on the soles, new winter caps, and high-tech miniature flashlights. All of these things we can use, but they’re not necessities, so we usually go without. Until Christmas rolls around and we can justify getting them. We don’t get a lot of jewelry and luxury items, like cars and bikes and whatnot. Or maybe our definition of “luxury” is different.

Anyway, yesterday was a busy day, and it included some visits from the neighbors, who came bearing cookies. One of my neighbors needed extra driveway space for their visiting family, so they “borrowed” my driveway. And my other neighbor is moving in the spring, which is a shame, because they’ve been a great neighbor who’s really been there for us over the years. I often help them shovel out after snowstorms, and I watch their cat while they’re traveling. They keep an eye on our house while we’re out of town, and they just keep us connected with the rest of the world. That’s a loss. And when I think about it, I get a little emotional.

But change is constant. There we have it. And the time off work is giving me a chance to think through some of the changes that will probably be coming in the next few decades. Basically, I live in a house that is extremely non-accessible. It’s up on a hill that you have to walk up steps to get to. There’s literally no way to get in and out of the house without walking up stairs. And while that’s fine now, in 10 years or so, my spouse might not be able to do that.

So, what to do? Well, there’s a point of access through the garage. I do need to get a garage door opener installed for one of the garage doors. And the door from the garage to the basement will need to be widened. Then there are the basement stairs, which aren’t sturdy enough for one of those chair lift things. But I think an elevator will actually work. The stairwells are over top each other, which makes me think an elevator shaft will fit well in that space.

Of course, there’s the question of power. If the power goes out, we’ll both be stuck, since there won’t be stairs going to the top floor. So, maybe I  need to get one of those big-ass Tesla batteries that will power a whole house. And get solar panels on the roof.

All of this sounds really expensive. Almost to the point where it could be cheaper to tear down the existing house (which has a bunch of structural issues, including cracks in the garage floor, sagging floors, and some rafters that aren’t 100% good. The more I think about it, the more I’d like to just tear down this house and build another version that makes more sense. Or move to another house… Except that we love this location, we love the view, we love the little piece of land we’ve got, and we really want to stay.

Then again, it might make more sense to just convert the downstairs half-bath into a full bath and set up my spouse with their own bedroom downstairs… Not bother with the elevator, which will seriously alter the nature of the house (and affect resale prospects), and keep things simple. If we expand the deck and add on to the back of the house just a little bit, it could work. It could work really nicely.

I just have to come up with money to do all this, which puts the horizon for doing this in the far distance. But that gives me time to think it all through and come up with different options. It could work. I just have to sort it all out.

But I’m sure I will. It’s just fun to have the time to think about all this stuff and not be rushed by Things I Have To Do For Someone Else.

There’s not a huge amount of pressure to get everything done, right now, which is good. Because with me, these things take time to sort out. But eventually they get where they need to be.

And then I move on.

Change… yeah… change and Christmas.

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Pacing myself for Christmas

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

It’s Friday. I have the day off work. I still have to do some daily “housekeeping” tasks for work, but it’s not that big of a deal, because it doesn’t require that I pay attention at all. Just start a program at 6:30 a.m. and wait for it to finish a few hours later. I should probably fix it so that it kicks off by itself.

I’ll do that later today.

Yesterday was get-it-all-done-before-the-snow-flies day. We’re supposed to get a bunch of snow and rain today, which could get messy. It’s not the kind of weather you want to be driving in, so I won’t. My spouse and I spent yesterday afternoon and evening doing our last-minute shopping, and we got just about everything done. So, that’s good.

It wiped me out, but it was good. Now I just have a bunch of stuff to wrap. And that’s fine. Because I have three days to get that done — a big improvement over past years, when we couldn’t get ourselves in gear before the very last minute.

All that last-minute shopping of years gone by just boggles my mind. How did we do it? Chaotically and crabbily, as a matter of fact. And it pushed me to my limits, year after year. But Ye Olde attentional problems and executive function issues kept me/us from getting ahead of the game and preparing in a timely manner. We always needed the stress of last-minute pressure to put us over the finish line, and it took a toll, year after year.

Of course, that’s just how things were, so we never thought to do things differently. And it took a toll. Good grief, when I think about all the drama and yelling and frustration… and how my spouse and I just took that for granted… I’m glad things are different now.

Part of it is that we’ve both gotten older and more tired, so we don’t have the energy for all that whoop-de-doop. Who has the energy for squabbling? What does it accomplish, other than sharpening our sense of being “ON”?

Come to think of it, that was a huge draw for us. Getting all worked up over things was a great way to perk up the old tonic arousal and get the brain to think it’s awake. That “pump” from the drama literally made me feel like I was alive again… a better state of mind than the steady level of dullness that came after my concussion(s). So, getting all “drama’ed out” was a way for me to wake myself up and get myself feeling normal again.

That’s not a small thing. It’s a critical thing. It was central to my Sense-Of-Self, and while it did make me pretty tedious to deal with during the holidays, it nevertheless played a role in making me feel like myself again.

But eventually that got old. And I learned new ways to perk myself up. Like getting regular exercise, first thing in the morning. Like getting the crap food out of my system. Like finding things that really made me feel great and focusing on them… not the things that made me feel terrible and perked me up as a result.

It’s an ongoing process, of course, and I’m not perfect. I still have my moments. Heaven knows. But things are a heck of a lot better this year, than they’ve been in past years.

And this year really I’ll be ready for Christmas.

There’s a first time for everything.

And it just gets better…

Kim-Sutton-Positive-Productivity-Coffee-and-ComputerI’m having another great day, today.

I’m surprisingly productive on my days “off”, and I’m getting more done than I realize. Before I lay down for my nap, a couple of hours ago, I made a list of all the stuff I got done, and it was … a lot.

I’m not taxed, though, which is good. It just feels regular. Like I’m just living my life like I want to.

And I am.

One thing that happened earlier, was a phone interview for a job I’d applied for a couple of weeks back. I know I’d posted about how I really need to be realistic and not push myself intensely — especially with a long commute.  And it’s true. The thing is, the people I talked to and the job we discussed all sounded great. Of course they did. It was an interview, and everybody’s on their best behavior. But what came out of the conversation was actually a wider and more interesting kind of opportunity than they originally offered.

The scope of the job now encompasses things I’ve been doing for years, but they don’t apparently have anyone to do. Things like make their website go really, really fast. Things like put a new web metrics package in place. Things like train developers on best practices.

So, that was actually exciting. When I think about where I am now — boxed into a small corner of the world, without the opportunity to strengthen certain skills (which, by the way, are the ones that really pay well) — and I think about the future — more of the same that’s going to make me more and more specialized, more and more boxed-in — I have to seriously consider any and all alternatives.

Anyway, if my current employer really wanted to keep me, they’d pay me like they mean it. They haven’t done that. If anything, they’ve reneged on their promises and shorted me thousands of dollars.

That’s not cool. It’s not-cool enough to make me leave. They should know better. They do know better. But they won’t do better.

If I move, it will be an adjustment. A longer commute. A new bunch of people. Unpredictable politics. Having to start from scratch.

Then again, that’s what I’m dealing with right now. And that’s happening at an established job with a company that’s an “unknown quantity” at this point. Who knows what will happen with them? Nobody knows. All anybody has, anymore, is rumors.

Note how well I’m talking myself into changing jobs, when just a few days ago, I was in a much different frame of mind. I’m clever that way… But seriously, I have to weigh all the pros and cons of both situations. And I can’t say I’d mind being closer to home, especially during the winter months. I also won’t mind not being “threatened” with obligatory trips to India, which has never been something I wanted to do, but my boss has been hinting at. I can work effectively with people from India. I just can’t travel there comfortably. Just crossing the USA is disruptive enough for me, and exhausts me sufficiently to wreck my life for weeks at a time. But India?

No thank you.

Well, it’s all a trade-off. I’m fortunate that I’m in this situation, to begin with — in-demand in the midst of a very challenging job market. These are good problems to have. So, for that I’m grateful.

I think I’ll drink my afternoon coffee now.

And get back to enjoying my day. The obligations I thought I’d have this afternoon have magically dissipated into the ethers, so I have time to read and write and think — imagine that. And I’m OFF for the next four days, with just a few to-do items here and there.

Good heavens, it’s great to not have to do anything.

For once.

Regaining my Dignity at the end of “Most Excellent Day One”

zen stones in waterI just woke up from my nap. I lay down for 2 hours, and I could have slept for three or more.

It felt amazing. I need to make supper, now. Get back on track. But I feel so amazing, after just a little bit of sleep.

And I know there will be more where that came from.

Because I have the next week off. Actually, a week and a day. It’s amazing. Fantastic. Just what I needed.

And now I can regain my dignity.

See, it suffered for many months, while I was working on this Mammoth Project. I’ve been over-worked, (of course) under-paid, I have been doing the job of 5-6 people, and I haven’t gotten a lot of support from my boss throughout. Just criticism from afar. Or meddling from afar. Or what seemed like outright sabotage. I’m not sure what’s in it for them, to make me look like I don’t know what I’m doing, or to override me, but bottom line, they did more harm than good.

Anyway, the first phase of the project is over, and now I can look towards the next phase — about two months off — and leverage the foundation I’ve built with people, thus far.

And start living and acting like myself again.

Catch up on my sleep — and stop making mistakes because my brain is mis-firing.

Chill out my stress levels — and stop getting overwrought and yelling at people.

Find the good in what I’ve accomplished — and stop feeling so self-conscious and insufficient, because some things didn’t go 100% according to plan.

I can actually hold my head up again, after nearly a year of feeling trampled by other people’s successes. I can actually get my bearings again and stand firmly on both feet. And I can get past the dismay at my brain failing me, time and time again, under conditions that seem custom-made to trip it up.

I can get my dignity back to where I’d like it to be.

And that started today, on this Most Excellent Day One (of 9), as I got to not worry about The Project for a whole 24 hours.

I’m looking forward to the next 8 days.

That’s the understatement of the year.

Now, I can sleep

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

I’m giving myself an early Christmas present. I’m not going to make the Big Trip to see my extended family for Thanksgiving. I’ve been working long hours for weeks and weeks (months, really), and I feel like I’m on the verge of getting really sick.

My spouse isn’t all that keen on spending all that time in the car, either. And during the most heavily traveled time of the year.

It just doesn’t make sense for us.

Yes, it will be unfortunate that we can’t see our families.

But it’s a massive relief that we’re not making the trip. It’s exhausting in every sense of the word — to the point where it’s not really safe to be doing it. Traffic. Potential for accidents. Family frustrations. All of it is just too much to handle, right now.

What I really need is sleep. Like, an extra 100 hours, to make up for all the lost hours of the past weeks and months. I need to retrain my system to level out, to calm down… to get out of the sympathetic bias that’s just torn the living crap out of me. I’m shaky… nauseous… dizzy… unsteady on my feet… Yeah, I’m in no shape to do much of anything for a week.

And that’s what’s going to happen — not much of anything.

I have off work all next week and the following Monday. I don’t have to go back till Tuesday the 28th.

I won’t have to set an alarm. I won’t need to keep my phone by my bed. I can just lie down and sleep, without worrying about being late for things, or forgetting things, or saying stupid things, or messing things up. I can just be. And recover.

And that is a beautiful thing.

Onward… back to bed.

Nearly there – on the eve of Christmas

Christmas wrapping
The final push is on…

I’m supposed to be shopping, right now. I intended to get up early and head out to a local department store to pick up the last of the gifts I’m giving. Then I was coming back to deal with one of the cars having a nearly-flat tire. Then I was going to run some last-minute errands, followed by a nap, followed by gift wrapping, followed by making the Christmas turkey, followed by preparing the trimmings, followed by more gift wrapping… and then finally supper.

It sounds like a lot, only because I have it all broken into different pieces. But breaking things up into different pieces and then scheduling each one in its own time slot actually makes it much easier to take care of everything.

Because it’s all got to get done. It’s not like it’s optional. The gifts need to get wrapped, and the food needs to get cooked. The car needs to have sufficient air in the tires, and I have to have my nap. It will all get done… so long as I keep my cool.

Yesterday, I talked about how I need to keep my cool around my spouse when tensions get high. And it’s true. As much because of their cognitive issues, as mine. Last night, I was feeling really rushed, and I was having a lot of trouble keeping my thoughts straight. I have not been good about keeping on my sleeping schedule. My spouse has been especially needy/demanding, this year, and they have also been having more trouble thinking things through, which makes them more emotional and more volatile.

So, to calm them down, I have been staying up later in the evening, watching television, and adapting more to their schedule, as well as their eating habits (I’ve been eating a lot more bread than I should, which is messing me up, because my body can’t handle the gluten/wheat as well as it used to). It’s great for them, but it’s terrible for me. And it wears on me, after a while.

I was feeling really pressured, and I said something that my spouse took the wrong way. They took a lot of things the wrong way, yesterday, for some reason. They’re feeling depressed and isolated and not that great, physically, so that’s an added stresser for them. And they take things the wrong way, getting all riled about things I say and do, which I’m trying really hard to not do wrong.

So, painful awkwardness ensued, and it took most of the evening for things to even out again.

Man, oh man, I cannot wait for Christmas to just be over.

Well, anyway… I’ve got a week and a half of time off ahead of me (oh, except for a few hours I need to work, next week, to balance out my vacation/work schedule). And I need to be especially protective of myself, my time, and my energy, while I’m home. We have a number of scheduled activities we have to go to — doctors and social gatherings and errands to be run — so I need to keep balanced, and keep my system in good shape.

That means exercising as usual, each morning. That means being smarter about what I eat and drink (making sure I drink enough water). That means being firm about the times when I got to sleep, and not being pressured to shift my schedule later, just because I’ve had a nap.

I felt sick all during the Thanksgiving holiday, because I wasn’t keeping on my sleeping schedule. And I don’t want to do that all over again. I’m feeling a little sick, right now, actually. I just have to get everything done. And then do it.

Could be, I have to call AAA to add air to that tire, since it might not be safe to drive on it. But I can easily do that while I’m taking care of everything else at home. I just call them, and they come. Or I may need to change the tire, period. Either way… as soon as I get back from my department store trip, I’ll have the rest of the day to sort everything out. So, onward and upward. I can do this.

I just need to be diligent about it, act like the adult I am, and keep my eyes on the prize — a wonderful week off, when I get to relax and actually do some of the things I never get to do, otherwise, while I have more than one hour of uninterrupted time to focus and concentrate.

Luxury. Pure luxury.

Okay, enough mooning about this. Time to get a move on and get this show on the road. I’m nearly there… I’m nearly there…

Ah, Groundhog Day…

I have a feeling I’ve been here before…

I’m not talking about the recent event when the behavior of a groundhog (or groundhogs, depending on your regional preference) determines our future. I’m talking about the movie,”Groundhog Day”  where Bill Murray’s character goes through the same day over and over and over again.

This is my life in a nutshell. I cycle through the same experiences / crap / joys / sorrows on a regular basis, each time without much active recollection of how it was before and what my experience was then. It applies to the good things, as well as the bad things, and my neuropsych is repeatedly surprised that I’m wrangling with the same issues that I was wrangling with, several weeks, months, or even years ago. Sometimes I have “new” experiences that are repeats of what I experienced only the day before, and I have to go through the whole learning process all over again.

One example I can think of was back in December, when I had that business trip overseas. Each day, I got up with this terrible, terrible dread — almost crippling anxiety over what was going to happen that day. It was awful, and I literally did not want to leave my room. I just wanted to stay behind closed doors, where I had no interaction with anyone, where I couldn’t possibly screw things up, and where I could move at my own pace and not adapt to anything new or different around me.

And each day, I literally forced myself to get dressed and go out into the world. Each day, I rediscovered that I was able to communicate, that I was capable of understanding what others were saying, even if I didn’t get every single word, and that the world outside was something to be explored and discovered, not dreaded and avoided.

Then the next day when I got up again, it was back to battling the crippling dread, the fear, the anxiety… the monumental effort of getting myself OUT the door… and the happy discovery that I could indeed handle myself well in the world beyond the hotel room. And at the end of each day, I was able to kick back and really enjoy myself in that space, just reveling — all over again — in the “discovery” that I was really going to be okay.

Now I have another business trip coming up that will take me overseas. This time I am going to a country where I do not speak the language. I have been studying a bit, which has been kind of funny — I found some audio files to learn from, but when I started to listen to them, it turned out to be all “Stop or I’ll shoot!” and “Put down your weapon!” and “How many armed men are there?” — apparently a law enforcement or military training course. At least I know how to say “Don’t shoot!” if I get into any trouble while I’m on my trip. You never know… there are some pretty rough neighborhoods where I’m going.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that for some reason, I seem to have just a terrible, terrible memory for things that have happened to me before. This is true of good things… and bad things. I seem to get myself into situations, over and over again, doing the same thing and expecting different results, and then I suffer and chafe when things don’t turn out like I think they’re going to.

Like trying to get out of the house to get to work… Time and time again, I get up thinking that I can just take a little time to check my email and/or do some little things around the house, and then I’ll be able to get to work on time. And time and time again, I get sidetracked on one thing or another… and I end up rushing and being later than I wanted to be. I make up the difference at the back end, of course, staying late — even later than I would have to, actually, because I start to warm up around 6 p.m., and it’s hard for me to take a break when I’m finally making good progress. Even so, even if I do make up the difference in the hours, the simple fact is that I do this over and over again, thinking that this time it will be different.

Insane? Well, according to some, it is. Whatever you call it, it gets frustrating, and I feel like a complete idiot.

I guess part of the equation of this apparent failure to learn, is the fact that I have to stay very present in the current moment, or I can really lose my bearings. I think this 100% here-and-now mindset has developed over years of having to navigate so many issues — light sensitivity, noise sensitivity, exhaustion, vertigo, nausea, pain of all kinds, headache, distractability, and more — but still needing to be functional. I think I just developed the habit of focusing so completely on the present so that I could function in that moment, that everything else — before and after — just disappears. Or it never has a chance to get set in my mind.

I think also the stress of daily living over the years has impaired my ability to learn. Just having to deal with all the sh*t of my issues and symptoms and the screw-ups and the adjustments and the confusions and distractions… it can get pretty stressful, and I’m sure it’s had some impact on my ability to learn.

Then again, in other areas I learn extremely well — like this language thing. I’m actually picking up a lot of good stuff, and I think I’ll be able to at least ask people for help and understand basic numbers and directions, and be able to thank people for their help, without too much struggle. Languages seem to come pretty naturally to me, and it surprises me how much sense they make to me after a relatively short period of time.

So, it’s not like I’m completely disabled with my learning. But experiential learning? There, again and again, I end up going through the same things, as though it were the first time ever.

Well, I can’t worry about it. If I approach it like it’s a grand adventure of constant discovery, and I treat each situation like a fun opportunity to have a “new” experience, it’s fine. It keeps me fresh, actually. It keeps me interested in my life. It’s never boring — that’s for sure. The worst thing I can do, is treat myself this means there’s something wrong with me, that it means I’m somehow damaged. If I don’t judge myself and I just accept that about myself — and come up with ways to work with/around my very limited memory… and I don’t get it in my head that this means I have early-onset dementia and I’m losing my mind…. I can work with this.

Hell, I’ve been working with it for as long as I can remember. I just “get lost” sometimes and I have to find my way out of the shadows and dead-ends… which I can do pretty well. I’ve had plenty of practice, you see.

Anyway, life goes on. I have a number of very interesting projects I am working on, and that’s keeping me interested and engaged in my life. I’m learning new things pretty well, and I feel good. I also got a lot of sleep yesterday afternoon, after I was done with my work. I worked from home, so I was able to just crawl into bed when I was done for the day. That was nice. I got about 7 hours of sleep last night, so that’s good, too. And I have all day today and all day tomorrow to kick back and take care of myself. Because I’m flying out in another week, and I need to be healthy and whole to make this trip.

So it goes. Part of me would like to have a better recollection of the things that I have experienced in the past, so that I don’t keep making the same mistakes, and I don’t keep pushing myself and wearing myself out. And I’m thinking about ways I could do that — maybe keep a log of what works for me in different situations, so I can draw on what has worked for me in the past… I had that kind of a log going, about 3 years ago, and it was working well for me. I think maybe I need to resurrect it, so I can continue to draw on my experiences and get my sh*t together better than I currently am. It’s an idea….

Anyway, the day is waiting, and I’ve got to get a move on. It’s always interesting and never boring… and I need to remind myself of how things have been in the past, as I work through my present and into my future.

I’ve been here before, I’m sure… now I need to figure out how to make the best of it.

 

Holiday Party TBI Hell – Glad that’s over

It’s not all cheery sh*t

I just got up from my nap, a couple of hours ago. I lay down about 1:30 and woke up at 5:30 or so. Four hours… sweet. I really needed that nap. I have been feeling really off for the past several days, and going to that Christmas party for work last night was no picnic.

For the record, I friggin’ *hate* Christmas parties. Holiday parties. Whatever. They seem like an exercise in vacuousness… you stand around and interact with people you work with, just for the sake of interacting… I don’t get it. The only reason I have anything to do with the people I work with, is because I work with them. It’s structured. We all have a reason for being there. We collaborate and we coordinate and we reach goals together. But socially? I would probably have nothing to do with any of these people, and they’d probably not know what to do with me, anyway. Seriously, the only reason I have any contact with these folks — like my family — is because we are connected by something larger than ourselves.

Oh my God, parties bore the living crap out of me. Especially big ones where everyone is milling around “having a grand time”. Not only are people drinking, which slows them down and turns them into the equivalent of walking mossy stumps, but the things these stumps choose to “discuss” bores the crap out of me. There’s nothing to it. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. They just talk for the sake of talking, to get a certain reaction out of others. To be witty. To be clever and whatnot. That’s nice for bonding, in a way, but the primary bond I feel with these folks has to do with getting stuff done. It doesn’t involve socializing. Not voluntarily, anyway.

Socializing “for fun”? How tiring. Seriously.

Bah humbug. Or is it really that? When I think about it, it’s not that I lack holiday cheer — I feel quite grateful and, well, stable, this holiday season. I am on good terms with my family, I don’t dread having anything to do with them, and despite having no money for presents at Christmas, I’m going to think of something. I’ll manage.

The thing that gets me, is how hard it is for me to be in large groups of people in large spaces with unstructured interaction. The company party last night was in a very large venue with lots of visual stimuli. There was a lot to see and do, and there were hundreds and hundreds of people, most of whom I did not know — and I didn’t care to hear their conversations, if truth be told. It was loud — so many people drinking and talking… a rock band playing… the sounds of silverware on plates and glasses clinking and voices getting louder and louder as the evening progressed… I tried to block it out, but I couldn’t. It was all too much.

I got there a little late, which was fine. My spouse had to work that night, so I was flying solo. I found my team… and then found that I just couldn’t hang with them. They were in the center of the big hall, milling around with tens of other people, talking about this and that — nothing, really — and I was starting to feel sick. I hadn’t been feeling well all day, as it was, and my middle ear was totally screwed up with fluid from an upper respiratory infection that went for my ears — as it often does. Nothing like wading into a huge hall of loud people, feeling like you’re falling over, to put a damper on the evening.

So, I ditched my team and caught up with another coworker (who I consider a friend) who had come with another friend of theirs, and we ducked out to get some food and just hang out for a bit. That was okay. But again, the whole social scene… all the things to see and do and take in… for me, it was nothing short of torture. And on top of it, I was wearing a suit, so it was uncomfortable and formal, and I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t coming apart in places, as I sometimes do. Nothing like having things unzipped or otherwise disheveled to put a damper on the evening.

The three of us ended up going to some of the different special events that were organized for the evening, and then I caught up with my team at the end. We took a group picture together, stood around talking a bit, then we all headed home. They said they missed me at supper — they all ate together, while I was off with those other friends. I felt bad that I missed them, but at the same time, they love to mix and mingle, and I was feeling so off balance, so “off” in general, that I would have been no fun at all, most likely.

Had I mentioned that I hate big, loud parties?

Anyway, I got home much later than I wanted to, and I went straight to bed. I got maybe 7-1/2 hours of sleep, and when I woke up, I felt like crap. I took care of my errands and did the things I needed to do. Then I lay down for my nap, and 4 hours later, things were looking up. I’ve been drinking a special ginger-honey tea I discovered, so I’m feeling a lot better, but I’m feeling pretty down on myself for not being better able to handle it all, last night. I was actually looking forward to the evening, but when I got there, I realized it was probably a big mistake for me to go, in the first place. I could have begged off, saying I was sick, which was true. But I really wanted to go.

Oh well, at least I went. That’s something. I managed to navigate the evening without awful incident, despite feeling so dizzy and lightheaded and off. I didn’t melt down, in the aftermath. And I didn’t do anything stupid like overstay my welcome and/or say or do anything really dense and regrettable, as I have in other social situations. I kept pretty cool, all things considered, and even though it was awkward and painful for me, and I just didn’t feel right at all, I got a lot of free food out of it, and I managed to complete the evening “successfully” — as in, no fights, no humiliation, no things said and done that can’t be taken back. So, that’s something.

Plus, I got my “inoculation” against later holiday party impulses — next time somebody wants me to come out and party, I’ll be better able to remember why that might not be such a great idea to spend an evening like that. Next time, if my spouse can come, I may go — because they are much more social than I am, and they help to keep me oriented. Then again, I may not. Because both of us actually friggin’ hate company parties, even if they do a much better job of interacting than I do.

I’ve never been a big fan of large groups of people. I’ve always been that way. But throw in the sensory issues that have really exacerbated since my TBI in 2004 — loud noises and bright lights bother me to no end when I am tired, and last night I was tired — along with being even more easily fatigued by all the stimuli and interaction… along with vestibular trouble… and it makes for a really tough time.

I just have to remember that, the next time someone invites me to a big party and I hear myself saying, “Why yes, I’d love to!”

The best part of the party last night, was driving home. Even if I was practically falling over in my seat and I felt like crap and I was afraid I’d fall asleep at the wheel, it was still such a relief to be getting OUT of there. That got me home. And it felt great to be alone in the car as I drove.

That’s something.

New week just around the corner. We’ll see what happens.

Overcoming overstimulation

Lots going on...

I’ve got a big trip coming up next weekend — I’m taking nearly a week to go see family in several states… kind of a follow-up trip to make up for not having been there for the holidays (I was sick and couldn’t travel). There will be lots of driving, lots of activity, lots of interacting with relatives I haven’t seen in many years. There will be a family reunion with relatives, some of whom care about me, others of whom couldn’t care less about me. There will be time with siblings as well as aunts and uncles and cousins. All together in one big melting pot for the weekend.

This is coming on top of some very busy times at work. I’m a bit apprehensive, because I’ve been tired and I’ve had trouble sleeping, and I am concerned that it might affect my ability to deal with my family. I also worry that it will affect my ability to deal with my spouse, who is not a big fan of most of my family. We come from very different backgrounds, and my spouse is not always the most open-minded individual when it comes to differences.

I know I shouldn’t stress over this, but I am a little bit. I have to get a bunch of things done for work before I go — it’s really BAD timing, but there it is. My workload is just crazy, these days, and it will be until mid-September. Then it will probably pick up again through the end of the year. It’s hard to believe July is almost over. August is so packed, it might as well not even exist. Just busy, busy, busy all around.

But it’s a good thing. It beats the alternative. I’ve become a key contributor on some important initiatives, so that keeps me going and it gives me a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself. And I have to keep that in mind. It’s another way of looking at it — it’s a good thing, that going away for a few days is a problem. Because if it weren’t I’d be in trouble.

Likewise, if I think about the upcoming trip with my relatives, one of the reasons it promises to be so full, is that so many people want to see me. They want to talk to me, to find out how I’m doing, to tell me about their lives. They want to share a lot with me, and they don’t realize how overwhelming it can be for me. Over-stimulation has resulted in me going temporarily deaf and blind — I was with extended family members who were very high-strung, and there was so much going on, my system just shut down, and for a short time (maybe 10-15 seconds), I couldn’t see or hear anything. Everything just went silent and black. I came back (of course) and felt dazed and confused. I suspected it might have been some sort of seizure, but then I got checked out, and everything seemed to be fine, actually. So, it was probably just the overwhelm.

Thinking back on that day, which was about six months before I figured out the TBI connections to the difficulties I’ve had in my life, I can think of a number of things that made it more difficult, overstimulating and overwhelming:

  1. I was extremely anxious about a lot of things — if I was wearing the right sorts of clothing (people around me were much better dressed than I, and I felt self-conscious in my jeans and t-shirt).
  2. I was pretty brittle and inflexible in my expectations for the day — I wasn’t going with the flow, and when the group kept changing plans, I got increasingly uptight.
  3. I wasn’t eating properly — I wasn’t eating the same sorts of foods I normally did.
  4. I wasn’t resting enough — I had been pushing myself to go-go-go, the whole time, and I was very fatigued.
  5. I wasn’t exercising enough — I wasn’t exercising at all, actually. I hadn’t been taking the walks I needed, and I hadn’t been working out regularly the way I have been over the past couple of years.
  6. I wasn’t wearing my sunglasses — Big problem on that very sunny day. The brightness only exacerbated everything else, adding to my anxiety and stress.
  7. I wasn’t in command of my thoughts and my reactions — I was being pushed and pulled in a million different directions, and I wasn’t driving the car of my own mind. I was letting everyone else decide for me how to think, how to talk, how to behave. I was trying to fit in and do the right thing so I wouldn’t be as conspicuous (and embarrassing) to my extended family/in-laws. The result was that I stood out even more, I was less able to participate, and I lost it (literally) for a short while that day.

Looking back, I can see how I’ve really come a long way in the past 4 years. I’m nowhere near where I used to be, and I have to remember this as I prepare for this next trip. My anxiety levels have decreased dramatically since I started exercising on a daily basis. And my whole world view has changed as a result. My neuropsych has been a huge help, keeping me honest and realistic — in a good way. They don’t let me get away with the old “stories” about how debilitated I am by my TBIs. They don’t let me easily jump to conclusions about being incapable and incompetent, just because I happen to be human. And they don’t let me make excuses about poor choices I’ve made and things I’ve done. They don’t beat me up over it, but they also don’t let me write myself off with some easy excuse about being impaired.

And that’s quite a feat to accomplish. Because I have a lifetime of experience of reaching the “logical” conclusion that there is something wrong with me, and I am less capable than I actually am. I’ve had plenty of people telling me there was something wrong with me. I’ve had plenty of people “protecting” me from myself. I’ve had plenty of people ditching me or taking me off tasks when I didn’t perform as expected.

It was all a crock, but when you hear it often enough and everyone seems to agree, it starts to sound like the truth.

But it’s not. It’s the farthest thing from the truth.

The real truth is that I have the tools and the experience and the proper mindset to approach this coming weekend in a stable, productive frame of mind. I’ve managed equally — if not more — challenging situations quite well, and I’ve come away a better person as a result.

I know from experience that I don’t have to bury myself in work in advance, trying to keep my mind off things. I don’t have to run away from it, drive myself with all sorts of stress that takes my attention off my anxiety. I can rest and relax and also get good exercise in advance. Eat well and take care of myself, and remember that I’m going to meet and greet people who actually love and care for me, even if they don’t always agree with how I live my life and vote.

That might actually be the hardest thing to handle — that anyone could actually love and care for me. That all my injuries and my issues and my supposed shortcomings might not matter nearly as much as I think they do. It could just be that I have a great time when I go on this trip. It could just be that the only over-stimulation is actually in my mind. And that if I can tame that, all the rest will come naturally to me.

It could be…

Doing it differently this holiday season

I did something quite unusual last night — I went Christmas shopping by myself at a much slower pace than usual. I didn’t manage to buy everything I set out to, but I got everything I could, and I got through the experience in one coherent piece — and I was able to get my nap after I got back.

Normally, this time of year is marked by team-shopping with my spouse. They contact everyone in the family and find out what people want… or we talk about what we think people want, and then they make up the list. We take the list, hop in the car, and head out to stores that look like good candidates, then we slog through the process of elimination, muddling our way through… with me getting so fried I either completely shut down and become non-communicative, or I melt down and fly off the handle over every little thing.

We usually spend several evenings like this, ’round about this time of year, and we’ve both come to dread it a little. My meltdowns had become more extreme over the past few years, and this year we were both really dreading the whole Christmas shopping business — to the point where we are going to be late(!) with presents for family members in other states. That’s never happened before. We were always good about it. But my meltdowns screwed everything up.

We both recognize that doing a lot of social things, this time of year (when work is actually getting more crazy, what with year-end and all), takes a huge toll on me. Even if it’s with friends (especially with friends), all the activity, all the interaction, all the excitement, really cuts into my available energy reserves. And then I get turned around and anxious… and I either regress to a cranky 9-year-old state, whining and bitching and slamming things around… or I melt down, start yelling, freak out over every little thing, and start picking at my spouse over things they say and do, to the point where neither of us can move without me losing it.

What a pain in the ass it is. Of all things, the uncontrollable weeping bothers me the most. The yelling bothers my spouse. It’s embarrassing for me and frightening for them, and neither of us has a very Merry Christmas, when all is said and done.

So, this year we did things differently.

We split up for the day and took care of our respective activities.

My spouse went to a holiday party that was thrown by a colleague of theirs who’s married to an attorney who deals with financial matters. I was invited, too, but we both realized that it would be pretty dumb for me to try to wade into the midst of 50+ actuaries and tax attorneys and their spouses who were invited to the shindig… and try to hold my own. Certainly, I can keep up with the best of them, but marinating in such a heady soup, especially with everyone hopped up on holiday cheer (eggnog, red wine, punch, etc.) and all animated and such, would have been a recipe for disaster.

So, I didn’t go. Instead, I took our shopping list and headed to the mall to stock up on what our families had requested. We had written down in advance all the names and the specific gifts we were going to get, and we had also written down where we were going to get them. That list was my lifeline. Especially in the rush and press of the mall, which sprawls out in all directions, with satellite stores on either end.

I’m happy to report that I actually did really well. I made a few tactical errors — like not parking in the first lot I came to and walking in. But that turned out okay, because if I had parked in the first lot, it would have been all but impossible to get down to the other end of the mall. I studied the list carefully ahead of time and used a highlighter to mark the stores where I’d be going. I also kept my focus trained on the task at hand — even if it was just sitting in traffic. I also walked a lot more this year than other years. I found one parking space and used it for two different stores. And I didn’t hassle with finding a space that was as close as I could get to the building. I took the first decent spot I could find, and then I walked to the store.

Imagine that — in past years, I was possessed with finding parking as close as possible, and I would move the car between stores, even if they were only 500 yards apart.  This year, I just walked the distance. Even though it was cold, for some reason the cold didn’t bother me, and it actually felt good to be out and moving.

I think that my 5 months  of daily exercise has paid off, in this respect. I think part of the reason I was always consumed with driving everywhere was that I just wasn’t physically hardy. I was kind of a wimpy weakling, in fact — though more in thought than in body, but a wimply weakling, all the same. But having a good physical foundation — even just from doing an hour (total) of cycling, stretching, and light lifting each morning — has made a significant difference in my willingness and ability to walk between stores.

It might not seem like much, but the walking (instead of driving) between stores part of the trip actually made a huge difference in my overall experience. Walking between stores — stopping at the car on the way to stash my presents — helped me break up the activity and clear my head. It got me out of that in-store madness, the crush and the rush, and it got me moving, so I felt less backed-up and agitated. And that let me start fresh at the next store.

That was good, because the first store was a friggin’ nightmare. It was one of those big-box electronics places, that supposedly has “everything” but really didn’t. It was exhausting, combing through the stacks of movies and music, only to find everything except what I needed. The lighting was awful — extremely bright and fluorescent and glaring. People kept bumping into me, or walking so close I thought they would run me down. But the worst thing was the acoustics. Everything surface was hard and echo-y and the place was overwhelmingly loud, and every single sound was at least partially distinguishable, which drove me nuts. I’ve noticed that acoustics have a lot more impact on me than light, when I’m out shopping. The store was one big cauldron of loud, indiscriminate noise, and my brain kept trying to follow every sound to see if it mattered. I couldn’t function there. Not with the place full of people — and very agitated, anxious, aggressive people, at that.

I eventually went with a gift card and got the hell out of there. I doubt I’ll ever go back when it’s that full. When the place is low-key and all but empty, I can handle it much better. But at this time of year? Not so much.

Walking back to my car chilled me out. Sweet relief.

At the second store — a bookstore — I started to feel pretty overwhelmed. They had long lines, and the place was packed — which is good for the retailer, but not so great for me. I spent the longest amount of time there, in part because I could feel I was getting overloaded, and I stopped a number of times to catch up with myself and remind myself what I was there to buy. My list was getting a little ragged, at that point, what with me writing notes in the margins and taking it out/putting it back in my pocket. So, eventually I just pulled it out and held onto it for dear life. I must have looked a little simple-minded, but I don’t care. Everyone else was so caught up in their own stuff, anyway. My main challenge there, was not getting trampled by Women On A Mission — many of them carrying large bags and shopping baskets that doubled as ramrods to get through the crowds.

One cool thing happened, though, when I was taking a break — I had a little exchange I had with two teenage boys who were talking about some book they’d heard about. I was just standing there, pretending to look at a shelf of books, just trying to get my bearings, when I hear this one young guy tell his buddy, “I heard about this book I should get — I think it’s called the ‘Kama Sutra’ and it’s, like, about sex, and it’s got these pictures… and it’s really old… like, from India or something.”

Well, I perked up at that, and suddenly very alert, I looked over at them and said, “Oh, yeah — the Kama Sutra, man… You should definitely check it out.”

They kind of looked at me like deer in headlights, and they got flushed and flustered and stammered something about not knowing how to find it. It was about sex, and they didn’t know how to ask someone to help them. I so felt their pain…

I confidently (and confidentially) pointed them to the book-finder computer kiosk, where they could type in the title and it would tell them where to find it in the store.

“Dude, you should totally look into it. It’s got lots of information — and pictures — and it’s been highly recommended… for hundreds of years.”

They got really excited and headed for the book-finder kiosk. Here’s hoping they — and their girlfriends — have a very Merry Christmas.

That little exchange got me back in the game, so I took another look at my list and managed to find the handful of books and music and calendars I wanted to get. I headed for the line and just chilled/zoned out. I didn’t get all tweaked about how long it was taking; I listened in on a conversation for a while, till I realized it was mostly about death and health problems people were having.

Oh – and another thing that helped me keep my act together, was the 4:15 p.m. alarm that I have set on my mobile phone. 4:15 is usually when I need to start wrapping up my day at work. I need to do a checkpoint on the work I’m doing, start to wind down, and begin keeping an eye on the clock, so I don’t get stuck in town past 6:00, which is what happens to me when I don’t watch my time after 3:30 or so. I have this alarm set to go off each day, and it went off while I was in the store, which was a blessing. I had completely lost track of time and I was starting to drift, the way I do, when I’m fatigued and overloaded and disoriented.

It startled me out of my fog, and I knew I still had a bunch of things on my list to get, so I refocused and started thinking about what I would get at the next store, so I could just march in and do my shopping without too much confusion and disorientation. After I paid for my books and music and calendar, I debated whether to have my presents wrapped for free, which might have saved me time in the long run. But I couldn’t bear the thought of having to interact with the folks who were doing the wrapping. They looked really friendly and gregarious — Danger Will Robinson! Warning! Warning! Even a friendly conversation was beyond me at that point.

I realized I just wasn’t up to that, and I must have looked like an idiot, standing there in the middle of the foyer, staring at the gift-wrappers for about 10 minutes, but who cares? Everyone was so caught up in their own stuff, they probably didn’t notice me. And if the gift-wrappers were uncomfortable with my staring, they didn’t show it… too much 😉

Anyway, after I managed to extricate myself from that store, I headed for my last destination. Again, I didn’t sweat the traffic getting out of the lot, and when I got to the final store, I parked at a distance from the front doors and walked in through the icy cold, which was good — it cleared my head.

Inside, I consulted my list again and headed directly for the section that had what I needed. Halfway there, I remembered that I’d meant to buy a very important present at the first store, but I’d totally blanked on it. I started to freak out and got caught up in trying to figure out how to get back to that first store and not lose my mind in the process.  Then, I slowed down and stopped catastrophizing, and in my calming mind, it occurred to me that — Oh, yeah — they probably carried that item at this store, so I went and checked, and sure enough, there it was – score! I didn’t have to back to big-box hell. At least, not that day.

I found some more of the presents on my list, and although I didn’t get everything I needed, I made a decent dent. My partner can come with me and help me sort out the other items either today or tomorrow. Or possibly when we get to our family — they usually have some last-minute shopping to do, and they can cart us around with them. And I won’t have to drive.

By the time I got home, I was bushed. My spouse wasn’t home yet, so I called them — they were on their way home and were stopping to pickup some supper. I said I was lying down for a nap, and they didn’t have to wake me when they got home. Then I took a hot shower to get the public germs off me, laid down, and listened to Belleruth Naparstek’s Stress Hardiness Optimization CD. I had a bit of trouble relaxing and getting down, but I did manage to get half an hour’s sleep in, before I woke up in time for dinner.

My partner had a pretty good time at the party, but they said it probably would have been a disaster for me — so many people, so much energy, so many strangers, and unfamiliar surroundings. I concurred, and I showed them what I’d bought that afternoon.

We’d both done well. We both missed each other terribly, but we did get through the afternoon without one of those terrible holiday incidents that has dogged us for many, many years. Like Thanksgiving, which went so well, this Christmas shopping trip actually felt normal. It didn’t have that old edginess that I always associate with holiday shopping. It didn’t have the constant adrenaline rush. In some respects, it feels strange and unfamiliar, but you know what? If strange and unfamiliar means level-headed and low-key and plain old sane, and it means I can keep my energy up and pace myself with proper planning… well, I can get used to that.

Yes, I’ve done things differently this year. And it’s good.