I’ve got my hands full, for the next 24 hours. I’m coming down to the wire with shopping and cooking and preparation for Christmas Day tomorrow. My spouse and I typically take it easy on Christmas, when we’re at home.
And this year, like last year — and several other years before that — we’re at home. Just the two of us.
No two days of driving, in both directions.
No packed houses with lots of people vying for our attention.
No navigating family dynamics and going the extra mile to let everybody just be who and what they are.
None of that. Just peace. Heavenly peace.
And to make sure it stays that way, I’m thinking ahead to the coming week, getting my schedule clear in my head so I don’t have to deal with a bunch of surprises, on down the line. I’m not very fond of surprises. I’ve got enough on my plate that I already know about, and I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, so that makes me more irritable and hard to deal with. I need to take better care of myself wherever I can, for the sake of everyone around me.
And that means streamlining and planning ahead wherever possible.
What do I need to do, this coming week? We’ve got some appointments we have to attend. I also have some car repair work I need to schedule. And I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to sort out around the house, too. Like do much-needed organizing of the files on my computer and the various “thumb” drives I have. I’ve got a lot of USB drives with a lot of stuff on them, and it’s time I consolidated them. Also, cleaning up, organizing the various rooms in the house. Moving furniture we don’t use to the basement, making room for the things we do use. Making space to move and breathe and live. And unwind.
Unwinding is good. I’ve been pretty tightly wound for quite some time. Unwinding will be a welcome change.
Before we know it, it’ll be 2018. Christmas almost seems like a blip on the screen, but of course it’s not. It’s a pretty big deal for my spouse, and I need to do my part. I’ve never been much for holidays, birthdays, special events — they all seem like just another day to me. But being part of something bigger than me — which also really matters to my spouse — is more important than indulging my Bah-Humbug spirit of the season. Just gotta put my own sentiments aside and get into it.
It’s not forever. And it won’t kill me to just go with it.
So, go with it, I shall.
And then… into the New Year with a positive frame of mind.
Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Christmas. Frohe Weinachten. Feliz Navidad. And many more wishes in languages I do not know.
I hope it is a good day for you, and that you find peace and a measure of happiness before the day is through.
Christmas is a tricky time for a lot of people, including those who have some sort of limitation or particular need. One of the most poignant things about it, is actually the spirit of it, which so often gets lost in the shuffle. The original story (whether you’re a believer or not) is about people under duress making the best of a bad situation.
A whole country is uprooted by a tyrant (of sorts) and hauled away from their homes, so they can be taxed in the town of their family’s origin. One couple in the midst is a man and his very pregnant wife, who have to make the trek, regardless of her condition. Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from, was a kind of crappy area — economically depressed and not the sort of place “nice” people lived. So, Joseph probably wasn’t all that well-off to begin with, and dragging him away from his work as a tradesman to tax him, was just heaping one injury on another. It wasn’t like he made that much money, to begin with — but he gets taxed and he loses however many days or weeks of work. That’s rough.
And when Mary and Joseph get where they’re going, there’s literally no room for them in habitable lodging. So, they end up in a stable. In a strange city. Anyone who’s spent time around farm animals, knows this is about the last place you want to deliver a baby, but apparently that’s where it happened, and the child ended up laid in a feeding trough for his first night on earth.
Now, I’m not a hugely religious person, these days. Once upon a time, I was, though. I was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian household and I was “raised in the church.” It was my primary social network. My parents are still very involved in their church community, as are some of my siblings. I’ve always been pretty spiritual (even after I stopped believing the way my family did), and that endured through the years with a strong tendency to feelings of mysticism and spiritual connection with something higher.
My TBI in 2004, however, pretty much erased my religious feeling. Suddenly, it just wasn’t there, anymore, and I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would have any interest in religion or spirituality. My spouse has always been very spiritual, and I can assure you, the times when I did not pray along with them were not the best moments in our marriage. I rolled my eyes and tapped my foot impatiently, waiting for them to finish, which really hurt their feelings.
My lack of spiritual feeling has persisted somewhat, but in the past few years, that’s started to change. Just goes to show you how the brain continues to alter and develop along different lines, over time. And I’ve gotten some of my spiritual feeling back — though I have probably gotten back more willingness to play along so I don’t hurt others’ feelings, than I’ve gotten back my old religious fervor.
But religious belief aside, the story behind Christmas is one that really resonates with a lot of people. It’s all about being forced into a less-than-ideal situation, and making do. It’s about modest, humble circumstances setting the stage for later greatness. And to me it’s about dealing up-front with the indignities of life and recognizing that beneath the limitations of your circumstances, there lies a potential for rising above it all. The indignities of not having enough, of being pushed aside, being just another face in the crowd, aren’t the whole truth about who we are and what we’re capable of. We may not all be divine (though some believe we are), but we can surely rise above our circumstances, like that little baby who spent his first night in a feed trough.
Making do… that’s pretty much what this season has been about for me. I have been working overtime for months, keeping my emotions from getting the best of me, and that’s taken a toll on my system. It takes a lot of energy to keep yourself on an even keel, when everything around you feels like it’s going nuts, and I have really felt it, this holiday season. Not having a doctor I trust and can rely on… that’s a subtle source of pressure. Being told my neuropsych is retiring in the spring… that’s more pressure. Being threatened with a layoff in the immediate term… that’s a direct and intense source of pressure. Having everyone around me at work be in rotten spirits because of the impending job changes… that’s an indirect but distracting source of pressure. Expensive car repairs and drama while traveling over Thanksgiving wasn’t easy. Being sick has been a disruptive challenge. And having my spouse being sick, too — and increasingly disabled — has been hard to get my head around.
Most of this I’ve had to deal with on my own, but I don’t mind. It’s actually easier for me to handle things alone, so I don’t have to verbalize with people. Talking out loud is yet another source of pressure, and I’ve been doing it pretty poorly, this holiday season. Seriously — I haven’t been able to describe things I’m looking for, and people in stores don’t take kindly to it. It’s been kind of funny, actually, when I’ve tried to describe caulk… or a little bracelet with colorful beads… and failed to do so.
I’ve kept it together, more or less, but it’s taken a toll.
The energy that I’ve been using to keep myself on an even keel had to come from somewhere, and my thought processing has not been the sharpest. I’ve been forgetful, scattered, emotional, foggy, and that all makes it even worse. It’s really been a challenge to do the kinds of things that used to come easy to me, and that’s hard to take. I can’t believe I have to deal with all of this — and take things so much more slowly, plan so much more carefully, and resort to what feel like remedial measures.
And through it all… I am so tired.
But then I come back to the Christmas story. And I can relate. I have a pretty good idea how it must feel to be uprooted from your home and dragged somewhere else to pay someone money that you probably don’t have. I don’t know how it feels to have a baby on the way, but I know about long journeys and having more asked of you than you feel you can spare. And I know the feeling of despair and overwhelm, when everything around you seems to conspire against you, and you can’t catch a break.
I also know what it’s like to make do with what little I have. This year, we don’t have a tree indoors, because the artificial tree we’ve had for years has gotten old and smells terrible. It’s musty and dusty and the materials are starting to degrade and off-gas, so after a couple of tries, we ended up just putting the tree out on the back porch and arranging our presents on a beautiful golden cloth we have, surrounded by colored lights.
It’s modest, but it’s beautiful, and later I’ll roast the turkey for our Christmas dinner. We’ll have a quiet day, today, and just enjoy the quiet in our own merry way.
We’re better off now than we’ve been in quite some time, and for that I am grateful. We have our issues, but we also have our ways of dealing with them. It’s Christmas. Time to focus less on what we don’t have, and more on what we do.
So, I’m downloading the new iTunes so I can update my music on my iPhone (it’s company-issued, and I’d probably not even bother with it if I didn’t have it for work – these things add way more complication to my life than I care to add, myself).
I spent a fair amount of time yesterday collecting music I’ve got scattered in different places into one location on my computer, so I can get to it more easily. I had planned to take care of some work-work tasks, but I used up the time I was intending to spend on getting work-work done, so I didn’t get those handful of little tasks done yesterday. Then I ended up sleeping all afternoon after I got back from my social excursion and errands, which is exactly what I needed. I didn’t reach the goal I’d set for myself, but I don’t care. I needed to sleep. And I needed to take care of myself. So no, I didn’t get those tasks done. Today is another day, and I’ve got another 24 hours till I need to be in the office again.
I got together with my old friends yesterday — the folks I used to hang out with now and then before I fell in 2004. I must admit, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with them when I knew them — they were more acquaintances to me — friends of friends who would get together for coffee and just hang out every week or so… in a kind of rolling group. You never knew who was going to be there, or what you were going to talk about. And sometimes the antics got a little obnoxious, so I didn’t get really invested in that “gang”. Ironically, they always thought of me as “one of them”, which I found out yesterday.
After I fell and smacked my head in 2004, I really had no use for anyone, and I withdrew into a cocoon of trying to figure stuff out. Nothing made sense to me, and I couldn’t seem to find any answers. So I isolated. When I started reaching out for help, I stopped isolating so much. I started talking to doctors and then to friends about my situation. Then, when I found out how hard it was to talk to people about TBI, I withdrew again and just tried to keep my act together and figuring things out for myself.
When I found my NP, I found someone I could talk to about my situation, but I still didn’t reach out much to friends. Dealing with my TBI was such a big part of my life, that if someone wasn’t actively involved in some sort of recovery, I didn’t have much to say to them or much reason to interact with them.
Yesterday was quite eye-opening for me, and I think it’s brought a lot of things to light with me. Namely, that before I started seeing the neuropsych, I was pretty insular to begin with, and there were a lot of things that kept me from really interacting with others. I’ve gotten hit on the head so many times over the years that I guess I just got used to keeping to myself and staying quiet so people wouldn’t realize how clueless I was and how long it takes me to catch up. It’s that “Better to keep silent and have people think you a fool, than open your mouth and confirm it” strategy. Which tends to work, because when you’re quiet, people think you know something they don’t. They rarely guess the opposite.
Anyway, yesterday when I got to the meet-up place, there were a bunch of folks there who really welcomed me warmly. It didn’t seem to matter to them that I had been under a rock for all those years. They were still happy to see me. I have definitely changed, since I last saw these folks and I could tell that they could see it also — I have changed for the better, because I’m a hell of a lot more interactive than I ever was before, and I’m a lot more open and involved in discussions than I ever thought I could be. And in the process of being more interactive, I discovered that folks in this loosely affiliated group have been going through all kinds of crap that makes a person wonder if they’re a magnet for hardship.
One has been having food allergy issues and has been having cognitive issues, like forgetting words and losing track of sentences and being wiped out all the time with fatigue.
Another went through a bunch of job changes and is still reeling from the roller-coaster.
Another quit drinking and has been going to AA.
Others have had deaths in their families and are struggling to deal with all sorts of family stuff.
Another is going through a nasty divorce, with their soon-to-be-ex threatening to have them arrested over “any old thing.”
Others are either going through menopause or have gone, and they’re “all over the map” as they describe it.
Interesting bunch of folks, to say the least. So clearly I’m not alone when it comes to having to struggle with a lot of stuff.
I would think, from reading the list of “adventures” above, that this would be a pretty maudlin group who sit around and feel sorry for themselves. On the contrary, it was a pretty good time. We had some good laughs. I said nothing about my TBI, but I did mention the job situation, and a lot of folks could relate. In the process of talking to folks, I realized — even more clearly — that many of my troubles from the past month have been somewhat self-inflicted, coming as much from my wounded pride and frustrations with management and the stress of the short timeframe for such a high profile project, as from any circumstances outside of me. I haven’t made things any easier for myself, and I really got that loud and clear, hearing folks talk about their own situations in passing, and listening to me grouse about mine.
The nice thing was, nobody seemed to judge me for my frustration, and they just kind of nodded when I realized – out loud – that I was just feeling sorry for myself, and I needed to get a grip. And they talked about their own difficulties with a humanity that we could all relate to.
The consensus at the end of our little gathering was that we’re all just human, and that we often don’t make things any easier for ourselves… but we’re works in progress, so we’ll just keep trying. I was really surprised at how together everyone seemed in the face of some pretty heavy stuff. But maybe it was the heaviness that forced everyone to put things in perspective. And maybe it was the extra 8 years or so, since I’d last seen them, that basically grew us up.
What I took away, for myself, was the realization that I’m really not alone, and that I can actually get together with people whose lives are different from mine, but who have the same kinds of challenges and the same degrees of difficulty to deal with. I also saw – right in front of me – that everyone is dealing with something, but that something doesn’t have to be the ONLY thing in your life. And no matter how screwed up things may be, you can often find something redeeming in your experience to share with others. The individual details may not even matter all that much, when it comes down to it. The important thing is to find the common ground we all share — and just be human with each other.
In retrospect, we didn’t really go into a lot of personal detail about things, and the rough patches we tended to gloss over. But we didn’t cover them up. They were just background information behind our conversations about sports and music and our families and our jobs and our pastimes, and what we’d been doing with ourselves lately.
So, it looks like I’ve found a real-life group of folks I can relate to, which is huge. I may get together with them again next week, or I may not. It depends on my schedule, but the important thing is — I know they’re there if I need them. They may turn out to be totally different next week, or the week after, but at least I had a good experience yesterday. It takes the pressure off my working relationship with my NP, because they’re no longer the ONLY real-live person I can talk to about my life and what’s going on in it. I can’t have my NP be my only in-person source of support and feedback. They’re good for some things, but not all things, and I’ve been needing to reach out for years, now. Even before my last TBI, I needed to reach out — on my own — to others, but I just never really did.
Now I have. And it feels pretty damn’ good.
Now, let me restart my computer and resynch my music.