Think of that promise as me being on a merry go ’round and waving as I ride by… then I disappear for a while. I wanted to do better, I really did. But then life happened.
But I’ve dropped out of sight for a reason. I’ve been traveling for the past three weeks – one week for a business trip, two weeks for a working vacation with my spouse. This weekend will be the first I’m able to sit down with some uninterrupted time to blog (and think) in nearly a month. I was intending to spend time blogging over the past two weeks, while my spouse was busy at their conference, but it turned out they needed a lot more help than I’d anticipated. So, I spent most of my time taking care of them.
It takes me quite some time to get myself ready for my business trips, with all the coordination with my fellow travelers, not to mention setting up meetings with people where I’m going. And I have to get my spouse squared away with their needs and requirements, making sure they have the right food and medication on hand, making sure they have their time scheduled properly for when I’m away, and doing everything up front that I normally do while I’m home.
Nobody at the office seems to realize how much work it is to go on these trips. They all act like it’s no big deal, but it’s so much more effort and attention for me.
And when I travel with my spouse, it’s even more demanding, because they have a lot of special needs, and I have to ensure that they’re totally taken care of. Sometimes I “nail” it, sometimes I don’t. Usually, it’s a mix. And then I have to scramble all the more to make up for my misses, during the trip.
Long story short, it takes A LOT for me to travel. But I do it anyway.
And now I’m back. With lots of amazing insights from the past three weeks.
I’ll be able to say more later. But for now, I’ve gotta got get some food in the house and catch up on my sleep.
Sometimes you just need to step away to get some clarity on your priorities in life, what you want to do with yourself, how you want to do it… and perhaps most importantly, how badly you want to do it. There are some things that I’ve been meaning to spend more time on — projects that actually do look like they have good potential to widen my employment prospects, as well as bring in some money on the side. And it’s given me more motivation to really work on them.
It’s also important to figure out what you don’t want to do, and this trip made that abundantly clear. It was a pain in the neck, dealing with all the prejudice and pressure — the prejudice that came out when people started drinking and stopped being on their best behavior, the stifling biases against women and gay people, the “jokes” about so-and-so having romantic relations with someone of their own sex, when they’re not even gay – har-har-har (not funny for gay or straight people)… as well as the constant pressure from my boss to stay up late with everyone and party, even though they know I don’t drink… and them joking about getting me drunk (I wouldn’t put it past them), which is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.
I don’t know which would be worse for me – to lose too much sleep, or to get drunk. In both cases, I can fall, which could be catastrophic. In both cases, I can get in trouble with other people, including the police. And it’s not the sort of trouble that I can just get out of easily.
When I get in trouble — I get in trouble. As in, get combative towards law enforcement and other authority figures. And at the conference, I was not shielded by local folks knowing who I am.
I was also not shielded from sensory overload — all the crowds, the noise, the lights, the big open expo hall where I was working, and the constant movement and hustle. I felt like a zombie, much of the time, and it was miserable at moments, but then I got to step away to the restroom, or to get something to eat, or walk to a quieter part of the expo hall. There was music pumping, lights flashing, constant streams of people walking by who I had to engage and hopefully bring into our booth, and it was cold in that hall. I felt like I was going to lose it, a couple of times, but I regrouped and chilled myself out by focusing on something specific – like checking my email on my smartphone.
The area that the conference was in, was crazy, too — all the lights and motion and crowds and music everywhere. It’s perfect for sensation-seeking people, but for me it was just too much. At the concert they had on the last night, I thought I was going to flip out and hit someone. I was pressed up against the very front of the cordoned-off area, with people pushing in close behind me, whistling and clapping right beside my ears, and all of them wearing some sort of perfume. I’m not terribly sensitive to scents, but when I’m tired and overwhelmed, I get that way — and yeah, I got that way. I had to leave early, when I realized that I was on the verge of punching someone — anyone. That wouldn’t have been good. Plus, there were security guards about 10 feet away from me.
So, I skipped out and got in bed by 9:30 that night. Pretty good, I have to say. Considering that I had to fly out, first thing in the morning, it was ideal.
The main thing is, I managed to make it through the week without A) drinking, B) losing too much sleep, or C) getting in trouble. I held my tongue and didn’t respond, when intoxicated people were running their mouths about stupid things. They probably don’t remember saying it, anyway. I also didn’t let it get to me personally too much. All the “frat boy” shenanigans, which I have never related to, anyway, didn’t throw me. Mercifully, “frat boy” types have usually ignored me, instead of singling me out and beating me up. So, I just kept clear of the grown-up versions of “nuggie”-giving football players, and stuck with a few other like-minded folks.
Most important of all, I made it home in one piece.
And that’s a huge accomplishment for me. Not only did I navigate all the alcohol-soaked dinners and social events without so much as a sip of booze, but I also got in bed by 9:00 p.m. on two nights… at 10:00 on one night… and not long after 11:00 on another night. All in all, I think I lost maybe four or five hours of sleep over the whole five days, which is pretty amazing, considering that my boss was telling me I had to stay out with the team till 3 a.m., and then stumble back to get a few hours rest before morning.
Yeah, it was amazing that I got out of all that B.S. in one piece.
I just wish it didn’t have to be so amazing.
Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress and everything I accomplished. Unlike other similar conferences in the past, this time I did not freak out, I did not lose it back in my hotel room, I did not space out or check out. In other years, at these big user conferences, I was fried by the end of the first day, and I was isolated and alienated for the rest of the trips. But this time, I was all there, I was just “riding” the situation, and I got some good things out of it, as well.
My big discovery at this event is that I am actually really, really good at engaging with strangers and getting them to open up to me. I have a ton of experience and a lot of “war stories”, and when I share them with others, they open up about their own experiences.
It’s funny, because I never really thought of myself as that kind of person – outgoing and engaging – because I am such an introvert. But even introverts can be engaging and outgoing, when we are in the right situations. And in fact, I was interacting with a lot of introverts, myself — one of whom was pretty drunk at 11:30 in the morning on the last day of the conference… probably completely overwhelmed like I was, and using the mini-bar in their room to ease the pain.
Yeah, it was overwhelming. But I made it through.
I realized some new (and important) things about myself and the kind of work I want to do. I also realized the kinds of things I can do, that I never thought I was good at, before.
So, that’s helpful. Despite the challenges, I still got a lot out of the experience.
It’s really phenomenal, how many people are presenting and talking about these brain injury issues – and it’s really heart-warming to see how much they care and really respond to the real people behind the injuries.
It’s also absolutely amazing, how possible it is to find out what they’re talking about, either in real-time or not long after. Or even later on, as all the tweets are stored on Twitter, and if you know the hashtag, you can find everything… as well as the people who tweeted, who are people who genuinely care.
For those who are doing the tweeting – thank you! And for those who are organizing the conferences to connect people and better educate them – thank you as well.
One of the big differences between the conference I went to last week, and the first time I attended, about four years ago, was that this time, I could tell what I needed to focus on, and what I needed to ignore to conserve my energy.
Part of the challenge is usually figuring out what matters the most, and that comes with experience. When you’re new at something, you often feel like you have to do everything (or at least try), so that you have all your bases covered. You don’t want to leave anything unchecked, you don’t want to be under-prepared, you don’t want to get taken by surprise. Especially when you’re new at something and you’re just learning those particular ropes.
That’s how it was, four years ago, when I first worked that conference. I was a nervous wreck, for weeks in advance. I was way over-prepared, with a clipboard full of printouts with notes and all sorts of color coding for where I was supposed to be, and when. And I ran myself ragged. I helped out anywhere I could — at registration, behind the scenes, running errands and interference for people. I was completely baked, by the end of the six-days I was there. It took me days (maybe weeks) to get back to normal.
The next year, it was a little better. I had fewer notes, and I relied a lot more on the vendor I was managing to do their job. I was there for five days, and I picked up some work here and there, to help out. I was tired at the end, but not destroyed, like I’d been the first year.
The year after that (last year), I was too sick to go to the conference. I was just getting over the flu, and there was no way I was going to make it in one piece.
This year, I went for four days, which was plenty, and I came out of it in good shape. I will need to catch up with my sleep, of course, but that will get done. I feel a tremendous sense of comfort and satisfaction at how things went, and I really got a lot out of the interactions with people there. It was more than I usually do, but it wasn’t enough to completely wreck me.
Probably the biggest difference between this conference and the last ones I went to, was that I didn’t get all worked up over every little thing. There was very low drama for me — some people had a lot, but I kept it pretty mellow, overall. I didn’t micromanage my staff, I just checked in, now and then to shoot the sh*t and make sure they had what they needed, and I let them do their thing. We know each other by now, which is a big help. And we trust each other, which is even better.
I also didn’t push myself to attend every last session that was offered. This conference is typically chock full of workshops that are interesting to me, but there was so much going on, and the sessions were about things I am interested in, but don’t do on a daily basis, so whatever I would learn, would have evaporated, anyway. I saved my energy. I hung out with my teammates. I mended bridges and talked some of my higher-strung colleagues down from their drama highs (and also pushed them a little to do the right thing they didn’t feel like doing). And I generally had a good time. I didn’t set all kinds of impossible goals for myself, and I didn’t measure my success based on how many strangers I talked to, or how good of an ambassador for the company I was.
My spouse also got to come with me, which was both a blessing and a challenge. They got pretty irritable at times because I was working so much and I didn’t have all the time in the world to spend on leisure. We also didn’t have the money to stay a few extra days in the warm, sunny weather, which was disappointing. But in the end, it was all okay, because they met up with friends who lived in the area, and they had plenty of time to kick back and relax in that beautiful place… which was good.
I also didn’t get waylaid and sucked into the drama when they would get angry at me in the mornings. They’ve got their own brain injury issues from several minor acquired brain injuries, a few years after my own last TBI, so much of what applies to me in the irritability department, also applies to them. When they are tired — or just waking up in the morning — they can be hell to deal with — very demanding, accusatory, needy, and pulling on me like crazy, while I’m trying to get out the door and go to work. This is especially true if they start to get anxious, which is frequent.
The difference between us, is that I know what it’s about and I manage it. But my spouse doesn’t see it as being anything unusual or irrational. They figure, they have every right to be irritable and to vent. And so they do. They just want to be “free and unfettered” and “let it all hang out”… and if I “cramp their style”, they lash out in anger. They get anxious and demand to be settled down and soothed, while my own plans are more and more delayed by their games. They don’t actually want to fix any of their anxiety — they just want to be soothed, calmed, feel like they’re being taken care of. Meanwhile, I’m running late… and getting more and more delayed all the time.
It’s very unpleasant. Some days, it just sucks.
But this vacation, I didn’t get pulled into the drama of them dragging me down and holding me in the hotel room in that choke-hold of “anxiety bartering”. I just kept saying, “I’ve gotta go…” and managed to extricate myself from that choke-hold. And I got myself out the door in one piece, in good shape. This is something I’ve been working on, and it went pretty well. I felt a bit guilty, as I was leaving the room, but that’s just the old routine wearing on me. I’ve got to break that cycle of emotional manipulation and control, so I can just get on with my life.
This trip, I managed to do that, and it worked out well. My spouse was not harmed by the experience of me leaving when I needed to go — they just rolled over and went back to sleep. And I made it to breakfast with a colleague on time… well, almost. I was a few minutes late.
The point is, I managed to figure out what was happening, when it was happening, and I figured out how to block out the anxiety static that was just standing between me and my goal of getting out the door. I was able to not get sucked into things that don’t have any reality and that don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things (problems that are self-invented fall into that category), and just get on with my day. And I think, in fact, my spouse was better for it.
Anyway, I’m back now, and speaking of being on time, I have some things I need to do by a certain time. Gotta get my mail from the post office, where they’ve been holding it. Gotta take my trash to the transfer station. Gotta get this day rolling in earnest.
So, I’m back from my travels to sunny California, where the weather was even better than it normally is, this time of year. San Francisco was actually warm and clear — if you can imagine — and farther south towards LA and San Diego, there was yet more beautiful weather. Pretty amazing. Unfortunately, folks are in drought there, so the “nice” weather has a down-side. But for my selfish, temporary purposes, it was ideal.
I spent a lot of time inside, unfortunately. Didn’t get to soak up much sun. 😦 I had a lot of indoor work to do, managing a team of folks who were taking care of some of the logistics… as well as having meetings with colleagues I only get to see once or twice a year. I had to be ON, most of the time — always alert, always ready to interact, always ready to change gears and reach out to people and be responsive to their needs and requests, at a moment’s notice.
In past years, this conference has really torn the living crap out of me, with the constant going and doing and talking and moving and shaking. It’s taken me years to acclimate to the experience of never knowing when I’m going to run into someone I need to talk to. This year, though, I was able to really pace myself and not over-do it. I was present, in the moment, responsive, engaged, and I was actually “on”, with as many pistons firing as humanly possible.
I also took breaks when I needed to, and I didn’t try to go to too many events and sessions that didn’t have anything to do with me directly. I stepped away and took breaks when I needed to, instead of pushing myself back into the fray. I spent a fair amount of time alone, which was good. Best of all, I didn’t feel guilty about it or tell myself I should have been doing something different. I’ve worked this conference two other times, so I knew everyone I was managing, and I knew how the conference would flow. I also knew that nothing terrible was going to happen, if I didn’t do everything that was available to me. In past years, I have felt tremendous pressure (from within) to be 500% ON — ALL THE TIME. Not this year, though. And it paid off. I’m really tired, but I’m not trashed, like I have been in the past.
I had great times with people there. I had some great dinners and breakfasts and lunches with colleagues and other conference attendees. I got a lot of great ideas from people about new things to do and try, and there’s no lack of things to think about and work through, now that I’m back.
Speaking of being back, it’s high time I got ready for work. Jet lag is messing with my internal clock, so it’s time to reset and start fresh!
I got home late last night. “Late” being nearly 10 p.m. on a work night. Greeted like a returning hero of sorts.
I was back.
I did it.
Part of me thinks this shouldn’t be such a big deal, and a week-long business trip to an industry conference shouldn’t elicit praise and celebration. But part of me also knows that I did good work on this trip, I made good connections, and I made a positive difference in the world, in however small a way.
I was courteous to my colleagues in the convention center. I was kind to the poor on the streets. I was considerate of the hospitality staff, wherever I went. And I actually convinced professional peers who have been afraid of the folks in my department, that we are here to help, and their opinion matters.
I met with wary almost-strangers, and parted ways with new friends.
Actually, come to think of it, I think this shouldelicit praise and celebration.
Gandhi and Mother Teresa might have done more. Albert Schweitzer and Dorothy Day probably would have done more. But for where I was, and what I did, I did alright.
Best of all, I did no harm. Which is a far sight more than many people do. And I looked people in the eye when they talked to me. Unless, of course, they were culturally uncomfortable with that. In that case, I looked away. Didn’t intrude. Either way, it was fine.
Thinking back, I will say that I had some very dark hours, on that trip. There I was, 2000 miles from home, sleeping in a very uncomfortable bed, off my daily routine, surrounded by people who all seemed to know each other, some of whom couldn’t be bothered to give me the time of day and actually ditched me several times. Assholes. And they sit right across the hall from me at work.
What the hell was I doing there? I asked myself more than once, at the end of long days, when the fatigue caught up with me and I couldn’t muster enough mojo to feel much of anything about anything other than dread and depression. Start of the day –> mucho moxie. End of the day –> zip, nada, zilch. It’s a rough, rough ride, going from way-way up to way-way down in the space of 18 hours, with your joints aching and screaming, your lower back in knots, your neck and shoulders a mass of tender ropes, your head pounding non-stop… And doing it four nights running.
So, I did the only thing I could — I went out for long walks after convention hours, then went back to my room and drew a hot bath and soaked till the pain was eased, and I could sleep.
In those minutes, as I was debating whether to numb my pain with Advil or get my mind off it with a walk… fighting off that gut-wrenching loneliness that comes from talking to your Beloved (or a good friend) and hearing their voice and knowing they are a looooong plane ride away, and as good as their voice sounds, it’s nothing like having them There Beside You… god, that hurts.
But then the thought came to me that this was a valuable experience to have. For as painful and as awkward as things were for me, I was probably not alone. I was at a conference filled with thousands of people who were also far from home, and many of them may have felt exactly the same way — all by their lonesome in a strange place, without the ones they loved nearby. And there were the ones from other countries and other cultures, speaking a different language and eating different foods and interacting in ways other than what they were used to… for them it must have been even harder.
And so I used it. I used that feeling, that pain, that anguish. I “sat in it” as my therapist friends like to describe it. I marinated in it. I didn’t turn on the television, I didn’t listen to my iPod. I just sat with it and felt it and knew it was real… and knew that there were countless other people in the world around me who were feeling very much like me, right at that same moment.
And I took that feeling, that sense, that experience, and I did something with it. I carried it with me, as I went out into the world, attending sessions at this conference, meeting people and talking with them — both officially and just by-the-by. I took that sense of loneliness, that isolation, and I acted as though each person I ran into felt exactly that same way. And when I caught their eye – or they caught mine – my suspicions were confirmed. And they appreciated the smile. Or the handshake. Or the nod.
See, here’s the thing for me… I’ve got my issues. Who doesn’t? But when I take those issues, those pains, those sorrows, and I do something with them, they completely transform my experience. They turn me from a lonely heart looking for love in all the wrong places, to a human being offering other lonely hearts the kind of compassion and human connection you can’t often get in this techno-virtual world, where the most contact some people have with the rest of the world comes from a few hours spent on Facebook.
And as I simply went through the motions of being courteous and kind and considerate to everyone I met, doing the same sorts of things over and over — holding a door open, nodding hello, smiling and giving someone’s hand a firm shake — I felt like I was coming back to myself. Instead of staying lost in the malaise of my own isolation, when I put the focus on someone and something other than my own insecurity and loneliness, I found the isolation lifting, dissipating, fading to the background. It was always there, but it almost didn’t matter — except for the fact that it made me more aware of the isolation that others were probably feeling, every bit as much as myself.
And in that doing, I became something other than what I was in the silence of my hotel room. In that doing, I found a sort of redemption — not only for me, but for those others, as well. Perhaps even for the others whom those others encountered later on each day. Doing my part to not let my insecurity and self-consciousness get the better of me, turned me into a ‘pebble ambassador’ of sorts — toss me in the human pond and see what happens to the ripples.
The more I did it, the better I felt. And by the time I left, the anxiety and fear and self-conscious insecurity and loneliness had all but gone away. They were always there in the background, sure, but it almost didn’t matter… except to remind me how the rest of the world just might have been feeling — and perhaps even moreso than me.
I’m fading, now. Fading fast. Time to sleep. I’ve earned it.