Merry Christmas – may it be so

Merry_ChristmasMerry 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.

Some entrance.

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.

May your Christmas be merry, as well.

What really gets to me, this time of year

And that's what I have to say about that - to some folks
And that’s what I have to say about that – to some folks, anyway.

I had an epiphany yesterday while shopping for supper. My trip to the grocery store was irritating and tiresome. Everywhere I turned, there seemed to be something or someone in my way. From the drivers on the road, to the people in the supermarket, it was like a maze getting around.

This time of year is crazy, and if I’d had better judgment, I wouldn’t have been out, period.  But I was still sick, still not thinking clearly, and anyway, I was on a mission to pick up my lumber supplies to fix my stairs, and I just needed to get up and out of my head, anyway, so what the hell?

Anyway, despite being foggy and disoriented, I managed to find the cut of lamb I was looking for. {Whenever my spouse is away, I make myself a dinner of lamb — cooked in olive oil in a pan with onions, mushrooms, yams, and green beans – and salt to taste. That’s my treat, since I love lamb, and my spouse hates it.} It took me several tries of walking up and down the meat displays, before I finally found the lamb — but now I know where it is for next time. And I found a yam that would work perfectly for just one person.

I forgot other things I needed to get, but after 10 minutes inside, I just wanted to get out.

The trip to the store felt like an onslaught — too much light, too much sound, too much Christmas. Everybody being herded (speaking of lamb) towards additional purchases… even as my bank alerts me with a text that my account is below the level it should be.  All the people milling around… it actually wasn’t as bad as it could be, but for me on that day, with my senses going nuts and this sinus infection messing with my thinking and reaction time, all I wanted was to get out of there.

I finally did make my way to the front cash register, feeling and acting genuinely impaired. I was clumsy and pretty much non-verbal, and the cashier had to remind me what to do with the keypad, which I was poking at like an idiot. I paid for my $5.87 meal, and headed for my car, steering a wide circle around the Salvation Army alms-gatherer, who kept trying to get my attention. I don’t support the Salvation Army, because it’s a well-disguised religious and political organization (some call it a “sect”) that doesn’t tell everyone what they really support. I can’t agree with many points of their agenda, and I certainly don’t agree with them hiding it from people who have a handful of change to drop in the bucket. It really irritates me that the general public (who may not know what they’re all about and may not agree at all with what they promote) is every so sweetly pressured into donating to them by kind-looking people with bells.

I was in a pretty sour / disaffected mood, by the time I was done. And I headed to my car feeling slightly guilty about being so “bah humbug” at this time of year. I really wanted to get into the spirit of things, but I was just so underwhelmed with everything around me, so put off by the onslaught, so tweaked by… seemingly everything. At least I’d parked away from most of the cars, I figured. I was in no shape to be navigating between closely positioned vehicles in the state I was in.

I had just finished putting my food in the back of my car, when another driver zoomed past me into the empty space beside my car. They couldn’t have passed more than 6 inches away from me, and if I’d been feeling better, I would have been alarmed.

But I had  no energy for that. It was just one more irritation to grab my limited attention, so I just dismissed and shrugged it off and got in my car. The other driver put their car in park, and just for the hell of it, I looked over at them with a smile. I was feeling so contrary, I wanted to be pleasant, even in the face of the near miss and my total irritation with everything that had happened that day.

The other driver looked over at me sheepishly, then smiled back. A moment later, they looked over at me again with another quizzical smile, and I smiled in return. Then they got out and walked around their car to mine, and I rolled down the window. I figured they wanted to apologize, maybe, for nearly creaming me, and I was in a defiantly generous mood, so I was about to let that be what the exchange was all about. With so much bullshit going on in the world, these days, the most radical, contrary thing I could do, was be kindhearted and generous to someone who’d nearly taken my legs off.

There really wasn’t any need for an apology, and the other driver sensed it, somehow. They said, “Oh my God – how is it the supermarket?”

I said it was actually fine, that I got in and out in no time. I didn’t even mention the close call. Why waste my time?

They said they thought for sure it would be crazy inside, what with all the cars, but maybe it was everyone shopping in other stores.

I said I thought that was probably the case — that if you knew what you were looking for in the grocery store, you’d be able to get in and out. It really wasn’t any more busy than it is on a weekday night.

We shot the breeze for a few more minutes, then we went our separate ways. And both of us felt that much better. Because we’d actually had a real conversation between two real people — not the kind of superficial, crazy-busy rush and push of the holiday shopping experience. For a few minutes, we’d been able to be real human beings with each other, sharing an experience that both of us couldn’t friggin’ stand, that made us into people other than our best selves. And for those few minutes — all made possible by a near miss — we got a much-needed break from all the B.S. of this season.

And as they disappeared into the crowd, and I pulled away to go home, I realized that my malcontent and frustration and disaffection has nothing to do with Christmas, itself. It has nothing to do with the season or the time of year or the shortening of days or anything like that. It’s not because I’m in a BAD MOOD, or that I feel “bah humbug” about everything. It’s not because I’m sick, or I don’t have enough money, or I hate life or my job or politics or anything else.

It’s because at this time of year, especially, I really want to have some real contact with real people, and just put aside all the busy-ness. I want to be able to have a real conversation with another human being about something that is real and genuine. I get upset and disaffected and grumpy about the bullshit. All the commercial crap, all the bogus posturing, all the appeals for financial help at the end of the year. All the nagging and pleading and posing… it just makes me insane. It’s a waste of my time, and I resent the very existence of it.

So, it’s NOT that I’m not in the Christmas spirit. I actually am — very much so. The thing is, I’m in a real Christmas spirit, and I have no patience for people who aren’t willing to be real, and businesses and causes that make themselves out to be something that they’re not. I resent feeling like people are constantly trying to trick me, and I detest all the spin that goes on in the news. I get sick of being lied to, especially at this time of year, and I resent being forced to work harder at my life, because retailers can’t seem to offer anything of sufficient value during the rest of the year, to make their businesses solvent. I’m sick of the deceptive cycles of holiday debt, followed by months of struggle underneath the added burden. And I’m sick of a system that makes it all possible — even mandatory.

I just want my freedom. But apparently, that’s too much to ask. And the sight of the plight of so many people who are trusting others to point them in the right direction, just weighs down my heart.

So my lack of Christmas cheer is actually not a bad thing. It’s a sign that I’m alive and kicking, and I have precious little wish to live less than a fully true life. I have no patience for spin and obfuscation and masking agendas to sign on adherents, and I have no wish to perpetuate it.

If someone wants to engage me in a real conversation about real things, and be genuine and human with me, I’m all for it.

But if you’re just dishing up more steaming B.S. on a silver platter, you’d best keep your distance. To you, I say, “Bah humbug!”

Keeping out of the slump

Gotta keep from getting pulled down.
Gotta keep from getting pulled down.

December is upon us.

Days are getting shorter — and colder. Nights are getting longer — and colder.

This is actually an excellent time of the year for me, when I can focus in and really think about where I want my life to go, and how I want to live it.

So long as I can keep out of the slump, which invariably comes with the end of the year.

Like many people, I look back on the past year and measure myself against my intentions of 12 months ago. Last year, this time, I was pretty sure how things were going to go. I had a 2-3 year contract, I was getting up to speed with my job. I was adjusting and fitting in pretty well. And things were looking up.

Till they weren’t. And then they were, again. My contract changed – cut short by a change in business plans that nobody really told me about. That freed me up to go looking around for What Else I wanted to do. And I found a fantastic opportunity doing the kind of work I wanted to do.

Now that may be changing, as well. I really don’t know. Because just like last year, they’re not telling us anything. And people at work are getting down and depressed. Nobody is wishing each other happiness in the holiday season. I wished everyone Happy Thanksgiving in an email before I left, last week, and only one person responded. Some would say, “Rude”. I say, “Existential crisis”.

So, I’m a little down in the dumps, these days. I’m drifting in and out of depression.

Fortunately, I’m not depressed as frequently as I used to be. I used to really battle depression on a regular basis, especially during the holidays. Some years, I actually wanted to bring my life to an abrupt end. Clearly, I didn’t, but in years past, I wouldn’t have complained if I’d had my life cut short.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt that low, and that’s helped me just get on with my life.

But in a way, it’s more problematic now, because I’m out of practice, dealing with that stuff. And now when I fall prey to depression, it feels abnormal. Disorienting. Like there’s something wrong with me… When really, it’s just the time of year, and my schedule and routine are both out of whack.

I’ve been having headaches again. Probably because I haven’t been exercising like I should. Or drinking enough water. I need to get back to that. I walked the stairs a few extra times yesterday — three long, steep flights — so that’s progress. I’m also recovering from a week of being off my schedule, not having ample down-time, being over-social, and dealing with people’s “stuff” that I usually don’t have to mess with.

And things feel like they are dissolving around me. Job changes — who knows what will happen after they start the “business transformation” in earnest, at the end of next week? Personal changes — not having a doctor, and needing to find a new neuropsychologist. Money challenges. Marriage challenges — as my spouse continues their downward spiral that was arrested for a week, and now is back to the usual. And all the political stupidity that goes on, with everyone running their mouths and apparently making no effort whatsoever to try to understand others, or amend their own behavior to make a positive difference… or avoid war (of every kind).


I guess I’ll just take it day-by-day. Just handle what’s in front of me, and take as good care of myself as I can. I’m kind of losing track of what I’m doing at work, and it’s bothering me. I’m very scattered… partly because I’m anxious about what’s to come, and I’m tired. I have my notebook with my items I’m tracking and focusing on, and I need to fall back to that again, just keep it simple, and focus on the essentials.

And move. I don’t move enough at work. I work in a big building. I could take long walks to clear my head. I think I’ll do that today.

I also need to break up my day, when I have long periods of uninterrupted time. If I let myself just zone out, it’s not good. I need to keep myself moving, keep myself on track. It’s a mistake to let myself just zone. I need to really keep discipline in my life – go to bed earlier and let myself catch up with myself. It was a really long week, on the road, and I still need to recover.

So, there it is. I need to get back to my routine. Keep up the house. Do the chores, take care of business. I feel better, when I get things done. I also need to do things in shorter spurts — intervals of activity, interspersed with rest. Just use my head — and make a point of keeping disciplined through it all.

I have plenty of reasons to be depressed. And I know that there are biochemical reasons that people are depressed, including myself. But I know how to deal with them. I know how it happens with me. And I know what to do about it.  I know what turns it around and gets me out of my slump. For me, biochemistry explains things, but it also shows me the way out. And the way out, is to keep to a schedule, really think about what I’m going to do for my days, be present in the moments, and stay steady. Stay clear. And know my limits, so when I need to take a break, I do just that.

Yes, things are a bit depressing, right now. I just don’t think sinking into depression is the best use of my time.

Not by a long shot.

So, that being said… Onward.

All the artificial timelines and time-outs

Got back last night before 9 p.m. Pretty good, considering we got on the road after 1:00. Driving was good, but this is the last year we’re doing that particular trek. I will save $20/week towards the plane tickets and rental car next year. We’re not doing that marathon drive again.

Both my spouse and I are practically crippled from all that sitting. Yes,we stopped and got out and moved around. But it’s not the same thing as moving – which I will be doing a lot of, today, I believe.

Someone commented here that holidays are invented by men, and it’s true. They are arbitrary assignments of “time off” from the usual grind, to do something different, so we don’t lose our minds from the drudgery and the monotony and the insane political games people play. And the conditions they take place under, only serve to make us glad we’re back in our grind, when we return. I know I’m glad to be going back to work… which is kind of a bizarre idea, since the idea of being cooped up in an office for 8 hours today really makes my skin crawl.

Other than making a living and giving me a chance to interact with people in a structured environment, I’m not sure what purpose it serves. And this is with a job I actually like… after years of detesting my work situations. The whole 9-to-5 thing is old. I know how to do it. I’ve proved I can do it. That’s settled. Time to look into something different.

While driving home, I was fantasizing about just dropping all this and going to live off the land. I think that would solve a ton of problems. Raise my own food, hunt my own game, fish and stock up and save. So long as I have access to a good lake that has fish, as well as a possible trout stream, and I had some space to garden, and a shelter against the elements, I think I’d be fine, actually. I wouldn’t even need to hunt big game. I could live off rabbits, squirrel, fish, and plenty of wild plants. And if I had a fenced-in area, I could also grow plenty of vegetables. If I didn’t have a mortgage to pay, my life would be very, very different, I can tell you that.

But that’s probably not going to happen in the near future. I have time to plan for it, to learn what I need to learn, and  get all my equipment together. For now, though, it’s back to my regular routine, back to going through my days making the best of what I’ve got.

It’s not bad. It’s just not really what I want — which is freedom.

I’ll have plenty of that in the coming weeks, though. The holidays may get crazy for some, but we are DONE with all the travel, and we’re going to have a nice quiet holiday season, getting together with friends. I’m going to have plenty of time to keep up with my sleep, thanks to minimal extra-curricular activities and passing on all the holiday parties and I avoid the malls. I think the holiday madness may actually even pass me by, as I step aside and steer clear of the hordes. I’ve seen the Black Friday videos. Yah, no thanks.

My family obligations are done.

And my little officially sanctioned time-out is done.

Now I can get back to my life and settle back into it. And just let the rest of the world go by, as I construct the life of my choosing.


And in the end, we learn…

Some days you nail the holidays, sometimes the holidays nail you.
Some days you nail the holidays, sometimes the holidays nail you.

This trip to see family for Thanksgiving has been chock-full of lessons. I’m still sorting them out. Some of them, I may forget, by the time I get home, so I’ll write them down here, and come back to them later.

  1. Having a perfect life is no guarantee of happiness.
  2. The people who appear to be the most powerful and privileged are often suffering under terrible burdens. Sometimes it’s their very burdens that drive them to be more poweful and privileged than anyone else.
  3. People who are innately talented and sharp, don’t always end up in the best circumstances. People who work-work-work their asses off can accomplish great things.
  4. The people who seem to be the most wealthy, are often very poor in their own hearts.
  5. It helps if you’re attractive and have a ready smile.
  6. People are surprisingly judgmental of others who are simply different.
  7. No matter where you look, there are people in some kind of need.
  8. People dislike having to question their most fundamental beliefs. They’re a whole lot easier to get along with, if you pretend to agree with them — or at least don’t judge them.
  9. Most people I know are very set in their ways about how women should act, and how men should act. Come to think of it, they’re very set in their ways about how “normal” people should act.
  10. It usually pays off to keep your head about you and maintain a cool demeanor.
  11. If you can’t do #10, step away. Give it a few minutes.
  12. Getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eliminating regularly, will do wonders for your interpersonal relationships. It’s all about the flow…
  13. Life is short. Be kind.
  14. Sometimes, all it takes to get people back on track in mind and spirit is a long card game.
  15. Winning a hand of cards is restorative. Losing gracefully, four hands in a row, is ennobling. Having a good laugh at yourself being a sore loser is good for everyone at the table.
  16. Many things are awful. But they pass. It makes no sense to let awfulness get hold of you and trick you into thinking it will last forever.
  17. Everything looks easier in hindsight.
  18. All those old resentments I held against my in-laws for having so much more than me, and providing so much more to their kids, now pales compared to the peace I have in my life. They don’t have that peace. Their opulence is not saving them.
  19. My “country hick” insecurities around my in-laws are still there. I still feel like an idiot when I am around them.
  20. However, I have not understood the source of my insecurities, till recently. I thought, for years and years, that I was less intelligent than they, and I was too slow. As it turns out, by the time we reach their home, I am usually exhausted from driving, my sensory issues are out of control, after dealing with my own family, and I am literally not myself. My ears are ringing, I’m slowed down by fatigue, my noise and light and smell and touch sensitivities are all on HIGH ALERT, and I can’t understand what anyone is saying because the television is usually blaring. It’s a total onslaught of sensory overload, which my in-laws have to immerse themselves in, because they are so deeply unhappy as they follow all the rules, and they need something to dull their intense pain.Their coping mechanisms make it very difficult for me to function. It’s not me, that’s the problem, it’s the environment.
  21. My in-laws are trapped in a “perfect” life, doing things they never really questioned, and their difficulties with that are simply too much for them to handle. They’ve decided to be happy, simply being successful and popular, everything looking good on the outside, but deep down inside, being so sad and lonely.
  22. My in-laws cannot accommodate people who are different. They get disgusted with people who aren’t functioning”normally” due to invisible conditions. They don’t understand how people can have limits that are difficult to explain, and you don’t live up to their specific expectation of how you “should” function, they can get pretty mean-spirited. Their intentions are good, but their follow-through sucks.
  23. My parents are surprisingly resigned to getting old and infirm. Well, my father is, anyway. He’s giving up and giving in… I read some things he wrote, and it makes me sad that he’s not fighting it more. He’s got a lot of years left in him, but he’s talking and thinking like he’s going to die before long. His handwriting has gotten noticeably worse over the past year. I think his diabetes is catching up with his brain function. And I’m literally not sure when/if I’m going to see him again.
  24. My family is much better at accommodating individual needs and limitations, than my in-laws. My in-laws think a pill fixes everything, while my family believes community fixes everything. Small wonder. We’re all a bunch of farmland hayseeds, here, and there are plenty of “neurodiverse” people in our midst, due to brain injuries, congenital defects, poor medical care, etc. There are a LOT of “different” people here, so folks know how to handle them, for the most part. And the social rules here are so strict, everybody knows what they should be doing in any given situation, so it makes it possible for people to function, without thinking much about anything. It’s interesting.
  25. Holidays are borderline hell for me. There is TOO MUCH ACTIVITY, and the expectations are too high. It’s TOO LOUD. Too many smells and changes in routine. I dread it. Every bit of it. Including all the parties and social activities. And the holidays are not easy for my spouse, either, who also has sensory issues but is less aware of them.
  26. Both of us struggle terribly, at times, so it’s important for me to keep my act together, so only one of us is going off the rails at the same time.
  27. I am so happy to be driving home today. It’s a full day’s drive, and we’re going to take our time. Get out and stretch. My left hip is killing me. Not enough exercise.
  28. I’m glad we made this trip. And I’m even more glad to be going home.

And now, it’s time for a walk.  A long, long walk, before I get in the car and sit for 9 hours.

Two more days… then home!

Today we rest at my parents’ home, then we are driving home tomorrow… missing the worst of the Thanksgiving traffic.

I’m going to pause now for a Christian moment, since I have been surrounded by very religious Christians for the past 5 days… Praise God Almighty! Praise Blessed Jesus!

I only have another 30 hours to go (give or take) till I am back in my car and headed HOME to my own space, my own diet, my own schedule, my own life.

This really has been a very challenging time for me. The most challenging thing, by far, has been dealing with people’s prejudices and judgments. My spouse has been having some difficulties, being off their schedule — as have I. They’ve been tired and irritable and have not been thinking clearly or as mobile as one would expect. And both sides of the family do not handle that well. So, they are hard on my spouse, which is hard for me to watch. My in-laws, especially, are pretty judgmental, and they put all kinds of pressure on my spouse to DO SOMETHING about their condition.

Get up earlier each day.

Get regular exercise.

Get a hip replacement.

Go out into the world and do all the things that people without noise and light and scent sensitivities can do.

Of course, they know nothing about the strokes, seizures, cognitive impairment, and I’m not about to tell them that, because they are exquisitely attuned to finding the worst in everything, and trying to overcome it. They will pick out the worst piece of information (e.g., if the power steering fluid had spilled all over the exhaust system, our van could have caught fire) and then they dwell on that. That will become their mantra — Something Terrible Could Happen — and they will proceed to make every thought center around that.

Which is a really draining way to live.

And now that we are away from them, I can breathe. My side of the family is overwhelming in other ways – we’re about to start the day’s social overwhelm drama – so there’s not a ton of respite. But at least it’s not that constant dark cloud of risk management and imagined damage control. At least I’m out from under that.

So, what have I learned from all of this? It’s going to take some time to figure that all out, but one thing I’ve gathered, is that I have a very unique ability to see people for what they are and accept them for what they are… regardless of their perceived disability and limitations. I can see the goodness and strength in everyone, and I can see the hidden abilities they have, which are usually eclipsed by their challenges or shortcomings. I’ve known a lot of functionally limited people over the course of my life, and none of them have actually seemed as damaged or as strange as others said they were.

I have always been this way, perhaps because it’s what I needed most from others — but never got it. When I was younger, it got me in trouble because I was taken advantage of by people with ill intentions. It’s taken me years to learn how to discern and steer clear of the trouble-makers.

What I’d like to do now, is find some volunteer opportunities to use that to help others.

I have several free days my employer gives me to use for volunteer work, so for the holiday season, I think I’ll look for a chance to do that.

Everything can be used — especially the difficulties.




Tired of everything. Oh, well…

meet-people-leave-peopleI’m feeling a bit worn out, this morning. I’ve been feeling weary for a number of weeks, now. The whole international war / terror / WTF scene gets me down – partly because of the tone that everyone is taking, partly because I know from independent research how much the USA actually has to do with creating the conditions of international war / terror / WTF.

It’s complicated.

Work is good, and I love my job. It’s a lot, though. There’s a reason why many, many people don’t last at that company for longer than a year or two. It can be a brutal environment to work in, for some. For me, it’s just a lot. All the time. It keeps me on my toes. And it also wears me out.

That’s complicated, too.

My spouse has been so-so, for the past couple of months. They’ve been working a lot, and this weekend is their last business trip weekend till spring arrives. I’m ready for that break. It’s about danged time. When my spouse has a business trip, they need help getting everything together, and then when they return, there is the inevitable emotionalism, the volatility, the antagonism that accompanies their fatigue from the trip.

That’s less complicated, but considering that I need to deal with it when I am typically not at my best — when I’m wiped out from work, or I’m just trying to catch up with myself — it becomes more complicated than it needs to.

And I get tired. Worn out, wrung out, like a sponge that’s been used too often, and not rinsed out enough.

What to do?

What to do, indeed?

Ultimately, the only thing for me to do is… exactly what I’ve been doing for the past several days: take care of myself, don’t let myself get caught up in a lot of drama, see the bigger picture, tend to the things in my life that have meaning (and also need to get done)… and take care of myself some more.

That’s what I’ve been doing for the past few days. I’ve been feeling really out of it, and I’ve almost been in a couple of car accidents — once when someone braked really fast in front of me and I nearly rear-ended them (I stopped just inches from their rear bumper), and once when someone pulled right out in front of me when I was approaching the intersection where they were stopped, and they drove me off the road. Fortunately, my latest vehicle has all-wheel drive and anti-locking brakes. It saved my ass twice.

After the second near-miss, I realized that I wasn’t being careful enough. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. I was going too fast, in general.

So, I slowed everything down. I took a much more gradual approach to my life, not getting all wrapped up in the drama – the drama –  and just focusing on the things in front of me. Yesterday, especially, I did myself a huge favor and just took it easy. I caught up on some reading and writing I’ve been meaning to do, and instead of running out to do errands, I took a nice long nap and laid in bed as long as humanly possible, till my spouse needed to pack up and get on the road.

And last night, I just chilled. Again. No television, just listening to music, thinking about things, hanging out around the house.

It was just what I needed — a break. And it was as much of a mental break, as it was a logistical or physical one. I needed to just step away from all the craziness and busy-ness of “normal” life and allow myself to just be. I need to focus on things that build me up, not tear me down, and really live as fully as I can from moment to moment, rather than getting stuck in my head and getting tangled up in others’ tortuous thought processes.

It’s that hermit mind – desert mind – that I actually seek. I cannot control the world around me, and I cannot control the behavior of others. But I can control my own reactions to it and the way I relate to it. Every situation offers many, many different opportunities to get my act together. It’s really up to me, whether or not I do that.

And you know – it’s funny. The longer I live, the less I actually need to have and do. I realized lately that, all summer long,I wore pretty much the same clothing, from week to week. I have a week’s worth of work clothing, and I have my comfortable clothing for home. I wear just two or three t-shirts, trading off between them to wash them when they get really gamey. And I have two pairs of jeans — one that I wear to do outdoor work, one that I wear in polite company. I have a pair of sturdy work pants, and I have a hoodie that I wear to do dirty jobs.

I don’t need more than that.

I also don’t need all the busy-work projects I pursued for so many years. At one point in time, I had over 20 different projects in the works, with complete plans for execution and maintenance. I knew exactly how it should all be done. And if I hadn’t been alone in those projects, I probably would have put some of them into action. But I was alone. I am alone. I don’t have the time and energy for a lot of social interaction, and I’m not a big fan of talk-talk-talk. I’m exhausted when I get home from work in the evenings, and on the weekends, the last thing I want to do is spend time with others. I spent my entire day — or any time I am interacting with others — going to great lengths to “meet them where they are”, to speak in terms that they can understand, to relate to them in ways that make sense to them, to connect with them on a shared human level.

It’s exhausting.

At times, I have thought it would help for me to find someone who can offer the same to me — to meet me on my terms, and relate to me in ways that make sense to me. But I actually don’t want that. I want to be left alone. I need solitude. I need there to not be any direct human interactions that force me to work so hard.

Dealing with people is hard. It takes a lot of effort from me. Nobody around me actually realizes that, because I work hard at hiding it. I work really, really hard at hiding it, and it works. It works so well, that even the people I try to explain it to… well, they can’t actually fathom it. Because I seem so personable and engaging.

That’s the finely sharpened double-edged sword of my world.

That sword allows me to have solitude in the midst of all the chaos around me. Playing to an audience with a persona that puts others on center-stage lets me keep my inner world exactly that — inner. Is it lonely? Being alone in this is a lot less lonely than trying to explain to others what it’s like “in here”. People just don’t know how to be empathetic. They just don’t know how to relate to others on their terms. Well, some people do, but they’re often hijacked by sociopaths who latch onto them to fill their needs. And the empathetic people get sucked dry in the process.

In the end, though, it’s all about choice. I know I live the way I live in part by choice, in part by default. It’s all I can do, really, under the circumstances. You make the best of what you’ve got, and you learn some lessons along the way. It’s all fine, it’s all good.

Fall is here. Thanksgiving is next week. I’m traveling on Tuesday and won’t be back till the next Monday. Maybe I’ll blog here, while I’m away. Maybe I’ll go “dark” and re-emerge after I return. Who’s to say? It’s a tough time for me, so the important thing is to take good care of myself, make the effort to remain positive, and think in terms of the bigger picture, while the holiday craziness sets in.

I’m tired of everything. But I don’t have to let it get me down.


Missions accomplished… kind of

Tree’s up… getting there…

This year all the Christmas preparations and activities are going a lot more slowly than in past years. Part of it is me, part of it is my spouse. We are both slowing down — especially my spouse, who is having increasing difficulty sequencing information and understanding things when I say them the first time. They are also having difficulty communicating their ideas to me. They tend to start their sentences mid-way, and then they get angry furious when I ask them what they are talking about.

It’s not much fun, watching the love of your life decline cognitively, physically, emotionally, and behaviorally, that’s for sure. It’s heart-wrenching, and it’s very difficult to observe… not having any way to stop it. They’re also intensely anxious about… well, just about everything. If they don’t have a sense of control, they flip out. Or run away.

So, I do my best under the circumstances. I try to remain calm. I take my vitamins. I do my exercises when I wake up. I keep on keepin’ on. I work on my projects, in hope that they will allow me to earn some extra money on the side, so I can take better care of us. I just keep on, taking care of what I can control, and “turning over” the rest, as they say.

And we both do what we can. We really work at keeping the arguments from getting completely out of hand, and get through the rough patches the same way as always. I have a lot less tolerance for the fiery arguments, than I used to have.  We have always had a very fiery, passionate relationship, and we’ve kept each other on our toes. But it gets a little old, to be honest, and sometimes I just don’t feel like going through the whole big loop to get to a final resting place where we both understand what’s going on.

Anyway, over this weekend, we did some Christmas shopping and got just about everything we need for family members. We’re not shopping for each other, just yet, because we have time and we don’t want to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We also trimmed the tree a bit. This year, we are taking it in bits and pieces. In past years, we put everything — and I mean everything — on at once. We loaded the tree up with all our ornaments and lights, and it was a sight to behold.

This year, we just put up strings of small lights, and last night we did the larger lights. We didn’t have enough of the lights we needed, so the tree is looking a little lop-sided this year. We’ll figure it out, I’m sure.

Or we won’t. And this will be kind of a sad and low-key time.

I’m thinking it’s going to be the latter. For all the progress I’ve been making, and for all the strides I’ve made, I’m married to someone who is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum — too afraid of their own shadow, and too averse to hard work, to maintain and improve. They are literally letting themself go, and when they are challenged, they’ll react for a few days… maybe a week… and improve. Then they will go back to how they were before. It’s very dispiriting, to be honest.

It also makes me all the more aware of what a difference attitude makes in brain injury recovery. By hiding from it in fear and ignoring it, basically refusing to engage with it, that just makes things worse. You can’t shrug off a brain injury. You can deal with it. You can address it. You can fix a lot of things. But NOT if you’re hiding from it, cowering in fear in the dark corners of your mind.

Of course, brain injury lends itself extremely well to panic-anxiety disorders. You can get stuck in fight-flight mode, simply by right of the nature of the condition. You’re always ON, always on high alert, trying to figure out how to do things that used to make sense, and you’re constantly being surprised / jolted / alarmed by things that did not work out the way you needed them to — or expected them to.

It is so hard, at times. A real pain in the ass. And the worst thing you can do is avoid dealing with it. That just does not work.

Well, anyway, we got done most of what we meant to do. And we’ve got more planned for this week. We’re moving carefully through the steps of getting it all done in good time, and it will all get taken care of, for sure. It’s just hard, right now, watching my spouse decline… watching their thinking degrade… their physical mobility… their overall health and well-being. It’s hard watching the one person you care for most in the world, let themself just go downhill like that.

If I didn’t care, it would be one thing. But I do care. Deeply. I guess I’ll just go with that.

TBI Holiday Survival Tip: Make a danged list

Keeps me sane
Keeps me sane

If you want to make yourself crazy, this holiday season, try keeping everything in your head.

It will work like a charm.

But if you want to take the pressure off and actually enjoy yourself, making lists of things you need to do, can work wonders.

Making lists has the following advantages:

  1. It stops you from running around like a chicken with your head cut off. It tells you what you need to do next, every step of the way, so you can focus on the steps, instead of trying to remember what’s next. TBI can make it very difficult to focus, especially when tired. If you’re like me, you can end up bouncing around from one thing to the next, and finish the day with nothing much done. That’s anxiety-producing and bugs the crap out of me. A list keeps me on track.
  2. It saves your brain from needing to store everything in reserve. It’s stressful to hold everything in your head, and it’s even more stressful to wonder if you’re going to remember everything you need to. TBI can do a number on your short-term working memory, so if you’re like me, you can forget things in the space of minutes. Sometimes those things are important and shouldn’t be forgotten. We only have so  much “cognitive reserve” of thinking power, so using a list to store things instead of your brain can be a big help.
  3. It lets you think things through ahead of time and do a “practice run” of your steps before hand. Visualization and practicing motions in your head has been used by athletes and top performers for many, many years. And it works. When you make a list, you can “step through” everything you need to do, see yourself doing it well, and prepare mentally for what’s ahead of you. TBI can complicate even the simplest things, introducing distractions from your mind and your body, so when I run through my list of things to do in my head, ahead of time, it points me in the right direction early.
  4. It lets you weed out things you don’t really need to do. If you see your list getting really long, you can remove things that aren’t really all that essential, or move them to a different day. This saves your energy for the stuff that’s really critical. TBI can make your head think that everything is important, and compel you to DO IT ALL… or else. Putting things down on paper, lets you see just what matters, and what doesn’t.
  5. It can be very calming. It’s reassuring for me to have a list with me, when I’m going about my errands and chores. I know I’m not alone on my quest to get stuff done — I’ve got a tool to help me through. Just holding the piece of paper in my hands is a welcome sign that I’m doing something smart about my day.

Obviously, not everything can be listed out, and things will probably come up that you didn’t think of. But having a list of the things you  do know about can go a long way towards making your life — and your holidays — much more enjoyable.

So yes – enjoy!


Keeping sharp during the holiday seasons

So, I’ve had a few days to simmer down after the last weekend of blow-ups, and now I’ve got another weekend ahead of me to sort things through and do a better job.

That’s about the best that I can expect of myself, under the circumstances. What’s done, is done. And I have to just let go of it, even though it still bothers me and I get sick to my stomach, thinking back about how rough it was last weekend.

New weekend, new chance. New lessons learned.

The big lesson I learned — once again — is that “time off” isn’t always such a good thing for me to have. I can rest, certainly. And I can take some time off. But spending too much time resting and relaxing… that’s a recipe for disaster.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, as they say, and I have so much I need to do, anyway, that taking too much time away just stresses me out and makes me even more irritable and difficult to live and work with. I need discipline, and a planned approach, which will let me not only budget my time and get things done, but also allow me to rest. It’s all a balance. It’s when I have too much time on my hands and I’m not extending myself to do something meaningful, that I get into trouble.

The same thing goes for the week between Christmas and New Years. I have the full week off — 8 days total, plus Christmas Eve, when they close the office early. So, I have all that time, and I’m not traveling anywhere. I need to keep things pretty structured during that time, and I also need to give my spouse some space and room on their own, so I’m not underfoot and they’re not walking on eggshells around me.

My spouse is convinced that I am dangerous, and that I could go off at any time. They tiptoe around me and placate me and act like I am a monster, and that really drags me down. I still feel pretty crappy from the whole thing, and them dragging it on, just makes it worse. We both try to keep it light, but it just feels like they’re back to where they were for years, not giving me the benefit of the doubt, really trying to “handle” me and keep me in check, so I don’t go off.

It just sucks when the environment is like that. It gets old quick, and I don’t feel like being around it.

So, I need to clear out, at least a few of the days. Keep busy. Keep it light, for sure. Maybe not spend that much time around them, since they don’t really want to be around me. I dunno. I just wish it were easier. But then it wouldn’t be the holidays.

Anyway, I need to keep pretty sharp during the holidays — not get sucked into the whole junk food thing, keep getting my exercise, stretch regularly, not get bogged down in a lot of busy-ness, and keep my mind and spirit clear. I can’t stand feeling rotten all the time, and I hate how I tense up, whenever my spouse is talking to me. It’s stupid and painful for both of us, and I don’t know how to make it stop.

I guess these things work themselves out with time… We’ll find out.

In the meantime, I need to take care of myself and stay as clear and cool as I can.

What my spouse does, is up to them.