This is how I know I need to slow down and take better care of myself

snow covered buildings

Like many places across the country, we had snow, this past weekend.

I went outside. I shoveled. I scraped. I roof raked. I waded around in the snow, taking care of business.

Then I went back inside.

I’ve been tired, and I can tell I’m over-tired, when I don’t want to go outside. Or I avoid it. Or I go outside at night, instead of during the day. I’ve been so caught up in the job situation and dealing with deadlines, that I didn’t realize just how worn out I was.

But when I avoid going out into the snow… I know something is wrong.

I love the snow. I love the cold. I feel best, when it is below freezing. I don’t feel cold when it’s the coldest. My internal thermostat kicks on, and I feel warm.

But not when I’m worn out. When I’m overtired, I get more sensitive to light — so going out into the bright snowy day isn’t any fun. I also get less coordinated — so, walking across slippery ground is very dangerous for me. I can’t afford to fall, so I avoid going outside. If this happens when we just got six inches of beautiful fluffy stuff, I know there’s something wrong.

So, I have to take better care of myself. Give myself more time to do things. Take more time to sleep. Relax. Put down the smartphone. Just relax.

I haven’t been doing enough of that, lately.

But I can start now.

Because we got our Christmas decorations up. I put up the tree and we hung our ornaments last night. The boxes of unused decorations are back down in the basement where they belong (some years, I don’t take them downstairs for weeks, even months, so this is progress). The driveway is cleared, and my schedule at work is going to be pretty mellow for the next couple of weeks. I only have seven more work days before my break, and I’m stoked.

Completely stoked.

Woot.

I just need to take care of myself during my time off, give myself a break, catch up with myself.

And take some time to enjoy the beautiful snow.

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Just a few weeks left…

… in 2017. It’s been quite a year. Very, very busy. Too busy for my liking, but that’s been out of my control, for the most part.

I am getting more leads on other employment opportunities, and I’m doing a better job of not getting emotionally invested in a certain company or a certain position. No matter how transparent companies are, there is always additional info the interviewers leave out.

So, I have to make up my mind based on actual objective facts — length of commute, salary, stability of the company, vacation time, insurance and benefits. The rest of the people stuff and roles and responsibilities is “ephemera”. That gets worked out in the process of just doing the job.

This is one of my favorite months of all time. I have time off — leftover vacation time I need to use up, as well as a week off between Christmas and New Years — which will let me catch up on a bunch of stuff I need to wrap up before the end of the year. The weather is getting colder, too, which is great. I don’t do well with the heat, as I get older. And I sleep better when it’s cold.

I’m also getting a lot of things done at work — at the job I’m hoping to leave. It’s a roller coaster. Every day, it’s either really great, or it sucks beyond belief. One day, I can’t wait to get out of there, the next, I could stay forever. If I find a situation that’s vastly superior to where I am now, I’ll go for it.  But I’m not under a ton of pressure to go. That’s more a personal preference.

In the meantime, I’m plugging away at my work. Just keeping going. Talking to recruiters, doing my own projects, and keeping my head down, overall.

I’ve got time to relax and think things through… or just sleep.

I might just do that.

What we lose after TBI… and what we can get back

woman standing with a leaf in front of her faceI’m feeling really grateful, this morning. I’m tired, but I’m content. I’ll have my nap later, and everything will get even better.

I spent yesterday doing some of the things I love the most: cooking, eating, writing, reading, napping, and watching football while eating non-dairy ice cream… all with my partner, who has been really struggling with mobility issues, lately.

I bought us a collapsible massage table a couple of weeks ago, so we can both take turns stretching out and do horizontal exercises without having to get down on the floor. I set it up last night for my spouse to lie out flat (major plus) and do the exercises their physical therapist prescribed. The floor has gotten too cold to lie on, plus, it’s hard for them to get up and down without pulling something or hurting. So having the table is a huge benefit. Plus – bonus – I went to bed at a decent hour after a long day of lots of work

And by the end of the day, I realized just how good I have it. I realized that, after all the years of struggle, all the years of incredibly hard work, all the pain and frustrations and perseverance, all the dead-ends, all the plans to just give up, and battling all the despair… I have come through to another side, and I am in a place where I am good.

It’s taken years for me to get to this point. And it feels like this is the first time I’m really settled into this good-ness in a way that I actually believe. I’ve spent so much of my life confused and confounded, thwarted and hurting… without much of any clue about why that was, or what I could do about it… I had started to think that’s just how things were going to end up for me.

Permanent disablement. Permanent screwed-over-ness. And I just needed to get used to the experience and accept if for what it was.

But that feeling has completely changed, just in the last 24 hours. Things are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. There’s a lot of stuff that’s going really, really wrong in my life — and the world in general. And there are lot of unanswered questions in my mind. Still, I feel like I’m in a state of mind (and body — fitness is so important) that I can handle whatever comes my way.

No, my thought process is not perfect. I still get turned around and confused, and lately I’ve really been struggling with memory issues and misplacing things that I can’t afford to lose. I still have my intense lows, when I completely despair and lash out at the ones closest to me. I still have my moments of feeling useless and unlovable. I still struggle with crushing fatigue and not being able to do things that plenty of other people can.

And of course, I struggle with the fact that I can’t tell people about my issues, because it will work against me in the larger world. It’s not going to help me get a better job, if I tell the hiring manager that I function best if I have a 20-minute nap at the middle of each day. That’s not part of the deal in the 9-to-5 world I operate in.

But these are all things I’m convinced I can manage effectively on my own. I can handle it. Because I have a much better sense of who I am, and what I can expect from myself.

People have said that “you can’t recover from brain injury“, but that was decades ago, and we know a lot more about brain injury than we used to. Also, we know more about how concussion really is a brain injury… and so many people have them, yet continue to live their lives.

I myself notice that there are some things I just can’t do like I used to. It’s not as easy for me to push through marathon tasks. I need to stop and take a breath… do something completely different. And it’s harder for me to remember what I was doing before I took that break. I lose things. I get lost, too. I sometimes look around and have no idea where I am — but that’s more because I tend to be so focused on what’s in front of me, that I don’t notice my surroundings, so I don’t think it’s one of those “On Golden Pond” moments where I’m literally lost and have no idea where I am, period.

I’m more forgetful about things that really matter to me. My home office is pretty much of a wreck, but in a Thomas Edison “genius-y” kind of way, and my work area has spilled into the dining room that we rarely use. I have been misplacing important documents I just can’t afford to misplace… and then scrambling to replace them. I have a harder time initiating stuff I know I need to do (like go for a swim at the pool), because it feels way too complicated and involved. And try as I might, I really mess up things I’m positive I’m going to “nail”. I’ve been feeling really ambitious about making new meals while I’m on vacation this week, but my cooking skills have really degraded, thanks to the bone-crushing fatigue and difficulty sleeping. And coordination? Yah, forget it. Don’t leave anything near the edge of a surface. I’ll knock it onto the floor, for sure.

I know I’m not as sharp as I used to be. I know I’m not as sharp as I’d like — or intend — to be. I can be downright dull, and the bummer is, I’m aware. Oh, lord, how I’m aware. It’s not the most fun thing in the world.

And yet… I’m happier now, than I’ve probably ever been. And even with all my limitations and drawbacks, I’m definitely more functional, all across the board, than I’ve ever been. I’ve got “the whole package” together, at last. Even with the TBI after-effects, the slowness and slipping, the exhaustion and intermittent sense of defeat.

See, this regaining of competence and practical functionality is the real TBI recovery I wish people would talk about. Not getting your coordination and cognitive quickness back, watching your memory and endurance dwindle, having all kinds of intense emotional ups and downs… some experts might consider those blockers to TBI recovery. They might say it means that a person has lost too much and can never fully recover from a brain injury.

But everybody on the planet has something they struggle with, TBI or no.

And in any case, the real loss for me from TBI had far more to do with my Sense-Of-Self and my sense of “agency” in the world, than any objective physical or cognitive limitation.

TBI/concussion isn’t debilitating just because it knocks out your practical abilities. It’s most impactful because it takes a chunk out of your understanding of Who You Are and How You Handle Life.

It strips our self-confidence, and in doing so, it hits us hard with a self-doubt that’s a huge source of stress and ongoing trauma. What does stress and trauma do to the human system? It makes it harder to learn. And since TBI/concussion recovery is literally an exercise in re-learning to live, so your brain can rewire with reliable connections, that loss of self-confidence is in itself a source of ongoing injury.

TBI / concussion is an injury to the Self. And until people start accepting that and dealing with that piece of things — as well as finding practical, common-sense, science-based ways to address those issues — TBI and concussion survivors will continue to suffer from their injuries as well as the limitations of the people who intend to help them.

My road back from multiple mild TBIs has been a long one. It’s taken me 13 years to get to this point (and today is the 13th anniversary of my last concussion). It’s been a grueling and winding path. Fraught with perils. It nearly cost me everything I worked so hard to earn. But I can honestly say, I’m finally on the other side.

I understand my situation. I also understand the nature of my injuries, and how they affected me. But most important of all, I understand what I can do about it. And while I do tend to whine a bit here at times, the most important thing is for me to focus on the positives and share the lessons I’ve learned, so others don’t have to suffer as terribly as I did.

TBI and concussion are “recoverable”. We might not get back every single ability, and we may be left with lasting challenges, but we can restore our Sense-Of-Self, so we can get on with living our lives to the best of our developing abilities.

We’re made to heal. We’re made to grow. Regardless.

Pacing myself for a good Thanksgiving Day

holiday dinnerThe bread crumbs are drying out, and the turkey is thawing in its cold water bath.

I have all my vegetables — yams, red potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, celery, green beans — and a can of jellied cranberry sauce picked out and stashed in the refrigerator

I have a tube of ready-made croissants also chilling near the butter that’s a main ingredient for the stuffing.

It’s  Thanksgiving morning, and I have my work cut out for me. I’ll start prepping in about an hour… melting the butter and sauteeing the celery with herbs for the stuffing… rinsing out the turkey and making sure it’s fully thawed… getting the giblets out and tossing them in a pot of salty water to simmer… cutting up the vegetables to roast with the turkey and in a separate dish on the side… stirring in the bread cubes… and then putting it all together to sit in the oven for 4 hours.

The fact that I can think all this through and have a good sense of the “flow” of things is testament to my TBI recovery. Years ago, I couldn’t even figure out how to reliably cook a full meal, let alone an entire Thanksgiving Day feast. It’s taken years of practice to not only get my pacing together, but also not lose my cool over things going wrong.

This year, I planned ahead. I prepped and did shopping several days in advance. I thought it all through, over and over, made my lists, and got myself set up to just relax yesterday before doing all of this today. I also have a roasting pan for the turkey, which I didn’t have last year. Last year, I completely spaced out on getting a foil roasting pan, and I spent Thanksgiving morning in search of a grocery store that had them. I was unsuccessful, but I did figure out that I could use one of my really big casserole dishes as a backup.

Then, after that potential disaster was averted, I just bought myself a roasting pan. Problem solved for posterity.

And it’s good. This year is good. I’m still really fatigued from the last few weeks of work, and I’m having trouble sleeping (and napping), but I’m in a good space. And that’s what matters. Because I can’t always control how I’m feeling (or how I’m sleeping), so the next best thing is to keep my cool and just deal with whatever comes along. Without drama. Without undue pain and suffering.

It’s all any of us can ask for, I think.

So, on this day of giving thanks, I am grateful. If you’re celebrating today, have a very Happy Thanksgiving. And if you’re not, I still wish you a most excellent day.

Time changes are always interesting

clock on the side of a building with skyscrapers in the background
Keeping on schedule makes my life manageable

We moved our clocks back yesterday. That means I got an extra hour to sleep, work, do whatever.

Usually, it throws me off. And this year is no exception.

But this year, I don’t really mind. It’s fine. I feel incredibly relaxed, for some reason. Like something somewhere behind the scenes is at work in my favor… like somehow, old problems are going to resolve. Some of them … finally.

I can’t account for the feeling. It’s just there.

But I have caught up on my sleep after my last business trip.

And now I’m back on my schedule. Per usual.

Which is good.

Because now I can get settled into my planning for the rest of this year and next year.

I’ve got holiday travels coming up in less than 2 weeks. I’m actually looking forward to it, because I’ll get to see people I haven’t seen in a while. And I have a plan for how to best approach it all.

Most of all, the great thing is the work-life balance I’ve got, these days. I’ve been working from home a lot, taking naps when I need to, and just taking care of myself. I’m feeling ambivalent about a lot of things, but I don’t care. I always feel ambivalent about just about everything, so that’s no surprise.

Main thing is, I’m feeling really good today, Monday notwithstanding.

And it’s pretty cool.

Onward…

Concussion symptoms got you down, this holiday season?

head form of metal meshYou’re not alone.

The holidays can be tough for anyone who’s got extra difficulties, due to chronic illness. And with TBI / concussion, sometimes the worst thing is being around people who don’t understand what it’s like to have your life turned upside-down by a “mild” blow to the head.

As I’ve said many times, there’s nothing “mild” about a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. That momentary alteration of consciousness means that something “in there” got injured. And no amount of positive thinking or motivation or … consequences… is going to change the functional ability, unless you have adequate time to recover and rebuild your wiring.

You have to keep the stress down, to do that effectively. It takes time and practice and sometimes a bit of luck, to rebuild what you once had. And being pushed and prodded by people who don’t understand TBI or “get” why concussion can turn your life upside-down, doesn’t help with that.

The holidays can be stressful, to begin with. Then you add all the people, the expectations, the increased pace (a lot of us are racing to finish year-end goals at work, at the same time we’re shopping and figuring out holiday party logistics), and money pressures… and it just gets worse. Cognitive reserves that were already in short supply, get even less… and meanwhile, everybody expects you to KEEP UP! KEEP UP! WHAT’S THE HOLD-UP?!

Some of my own challenges have been:

  • Remembering what I’m supposed to do at work. I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff I was supposed to do – and I even forget to write it down.
  • Dealing with depression. It comes and goes with me. This year, it seems to be coming more than it’s going.
  • Keeping cool with my spouse, when tensions get high.
  • Staying on my exercise routine.
  • Eating sensibly, and not “stuffing my face” with all kinds of candies and cookies. I’ve done well in terms of candy, because I can’t have chocolate (sets off migraines with me), but I’ve eaten more bread and cookies than I should.
  • Getting enough rest, and keeping on my regular sleep schedule. A tired brain is an irritable brain, and boy, do I get irritable when I get tired. I’ve had a hard time keeping on my sleep schedule, these past weeks, and I really have to concentrate on getting that sorted out when I’m off work next week.
  • Not pushing myself too hard. It’s easy for me to push. I know how to do that. But while it used to work okay when I was in my 30s, now that I’m past 50, it’s just not the same. I need to remember where I am… and act accordingly.

Basically, keeping myself together during the holidays is like an extra part-time job. It helps that I haven’t spent a lot of time socializing with friends and family. That takes the pressure off. But for many, many other people, they don’t have that option. And my heart goes out to them.

Still and all, it will be over soon enough. Just a few more days till Christmas, then another week till New Years (which isn’t much of a holiday for me, anyway). Then I can get back to my regular life.

And start the year fresh.

Onward.

Finally getting into the holidays

christmas tree
It’s a modest Christmas, this year

This holiday season has been quite different from past years. Both of us were too sick to travel for Thanksgiving, so we stayed home and ate turkey in the peace and quiet of our own company. It was nice. No yelling, no screaming, no wild flurries of activity and trying like crazy to catch up with family members we haven’t seen in a few years.

There really wasn’t enough time to do everything — and my side of the family has a bad habit of trying to cram everything into a few days, which is exhausting and disorienting and sets us both up for a whole world of hurt, when we travel on to the rest of the family.

We were also a lot shorter on energy, this year, than we’ve been in the past. My spouse’s mobility issues — severe pain and limited range of motion — make it next to impossible to get around easily, and the impatience of others doesn’t help. It’s not a total disability, but it’s a significant limitation, which others cannot seem to understand. My spouse looks and acts perfectly normal when sitting down and chatting, or talking on the phone. They’re not obviously cognitively impaired. So, somehow that gets into people’s minds that they’re really not that bad off.

And that’s a problem, in itself. Because then people expect unrealistic things of you, and they don’t treat you very well, when you just can’t keep up with the frenetic pace.

Anyway, that’s only half of the problems we avoided by staying home and keeping to ourselves, this year. The other half, is my anger, fatigue, frustration, and bad behavior issues, which have been flaring up, now and then. I seem to have a shorter fuse, this year, than in the past. I think it’s really due to my work situation, which is mighty “dynamic”, these days. There are layoffs pending in the not-so-distant future. And while I feel pretty confident about my own situation — not only am I getting along with my new colleagues better than just about anybody I know, but I’m also feeling really strong about my professional prospects.

I’ve come such a long way, in the past 10 years. It’s pretty amazing. 10 years ago, I was pretty much of a train wreck — spending money left and right, completely out of control with my behavior, my anger, my self-management.

And I had no idea why it was — or that it had anything to do with TBI.

Now I know better. And now I’m doing better.

It’s just other people’s “stuff” I need to deal with. There are a lot of worried, anxious people, and that makes them difficult to handle.

But for myself, my prospects are looking good, so I’m not worrying about it. Main thing, is taking care of myself, doing the best I can, and not letting the world around me bring me down.

So, I’m finally getting into the holidays. Dealing with them as they come… and getting my shopping and decorating done, a little bit at a time. It’s taking a few weeks longer, than in past years, but I’m not worrying about it. At least it’s happening. And the way I’m doing it all — measured and gradual and not stressing about it — really makes sense for where I and my spouse are at, right now. This time is one for me to be reflective and slow down, not get caught up in everybody else’s dramas. They can go on without me. I’m fine where I am.

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).

Sigh.

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.