Setting a new pace

Picking up the pace – just the way I like

For the first time in months, I got up this morning and exercised. It’s been way too long. I’ve exercised on and off, over the past couple of years — more off than on.

And I’ve missed it.

A lot.

The thing is, I don’t realize how much I miss it, until I’m doing it again and I remember. It’s getting me doing it again – just starting – that is the monumental challenge. I feel like I’m delaying getting on with my day, and I’m not using my time productively — though for what reason, I cannot tell.

I think it has had to do with the fact of my commute. And the feeling that I’ve had for years, that I am behind on my work, I am not making any progress, and the life force is being sapped out of me, slowly but surely, but the frustrations of that job. I’ve felt like I’ve had so little bandwidth, so little time and space for myself to just think, that I’ve coveted every last moment of free time to spend on myself and my own activities.

I think another factor has been starting to read again. Now that I am reading again, I just want to spend all my time reading, thinking, writing… My short-term working memory feels like it’s improved dramatically — or at least I’ve come up with new and different ways to think about things, so that I can remember them that much better. In any case, I don’t feel confused and feel like I’ve permanently lost my way when I’m reading, anymore. When I feel like I’ve lost the train of thought, I just back up to where I remember having read something, and I just re-read.

And if I find I’m getting pulled off in all sorts of different directions by a lot of conflicting distracting thoughts — or my head is going nuts with thinking about a ton of different stuff that’s related to what I’m reading and builds on it further in new directions — I just take a break. Or I write things down for future reference.

Now that I’m reading again, and I’m retaining it — or at least have the sense that I’m comprehending what I’m reading — it’s all I want to do. Read and write. And share.

My presentation at that community gathering went extremely well, last week. I nailed it, I do believe. And I am looking forward to doing more public speaking in the future. It really gives me a lot of energy, to stand in front of a room of people and present on something I know about. I get so excited about it, and others pick up on my excitement, as well. It’s really gratifying to share what I know with others — and to realize that I can actually do this.

It’s massive progress, compared to where I was just a few years ago. A few years ago, I was so deep in muddling through the disconnects in my brain, that I could not begin to even think of doing public presentations. I had done presentations at work in the past before my fall in 2004, and they went well, but I never actually thought much of them. They were just one more blip in the sea of churning input and data that made no sense to me and had very little rhyme or reason. After I fell, my thoughts became so disorganized, the idea of getting up in front of anyone and speaking — even according to a script — turned into an impossible prospect.

It’s taken years, but I am finally past that. Even better, I am really presenting and interacting with my audience — not just talking to a script and getting the hell out of the room as quickly as possible. I spent much more time last week on taking follow-up questions and discussing my presentation with people after the meeting, than I did actually making the presentation. And that’s a HUGE sign of progress for me.

HUGE.

I was able to not only present, but also really flow with it — improvise when I came to a slide and I couldn’t remember the exact words I intended to say. I had intensely practiced my presentation a lot over the past days, and I had practiced recovering from flubbing up many times, too. So, I was able to keep going. After all, whatever I said that seemed “wrong” in my head, was perfectly fine with everyone else, because they didn’t know what I was “supposed” to say, and the things I did say were relevant to the discussion.

After the presentation, we had Q&A, and I took a bunch of questions. Probably about five or six. And I did them so well, that the questions kept coming and they had to cut me off, to make room for everyone else. I was able to then sit down and pay attention to what the other speakers were saying — there were two that followed me. I didn’t let anxiety about how I did distract me. I didn’t sit there and fret about whether I did well or not, what I remembered, what I forgot, and those places where I stumbled and messed up. I just let it go, and I moved on to the next experience, trusting that I had done my best and it was perfectly fine.

After the meeting, I chatted with a number of folks, who had interesting things to say and some useful information to share.

It was a good meeting, it was a fantastic experience. And I am really looking forward to more opportunities to speak in public.

What a hoot. When I think back to five, six years ago… there is no way I felt that being a public speaker was in reach for me. No way. I dreamed about it, I thought about it, but I didn’t actually have the sense that it would ever truly happen for me. I was too caught up in my issues, too muddled, too confused, too insecure and frazzled by everything life threw at me. There was no way I would have guessed at the time that I’d actually be standing up in front of a room of 70 strangers, talking about something that meant a lot to me.

I had actually tried to do that sort of thing, several years before. I think it was not long after I had fallen and got all jumbled up. I actually had a pretty successful presentation, but the whole experience was so overwhelming for me, I effectively went “underground” and never dared venture forth again. There were too many people, there were too many questions, there was too much energy. I just couldn’t deal. At all.

This time was nothing like that. It was the complete opposite.

And it feels like a stepping-stone to the next stage for me… a gateway to what else is possible in my life. I have a new direction, I have a new sense of what I’m truly capable of, and with my new job and new schedule, I can truly take the steps I need to take, to move in a different direction with my life, at a pace that suits me — not that’s dictated by the outside world.

It’s all good.

Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Big box stores – no friend after TBI

No friend of mine

So, I went out to a big box store and picked up my new gadget. It wasn’t cheap, but it also wasn’t the most expensive one in the store, which was good. The store I went to is a nightmare for me — I need to remember that for next time, and just buy these gadgets online, so I don’t have to deal with the stress.

Basically, it’s all open, so there is no block to the noise or visuals or smells or any other sensory input. The overhead lighting is fluorescent and overwhelming. There are tons of gadgets and screens all playing something with no escape from them. And there are no distinct aisles where you can take a break — it’s all open. That’s probably to reduce shoplifting, which I’m sure is a problem with them. There are a lot of little items that people can sneak out of the store, so they have to keep an eye on people. But for someone like me, who doesn’t do well with environments like that — I’m trying to get away from one at work — it really is a nightmare.

Fortunately, I wrote down a lot of my questions before I went. And I got all my questions answered. But when I needed to think on my feet, it all came crashing down, and it was all I could do, to get the hell out of there. I was incredibly sensitive to it all, and I started to shut down, midway into my discussion with the sales guy.

I hadn’t expected to be so sensitive to it all, quite frankly. I knew what I wanted, and I intended to get in and out, which is what I did.

At the time I was talking to the sales guy, I started out pretty relaxed, then I got increasingly tense. There was so much activity going on around me, and yet the store was not packed. I can’t imagine how it would have been, had it been full. The longer our conversation went on, the harder things got for me. It felt like everything was coming in on me at once, and I couldn’t block it. The overhead lights, the conversations going on all around me, the choices in options, the products on the shelves… so many choices, so many different prices, so much math… Being tired didn’t help, of course. It didn’t help at all.

As the conversation proceeded, I became less and less interactive. The sales guy was looking at me oddly, as though I looked like I was going to pass out or something. I just needed to get out of there, and whenever he asked me if I wanted to purchase something else in addition to what I was getting, I practically snapped at him, “NO.”

Seriously, I didn’t have time to be upsold. I needed to get the hell out of that place and into a quiet, dark space.

So, I grabbed my gadget and high-tailed it out of the store. As I was walking across the parking lot, I saw an outdoors store across the way that I usually check out when I’m in the area. I tossed my stuff in the car and headed into the outdoors store, which was not only much quieter, but also dark, with clearly marked areas where people could look at things without being interrupted, and didn’t have this avalanche of options to pick from.

It was like a breath of fresh air, and I got a chance to chat with a sales guy about a paddleboard I’ve had my eye on. It was the complete opposite of the conversation I’d had with the gadget salesman, and I was in no great hurry to leave that store.

Night and day.

I can’t believe anyone can actually thrive in those glaringly lit big box stores. Especially the ones that are all open, with tons of screens and speakers spewing stimuli into the environment. I would imagine it makes some people feel very much alive, but it makes me crazy. And as for holidays and the sales? Add teaming crowds, and it becomes a total friggin’ nightmare, if I’m not expecting it.

The key for me is really to be prepared. During the last holidays, I handled things pretty well. I was able to get in and out of those big boxes in short order, with a minimum of stress. Of course, it helped that my spouse and I did not have to travel to family over the Christmas season, but the other thing I did was prepare myself mentally and emotionally for the big box experience. I knew it was going to be hard, and I prepared for it.

Yesterday, on the other hand, I thought it was going to be easy. I was shopping early in the day, when the store wouldn’t be too crowded, I knew what I wanted, and I thought I could just get in and out, with a few questions asked. I had forgotten about all the other factors, or just underestimated the effect they were going to have on me.

Bottom line is – when I’m tired, everything becomes an issue.Β  All the things I’ve been handling well, suddenly turn into things I don’t handle well. And I just need to plan for that.

If I plan and prepare, I have a chance. If I just “wing it” and carry on as though there’s no issue, and there’s no potential problem, I’m just setting myself up.

I’ll keep that in mind today, when I go shopping later. My spouse and I need to pick up some essentials while the Labor Day sales are still on, and I do need to pick up another item for my new gadget. Preparation… preparation. And I’ll get a nap before I go, too.

Onward.

At last… the walk

Funny, how everything can sneak up on you…

So, my plan to go for a walk this morning got postponed. I realized that I needed to start work on some important day-job stuff that is due in a couple of weeks, so I dug into that, and three hours later I realized that I wasn’t making the kind of headway I wanted to, so I gave it a rest.

Which was good, because my brain is *fried*. I had an incredibly full day yesterday, with a training I attended in a nearby city. Between the 90-minute drive in, the two-hour training, the urgent errands I needed to take care of while I was there, an introductory phone call to a possible business connection, the two hour drive home, and then dinner with friends out in the country, an hour’s drive from home, and then another hour driving back home, I spent about 5 hours driving, three hours on very mentally taxing stuff, and then even more time talking through some heavy stuff that our friends are trying to navigate — and there was a business/logistical aspect of that, too, which was more mental effort.

Come to think of it… no wonder I was baked, this morning.

So, yeah, my plans for a walk got hijacked by work-work stuff that needed to be started. And the deeper I got into that, the more I realized how much work remains to be done before this massive deadline. And then the panic sets in. And then the frustration starts to mount, and then the wheels start turning about how much I have to do in other areas of my life, and before you know it, my head is going a mile a minute in circles — or rather, it’s headed downhill at top speed, headed for the cliff, with me all caught up inside it.

And the panic starts to set in…

And then I get depressed, and I start to feel so incredibly weighed down by all the burdens of my world, and I begin to feel like there’s no hope, no chance of ever getting or doing better, and why should I even try? Why indeed?

I sat outside for a while, getting some sun and feeling better in some ways. My balance is WAY off, today — with so much activity, I’m jammed in high gear, which wears me out and makes my vertigo zoom to the outer regions of charts. I can’t spell, I can’t type, I can’t hold a pen, I can’t dial a phone, I can’t keep my balance unless I’m moving in a specific direction at a high speed, or I’m holding onto something… and I feel like CRAP.

After a while of hanging around outside getting some sun, eating some lunch, feeling like crap, and then getting bit by mosquitos, attacked by biting flies, and stung by a wasp (my bad – I walked near its nest), I finally had enough, so I took a hot shower and went to bed. I just sank into the oblivion of silent darkness, with my earplugs in and my light-blocking curtains pulled tight. I had the air conditioner on to put a chill in the air, because I sleep better when I’m not hot, and I just let it all go. After I had an hour’s rest, I went out for my walk, got my head together, and came back home to make dinner.

All I can say is, thank heavens for that nap.

This is my new thing — closing my eyes and just letting it all go… letting go of any thoughts, any tension, any ideas, any hopes, any dreams, any aspirations, any anxiety, any nervousness, any plans… just proverbially taking 1000 mg of Fukitol and dropping off the edge of the cliff to oblivion. Just saying “screw it” to everything — the good and the bad, the positive and the negative — and letting myself sink into complete darkness.

I mean, frankly, sometimes the “good” stuff is a bigger hassle than the “bad”. So many hopes, so many aspirations, so many interdependencies, so many people “rooting for me” and all that. Things were so much easier when I was a chronic under-achiever who spent their weekends hanging out, lying around on the back porch, sleeping in the sun, going for long walks in the woods, and being satisfied with a decent meal. Okay, so I was on a perpetual roller coaster and my moods were insane, and I was always on edge about something, so it wasn’t all hunky-dory. But thinking back, I can’t say it was a terrible thing, to live like nothing hung in the balance with my decisions.

Now things are very different. I own a house. I have several projects which are high profile and have a lot of people depending on them. I do a job that only I can do. And I’m the sole breadwinner for my household. Ugh. Days like today, I truly wish I didn’t matter at all.

But you know, when I think about it, the fact of the matter is, I really don’t matter that much at all. Yes, I have my hopes and dreams and the things I want to accomplish. Yes, I have my friends and associates and dependents. Yes, I have my work and goals and “deliverables”. But in another hundred years, it may very well be as though I never even existed. All the drama, all the worry, all the ambitions… in time, they all disappear and dissipate into the ethers. And what have we got to show for it? Nada. Zip. Zilch. We’re gone. And the memory of us is not far behind.

I know a lot of people who are horrified by that prospect. They want to be remembered. They want to be memorialized. They hope and hope to become a cherished memory in the minds of others.

Why? What difference does it make? Our “legacies” are never what we intend them to be, and we invest all this time and effort in “leaving our mark”, when the best thing we could probably do for posterity, is to leave no mark at all — just let them live their lives as best they can without the intrusion of our “legacy”. All that talk and fluffernutter about “creating change”… please. It seems to me it’s just a convenient way for us to distract ourselves from our existential anxiety — the simple fact that one day we will not be here anymore, and nobody will ever notice we were ever here.

I think about mortality a lot, this time of year. The leaves are starting to turn and fall, and things that were so alive during the spring and summer are starting to die off. Worms and snakes are crawling out onto warm road surfaces to keep out of the cold, and they’re either drying up or getting run over by cars. Among the larger mammals, the older, slower ones and unwary members of the new generation are getting hit by cars and dying by the side of the road.

Crops are being brought in and fields are being mowed for perhaps the last time of the growing season. Summer is ending. In another week, it will be official (work-wise, anyway). And we will launch into our busy-ness driven flight from our existential angst through to the holidays.

Again.

Yep, I’m a little depressed, these days. I always get this way around this time of year. Another year has passed. Another batch of hopes and dreams unrealized. Another year of laboring to feed the gods, without a heck of a lot to show for it. Just survival.

On the brighter side, though, in 2014, I am on track to have several large outstanding debts repaid – which will save me close to $700 a month. That’s not small potatoes, and it’s going to be pretty friggin’ awesome to have it all squared away. The first of the problem debts, which is close to $450/month, will be repaid in January of 2014 — sooner, if I can rustle up a couple of thousand bucks, which might be doable, depending. The second of the problem debts will probably take the full year to lay to rest, but I might be able to get that squared away sooner, especially if I can find a better job that pays me well.

In any case, there is a light at the end of that horrible tunnel. And the difference an “extra” $450/month can make, is nothing to sneeze at.

Looking back, I can be pretty proud of myself, having kept it together as long as I have, under these conditions. For three years, I was shelling out about $1500/month for debt settlement payments, which cut very deep and put tremendous stress on my spouse and myself. Yes, I do realize that that’s more than some people bring home in a month. Hell yes, I realize it. It was a direct result of me losing a good job, thanks to a mild TBI in 2004, and then living off credit cards for years, before it all caught up with us, and we had to choose either trashing our credit to bits and settling our debts at a great rate of about 40 cents on the dollar, or living in a perpetual cycle of indentured servitude and avoiding credit card companies calling every other week. We took a gamble and made the tough choice and went down the debt settlement road. When it was happening, it was hell. But now that it’s going to be over in another year’s time, it was so worth all the pain and suffering and threatening calls and hair-raising visits to claims court.

We have been seriously strapped for years. All sorts of things fell by the wayside, including vacations, new clothing, car repairs, dentist visits… you name it, if it could be cut or postponed, it got cut or postponed. Now we’re settling up and leveling everything out, and it feels pretty friggin’ awesome. So, that’s good. It’s something to be happy about, in the midst of my autumn depression.

So, I look for what I can, and I do the best with what I’ve got. If I’m feeling down, I’m feeling down. There it is. I can still keep on with my life, not give up, but stay steady and keep my eyes on the prize of finally being DONE with things I detest and hate. And I can spend a little time thinking about where I want to be and go instead. There are a lot of possibilities for me. I just need to not get overwhelmed.

But in the case I do get overwhelmed, I can always go to bed.

Gotta break it down

Good grief. I’ve been trying to get this one thing done for days, and it’s just not happening. I’ve been trying to get it done for weeks, actually, and someone is waiting for me to finish it. It’s an agreement I’m crafting with another collaborator, who can help me get one of my new ventures off the ground, and who is rarin’ to go.

It’s important that I sort this out and put things in place. No, not important. It’s critical. And yet I can’t seem to get started on it.

It’s just anxiety, really. It feels like there’s a lot hanging on it, and if something goes wrong with it, it can lead to a whole world of hurt. I’m sure that’s part of what it is. There’s something that just keeps me from DOing. I get stuck in my head, and it can get pretty dark and musty in there.

The one thing that saves me is when I break things down into manageable pieces and take them one by one. Not take on completing the entire task, but take on just sitting down with one thing and doing that. And half the time I find that when I do that, I can move on to get other things done, as well.

The trick is “chunking out” the big parts into smaller pieces that I can get my head around.

When I take it all at once, it’s just way too much.

So, I gotta break it down.

Doing it differently this holiday season

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

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

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

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

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

So, this year we did things differently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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