Good to be home – and figuring out next steps

That feeling of being all alone in the crowd... is shared by many
That feeling of being all alone in the crowd… is shared by many

It’s been a good week.

A challenging week.

But still a good week.

Sometimes you just need to step away to get some clarity on your priorities in life, what you want to do with yourself, how you want to do it… and perhaps most importantly, how badly you want to do it. There are some things that I’ve been meaning to spend more time on — projects that actually do look like they have good potential to widen my employment prospects, as well as bring in some money on the side.ย  And it’s given me more motivation to really work on them.

It’s also important to figure out what you don’t want to do, and this trip made that abundantly clear. It was a pain in the neck, dealing with all the prejudice and pressure — the prejudice that came out when people started drinking and stopped being on their best behavior, the stifling biases against women and gay people, the “jokes” about so-and-so having romantic relations with someone of their own sex, when they’re not even gay – har-har-har (not funny for gay or straight people)… as well as the constant pressure from my boss to stay up late with everyone and party, even though they know I don’t drink… and them joking about getting me drunk (I wouldn’t put it past them), which is not only stupid, it’s dangerous.

I don’t know which would be worse for me – to lose too much sleep, or to get drunk. In both cases, I can fall, which could be catastrophic. In both cases, I can get in trouble with other people, including the police. And it’s not the sort of trouble that I can just get out of easily.

When I get in trouble — I get in trouble. As in, get combative towards law enforcement and other authority figures. And at the conference, I was not shielded by local folks knowing who I am.

I was also not shielded from sensory overload — all the crowds, the noise, the lights, the big open expo hall where I was working, and the constant movement and hustle. I felt like a zombie, much of the time, and it was miserable at moments, but then I got to step away to the restroom, or to get something to eat, or walk to a quieter part of the expo hall. There was music pumping, lights flashing, constant streams of people walking by who I had to engage and hopefully bring into our booth, and it was cold in that hall. I felt like I was going to lose it, a couple of times, but I regrouped and chilled myself out by focusing on something specific – like checking my email on my smartphone.

The area that the conference was in, was crazy, too — all the lights and motion and crowds and music everywhere. It’s perfect for sensation-seeking people, but for me it was just too much. At the concert they had on the last night, I thought I was going to flip out and hit someone. I was pressed up against the very front of the cordoned-off area, with people pushing in close behind me, whistling and clapping right beside my ears, and all of them wearing some sort of perfume. I’m not terribly sensitive to scents, but when I’m tired and overwhelmed, I get that way — and yeah, I got that way. I had to leave early, when I realized that I was on the verge of punching someone — anyone. That wouldn’t have been good. Plus, there were security guards about 10 feet away from me.

So, I skipped out and got in bed by 9:30 that night. Pretty good, I have to say. Considering that I had to fly out, first thing in the morning, it was ideal.

The main thing is, I managed to make it through the week without A) drinking, B) losing too much sleep, or C) getting in trouble. I held my tongue and didn’t respond, when intoxicated people were running their mouths about stupid things. They probably don’t remember saying it, anyway. I also didn’t let it get to me personally too much. All the “frat boy” shenanigans, which I have never related to, anyway, didn’t throw me. Mercifully, “frat boy” types have usually ignored me, instead of singling me out and beating me up. So, I just kept clear of the grown-up versions of “nuggie”-giving football players, and stuck with a few other like-minded folks.

Most important of all, I made it home in one piece.

And that’s a huge accomplishment for me. Not only did I navigate all the alcohol-soaked dinners and social events without so much as a sip of booze, but I also got in bed by 9:00 p.m. on two nights… at 10:00 on one night… and not long after 11:00 on another night. All in all, I think I lost maybe four or five hours of sleep over the whole five days, which is pretty amazing, considering that my boss was telling me I had to stay out with the team till 3 a.m., and then stumble back to get a few hours rest before morning.

Yeah, it was amazing that I got out of all that B.S. in one piece.

I just wish it didn’t have to be so amazing.

Overall, though, I’m feeling pretty good about my progress and everything I accomplished. Unlike other similar conferences in the past, this time I did not freak out, I did not lose it back in my hotel room, I did not space out or check out. In other years, at these big user conferences, I was fried by the end of the first day, and I was isolated and alienated for the rest of the trips. But this time, I was all there, I was just “riding” the situation, and I got some good things out of it, as well.

My big discovery at this event is that I am actually really, really good at engaging with strangers and getting them to open up to me. I have a ton of experience and a lot of “war stories”, and when I share them with others, they open up about their own experiences.

It’s funny, because I never really thought of myself as that kind of person – outgoing and engaging – because I am such an introvert. But even introverts can be engaging and outgoing, when we are in the right situations. And in fact, I was interacting with a lot of introverts, myself — one of whom was pretty drunk at 11:30 in the morning on the last day of the conference… probably completely overwhelmed like I was, and using the mini-bar in their room to ease the pain.

Yeah, it was overwhelming. But I made it through.

I realized some new (and important) things about myself and the kind of work I want to do. I also realized the kinds of things I can do, that I never thought I was good at, before.

So, that’s helpful. Despite the challenges, I still got a lot out of the experience.

So, that’s something.

Boy, oh boy, is it good to be home!

Eggs are great – with a few small exceptions

Soft-Boiled-Eggs1
Aaauuugh! That drip makes me crazy!

Every morning I have my egg. I soft-boil one after I finish my workout, at the same time I make my coffee, and by the time all is said and done, I have coffee and egg (and some fruit or gluten-free granola) for my breakfast.

People are often alarmed to hear that I have an egg every single morning, but my triglycerides are all of 38, and my good cholesterol is 104 (40-60 is the good range, so I’m way above that), so that offsets my LDL cholesterol level of 142. My Chol/HDL Ratio is 2.4, which is well within the 1 – 3.5 range, so I’m good. No harm from those eggs, apparently. If anything, the Omega-3s are helping to lower my triglyerides. I only eat pastured/free range vegetarian brown eggs, sometimes with extra Omega-3s. They seem to taste better than the white eggs my mother always got when I was growing up.

Today was no exception to my routine. I rode the exercise bike (sometimes I lift weights – but today is a rest day for me), then made my breakfast. I really like the ritual of it all… especially running cold water over the hot egg, setting it in the egg cup, and clipping off the top with a quick chop of a butter knife. I get my salt and pepper and hot sauce, and I scoop out the first part of my breakfast carefully, so the runny yolk doesn’t drip down the side. And then I eat. Very carefully. Taking my time. Adding more hot sauce as I work my way down to the bottom of the shell. What a neat little package, an egg is.

One thing about eggs that I hate, is when they run, splatter, or drip. That happens pretty regularly, and it makes me nuts,ย  because then everything gets sticky, and I cannot stand sticky things. Must be a sensory thing with me. Especially lately. For some reason, my hands are really sensitized to everything they touch. And touch is a big way I both navigate my world and also soothe myself when my nerves are frazzled. When I am off-balance, my sense of touch allows me to right myself. It’s extremely sensitive, and it’s what I rely on, when I’m on sensory overload, with my hearing screwed up by tinnitus, my eyesight focused on straight lines so I don’t fall down, and my sense of smell and taste practically non-existent. If my sense of smell and taste are almost nill, and my hearing is stopped up by tinnitus, and my vision is engaged with keeping my balance and making sure I stay upright, then that leaves my sense of touch to keep me connected with the rest of the world.

Plus, when I am stressed out, I tend to “stim” — or “self-soothe” — to calm myself down. Touch is a big part of that. I will either wring or rub my hands or run my hands over nearby surfaces. Once, I was visiting relatives and I was completely whacked out by the long drive, the sensory overwhelm of travel, not to mention fatigue from the drive, and I went for a ride in someone’s new BMW. I hopped in the back seat, and immediately started running my hands over all the surfaces. Leather interior. Soft and smooth and clean. Nice. My spouse had to explain to the driver (who was watching me curiously/weirdly in the rear-view mirror) that I’m “just really tactile”. And that was that. I felt like I couldn’t resist running my hands all over everything around me. It was incredibly soothing.

Yes, being able to directly contact the physical world around me, balances me out — in more ways than one.

So, when things are sticky or slippery, it makes me anxious. And few things make me more anxious than runny eggs that have escaped the container they’re supposed to stay in.

Runny eggs on a plate of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns, are welcome. I can deal with that – so long as they stay on the plate.

Runny eggs dripping down the side of the egg cup are not.

Runny eggs splattering on the counter where I’m eating… makes me want to snap. Throw something. Break something. I don’t. But I sure as hell feel like it.

So, it’s always a balancing act, when I’m eating my breakfast. I need to be very careful, to keep the egg from dripping and splattering, and when I get it right, it’s beautiful. When I don’t, it’s yet another opportunity to practice keeping my wits about me and not losing my temper.

So, either way, I get what I need.

It’s just not always pleasant.

Anyway, it’s Sunday, and I have a lot on my mind. A friend of mine hit their head a few weeks ago, and they’ve really been struggling with behavioral issues since then. All over the map, emotionally and logistically. Forgetful. Impulsive. Explosive. They’ve been struggling, and they’ve been telling everyone to leave them alone so they can heal, but I’m not sure they even realize how they’re supposed to be healing, and from what. They’re clearly in stress, and their system is telling them to GO-GO-GO, even while they just need to slow down… stop. Catch up with themself.

I need to write to them. I’m not sure if it’s going to help, but I need to at least try.

Oh, and I also need to call my Dad, since it’s Father’s Day. I kept forgetting to get his card, last week, and it’s probably not getting to him till tomorrow.

But most of all, I need to to take a break. I intended to do that yesterday, but it ended up being a git-er-done kind of day. I did a lot and rested a little. Today I’m supposed to meet a former coworker who is starting their own company, and they want to get my opinion on a software program they’re designing. I’m going to take a rain-check on that. I really need to get back to center. Take a break. Get some more sleep. I think I got about 8 hours last night, but I’m still feeling wiped out. Still dizzy. Last week was a huge week for me. And this coming week is not going to be small, either, what with the finalization of my new job coming through. (Oh yes – I accepted the position, in case I hadn’t mentioned it.) And then I need to give notice to people who are really depending on me being THE ONE to handle certain key responsibilities through the end of the year.

Not gonna happen for them.

They really should have planned and prepared better. But that falls into the category of “not my problem”.

Onward.

SO good to be home, for good

It surely is. After traveling overseas in December, and then again in February, I have to say it is pretty awesome to be home for the foreseeable future. They may ask me to travel again in a few months, but I need to pace myself and make sure I don’t overdo it. ‘Cause man, I am wiped.

It’s funny — I didn’t have as much trouble with being tired, when I was over there. I was able to regulate my sleep and I felt pretty functional, overall. But coming back, my sleeping has been all screwed up, and I am having a hard time getting back on track. Add to that the drama at work around the re-org, and all the uncertainties and insecurities, and you end up with a lot of reasons NOT to come to work.

But hey, at least I got a promotion out of it — at least, I think that’s what happened. My title changed to something pretty respectable, which is good. It gives me something to work with, when it comes to politics. It also gets me out of the trenches, which is nice, and puts me on par with managers. Actually “Manager” is part of my new title, which is nice. And it gives me something to parlay into something even better, when I start talking to headhunters again.

In any case, it’s all a grand theater production, when you get down to it, so I can’t get to attached to much of anything. Things change daily, and it’s maddening, if you get your heart set on much of anything. Me? I’m just taking it as it comes and treating it like experience. Because in the end, that’s the only thing I really “own” — not my title, not my job, just my experience. And I can do with it whatever I choose.

It’s funny, while I was traveling, I discovered that there was an awful lot I did not notice, even though my colleague did. I didn’t see a lot of things that they called to my attention, while we were going back and forth to the office (our hotel was about a mile from the office, and we walked to work and back each day, which was good exercise). I was so focused on just making my way from Point A to Point B and beyond… so intent on not getting pulled in different directions… not getting run down by the local drivers… not losing my orientation and getting completely overwhelmed to the point where I’d shut down… that I didn’t see a lot of things that my colleague saw and commented on.

At first it bothered me a little bit. I didn’t want to be so affected by the noise and the lights and the cold and the heat. I didn’t want to have to focus so intently on what was in front of me, that I missed the things around me. I didn’t want to have a limited experience because of my hyper-sensitivities. But that’s how it was.

Then I got to thinking that being that focused was not a bad thing — it kept me from wandering in circles. And when you think about it, there’s no sense in experiencing everything all at once. Where’s the sense of discovery then? Where’s the adventure? It would all become too familiar too soon, too easy, too bland, if I took in everything right from the start.

The way I was, missing so much, the first few times, it left a lot for me to discover later, and I did — with a true sense of newness each time. Because it was new to me.

The other thing about being so focused, was that it blocked out a lot of things that could have been upsetting and could have thrown me off, on what was a very important trip… namely, that my father nearly died two days before I flew out, and they did a pretty significant medical procedure on him, and I still managed to “stay in the game” while maintaining good contact with him and my mother and the rest of my family in the hours leading up to my departure. All the focus kept me on track. My father is fine. He’s on the mend. So, I wasn’t being a “bad child” and neglectful, because I wasn’t thrown by his illness. And that’s a good feeling.

The other thing about the focus, though, is that I completely forgot about him being sick, much of the time I was there — and even when I talked with my neuropsych on Monday. You’d think that I’d remember that and discuss the situation, but I completely forgot about it. Jet lag… yeah. And such intent focus on what was in front of me, that I overlooked that important event. Completely forgot it had ever happened.

Whoever said “Happiness is good health and a bad memory,” was right.

And now I am exhausted. It’s time to go to bed. I am so done, it’s not even funny.

So, off I go.

Till later…

Back again

Back in port…

Okay, that’s done. The meetings are over, the presentations have been presented, the connections have been renewed, and I’m back to my life as I know it. It was good to see people in person, since we do so much work together over email and the phone. It was not so good, being crammed into all those activities with very little time to process it and digest.

Now I have a headache. And I feel sick. I’m not feeling great, and I should probably just take the day off. But I do need to get some things done at the office. Plus, the office is going to be really quiet today, so it won’t be that bad.

I’m just so glad to be back to my regular life. The more I think about it, the more I realize how innately rural I am in nature. The daily ebb and flow of natural cycles, the seasons, the weather, the natural world… all of it keeps me stable and grounded. Spending 4+ days in a conference center was, well, hellish. We didn’t get out much at all. And by the time I left, I felt absolutely deprived and off-balance. Being inside in climate-controlled conditions, without any natural sunlight or fresh air… it felt like an extended indoctrination session, which I suppose it was.

It’s funny – while I was in these meetings, being in the midst of everything, I was not feeling that great about leaving the company in a few months. I was regretting it, actually, by the end of the time. But that was when we were being worn down with the constant go-go-go of the marathon meetings, and then fed and entertained (and some folks liquored-up), which is a great way to inculcate people and establish a pretty stable case of Stockholm Syndrome.

Mind control… hm.

Now that I’m on my own and outside that rarified environment of mental, physical, social bombardment, I’ve taken a break from the corporate psychological warfare. I’m decompressing. And I can’t wait to leave.

I did get some great ideas while I was in those meetings, which was a good thing. And now I need to reflect and integrate. Chill and take care of myself — before the next round of meetings next week. We have more meetings with another division next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I am actually looking forward to these more. I have to travel farther to them, but the people I’m meeting with are new – and while I’ve heard a lot about them, I haven’t yet met most of them. Ironically, I’m really looking forward to these meetings, while the ones this past week were just a source of dread for me.

Probably has to do with the size and scope — these meetings will be smaller and more focused on the work I do from day to day. And while the agenda is full, it’s not full of racing around a conference center to get from place to place, making sure I have gathered all my crap and carried it with me (I misplaced my PDA twice, this trip, which I’ve never done before). Plus, I’ll be able to swim after the meetings next week — I couldn’t do that this past week, and I’m definitely feeling the absence. There’s a lake on my way to work, where I can stop and swim on my way in, this morning. Not a long swim – just a quick dip, really.

Man, am I exhausted. I’m just realizing this now. But it’s fine. Because I have an open day ahead of me, and I’m just glad to be getting back to some semblance of routine — including checking in with this blog on a regular basis. Not being able to do this regularly really puts a dent in my daily contentment. I’m back now, though, for the next three days, so I’m feeling much better now.

Thinking about all the trepidation I had about these meetings this past week – a big part of what was worrying me was tied to my physical health. Would I be able to keep up? Would I be able to manage my sensory issues? Would I be able to keep cool, when all the stimuli and the sound and the activity was distracting me beyond belief? All those things happened to me — I was put in a room full of people and we did a “round robin” where we all talked to someone different for 5 minutes, before moving on to the next. The room got progressively louder and louder… it was harder and harder for me to hear. I was really struggling at the end. But I kept cool. I did my deep breathing. I reminded myself that others couldn’t hear and understand as well, either. And the event passed without significant incident.

Same thing with the long sessions I had to sit through. I just got so antsy in that room filled with 100s of people, and I couldn’t follow what the hell was going on. But I chilled. And took intermittent breaks to check my email on my PDA, when there wasn’t something critical on the screen in front of me.

I also paced myself and took breaks when I needed to. I drank a LOT of water — which required regular trips to the rest room. I highly recommend that strategy for anyone who has marathon meetings to go to — drink tons of water, which will keep your brain hydrated, and it will also get you up out of your seat on a regular basis. If I hadn’t drunk all that water, I might very well have sat in place like I was glued there, getting more and more overwhelmed by the experience. I also kept clear of the caffeine and did my usual 2 cups a day — one in the a.m. with breakfast, one later in the afternoon when I was about to fall over.

One of the things that helped, was that I wasn’t the only one who was struggling at times. There were a number of other people who confided in me that they were really struggling, too. The breakneck pace, the constant interaction, the sheer mass of information that was packed into four days… it wore a lot of folks down. So I wasn’t the only one.

There were a couple of things I might have done differently, but in the end, it all turned out okay. I had another extended experience of being able to deal with overwhelming circumstances without losing it. And I came away with a sense of things being, well, okay.

Even if I am leaving the company… even if I am on my way out… it had its productive moments, and I don’t regret going.

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.ย  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 monthsย  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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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.ย  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.