Thinking beyond Christmas – so I can relax and enjoy it now

I’ve got my hands full, for the next 24 hours. I’m coming down to the wire with shopping and cooking and preparation for Christmas Day tomorrow. My spouse and I typically take it easy on Christmas, when we’re at home.

And this year, like last year — and several other years before that — we’re at home. Just the two of us.

No two days of driving, in both directions.

No packed houses with lots of people vying for our attention.

No navigating family dynamics and going the extra mile to let everybody just be who and what they are.

None of that. Just peace. Heavenly peace.

And to make sure it stays that way, I’m thinking ahead to the coming week, getting my schedule clear in my head so I don’t have to deal with a bunch of surprises, on down the line. I’m not very fond of surprises. I’ve got enough on my plate that I already know about, and I haven’t been sleeping well, lately, so that makes me more irritable and hard to deal with. I need to take better care of myself wherever I can, for the sake of everyone around me.

And that means streamlining and planning ahead wherever possible.

What do I need to do, this coming week? We’ve got some appointments we have to attend. I also have some car repair work I need to schedule. And I’ve got a handful of things I’d like to sort out around the house, too. Like do much-needed organizing of the files on my computer and the various “thumb” drives I have. I’ve got a lot of USB drives with a lot of stuff on them, and it’s time I consolidated them. Also, cleaning up, organizing the various rooms in the house. Moving furniture we don’t use to the basement, making room for the things we do use. Making space to move and breathe and live. And unwind.

Unwinding is good. I’ve been pretty tightly wound for quite some time. Unwinding will be a welcome change.

Before we know it, it’ll be 2018. Christmas almost seems like a blip on the screen, but of course it’s not. It’s a pretty big deal for my spouse, and I need to do my part. I’ve never been much for holidays, birthdays, special events — they all seem like just another day to me. But being part of something bigger than me — which also really matters to my spouse — is more important than indulging my Bah-Humbug spirit of the season. Just gotta put my own sentiments aside and get into it.

It’s not forever. And it won’t kill me to just go with it.

So, go with it, I shall.

And then… into the New Year with a positive frame of mind.

It’s the only way.

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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.

Accommodations needed? Just not recognized?

It *looks* cool – till you try to concentrate and get some work done. Then it’s nothing short of hell. Look at the overhead lights and all those hard surfaces. Good grief. Nightmare.

I had a pretty good conversation with the last interviewer yesterday. They have only been in their present role for 6 months, and they are hiring like crazy to staff up.

So, either they will go for it and try to sign me up, or they will go with someone else who fits better.

One thing that may affect their choice, is that I brought up the types of workspaces they have. They asked what type I prefer to work in, and I said I prefer a space with walls high enough to block out ambient noise and distractions. The whole “open workspace” plan does NOT work for me. I found that out the hard way at my last job, and the main reason I am leaving my present job (sooner or later) is that they are moving — along with everyone else in the cosmos, apparently — to an open space / “bullpen” type arrangement, where there is constant noise and interruption — that’s the point, actually.

The very thought of moving to that makes me physically ill.

I’ve been having a lot of sensory issues, over the past couple of weeks. All of a sudden, I’m sensitive to things that I haven’t been bothered by, for some time. Rough wood grain is a tough one for me — especially wooden eating utensils. Like the wooden “spoon” that I got with a frozen dessert I got about a week ago. The feel of the wood grain on my tongue literally makes me gag. And the feel of biting down on wooden utensils also makes me gag.

I’ve been more susceptible to overwhelm, and when that happens, I get more literal in how I think and speak, and I start correcting my spouse over every little thing they get “wrong”. Like calling an SUV a “van” and not caring that they are two completely different things (in my mind, anyway). I’ve been much more prone to correct my spouse over every little thing, which makes them nuts and sets off their anxiety, because hearing someone constantly correct you can mess with your head.

Anyway, that’s been going on. And the ringing in my ears is making it hard to hear what people are saying to me. It’s also the ambient noise, that seems like it’s bumped up intensely, lately. I blame it on barometric pressure and the weather in general, when I talk to people. Telling them my TBI symptoms are acting up again, doesn’t create the impression I want to give people — the kind of impression that will get me jobs.

So, back to that conversation about workspaces. I said I prefer a cubicle with walls high enough to block out distractions and interruptions. I need to concentrate. I don’t think people understand just how intensely I concentrate, when I do. Or what that concentration produces. I recognize patterns. I find things that no one else sees. I’ve had to learn to concentrate with single-pointed focus, because of all my issues. And it’s stood me in good stead.

I wonder if that counted against me — not being flexible with the kinds of workspaces the company mandates. Nobody wants someone who’s a complainer or a prima dona. Nobody wants to deal with extra accommodations and folks who are in a position to sue. They can find any number of reasons to not hire you, if you look like you might be trouble. I  know, because I used to be part of several teams that interviewed and hired folks, and there are a million different ways to disqualify someone who looks like they might be a litigation risk.

But it occurs to me that I may have been needing accommodations all along — an enclosed workspace where I can retreat from the stimuli and focus on my work. Years ago, I had an office with an overhead light I could turn off and blinds I could close. I had a desk lamp that provided the perfect amount of light. I could close the door and work in silence, and it was ideal.

Then they moved us to an open space floor plan, and it was hell. And I am pretty sure it did not help my recovery at all. Too many distractions. Too much input. It was so wrong. And I’m at the point now, where I know I need to never go there again, except for short periods of time. I don’t mind it for brief periods, but holy f*cking sh*t, it is miserable and stressful and prevents me from doing my absolute best work.

Which completely negates the whole point of going to work each day.

So, what I come to, now, is wondering if I actually needed special accommodations all along, but never realized it. And certainly never got them, except in rare and accidental circumstances. I know I need to actively screen out and disqualify those kinds of workplaces, and the kinds of companies that are in love with them. And it becomes more and more clear to me that I really need a remote job — either half-time or full-time. I need to work in ways that let me perform at my best, and keeping clear of open workspaces is the first step in that direction.

Anyway, whatever happens with this interview, it’s just a step in the direction I need to go. I’m going to start scoping out companies that offer more than 50% telecommute / remote positions, and see who’s good to work for. And I’m going to keep working on my own projects, so I can get a good foundation in place for my future. I’ve just turned 50, and I have a much better idea, now, what I need to do and how I need to work, than I did just 5 years ago. So, here’s to the next 50+ years of productive, happy, healthy life – with the right choices made for all the right reasons. And the wrong choices left behind in the dust.

Onward.