Gratitude List for the day after Thanksgiving

Good times…

Thanksgiving was an amazing time — a real joy and a success in so many little ways. Here’s my Top 10 gratitude list for what the day had to offer yesterday:

  1. I woke up in time to get the turkey completely thawed before I put it in the oven. This was not a given, because I have a tendency to oversleep when I have to get up at a certain time. The turkey was still a little icy, the night before, and I knew I was going to need at least three hours to thaw it in a cold water bath before I could stuff it and put it in the oven. (Yes, for the record, I walk on the wild side and stuff my turkeys whenever I make them – it just tastes better, and I allow for extra time to roast.) But I actually woke up 30 minutes before I had to get up, which allowed me time to get going and get my head on straight before launching into the cooking. And by the time the stuffing was ready, the bird was too.
  2. I managed to time everything out, almost exactly right. This was another thing that was not-a-given. Last year at Christmas time, I screwed up roasting a turkey and ended up needing an extra four hours to cook it. Yesterday, I had no such leeway; I had to have everything timed out exactly right, because we had to get on the road by a certain time. And I managed. I checked the clock frequently, and unlike other times, I didn’t just assume things would get done quickly — like prepping the stuffing and the veggies that went around the bird. I took extra time, which as it turned out, was what I needed from the start.
  3. The friend who said they might come to dinner with us, did show up. This individual was recently diagnosed with cancer, and they are going through radiation and a variety of treatments, and they’ll be having surgery a few days before Christmas. It actually felt good to be able to just hang out with this friend, help them get their mind off their troubles, and just enjoy — with good food, good company, and a relaxing evening when they didn’t need to do anything.
  4. Another friend who was going to be alone on Thanksgiving didn’t show up. That friend has been a real pain in the ass, over the past year, and while we do enjoy their company at times, they’re pretty erratic, so you never know how they’re going to be. They didn’t show, so there was no need to deal with their volatility.
  5. We had Thanksgiving dinner “off the grid”. Well, technically it wasn’t completely off the grid, because there was electricity. But there was no cell phone signal, and we had to drive back into the woods to get to the cabin where we had dinner. It was really relaxing to not have Facebook and email and phones going all night long. What a change.
  6. The drive out was beautiful. The weather was clear, it wasn’t doing anything obnoxious, and the countryside was lovely in that almost-winter way.
  7. We took our time. We spent a fair amount of time prepping food when we got there, and then we took our time serving everything up and going around the table sharing what we were thankful for. We didn’t stress over food getting cold — our hearts were warm, and that’s what mattered. We really lingered over the food, too, pacing ourselves. And I have to say, that was the best Thanksgiving meal I’ve ever had, because I didn’t feel over-full and wiped out afterwards. I ate a lot, but I didn’t have that sick feeling I often get afterwards.
  8. We ate like royalty.  Seriously. We had a lot of food, and it was good.  We all felt like kings and queens in the process — just so much really good food, without a lot of junk. Everybody in the group was on some sort of restricted diet, so all our food was not only squeaky clean and free of a ton of additives and other modern poisons, but also extremely good for us and tasty too.
  9. We just hung out afterwards. We went for a walk out under the stars in the evening, and it was just amazing. We hung out talking about this and that. We watched little videotape snippets from “past lives”, we played music and sang, and we lay around the living room, playing with the dog and just chillin’. There was none of the rush and pressure to be a certain way or do certain things or meet anyone’s needs. We were just there to enjoy each others’ company and share a good meal.
  10. We got home at an okay hour, and got everything put away. This is another thing that’s not a given for my spouse and me. Often, when we’ve been out late, we’ll just leave things till the morning. But for some reason last night, we were both motivated to take care of things and put up the dirty dishes, tuck the leftovers into decent containers (instead of just throwing it in the fridge), and get things squared away before going to bed. This made things a lot easier to wake up to, this morning. And for that, I am very grateful.

All in all, it was a banner day. I’ll write more later, because a number of really important things happened. But for now, let the record show that yesterday was one of the best Thanksgivings, ever.

Giving thanks – and giving others a reason to give thanks

I’m heading out to join friends for Thanksgiving dinner in another couple of hours. I’ve roasted a turkey this year, and I’m making stuffing from scratch.

I hope it turns out okay.

The group that my spouse and I are joining are a rag-tag bunch of folks. One has been recently diagnosed with cancer and is going through all sorts of negotiations with doctors. Another is only recently off the streets and is settling into their new housing — with some issues with a drug-dealing landlord. Another is living below the poverty line, just trying to get a side business going to supplement their part-time income. None of us are anywhere near our kin-folk. We’re what we’ve got today.

There may be others joining us, but the bottom line is, my primary purpose today is to feed these folks and give them a reason to give thanks.

Not to me, but to life. For all that we have received and are given each day. Even in the midst of desolation and despair, there may be a reason to give thanks.

So, back to work. Just a quick check-in before I head out.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

I am truly grateful. Today and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving

We all have much to be grateful for. And in spite of the odds, so many of us find a way to not only move on, but grow stronger in the process.

Here is a video that has been on my mind ever since I saw it the other day. It is a huge boost for my appreciation of what I have, as well as the power of a courageous spirit. I hope it does the same for you.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Gratitude List for the Day Before Thanksgiving

Time to remember all the good in my life

At this time of year, it can be easy to get caught up in the rush of the holidays – especially since Christmas shopping seems to kick off around Halloween time, these days. The rush and hustle and bustle might help some get their minds off the stresses of family interactions and other holiday challenges, but it also makes it hard to just let in the good that we have.

I need to get that back. I need to get out of my head and see for real what I have to be truly thankful for. Here’s my Top Ten list for today:

  1. I have a steady job. This has not always been the case. After my TBI in 2004, I lost a really great job and bounced from one position to another for about five years, before I could manage to settle into a position without bolting from anxiety and covering up my TBI issues.
  2. I have my own roof over my own head. This has not always been a given. I have moved around a lot, and at one point in time, I was borderline homeless. I’ve nearly been evicted in the past, and I’ve had to rely on the kindness of friends for a roof over my head.
  3. I have food in my refrigerator that’s more than rice, carrots, and brussels sprouts. Years ago, I was so poor I could not afford meat, so I lived on rice with sauteed carrots and brussels sprouts mixed in. I only drank tap water and weak coffee. I would make up a big batch at eat it for a week. Then I’d make up another batch. It’s a good thing I liked rice, carrots, and brussels sprouts.
  4. I am not in excruciating pain right now. I’m in a bit of pain, but I’m not doubled over in agony, like I used to be. I did my morning exercises, and I’m feeling much better.
  5. I’m relatively warm. I have a knit cap on my head, and I’m wearing extra sweaters, because I can’t afford to keep the heat up too high. Whenever I get cold, I get up and move around and do a little exercise, so that keeps me warm.
  6. I have a laptop and an internet connection. This lets me keep in touch with the world and also manage my money and life. I bought this laptop on eBay for really cheap, about three years ago, and while it is slowing down and it’s much heavier than the laptops they’re making today, it’s mine. I take care of it. I clean up the hard drive regularly and I don’t download all sorts of crap from all over. My internet connection at home is okay — the modem craps out on me a couple of times a day, but I just reset it and restart, and it comes back. If things get really bad, I just go to the library where wifi is free and fast.
  7. I have friends in my life. This year, my spouse and I are not traveling to family – we are staying close to home and celebrating with friends who don’t have family nearby. We’re an odd bunch, far from the Norman Rockwell types, but we have each other. And we’re going to have a feast tomorrow.
  8. My family is not attacking me for not joining them for Thanksgiving. In past years, they really put up a fight over me not coming to them. This year, they accept it and are glad that I’m not going to be on the road driving during peak travel times.
  9. My turkey is nearly thawed. I bought a frozen 12-pound turkey this past weekend and I’ve been thawing it in the refrigerator for the past three days. I was concerned that it would not thaw in time, but last night when I checked it, it’s now soft on the surface. If I give it a bath early tomorrow morning, it should thaw the whole way through, and then I’ll be set.
  10. I am starting to be able to see the Big Picture in my life. For more years than I can count, I have been consumed by minutiae and details that were only peripherally important to what was really going on around me. I could only see trees – no forest. Nothing beyond the forest. I would obsess over the finest of points in an argument, without actually understanding what the discussion was about. This is changing. At a point in my life when my peers are starting to slow down and get fuzzy and foggy and forgetful, my brain is learning to pick out salient points and focus on them. This is making a huge difference in my work life, my career, and my personal life. Of all the things above, this might be one of the things I’m most grateful for. Of course, all of the above matter tremendously. This last point is both a foundation and a bonus. Having this makes everything else that much more possible.

So there we have it. My list for today. In times when life is really closing in on me and I’m really struggling with things going haywire all around me, it helps to focus on the good that is in my life and emphasize that.

I used to make a fresh list of 10 things I was grateful for, each day. This was when I was going through some very hard times, and I was really on the brink of total desperation. Making a gratitude list of 10 things — a different list each day — kept me from going over the edge. And it lit a fire under me to do the best I could with what I had.

Happy Day Before Thanksgiving, everyone.

A couple of Advil and a night off

Yes. This.

Tonight I’m “off” — no chores to do, no tasks, no phone calls for work, no stuff to take care of. I’ve had a pretty good day getting a few things done at work, and after the past weekend, I’m wiped. I need a night off.

At least once a week.

Weekends are funny — they’re either hit or miss for me. Either really busy, or just an extended lazing-around session, with me not doing much at all.

This past weekend was a busy one. And I’m tired after not getting any real rest. But I did get some things done that I’d been hoping to — which is great.

Now I’m sore as anything, though. Back and legs and arms and shoulders. I worked like a mad person for hours. Like I was possessed. And maybe I was. Now I’m feeling the effects, and I am more than ready for a good night’s sleep.

I’m also ready for a long time off — Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and the holiday travel is not happening this year. It’s a year to stay close to home with friends, and just kick back and relax, rather than driving 18 hours in each direction and spending four of six days in the car.

So, there it is. I’ve also got a handful of loose ends I need to tie up — paperwork I’ve been meaning to do, that I just haven’t gotten to yet. I need some uninterrupted time to focus in on the details, and it will feel great to have it all done, once and for all.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things that need to be taken care of, but for now… it’s a couple of Advil to stave off the pain, and a night of relaxing to just let myself chill.

Rest.

And then sleep.

 

Of holidays, distraction, and career choices – a holiday saga

Very cute and cheery, but very distracting

One of the worst things about the holidays for me, is how distracting the whole experience can be. I don’t live close to my family — in more ways than one. I have a very technical career that is nothing like what the teachers and preachers and caregivers in my family pursue. I also live in an area that is more affluent than theirs, and I have very different values and priorities than when I was younger and living at home.

And in the course of my normal everyday life, that’s fine. I am aligned with my own values and I am on my own track and path. I have my plans and my desired direction, and I stick with it. I have my daily routine. I have my priorities clear. And I take definite steps in the direction of my choosing.

But during the holidays, all that changes. It begins with Halloween, when my regular schedule is up-ended by the sudden appearance of “seasonal” distractions — in grocery stores, things get moved around, candy starts to appear, all sorts of new items appear on the shelves, and I have to adjust my usual course through the store to find what I want — as well as block out the distractions of Halloween items which just take more time to think about and parse.

Thanksgiving isn’t much better. If anything, it’s worse, because there’s travel to families involved, and usually in the aftermath, I get sick. And I stay sick for the month of December, which frankly really sucks and makes it harder to just live my life. Also dealing with my family, even though I do love them and enjoy being around them, is a huge time and energy sink. Plus, when I am around my family, my focus gets diluted, I start to think about how things were with me when I was younger, and my values and priorities shift a little bit to be more like they used to be — as in, I start to think more about writing that novel, and less about honing my technical skills. I start to think in broader, more abstract ways, rather than in specific, concrete ways. My family is a very heady bunch of people, with very strong beliefs that I used to agree with and relate to. Being away from them and their way of life, it is relatively easy to focus on my own priorities and tend to the things that matter most to me. Being out of my element, in their midst, throws me off – as little else can.

Family is really important… at the same time, it can be a real hindrance. Especially when everyone in your family thinks of you in a certain way — and that way only. They don’t think about me as a person who has to get more sleep than most. They don’t think of me as a person who is easily fatigued and overwhelmed. They don’t think of me as someone who needs a little extra time to cover all my cognitive bases when I am making decisions or doing something new. And they don’t think of me as someone who needs to make adjustments in my work, because the way I think and feel and relate to the world requires that I make those adjustments to take care of myself.

My mother can’t wrap her head around me needing naps in the afternoon while I’m at work. My father doesn’t get why I work such long hours and stay so late, to avoid traffic. My siblings all seem to think that I live this charmed life of affluence and ease, because I have no kids. I haven’t told everyone about my TBIs — just my parents and one sibling. But the ones I’ve told still aren’t getting it. They’ve made it clear that they’re not going to even make the effort, and that’s that.

So, I do the best I can with what I have with these folks. I love my family and I love spending time with them. At the same time, though, their way of life and their philosophies and their orientation to, well, just about everything, is sharply different from my own — and many of the differences have to do with the accommodations I have to make for myself, and the lack of energy I have to go “bounding about” doing mental gymnastics about things that I don’t believe anyone truly understands, anyway. Maybe my life is simpler, because I’ve let go of a lot of devotion to holding specific opinions and wanting to figure everything out. Come to think of it, I’m sure it is.

It’s having to deal with my family’s devotion to being “Right” and figuring things out, that is so exhausting for me. ‘Cause then I have to re-orient myself to myself and my own beliefs and priorities, all over again after the holidays.

I realized, over this past weekend, how much Thanksgiving threw me off, when I went down to visit my family. It’s like getting pulled back in time… and then having to extract myself from the sticky goo of my past. In a way, it was good that I traveled, after I got back from Thanksgiving, because it gave me time to reset my mental compass. But now I’m sick, and I’m looking ahead to another trip down to my family, and it’s starting to get on my nerves.

Ah, well — so go the holidays. And at least I’m aware of how much my family re-calibrates my thinking when I am with them… so when I get back from the Christmas trip, I can dig in again and work on my job skills, rather than thinking about that novel I was going to write, that I was so sure would be a best-seller. Cripes, but there’s a lot swirling in my head that I need to manage.

And it’s pretty much stress-related. I find that when I am really stressed, I turn to writing fiction for relief. I start writing novels. Or short stories. It calms me. It gives me another place to “go”. But it also distracts me from doing what I need to do. The rush I get from starting something new is a powerful opiate for me. It dulls the pain and gets me thinking about all the new possibilities in life. But after the newness wears off, it’s just another thing I have to do — and it just drags me down.

So, enough of the novel-writing. At least for the next six months. If I’m ever in a position to just kick back and spend hours on end doing nothing, and my job situation is secure and stable, and I don’t have pressing financial needs, I’ll turn to writing fiction. But until that time, I need to keep steady in what I have been planning and working on for the past months — beefing up my technical skills, focusing on certain specific areas where I feel I can really contribute and make a positive difference, and worrying about a decent paycheck, not whether to write in first or second or third person.

One thing I know for sure, that is giving me a great deal of comfort — I would much rather be an individual contributor and work with numbers and code, than deal with people each and every day. I don’t want to be a manager. I want to make things, create things, invent things, render things. I want to interact with machines that will just tell me yes/no… instead of the endless dancing around all the issues and the nuances of human interaction. It’s just too stressful for me. It’s just no fun. It might look more impressive to the rest of the world, but it’s not what I want to do with myself.

I DO know what I want to do with myself. And that is a huge comfort. Especially on days like today, when everybody is clamoring for some sort of overdue thing, they’re getting snotty and irate because it’s closing down on year-end and they haven’t met all their goals, and I feel like I’m going to fall over and/or throw up.

I DO know that I’m outa there in the spring. I will have my skills in place adequately to do just that. I DO know where I’m going to focus my attention, and I DO know how important it is to not lose my train of thought again. I’m also aware — more than ever — of how distracting my family is for me, when it comes to living my life. I have to sorta kinda guard myself from their well-intentioned “guidance” and fend off their “caring” interference. They mean well. I know that. But they just don’t help, when it comes to making decisions about where I need to go next in my life.

Maybe it all boils down to possibility and opportunity. I know I live in a much wider world than they do, and I am much more hooked into what else is possible for me. I need to keep that in mind, as I move forward.

And so I shall. The last big trip of the holidays is coming up, and I’ll be seeing a lot of family — both sides, actually — on the road. My spouse’s family is much more supportive of my career than my birth family, so that will be a relief to be with them. I will need to create some sort of reminder for myself about what truly matters, over the coming months, and I will need to be careful to keep on track, so I don’t get pulled off the rails too much — or at the very least, I can get back on track after the trip is over. I’ll have to think about how to do that… it may be a real challenge. But then, real challenges are usually easier for me to handle than the “easy-peasy” ones. So, my task is clear.

Onward.

On-ward.

 

Keeping the home fires burning bright

Keep the home fires burning bright.

We got back late last night from my Thanksgiving trip to my parents’ place. All the (living) siblings descended from points throughout the USA, with all the kids (plus a few friends) in tow, and we proceeded to completely overwhelm each other. It was all in good fun, of course, which is a big change from how things have been in the past, and for that I am very, very grateful. I’m even more thankful now than I was on Thanksgiving day. It was a good visit, this year. Much better than in the past. Many a year has come and gone with me (literally) writhing in emotional and physical agony over the holidays.

The Top Ten things that set me over the edge in the past were:

  1. Not taking good care of myself, eating all the wrong things in very large amounts.
  2. Not pacing myself with all the activity.
  3. Getting bent out of shape over things that people said or did.
  4. Not getting enough exercise.
  5. Not getting enough alone-time”, but staying in the thick of everything ALL the time.
  6. Deciding to “take the bait” when siblings wanted to argue and tangle with me, because somehow I thought that this time I would “win.
  7. Trying to intercede to make sure that the arguments between my spouse and my parents didn’t escalate.
  8. Trying to make sure my spouse was always comfortable and felt welcome (a losing battle, if ever there was one).
  9. Getting upset over people saying and doing things I did not agree with — AT ALL — and trying to debate issues, getting turned around, and melting down, either privately or publicly.
  10. Pushing myself to do things when I was over-tired or over-stressed.

None of those things happened this time — that is to say, I chose to do things differently, so that none of the above had to happen. There were a couple of close calls, but I just noted them and moved on.

The Top Ten things I did that kept me well back from the edge this year were:

  1. Making an effort to take good care of myself, eating the right things in the right amounts. I brought my own cereal and rice milk, so I could be dairy-free, and I steered clear of a lot of bread.
  2. I paced myself with all the activity, being active at times, and stepping away from the pandemonium at others.
  3. I didn’t bother getting bent out of shape over things that people said or did. I figured, there was a really good reason they think what they do, and I haven’t the faintest idea what those reasons are, so leave it well enough alone.
  4. I started out each day with exercise. Either I walked up the big hill from the place where we were staying to my parents’ house — about 3/4 mile all uphill — or I walked my sibling’s dog when I got to the house. I took the dog for a lot of walks – it was very cool.
  5. I did my best to get enough alone-time. Granted, with 9 kids and a dog running around at top speed the whole time, and all the nieces and nephews wanting me to play with them or hang out with them, it was a challenge — because I really wanted to be in the thick of everything. But I did step away at times. Everybody did, actually.
  6. I didn’t “take the bait” when siblings wanted to argue and tangle with me. When my smart-ass, condescending siblings would start in on me, I would just nod and smile and make some vague comment that told them I wasn’t “going there” with them. There was just no point. I think they were glad of it, too.
  7. I did not intercede to make sure that the arguments between my spouse and my parents didn’t escalate. They have major differences that rankle my spouse to no end, but after 22 years, I’ve finally realized that that’s “their thing” — they actually enjoy wrangling with each other, sparring and testing each others’ boundaries. It’s taken me two decades to get used to it, but finally I’m fine with things never being fine between them.
  8. I literally quit trying to make sure my spouse was always comfortable and felt welcome. Through no fault of anyone, that’s a losing battle. My family can be very judgmental and alienating, so no matter who is with them, there will always be an element of “You don’t belong”. That applies to me, as well, but it’s very difficult for my spouse to take. They really feel that judgment sharply, and they take it personally. And they get combative when they’re not comfortable or feel like they’re being attacked  — which they do, around my parents, because, well, they are being attacked. So, I’ve spent way too much time over the years, trying to find common ground and let them work it out with each other. This time, I just washed my hands of it and let it all alone, figuring that they were all adults and could reach some agreement, somehow, without my meddling. One other “bad” thing that turned out to be helpful, was that my spouse was sick with an upper respiratory infection, so they were laid low for much of the time, anyway. I did what I could to make them comfortable, but they just weren’t, so I let them “do their thing” with sleeping a lot and stepping away to take meds and such, and I just got on with my own visit. I feel bad that my spouse was not feeling well, but they’ll have their time with their family at Christmas, so then they’ll get to be involved and feel accepted and welcomed and not judged. It’s a balance, this time of year, and there’s always going to be “emotional collateral damage” so let’s let it go it at that and be happy for what good we do have.
  9. I didn’t bother getting upset over people saying and doing things I did not agree with — AT ALL — and trying to debate issues, getting turned around, and melting down, either privately or publicly. I’ve tried the debate thing for I don’t know how many years, and it’s always been a losing battle. I just lose my train of thought in the midst of heated debates, and then I get bent out of shape because I can’t think clearly and all my TBI-related issues come flooding to the surface. And I get sucked down into that “I am so eff’ed up – what is wrong with me?!” Which is never good for anyone, because then I take it out on my spouse or anyone else who is nearby, including myself. In the past, I’ve actually hurt myself over it during meltdowns, slamming my head against a wall or hitting my arms or legs so hard that they bruised. It was the only way I could find to get my brain to stop cycling down into the pit of despair. Giving up on the negative self-talk from the get-go works a whole lot better, I’m happy to report.
  10. I quit pushing myself to do things when I was over-tired or over-stressed. This was the only thing to do, in the face of all that activity. Yes, I missed valuable time with elderly relatives I may never see again. Yes, I missed out on conversations and activities with nieces and nephews. Yes, I missed out on things I would probably regret if I knew exactly what was happening. But my internal barometer has gotten so much better over the past couple of years, and now I can tell when my stress level is pushing me, and I need to stop the pushing. This is so important, because when I’m over-extended and stressed, I say and do things that I deeply regret (like saying obnoxious things… starting arguments over nothing… babbling when I should be quiet… falling down and sustaining injuries – including brain injuries… and pointing a real-but-not-loaded rifle at my youngest sibling after a long family trip and pretending to shoot them).  Bad things tend to happen when I am overextended and keep pushing. So, I stepped away and stopped doing things, even the things I wanted to do so badly, because it wasn’t worth the risk to myself and others. Better to have fewer moments with an elderly relative that I want to remember than having a lot of moments with them that I want to — but cannot — forget.

Bottom line about this past Thanksgiving: Gor the sake of myself and others, I just let a lot of sh*t go — I have a number of very elderly relatives and friends, who may not be alive the next time I visit, so I just wanted to focus on the good — and feed that side of my attitude.

I also didn’t beat myself up, if I couldn’t do certain things, like stay up talking when I was exhausted, or go do things when I needed to do something else. I just went with what happened, and tried to find the good in it.

Which was an early Christmas Miracle — some of my relatives can be politically and socially obnoxious, and they are convinced they are 100% right and everyone who doesn’t agree with them is an idiot. Also, half of my family is very connected through in-laws and marriages and churches and shared connections in their communities, so there was a lot of talk about things and events and people and ideas that I wasn’t a part of. I did feel very isolated at times, and I felt sad that I wasn’t part of that world, which is very close-knit and supportive for those who belong. But there is a price for everything, and I have never been willing to give up my independence and personal convictions, to go along with the group, So even though I don’t have those community connections and widespread support, and I was very much on the outside many times, at least I have myself. And that’s what truly matters.

It was really hard being around people who believe that their world is the only right one — and everyone else is wrong and stupid and ignorant and corrupt. Because that puts me on the outside, and when everyone is all together, that feeling of being marginalized is even more pronounced. But then I thought about all the other people in the world who feel that way, for one reason or another — and I didn’t feel so badly. Because even in the midst of a supportive community of common values, there are many who feel secretly alone and isolated.

It’s not just (about) me. We all feel that way at times. It’s just how things are for lots of folks.

So, by putting my emphasis on the experiences of others, I was able to get away from my own self-pity — and I was also able to see how even the folks who were the “ïn crowd” were still very much on the outside.And I was able to really have some good conversations with family members who have been pretty estranged for many years. So, all in all, it was a good visit – mostly because I got the hell out of my own way.

This holiday season, I feel more motivated than ever to really do justice to this blog — not focusing so much on ME and MY problems, but talking about the issues that so many of us have in common, and sharing solutions that have worked for me, so that hopefully others can benefit as well.

This is a season of giving, no matter what your religion (or no religion at all). Yes, it’s over-commercialized. Yes, people are behaving really badly. Yes, it has lost a lot of deeper meaning in the mainstream culture. But each of us, in our own small way, can supply our own meaning and do what we can to honor and support that within ourselves. Whether you are celebrating the birth of Jesus, or a Season of Lights, or Principles that guide you in life, or the turning of the Wheel of Life, each of us can make of this season what we will. We can choose to wring our hands and shake our heads over videos of Walmart cell phone brawls, or we can look for ways we can reach out to others and give what we can from what we have. We have a whole range of things we can look at and wonder about, and each day we see a broad spectrum of behaviors we do or do not approve of. It’s our choice, how we relate to those things, and it’s our choice how we respond.

I, for one, would rather be part of a solution and bring hope in a time when so many feel hopeless and alone. This blog is one small way I can do that, and I hope to do some good, this holiday season — and beyond that, each and every day.

In many parts of the world, it’s getting cold. That doesn’t have to happen in our hearts.

From wonderful to weird, and back again…?

Fatigue - What a pain in the ass

It’s been a very strange 48 hours. Must be the holidays — it all just kind of sneaked up on me, I guess. Anyway, I realize “loud and clear” that one thing I need to watch out for is fatigue.

Everything gets better with rest.

Everything gets worse with fatigue.

And I’m not in the mood to spend the holidays in crisis. The past 36 hours have been bad enough.

I’m not sure why it’s hit me so hard, but last night I was having a really hard time, and I just melted down over some stupid crap that was pretty embarrassing, actually. I was over-tired, I was stressed, and I seriously lost it. And for what? Now I’m feeling raw and wrecked, and Thanksgiving dinner is not something I’m looking forward to.

I dread it, actually. All I really want to do is sleep.

Fortunately, I have three days to do that, after today. I have tomorrow off, and then I have the weekend. This *&$^%#^% commute is friggin’ wrecking me, and there’s not much I can do about it, other than try to get to bed at a reasonable hour, which hasn’t been happening as frequently as I need it to. I’m just not managing it, partly because I don’t want to. But I guess I have to, anyway.

I guess I’m really angry about a lot of things that are going on. I’m angry with my employer for pulling a fast one on us, and then treating us like we’re idiots for noticing what they did. I’m angry with myself for giving them the benefit of the doubt. I’m angry with my spouse for never being around on the weekends, but constantly needing to work. I’m angry with the constant stream of promotions and advertisements that are specially designed to put us all in a “buying mood,” and I’m angry with the world for being so ignorant and self-centered and refusing to see that the things they do to others, they equally do to themselves. And that’s no good for anyone.

Meanwhile, my spouse hates and fears me, for being so upset yesterday. I wasn’t aggressive, but based on their past experiences with violent parents and violent partners in the past, they take so many things of the things I say and do out of context — and very much to heart — and there’s nothing I can do to reverse that. All I can do is be kind and patient and indulgent of everything they do and say around me, or they say I’m attacking them. If I try to discuss anything with them to try to just think things through before they do them, they get defensive and tell me I’m finding fault with them and being impossible. It’s like they can’t wait to get away from me. Last night, after we spent a few hours together, they took off and were late coming home. Great. And then I’m a wreck when they get here.And then they think I’m attacking them.

Like I said. Embarrassing. But I’ll be damned if I can do anything about it., when it gets hold of me.

Because I am tired. I am wiped out. I’m not thinking clearly, and my emotions are way off the charts. I just feel so profoundly screwed. The holidays are off to a terrible start, and I’m already behind, scrambling to play catch-up.

Anyway, I had intended to write something hopeful and up-beat about being able to rebound from my weirdness last night. I wish it were that easy. I probably need to just get out more. Do more. Not be tied down as much to my daily routine. I’m feeling incredibly trapped by my job situation – trapped into a commute I detest, trapped in a building that’s part of a “campus” (read, two ugly buildings sandwiched between lots of other ugly buildings and their parking lots), trapped in a workspace that is visually and logistically cramped and has no visual paths to an exit. Trapped and cornered in a space that is not only really loud and really bright, but smells bad and is visually boring. The one bright light is that I got to move my desk so that I’m not in the middle of the room anymore. But it’s a pathetic statement when the best thing that happens to you is you get to move your workspace from an awful place to a less terrible spot.

And that pisses me off.

Which keeps me in a perpetual state of agitation… and it throws off my chemistry, so that I’m not in command my full faculties. The stress is flooding my brain with all sorts of chemical signals to shut down “non-essential” parts of myself, so I can survive by escaping. But I don’t feel like there is any escape, so I’m trapped, and the stress just keeps flooding in, till I feel like I’m going to die, and the best I can hope for is for THE END to be as painless as possible.

The sympathetic nervous system overdrive is just frying me like crazy, and I know it’s no good. It was no good last night, and it’s no good today. I feel like crap, and I don’t know how I’m going to get back to my baseline again. I will, I’m sure — once I get some rest and can just chill for a few days. But right now, things feel pretty screwed up, and I don’t feel very thankful at all.

Probably the most depressing thing about all this is, I know better. But I don’t do better. I know what mechanisms are in place to keep me off-balance, but I can’t manage to do anything about them in a consistent way. And that leaves me feeling even more broken and useless than ever. ‘Cause I’m supposed to be brilliant, right?

Well, sure — but I’m also human. And I need to quit expecting myself to have it all figured out, and expecting myself to be immune to this stuff.

See, this is the thing — I’m not immune. I’m anything, but. In fact, I’m even more susceptible than many, thanks to the role fatigue plays in my life — and I’m also more prone to forgetting it. This fatigue business totally mucks things up, gets my blood boiling, and generally derails me in fine fashion. Which generally sucks for everyone.

So, what to do? I know I need to do a better job of getting rest, as well as getting exercise. I haven’t done as much as I could, with regard to exercise. Part of it is the change in my daily schedule, another part is that I just got tired of doing that every single morning, even though it was good for me. It’s a little like me going off meds that I need to take on a regular basis — I start feeling better, and then I decide I don’t need to do it, anymore. Which is the farthest thing from the truth, of course.

But I do need to do something. I need to shake things up a bit, get out of my old rut, and get myself back on track. I need to drag myself out of this terribly boring state of mind, as well as get myself into a regular sleeping schedule that actually works. I also need to find more things to do with myself, than work. I’m still looking for another job, but now the holidays are upon us, and I don’t feel like dragging myself through all the interviewing drama during the holidays. I need to pace myself, but also find things that appeal to me. Like a hobby of some kind. Or a walk in the woods. I need to find something that both gives me exercise and gets me out and helps me sleep AND gives me a better perspective on life, than just sitting in a car, and then sitting in a cubicle all day… only to sit in my car, and then sit in front of the television all night.

Come to think of it, that’s a lot of sitting. And it’s probably one of the things that’s derailing me. All that inactivity… it’s just killer.

So, it’s time to make some changes. Get up and out and take walks early in the day, before I drag my ass to the office. I can shift my hours to get to work later, so this could work.

I just need to do it. But for the sake of my sanity, as well as everyone around me, I’ve gotta do it.

Speaking of which, now would be an excellent time to do this. So, I shall.

Okay, FINE, I’ll self-assess!

Well, the long weekend is almost over, and I’ve been spending the past few hours logging my experiences from last week, so I can share them with my neuropsych this coming week.

I keep daily logs of the things I plan to do, and I also track my successes/failures when all is said and done. Being the busy (compulsive?) individual that I am, I usually have a full page, each day. I use color highlighters to mark the things I get right and the things I don’t. Green means success, pink (which I hate) means failure because of my cognitive-behavioral/physical issues, and orange means something got in the way or I didn’t complete things for a benign reason (like I ran out of time).

I also have a log in my computer (aren’t spreadsheets wonderful?) where I list the things I’ve planned to do, and how they turned out, and what the reasons for my successes/failures were. I have been typing in my last few days’ worth of experiences, and as usual it’s a real eye-opener.

I tend to get very caught up in the moment… lose track of things I was working on a few hours or a few days before hand. I am very present-oriented, as well as future-oriented. I guess enough unpleasant, confusing mess-ups have happened in my recent and distant past, that I just got in the habit of not paying any more mind to experiences, once they’re over.

That’s fine, if I don’t care to ever learn from my past… but these days, I’m feeling more and more like I really need to pay attention to my lessons, get what I can out of them, and make a lot of effort to incorporate them into my life.

So, I’ve been logging my experiences into my computer log, so I can take them with me and discuss them with my neuropsych this coming week. It’s funny — they have been so supportive and encouraging and impressed wtih my progress… I’ve kind of gotten the impression that they don’t fully appreciate the range of my difficulties and how they get in my way.

Good heavens, but I keep busy! Good grief, should I say… My hands are tired from doing three pages’ worth, and my head is spinning with what I’m seeing. Basically, the pattern that’s emerging is me jumping around from thing to thing, not completing some important tasks, and running off to do side projects for no other reason than that I can.

On the other hand, I have made some really substantial progres, here and there. But I haven’t taken the time to really sit with it and appreciate it. Things like me getting my 2010 priorities in order… cleaning my study at last… doing my daily exercise… and taking really good care of my house… These are very important things I’ve accomplished in the past week, and I need to pay attention to them. I need to give myself some props.

I also need to give myself a good swift kick in the rear, because there are a lot of things I’ve let slide. It’s not enough for me to make a list in the morning, check some things off, and then not pay any more attention to it, after 2 p.m., which is my pattern. I really need to stay on top of myself, or I’m going to get hopelessly swamped in partially-finished projects. And I’m also running the real risk of taking on too much — yet again — which can spell disaster when it all comes to a head, and the non-essential things are crowding out the essential ones.

I must admit, I hate to self-assess. It’s difficult and painful and awkward and it reminds me of all the problems I have.

But it’s a new year, and I really have no choice but to change my dissipating ways. I need to rein myself in and buckle down to get done what I need to get done — what I’ve promised my boss I’d get done.

I expect to feel like crap for another day or so. I always feel terrible about myself and my life, when I start self-assessing. It’s so uncomfortable for me to see all the things that are amiss in my life… all the things that need fixing. But what’s the alternative? Leave them alone, and leave myself to rot? Don’t think so.

I can do better than that.

And so I shall.

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.  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 months  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 😉

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.  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.

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