December 4, 2015

On Making the Season Count

2015 has been a really rough year, you guys.  How rough?  Well, not Syrian Refugee rough, but for my squishy first world existence, pretty rough.  Dad passed in late August, my best friend was diagnosed for the SIXTH time with cancer, my other best friend had a kidney transplant, my dog required $2000 stomach surgery, I’m completely buried under advanced math and science courses, and I’m being laid off from my job come the beginning of next year.  Soooo yeah, kind of a stress-laden last few months, just in my own little world.  This doesn’t even cover all the mess of bombings, shootings, and screaming politically-motivated hatred surrounding all of us.

With all of the above, festive celebration is a little bit strained.  Thanksgiving was not as bad as I thought it would be, I think because I was surrounded by family and we stayed busy all day.  The following day, however, the usual bombardment of Christmas carols started up, and my hermit level suddenly jumped to 9000.

Let me try to explain.  I’m usually pretty good in loud, noisy sorts of environments.  I deal well with crowds of people and lines, etc…until I don’t.  Usually I have a distinct point where I am just done with humanity and need to go hide in my cave.  My brother calls me “the most outgoing introvert” he knows.  Since my Dad passed away, my time span to tolerate all that shortened to a frightening degree.

The first week after he died, every public place felt like it was attacking me.  Too many people, too much noise, and all of my filters and coping mechanisms completely stripped away.  I was exhausted, overwhelmed by every task and interaction, just wanting to escape and go hide in the quiet again.  It has gotten better over time, but I’m still nowhere near where I was (even Thanksgiving had a incident of me hiding in an actual closet for about 20 minutes), and I don’t know how long it will take to get back to my savvy crowd-surfing state.  Hopefully not never.

Enter the Christmas crowds.  There’s a phenomenon in the exponential growth of people shopping between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, on any given day.  I don’t do Black Friday, and this year I absolutely didn’t go anywhere near anyplace retail that Friday morning.  Saturday, Sunday, and the whole following week is not that much better, and my fridge gets bare after a few days of no shopping.  My dogs will insist on their kibble, whether I’m willing to brave the crowded store or not.

The population in any retail space grows at least three-fold, and they are not the missile-strike style of shoppers.  They *linger*, and meander, and generally clog every space they enter with a minimum of efficiency.  Layered on top of this madness is a feed of painfully cheerful caroling which cranks the dissonance up to 11.

I like Christmas carols.  I really do.  Singing is one of my favorite pastimes, whether people want to hear me or not, and carols are the no-brainer easy-skim finds in my memory banks for when I just wanna let loose in the car or shower.  They wear out fast through repetition and overplay, though, and by Christmas Day I’m usually so burned out I want as far away from them as I can get.  Knowing this about normal me, I have been trying to be extra careful this year.  I am rationing my holiday cheer, and I have discovered something horrible.

My Dad loved singing carols.  He loved sitting around the lit-up tree, playing all his favorites.  All the best versions of carols, Mannheim Steamroller, John Williams, and the usual Dean Martin/Frank Sinatra classics.  I can’t hear these versions without seizing up.  I can’t sing along or I start to cry.  The same thing happens when I listen to regular music my Dad loved, and it’s stripped a chunk away from my music library.

I’m not sure how to fix this, and I need to fix it. I need my music, especially the good stuff (Why, Dad, did you have to like the good stuff?).  I need the holiday cheer, or I know that Christmas will be desolate.  I need this Christmas to count, more than any I’ve had in the past.  To balance out the bad, to give me the boost I need to help friends through their bad stuff, to do well in school, to find that new job so I can continue to keep my dogs in the style they think they deserve.

So I’ve turned all strategic in my holiday planning, like a general over a battlefield.  YES, I will go to that concert Friday night, but I will temper it by doing no social stuff on Saturday morning, and possibly all of Sunday.  Yes, I will do the holiday movie thing, but one and done each time, with tissues and comfort food.  I hearby give myself permission to walk away from anything that starts feeling overwhelming or bad, and I’m giving the rest of my family the same pass.  I will block out the time to do the giving things for me and others, because they make me happy.

And by golly, I will sing when I want, and I will escape the music when I need to.

Happy Holidays to you all, and may the New Year bring the world better things.