Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The emotionally loaded quarter of the year (HICA)

A couple of weeks ago I was heartened to see a TV commercial for a store that promised they would not put up Christmas decorations this year until after Thanksgiving. Sadly, they stand alone amid the commercial whoop-dee-doo of the season with their noble decision to "celebrate one holiday at at time".

The holidays give many of us the HICAs: a heebie-jeebie mish-mash of emotions with the ominous realization Here It Comes Again.

Every year, around this time of the year, for more than ten years, I have been publishing variations on a humorous and serious article about how to stay sane, maintain emotional balance, and beat the holiday blues & blahs.

From October through News Year's the holidays pile up. Many of us get tied in emotional knots caught up between commercial rat-race exhortations, memories, social pressures, family "shoulds" and limited financial resources. 

Included with a more or less psychological explanation of holiday blues, common-sense advice, some tongue-in-cheek observations, and to show that it is actually possible and appropriate to find the lighter side of all this, I included a dozen or so one-liners and eventually built a list of nineteen guidelines.

Here are a few of the jokes:

• You can't blame Native Americans for being upset.  To the world, Columbus was a great explorer.  To the Native Americans, he was a subdivider.

• I love Halloween.  It's the only night of the year rock stars look natural.

• It's all right to scare people at Halloween, but this year I think kids are overdoing it.  I saw one of them dressed up as a heating oil bill.

• Last Halloween there was a knock at the door, I opened it and there were my three kids dressed up as the scariest thing I could ever imagine --my three kids!

• To me, Thanksgiving is a very important time of the year. It's my stomach's busy season.

• My wife and I always have an equitable division of labor on Thanksgiving.  She shops, cooks, sets the table, serves, cleans up -- and I tell her who's winning the game.

• Santa Claus makes a list of who's naughty or nice.  I just hope he grades on a curve.

Here are the guidelines.

1) Join a laughter circle or laughter club.
2) Tell people how you feel.  Do not isolate yourself.
3) Give yourself and everyone else permission to feel less than perfect.
4) Talk openly to a trusted friend or family member.
5) Get some exercise.
6) Avoid excessive use of drugs or alcohol.
7) Do something you're good at.
8) Function within your routine.
9) Do something nice for yourself.
10) Look at your unhappy feelings logically.
11) Stay away from depressed or emotionally upset people.
12) Give yourself some quiet time.
13) Maintain contact with your counselor or support group.
14) Keep your holiday expectations realistic. Expect the intensity of holiday togetherness to breed some irritability, and take it in stride.
15) Give added attention to the things you enjoy.
16) Don't take on more responsibility than you can comfortably handle.
17) Skip the commercialized pressures. Don’t go into debt for gift-giving. Give what represents the real spirit of the season: your time, attention, and caring.
18) Negotiate to get a reasonable amount of whatever you need (time, attention, support). At the same time, be flexible about the way things are done. Build some change into family rituals.
19) Engage in prayer or meditation that suits you. Try it both alone and in community.

Click here to read all of the advice, all of the jokes and all of the guidelines, and please pass it on.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hitting home runs

The idea that the frequency of merely getting on base might just be the single most important statistic in the game was drawn ever so clearly for me in the film, "Moneyball".

I have spent way too much of my life waiting to hit the grand slam that wins the World Series, believing that it was the only thing that counted. I expected that  one day I would hit 'the big one' and then be bathed in glorious contentment, satisfaction, and the admiration of my family and friends, thereafter. I could not have been more wrong.

I see now that I have not kept score on myself either accurately or realistically. By under-valuing the importance of just getting on base, I diminished my accomplishments and the joy that I might have had all along.

I am making up for that now with a new perspective. I have lowered my standards appropriately.

I realize that I am really good at getting on base.

Yes, I have made a lot of outs, and swung at some mighty bad pitches,

Notwithstanding the occasional home runs and the even rarer grand slam, there have been many, many more walks, singles, doubles, and triples than I ever gave their proper due. I've gotten on a few times by being hit by pitches, but, fortunately, never been beaned.

I’m reviewing a lifetime of stats now, hoping to re-live as much as possible every on-base at bat, delighting in them all, watching the game films in slow-motion, savoring every step around the bases.

A recent epiphany brought me another kind of clarity as I partied into the night with a group of workshop attendees. Haunting memories of last year's medical Odyssey melted away somehow and moved from an irrational, PTSD-type of apprehension, to the background. Over. Done. Past. And passed. It was the gift of insight into a personal milestone.

To paraphrase Ernest Thayer with a different ending for the Mudville nine:
"Oh, right here in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing right here, and here now hearts are light,
And here one man is laughing, and hearing children shout;
There is great joy in Mudville — Stevie Wilson's back on base."

Looking back over a lifetime of getting on base I am determined to enjoy taking my sweet time rounding my way towards home.