29 December 2016

One more thing about Christmas

Christmas is, for the next eight months, finally over. (That's not a typo; in 2016 I first saw Christmas things in stores over Labor Day weekend.) This year was a lot different than recent years for me, so I still have a few things to say about it.

On Christmas eve, I attended a candlelight service at the same church in Atlanta where I attended a Christmas concert earlier this month. This time I sat in the main sanctuary, although by choice I sat in the row of chairs that was along the back wall. I'm just not comfortable sitting in rows of people where there's movement and noise and everything else behind me; this is one of those things about PTSD that I've learned to just accept. I've not explained everything about my PTSD to my family other than my sister. She's passed on to the rest of the family that I'm not that comfortable with crowds and noise, and so it wasn't a major issue that I moved to the back of the room. (That I was in the main sanctuary (with the choir and the musicians and everything else) was in fact a step up from the Christmas concert where I sat in a completely different room and watched on a big screen from a remote corner of the room.)

At some point in the near future, I'll probably attend Sunday services at the same church. It can be a loud place, there is sometimes a lot of movement and noise, there are kids that are always unpredictable sources of sudden noise. The two times I've been there at least, people have been willing to allow me as much space as I've needed. During the Christmas eve service, when I was sitting alone at the back of the room, there was a point where it was time to turn to people around you and say hello-- a nearby usher went out of his way to come over and say Merry Christmas, but other than that I had personal space.

That I'm finding a particular church a comfortable place to visit now and then isn't something you should read a lot into. I disagree with the idea of organized religion on a lot of philosophical points. In spiritual terms I walk my own path, which sometimes lines up with what other people think and sometimes does not. I'm not looking for salvation. I'm not even looking for answers to questions. (On the other hand, I'm also not opposed to religion, if it works for you then it works for you.) I won't become a member of this particular church, or any church, but I'd be lying if I said listening to the choir and such doesn't help a little with the PTSD. Being in an environment that feels a little bit safe and comfortable, and being around people who are generally positive and welcoming helps with the PTSD too.

It doesn't matter how far you go or how fast you travel, you can't escape yourself. Working hard for long periods is one of the ways I fight PTSD; if I'm able to concentrate I can get a lot done, but my experience has been that I need long blocks of time to get myself organized and get into that mental place. As a hacker it's not that different than getting into that mental space where you're one with the machine, but the PTSD makes it much harder to get and stay there. That I need long blocks of time to be productive also means that at the end of those blocks I need to both physically rest and give my brain some kind of chance to rest. The combination of the hour from here to Atlanta, a couple hours of listening to a pretty decent choir and some admittedly decent musicians, followed by the hour drive back home adds up to a positive diversion.

During the service I attended on Christmas eve I had a number of interesting flashbacks going on. (Several involved the building being on fire, masked and armed gunmen surrounding and attacking, incoming missiles, etc.) December is the last month of Desert Shield, Christmas immediately before the start of Desert Storm. This isn't a happy time of year for me; the end of the calendar year is the calm before the world catches on fire. Going to church helped, overall, even if my reasons for being there weren't the same as everyone else's.


This was also the first time in a very long time that I did anything family related for Christmas. Until I showed up here in October, I hadn't seen any of my family that lives here since 2003. I hadn't ever met their spouses, or their kids (some of whom have graduated college). Since where I live has a big dining room (and dining room table big enough to hold everyone), Christmas dinner was here this year.

My sister is here too, so she helped with a lot of the work of getting the house ready. There were a few times where she was sort of running around doing things, and I just had to walk away and ignore whatever was going on. I don't really "celebrate Christmas". I don't buy gifts, and I let people know that I don't expect gifts, because a) I don't have the money to buy stuff for myself much less anyone else and b) I find the whole holiday season really overwhelming and really not much fun. By the time it was time for people to be here, I was pretty much done with the entire idea.

Dinner was all right. Plenty of food. No drama to speak of. Only one loud moment, where I jumped out of my chair and I thought my heart would beat out of my chest, but it was only family making noise about a good thing regarding football. After dinner conversation was all right too, but there's a certain point where you're family and I love you and I love seeing you but now I need quiet and you need to GTFO.

After everyone left, I went upstairs and slept for ~12 hours. Then I was up for a while on Monday, felt like I'd been run over by a truck, went to bed and slept almost continuously for another ~24 hours. Now it's Wednesday.


This Christmas was exhausting, but that's because I challenged myself. Going to church services and being around actual family, doing actual things with actual people, required stepping out of my protective shell. It's not enough to just be somewhere else. It's not enough to have just found somewhere that's quiet (which this place is, and which is an awesome thing). PTSD always seems to find me whereever I hide. It adapts, damn it, so I have to keep adapting too.

For those of you who are keeping score, I participated in four different events three of them outside the house, this Christmas.

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