“We’re on Vacation”

“When I can no longer change my environment, 
the challenge becomes to change myself”. 
~Viktor Frankl

     The family just got back from a pretty amazing 10 day vacation in San Diego. We did Disney, ate at most of the restaurants we wanted to (I’ll get you next time, Operacaffe!), hung out with family, saw some friends and family, and just generally had a terrific time! However, this great vacation was almost derailed by a medication oversight. Let me explain:
     My prescription for ADHD medication was almost out. Because it’s a controlled substance, pharmacies won’t fill the prescription early, doctors won’t write a prescription before the previous script has expired, and that means I have a 24 hour window, every 30 days, to fill a script. I had 2 pills left before leaving. That means we needed to try and get a back dated script. Neither the doctor nor the pharmacy would bend the rules. I get it, I do. So it seemed like the only option was to get the meds in California. This is where I learned something new! California has this silly little law which prevents them from filling an out of state prescription. I was officially up the brown creek without means of navigation or propulsion.
     At this point, my wife began to get nervous. She knows my frustration tolerance tends to be non-existent, I’m not as tolerable to missed expectations, and I’m just not as thoughtful or observant. And we were taking a 5 and 2 year old to Disneyland. For 2 days. In a row.
     Not sure if you’ve ever been to Disneyland. For 2 days. In a row. With a 5 and 2 year old. If you haven’t, let me tell you about it! It’s full of frustration and missed expectations and it requires thoughtful observation to skillfully navigate lines, rides, and massive crowds.
     We kicked our brains into overdrive in an attempt to problem solve. My wife and I both have master’s degrees! We can do this! Maybe we could mail it, next day, to a friend in Kansas who could fill it at the apothecary! Nope. Controlled substance. Plus, we’d risk the script getting lost in the mail and, since one had already been written for that time span, the doctor wouldn’t write a new one. We even thought about trying to find a doctor or PA in an urgent care setting that may write a script. However, by the time we covered the cost of seeing someone out of network, it would be pretty cost prohibitive. The potential lawsuit we could receive for me losing my mind during the vacation would probably be cheaper.
     That’s when the words of Viktor Frankl sprang to mind: “When I can no longer change my environment, the challenge becomes to change myself.” I wasn’t going to get rid of my ADD. Not in a day. My wife could probably help me by point out when I was acting all ADD, which would work, if I was medicated. Unmedicated me is a hypersensitive me. Any critique would be interpreted as a value judgment against my person. She knew that. I knew that. I suggested we come up with a type of safe-word, something that would let me know I was losing it, but didn’t sound like a critique. My wife suggested the phrase, “We’re on vacation”.
     “We’re on vacation!” Why didn’t I think of that?  That is brilliant! It’s simple, not embarrassing, non-critical, and it reminds me of what the expectations are: to have fun! Not to have fun in a hurried, panicky, we-better-have-as-much-fun-as-possible-or-else kind of way, but real, genuine, natural enjoyable time. That might work!
     We went through the rest of the vacation, drug free, and I’m happy to report I didn’t have to murder anyone. And we had fun! In fact, there were a few times when the kids were losing their minds where I had to remind my wife that we were “on vacation”. It was a signal to reevaluate priorities based on context and overarching expectations (i.e., we’re here to have fun, so who cares if we don’t get to ride every ride or see every princess?). We got back to Kansas, filled the prescription, and then something strange happened.

     Life has a way of not noticing you were just on vacation. Case loads, paperwork, traffic, none of that stops to think, “Hey, I’ll bet this guy really wants to ease back into the work week. Let’s take it easy for a bit”. At least, not in my experience. If that happens to you, please leave a comment explaining your god-like powers. Please. In truth, things were pretty chaotic for the next few vacation days. And then, coming home after a 12 hour day to children that were potentially turning feral and a wife/mother who was holding on to the last shreds of her soul, I took a risk and said something that could (should) have gotten me slapped right across the face: I said, “We’re on vacation!” Initially, my wife looked incredulous. But then, she laughed. In that moment, the mood of the entire house changed. My amazing wife went with it, and it’s worked ever since.
     The same thing that potentially ruins our vacations can suck the joy right out of our lives: Expectations overshadow goals. The things we think we should and ought to have don’t always appear right on schedule. Instead of maintaing the proper perspective on the circumstances that can help us get to our goals (expectations), those expectations usurp the real goals to the point we don’t even remember what we needed in the first place. Wants and needs become intertwined to the extent we can no longer tell them apart. Then, when what I “want” doesn’t happen, I am shocked, surprised, and entitled, because I believe a “need” has been violated.
     Being reminded “we’re on vacation” has helped maintain perspective in the home. What really matters in your home, your job, your relationships, and your life? Figure that out, and let everything else fall in place. Those top priorities, the hills we are willing to die on, truly do matter. Everything else? Everything else is just standing in line while you’re on vacation! You’re still at Disneyland! Except your life is the theme park and there’s no fee for parking. Which begs the question; what are you waiting for? Are there any “wants” you can let go of so you can refocus on the “need”? Is there a “need” which you have treated like a “want” and have now been left feeling empty and meaningless, even after getting that for which you struggled so long? If so, carve out some time for some solitude, or with trusted friends, or a journal, and reevaluate what you really need. And maybe, just maybe, be a little more willing to bend on what you want.