Not Oriented to Day/Date

by Jonathan C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

In any good vacation, there comes a point where the day and date are completely lost to one’s immediate recall.

I’m not talking about the “I keep thinking it’s Thursday, but it’s only Wednesday,” kind of thing that happens anytime there’s a holiday or some other minor shift in one’s schedule…or that just happens from time to time for no apparent reason. I’m talking about hitting that point where you make the definitive claim, “It is Thursday,” when it is only Wednesday.

On my latest vacation, this happened Saturday night, or, rather, Sunday morning, when, with the wind outside too severe to build a fire and sit out under the stars, I had flopped out in the living room of the rental beach house with my (adult) niece and nephew, to knock back a few, b.s., and flip channels as we half-watched TV. I suggested they could tune in “Saturday Night Live,” then quickly retracted my suggestion, believing I was righting myself by saying it was only Friday night.

My nephew said drily, “Uh, no…it’s Saturday.”

“It’s actually Sunday,” my niece further corrected. Sure enough, we were all of two minutes into Sunday…assuming it really was Sunday.

Since my niece, in charge of the remote at the time, did nothing to confirm that it really was Saturday (like switching the channel to NBC so I could see that a “Saturday Night Live” rerun was really on), and the on-screen programming guide—still up in the realm of NatGeo’s “Drugs, Inc.”—showed the time, but not the day or date, I had to puzzle through the events of the day, and previous days, to try to gain some kind of bearing.

That most patriotic of birds, a seagull, drifts above an American flag, bent in the wind, signaling that all is well…whatever day it is.

That most patriotic of birds, a seagull, drifts above an American flag, bent in the wind, signaling that all is well…whatever day it is.

It should have been obvious enough, as some cousins had stopped by the beach house earlier in the day, and I was well aware that they were expected on Saturday. But that little item escaped my scan of the day’s happenings. Instead, my mind floundered through things like what I had eaten earlier in the day, and what, if anything, occurred while I was out beach-walking. Finding nothing specific enough to give me the proper cues to place myself along a timeline, I counted from the days I left home—leaving me with the conclusion that it absolutely could not have been Friday night/Saturday morning.

Such occurrences give me pause when thinking that people are routinely asked what day/date it is during mental health assessments, say, at a hospital ER or an agency intake appointment, since I realize how easy it is to be thrown off once one is not tied to a schedule. (I get that asking the question is useful for a number of things, like head injuries and anything else likely to disengage somebody from reality and/or memory). But still, a few days of being away from all the appointments, shifts, and events that I am normally tracking, away from the pressure to be anywhere in particular at any time in particular, and I start to lose my grip on just what day it is.  And that can be a very healthy thing.

For the purposes of measuring the usefulness of the question about the day/date, just imagine a person on disability with few regularly scheduled places to be…or someone in assisted living who has other people attending to the details of his schedule…perhaps somebody who has been retired or unemployed for an extended period of time…an individual who has made a serious attempt to kill herself by overdose, still in a haze of medication or illicit street drugs.

Okay, that got a little dark. But there are plenty of reasons someone could become distanced from knowing the day and/or date.

If it weren’t something of a lifelong trait, I might say that my knowledge of such assessment questions informs my tendency, once I get to the point of losing my sense of time, to tilt back into the land of the worried, and start to obsess over how many days of vacation are left, and what still has to be accomplished or avoided between now and the end of the getaway. I soon find myself mentally checking the date in my head several times a day. I pester myself out of living in the now, of enjoying the blissful forgetfulness that can, and really should, tag along on vacation when you’re not required to remember much of anything except maybe how to get back to a rental in a town you’re not familiar with—which I suppose would come under ‘orientation to place and situation.’

Such worrying and failures to maintain forgetfulness are, of course, detrimental to properly sinking into a vacation—to fully resting and restoring oneself. It’s not like the others with you on vacation, or the property owners, are going to let you forget, when the time comes, that you have to leave. Of course, I suppose there’s always the possibility that you own the place where you’re vacationing, you have nowhere else to be, and you have the option of staying as long as you want. I am not yet burdened with such problems involving the absence of obligation or other relevant forms of boundlessness…perhaps one day.

Maybe it’s good to lose that day/date orientation from time to time. Such orientation necessarily serves us when we have to be somewhere or doing something at a specific time—which seems to be an increasing portion of our lives in all of our overbooked-, overscheduled-, overworked-edness, where we are constantly prodded into mild anxiety at the need to know what’s coming next.

But goal-oriented vacations are no vacations at all…at least not for me. Some people like to have vacation plans—places to be, things to see. I most enjoy vacations that involve finding a comfortable place with a nice view, then settling in for plenty of good eats, good drinks, good company, good reading…and whatever else comes about as I occasionally wander from that temporary home base.

With the array of wonderful family and friends who join us, or invite us along on vacations (as in this case), our meals, excursions, and any other interactions become occasions for a great deal of laughter.

And I laughed a lot on this most recent vacation…including the small bit of laughter when, as we pulled away from a roadside coffee drive-through on our way home, my wife asked if it was Monday or Tuesday, then ticked off a quick inventory of items trying to orient herself to the appropriate day and date.

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