Chronic Illness and the Holidays

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As we move into December and the start of the Festive season, it can be a time of great stress for those of us who live with Chronic Illness. I wanted to share some strategies for getting through this time of year without increasing your pain or stress levels.

Here are some of my top suggestions:

Plan In Advance

As Christmas, Hannukah and New Years get closer, it’s a good idea to start thinking about what you’ll do and where you’ll go. Are there family traditions that can be changed in regards to who hosts events? If it’s been you in the past that hosted a large group, perhaps someone else could do it this year and you could be the guest. Start to prioritize the things you most want to do (attend a Santa Claus parade, a Festival of Lights, Religious Services, visiting certain friends, etc.) and then build your schedule around that.

Keep Managing Your Chronic Illness

Once you have a schedule in place, you can start building in rest days before and after events. Don’t forget about the day of the events themselves and how you need to ration your energy to have the greatest chance of being able to participate.

Go to your scheduled doctor’s appointments and take care of yourself. It’s so tempting to cancel these things at this time of the year, but don’t. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. If you have special dietary needs, keep them in mind when eating out and preparing meals. Now is not the time to go off a medically necessary diet.

Make Lists

Make lists of things you need or want to do. Prioritize those lists. Delegate and let some things go. Take advantage of online shopping to save your energy.  And don’t be a perfectionist. There’s no room for perfectionism in a chronically ill person’s life.

Pace Yourself

If you know you have a party to go to in the evening, that morning is not the time to scrub out your tub. This is another area in which I struggle. Pace yourself throughout the day and over a period of several days. If you are planning on going shopping with friends on Saturday, plan on Friday and even Thursday being light activity days.

Be Honest

If you’re going somewhere else to celebrate and you have energy limitations, let your host know that you may not be able to participate fully in the activities. If you aren’t able to host at your house like usual, ask others to chip in and host instead. Being honest with people in your life about your limitations can be helpful for avoiding hurt feelings later. Think through what you need to explain to others ahead of time to allow the events to go smoothly.

Enlist The Help Of Your Spouse Or A Friend

Enlist the help of your spouse or a good friend to be part of your team during the holiday festivities. This should be someone who knows you well and will be able to read your responses to situations. This person will help you feel safe in the situations you’re entering and will watch for any indication that you aren’t feeling well.

My husband Ray, serves in this role for me. Another friend or family member could also do this. Basically, Ray notices when I’m getting worn down and my health is going downhill. He’s particularly aware of my flagging energy, and will often ask me how I’m doing to gauge whether it’s time to leave. I also know I can tell him I’m ready to go and he’ll take me home immediately if I need to leave.

Be Okay With Your Plans Changing

This one is a big part of normal life with chronic illness. Flexibility is important because things can change on a moments notice when health issues are a concern.  Even if you have everything planned and scheduled, do yourself a favor and release expectations. If you are religious, prayerfully plan your schedule but then hold those plans loosely. Ask God to cover you with perfect peace in whatever situations you may encounter with your health over the holidays.

Ask For Help

Ask for specific things. I don’t like to depend on anyone for help, but if it means making the holidays more manageable, I think it’s worth it. Sometimes, people will offer to help, but they don’t say what they are willing to do. Having a list ready with ideas of what others can do for you will come in handy when people make those kinds of offers. Do you need help with laundry? Running errands? Housework? How about help with wrapping gifts? Think about all of your regular and holiday tasks and delegate some of them to family members and willing friends.

Connect With Others

Try to make time with friends you might not otherwise get to see, even if it’s just for a short while. Have a quick get together at a coffee shop, chat with a girlfriend about a sappy Christmas movie you’ve both watched. Make an effort each day to reach out to someone. Text, Facebook, instant message, make a phone call. You don’t have to carry on an hour-long conversation, just a brief connection can be enough.

Find “Me” Time

Build in some time just for yourself during the holidays to read, craft, rest or do whatever else will help to give you some “me” time. It’s important to recharge your batteries. If being surrounded by people is what energizes you, then do that…it’s all about what makes you feel good.

Make Time For Your Spouse Or Significant Other

It’s so important to carve out time for the two of you. With all the busyness going on around you,  communicating can sometimes take a backseat, especially if you aren’t feeling so well. Be honest about how you are feeling and ask for help when you need it. Try to sneak in a few inexpensive “dates.” Drive around and look at the Christmas lights, stop for some hot chocolate, attend a Christmas program together. Just enjoy each others company.

Laugh As Much As You Can

This one is one of my favorite pieces of advice. Laugh. Just do it. I’ve found that no matter how horrible I feel, laughter can be a source of medicine for me. Laughing helps lift my spirit and makes me feel more alive. Try to enjoy yourself while you celebrate the holidays, and be sure to include laughter in your days!

Remember The Reason For The Season

It’s so easy to get caught up in the baking, partying, shopping, decorating, etc., but that’s not really what it’s all about. If you are a religious person, keep attending church services and go to the special holiday programs. Listen to religious Christmas songs along with the pop tunes. If you aren’t particularly religious or are a nonbeliever, meditate, attend holiday community events, and enjoy finding ways to nurture your own spiritual side.

Remember….There Is Always Hope

Fibromyalgia and Dark Thoughts

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The following statement was made by a fellow poster and I want to address the subject. Here is what she wrote:

“I am living in constant pain, can’t sleep and often feel very low. Thoughts of not existing often creep into my head.”

Now, there is often a difference between wanting to commit suicide and simply not wanting to exist any longer. Wanting to commit suicide is a deliberate act that you want to take because you are in so much pain, you simply can’t bear to be a part of this world any longer. Thoughts of no longer existing are different. It’s not so much that you want to die, it’s just that if you didn’t wake up in the morning, you’d be okay with that.

Fibromyalgia and Chronic or Intractable Pain is a Life Sentence for the person who has to live with it. Imagine for a moment that everything in your life suddenly changes. You can’t work, you can’t go out to parties or outings with your friends. You have to give up your hobbies and all the things you enjoy. You can’t spend time with your family or friends or loved ones because you are in so much pain and are so exhausted every day, all you want to do is be in bed sleeping. Depression seeps in…you have nothing left to live for. Everything you’ve loved in life has been taken away from you. Why should you bother being alive…what’s the point? Every day is exactly the same as the next…pain and exhaustion, exhaustion and pain. There’s nothing positive to look forward to, so why bother? It would be a relief to just not wake up in the morning.

To just not wake up in the morning.

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These are the type of dark thoughts that can creep into the minds of people who live with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain. It’s important to find purpose in a life that has radically changed so you don’t find yourself sliding into this dark hole. Here are some suggestions that may help you find that purpose in your life.

Finding Your Faith

If you are a person of Faith, you may be wondering where God is in all of this. You may be feeling abandoned by God or feeling like you’re having to go it alone. Please know that God hasn’t left you at all, but perhaps you’ve left God. Now more than ever is the time to reach out to Him and to immerse yourself in the Bible. Read about Job again and all that he went through, and remind yourself how God didn’t abandon him and how He won’t leave you either. Now might be the time to start listening to some Christian music that helps you reconnect with your faith. If you engage in a different religion, you can reconnect to the ceremonies that enrich you from those practices.

If you are not Religious, but are Spiritual, there may be rituals of comfort that you’ve moved away from and it may be time to implement them again. Meditation, chanting, incense, sage, singing bowls, whatever you find comfort in – bring them back into your life.

Moving In Comfort

Often when we are in Chronic Pain, we forget that exercise is actually beneficial to us, both physically and mentally. Gentle exercise offers benefits to our body such as delaying muscle atrophy, increasing strength, and creating an environment to help us heal. Although exercise may hurt, it’s not causing us further harm and will inevitably help strengthen the core muscles, which benefit the entire body. Walking, swimming, Aquafit and bicycling are all good starts, even for just a few minutes a day. This post can help you with more detailed information. The bonus is the better you feel physically, the better you feel mentally.

Volunteering

It’s often been said that the more we give to others, the more we get in return. Volunteering is such an example. Mention volunteering to people who live with Chronic Pain, and the first thing they say is “oh no, I’m much to sick to volunteer”. Stop for a moment though, and think about it. You have the lived experience of a Patient and could be the perfect Patient Advocate for Healthcare Partners in your area. If there isn’t a dedicated organization where you live already doing this, call your local hospitals and ask if they ever need Patient Partners for their Health Care Initiatives. The same goes for the big medical organizations in the area…The Cancer Society, The MS Society, The Diabetes Association…and the list goes on. If you live with a health condition beyond Fibromyalgia, call your Organization and see if they need volunteers. You can specify the type of work you can do, and the hours you are available. Giving back fills a huge need in the community and in your own life.

Spend Time With Loved Ones Again

As awful as you may feel, cutting yourself off from family and friends actually makes you feel worse. Try to find times where you can get together with loved ones, even if it’s for shorter amounts of time. Have a coffee time in the evening instead of a longer drawn out dinner. Join a friend for lunch. Chat on the phone or via Skype and stay in your Pajamas! People want to spend time with you, they don’t care what you’re wearing. The ones who truly love you will understand the circumstances – the ones who don’t really don’t matter much, do they?

Finding purpose in life can help lift you from the darkness you may be encountering because of your Chronic pain. It is possible for you to find joy again, even in the simple things. I’d like to leave you with a list of 20 of my top items that bring joy – taken from a previous post I’ve written called That Which Brings Me Joy.

  1. Watch a sunrise or sunset
  2. Send someone you love snail mail
  3. Volunteer
  4. Get crafty
  5. Bake something
  6. Keep a journal
  7. Take a walk
  8. Do a good deed
  9. Read a novel
  10. Go to the museum
  11. Sing
  12. Take a class
  13. Enjoy a power nap
  14. Log off Facebook
  15. Practice positive affirmations
  16. Mentor someone
  17. Plant a garden
  18. Have a warm bath
  19. Go to an art gallery
  20. Give more compliments

And finally, remember…

There Is Always Hope