The holidays can be a very exciting, magical, happy time for many people while for others it is very stressful, depressing, and exhausting. I remember during my darkest hours of chronic pain dreading my favorite holiday in the world: Christmas. I have always adored the magic of Christmas: the lights, shopping for my loved ones, Christmas cards, Christmas carols, decorating with my family, Santa, and just feeling that sense of joy as the world went from brown leaves falling to the ground to streets filled with lights and stores windows stocked with festive trinkets. Once chronic pain began to control my life I despised Christmas. Everyone was so happy and I was miserable. I was asked more questions than usual about why I was so sad and isolated. People had always known me as the enthusiastic, vibrant girl who brought Christmas everywhere she went. That girl was gone for many years and I thank my father who always believed in me, the Mayo Clinic for teaching me how to live with chronic pain naturally, and I thank myself for doing the hardest work of my life in my management with chronic pain to once again love this time of year more than I ever have.
I was recently asked what a person with chronic pain would want as a gift for Christmas. The easy, most logical answer would be: a cure to chronic pain. I wished for that for fifteen years but I am at a different place with chronic pain than I once was and can now answer that question. I manage pain naturally and if I was still suffering as I once was with this invisible illness I know what I would want to receive as a Christmas present from my loved ones. Here are the top twelve things that stand out more than anything when I think of Christmas and chronic pain.
- A hand written card that speaks from your heart to your loved one with chronic pain. A letter expressing love and support without any pity. Words that express how strong you believe your loved one to be and that although you are unable to understand what your loved one faces on a daily basis you are always there to support he or she in anyway they need. People with chronic pain isolate themselves and feel beyond misunderstood especially from the people they love most. They feel unworthy of love and need to be reminded that they are not their invisible illness and reminded of just how loved they are. Most importantly they need to know you believe them; although you cannot see their illness you know it is there. Words are powerful and will stick with your loved one far longer than any object can.
2. A CD on yoga nidra. People with chronic pain find it very difficult to sleep. Many spent most of their days exhausted, excited just to get into bed and fall asleep and yet once their head hits the pillow they are unable to sleep. Yoga Nidra is the meditative heart of yoga and is one of the most fantastic, helpful tools I have found to help me manage chronic pain. It takes a tiny bit of ‘practice’ however all one needs is a CD player or an MP3 player, a pillow and blanket and he or she is set. A half hour to an hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to about three to four hours of sleep. It took me who is one of the most anxious persons you could meet about three times before I did fall into a deep meditative trance and awoke feeling like a new person. You can find Yoga Nidra on http://www.amazon.com or any online site that sells music, books, and/or yoga DVDs.
3. Essential oils such as Lavender, Eucalyptus, or Peppermint. Essential oils mixed with Epson Salts create the most relaxing bath one could imagine. There are times I will take a bath with Lavender and Epson Salts and just practice deep belly breathing. I may listen to a meditation CD or just lay there concentrating on the scents and the feeling of my breathing. Twenty minutes in a bath with oils is beneficial to anyone!
4. A gift certificate for a pedicure. Pedicures are not only relaxing but very healing and grounding as well. I love getting pedicures because it gives me a solid hour to just sit in a nice, light massage chair (which one does not have to use) and allow myself to be pampered. I always bring a book as I do not like to talk during my one hour of relaxation.
5. Candles! I am a huge fan of candles and love practicing yoga in the morning surrounded by candles. They are not only healing but they smell delicious. One of the first things I do in the morning before I exercise is light the candles I have on our living room mantle. Right now the candles are the smells of Christmas and one of my personal favorite smells is the smell of a Christmas tree so it is obvious to those who know me why my current candles are green.
6. An adult coloring book along with a box of colored pencils. Whoever came up with adult coloring books is brilliant! My dad gave me my first adult coloring book along with a beautiful tin filled with colored pencils and I love it! Who knew that coloring could be so therapeutic and healing. I should have known I would enjoy coloring the beautiful pictures as I love coloring with my toddler. However, coloring scenes of gardens, oceans, and designs is a little more up my alley than coloring pictures of Mickey Mouse.
7. Pending on your loved one’s degree of pain and where he or she is in their journey with chronic pain a great gift could be either a yoga DVD or a gift certificate to a yoga class. Anyone can do yoga and I mean that. There are multitudes of various types of yoga from chair yoga to power yoga to yoga for chronic pain. If it was fifteen years ago and I was given this gift I probably would have cried because my mind truly believed I was unable to do any movement but now I love yoga and see that it is beneficial to everyone: chronic pain or no chronic pain.
8. A journal that speaks to you about your loved one. I clearly love writing and keep a journal however I find it easier to write in a journal when it is in my eyes beautiful. Writing is an amazing outlet for anyone but especially those with chronic pain. One can write down their deepest worries and their personal truth. I find it very helpful to write down my worries before I go to sleep and leave them aside for another time.
9. A day planner. It may sound ridiculous but just because someone has chronic pain does not mean he or she does not have a life. Many people with chronic pain/anxiety often have a mind that never stops racing. I live for my day planner. I write a to do list every night before I go to sleep and love the feeling of crossing something off the following day once my errand or what have you has been accomplished. I exercise every morning but I still write it down on my to do list at night because it helps me to feel extra motivated and structured.
10. Stationary: ok, obviously one can tell by now I really like writing! There are many people who have chronic pain who do not know how to verbalize how they are feeling or their love for you. Often times writing letters on pretty stationary helps a person with an invisible illness feel more human so to speak. He or she wants you to know how much they love you but are often times in too much pain: body/mind and spirit to verbalize their feelings. Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a letter in the mail instead of a bill?
11. As I come to the end of my list I remind myself that you know your loved one much better than I do! I may know chronic pain better but you know what your loved one enjoys: books, music, funny movies? Please remember that we as people with chronic pain do not want to be defined by our invisible illness. Sometimes the greatest gift can be your loved one’s favorite movie. Comedies are great because there are times where the saying: laughter is the best medicine is extremely true. I use distractions constantly in my journey with chronic pain and I find that my hobbies help train my brain to not think about pain.
12. The title of my website is http://www.noonegetsflowersforchronicpain.com. Therefore, get your loved one some flowers! One of my favorite movies is entitled: “The Breakup” with Jennifer Anniston and Vince Vaughn. In the beginning of the movie they start arguing over who is going to wash the dishes after a family dinner. Vince Vaughn sits down to watch the game that is on television and Anniston cannot believe that she is expected to wash the dishes after preparing the entire meal and cleaning prior to having their family over. Anniston says to Vince Vaughn: “Gary I want you to WANT to wash the dishes!” In turn Vince Vaughn (Gary) replies: “Why would I want to wash the dishes?!” The argument escalates and Anniston ends up saying: “Ya know wouldn’t it be nice if you thought one day: ‘hey maybe I should buy my girlfriend some flowers.'” Vaughn replies: “You told me on our very first date that you do not like flowers.” Anniston then says with conviction: “Every girl likes flowers Gary!” Everybody deserves flowers on occasion Christmas or no Christmas, chronic pain or no chronic pain.